President Barack Obama’s top Middle East aide was called out by an Israeli news site after he “launched a blistering attack on Israeli foreign policy” in Tel Aviv Wednesday night, the same night Palestinian rockets from Gaza were launched at the city, setting off air raid sirens.
The Times of Israel, the English-language Israeli news site that noted the juxtaposition of events, wrote:
In an unusually harsh major foreign policy address, Philip Gordon, a special assistant to US President Barack Obama and the White House coordinator for the Middle East, appealed to Israeli and Palestinian leaders to make the compromises needed to reach a permanent peace agreement. Jerusalem “should not take for granted the opportunity to negotiate” such a treaty with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who has proven to be a reliable partner, Gordon said.
According to diplomatic correspondent for the left-wing Haaretz newspaper, Barak Ravid, Gordon appeared to anticipate a potential negative response to the speech considering the timing:
WH's Phil Gordon @ Haaretz conference: cynics would say that this conference is in a wrong timing. I don't agree— Barak Ravid (@Barak Ravid) 1404839403.0
Even as Hamas and Islamic Jihad rockets flew farther north into Israel than ever before, Gordon told participants at Haaretz newspaper’s Israel Conference on Peace that Obama’s position is that an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement should be based on 1967 borders with mutually agreed land swaps.
Israeli government officials maintain that 1967 borders – described by some right-wing officials as “Auschwitz borders” - would leave Israel more vulnerable than ever to rocket attacks from the West Bank, including the potential targeting of Ben-Gurion International Airport outside Tel Aviv.
According to Haaretz’s Ravid, Gordon echoed the threat previously articulated by both Secretary of State John Kerry and Obama, that Israel will be more isolated if it does not conclude a peace agreement with the Palestinians:
Phil Gordon @ Haaretz conference: without a peace agreement there will be more attempts to internationally isolate Israel— Barak Ravid (@Barak Ravid) 1404840468.0
Gordon equated Israeli government actions with those of the Palestinian Authority, blaming both sides for not “preparing their publics” for peace, thus dismissing repeated documentation of incitement in the Palestinian media and by senior Palestinian Authority officials who glorify and pay salaries to convicted terrorists. Members of U.S. Congress have repeatedly decried the Palestinians' financially rewarding terrorism.
“At the same time we have no interest in a blame game,” Gordon said according to the Times of Israel. “The unfortunate reality is that neither side prepared their publics or proved ready to make the difficult decisions required for an agreement. And trust has been eroded on both sides. Until it is restored, neither side will likely be ready to takes risk for peace, even if they live with the dire consequences that resolve from its absence.”
The Times of Israel pointed out that just hours before Gordon spoke, hundreds of participants at the conference were forced to move to the bomb shelter when sirens wailed in Tel Aviv.
Gordon defended a security plan circulated by retired Gen. John Allen for Israel’s Jordan Valley eastern border which would place ultimate border control with the Palestinian Authority.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected relinquishing the security of the Jewish State’s eastern flank and said last month that “no force can guarantee Israel’s security other than the IDF and our security services.”
“Who knows what the future holds? The ISIS wave could very quickly be directed against Jordan,” Netanyahu said last month referring to wide territorial gains by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Gordon said that Gen. Allen’s plans included “a full range of contingencies, including rising threats that we see around the Middle East.”
“The approaches that are being discussed would create one of the most secure borders in the world along both sides of the Jordan River,” Gordon said. “By developing a layered defense that includes significantly strengthening the fences on both sides of the border, ensuring the right level of boots on the ground, deploying state of the art technology, the comprehensive program of rigorous testing, we can make the border safe against any type of conventional or unconventional threat – from individual terrorists or a conventional armored forces.”
Israel maintains that the presence of Israel Defense Forces troops, not just hi-tech gadgetry, can secure its borders.
“The United States will always have Israel’s back. That’s why we fight for it every day at the United Nations,” Gordon said.
But Gordon also said that as a friend, the U.S. had some basic questions for Israel.
“How will Israel remain democratic and Jewish if it attempts to govern the millions of Palestinian Arabs who live in the West Bank? How will it have peace if it’s unwilling to delineate a border, end the occupation and allow for Palestinian sovereignty, security and dignity? How will we prevent other states from supporting Palestinian efforts in international bodies, if Israel is not seen as committed to peace?” he asked.
“Israel confronts an undeniable reality: It cannot maintain military control of another people indefinitely. Doing so is not only wrong but a recipe for resentment and recurring instability,” Gordon said. “It will embolden extremists on both sides, tear at Israel’s democratic fabric and feed mutual dehumanization.”
The Times of Israel pointed out that Gordon’s address was the first major address by a senior White House official since Obama was in Israel last year.
(H/T: Times of Israel)