Cliff May

At an off-the-record gathering of foreign policy mandarins and opinion mongers recently, the former head of an allied nation said he was advising President Obama to push as hard as possible for a speedy settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Most of those attending the conference nodded in agreement. I bit my tongue, waited for a break and then buttonholed the statesman near the coffee and tea dispensers. Might I ask a question? He graciously said I might.

Sir, if you were Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, would you make peace with the Israelis? You understand that peace would be of enormous benefit to your people and to Israelis alike. On the other hand, you know that while you wield power in the West Bank, Hamas rules Gaza. And Hamas refuses – as a matter of both theology and policy – to accept the existence of a Middle Eastern nation led by non-Muslims.

What’s more, Hamas is financed and instructed by an Iranian regime that also wants the Jewish state wiped off the map. Tehran plans to soon have nuclear weapons to utilize in pursuit of that goal.

Don’t you think that if you were to sign a peace treaty with Israel, as Egyptian President Anwar Sadat did in 1979, you would end up as Sadat did in 1981 – assassinated by self-proclaimed jihadis?

(Historical footnote: The fatwa approving Sadat’s assassination was granted by Omar Abdel-Rahman, an Egyptian cleric who would later move to the U.S. where he preached in American mosques calling for “jihad against the infidel.” His career ended in 1996, when federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy sent Abdel-Rahman -- A.K.A. the “Blind Sheik” -- to prison for life for his role in the first World Trade Center bombing.)

The statesman conceded that for Abbas to end the conflict with Israel at this moment would require courage. That means he’ll need strong support from those of us committed to peace. I asked: How would we demonstrate that support? Would your country supply bodyguards to Abbas? Should Abbas accept a Praetorian guard composed of foreigners? That would be awkward, he allowed. But we can find solutions to such problems.

I imposed upon him further: What concessions do you think Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should make – knowing that a peace treaty may lead to the overthrow of Abbas and his replacement by someone who will not see himself as bound by any promises made by Abbas?

Israel’s withdrawals from southern Lebanon and Gaza did not further the cause of peace. Instead, both territories became terrorist bases from which missiles have been lobbed into Israeli towns. What would prevent the same from occurring on the West Bank, which is adjacent to Israel’s major population centers?

Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.