Israel at 60: A Gift That Keeps on Giving

Israel celebrates its 60th anniversary of independence this week, and this surely is a milestone of biblical proportions given the relentless challenges Israel has faced since its birth. The celebration also represents an ideal opportunity for Israel to reward itself with a gift that may, just may, keep on giving.

What sort of gift could a nation like Israel gift unto itself, you ask?

There are few issues more imperative to Israel's secure future than redressing the day-to-day humanitarian plight of Palestinians nominally under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority.

As Israel turns 60, the Palestinian people are at a crossroads. Do they embrace the violent destruction of Israel as proposed by Hamas or Hezbollah, or do they embrace a viable two state solution that successive U.S. governments have repeatedly tried to help bring about?

Surely, anyone familiar with the conflict realizes that a concerted humanitarian effort that brings tangible, long term results to benefit the Palestinians is an essential component to Israel's safety and long term security. After all the violence, bloodshed and hatred that has accumulated during the past 60 years, now is the time to bring that much needed "Marshall Plan" to galvanize fundamental economic security to a Palestinian people willing to embrace the cause of peace with Israel. That economic development will also enable Israel to continue is miraculous march toward further prosperity. It is not up to Israel alone to redress the plight of the Palestinians, but Israel has a crucial role to play if peace is ever to be achieved.

Israelis, too, are at an important, historical crossroads as they celebrate. They are constantly wrestling with the cost/benefit analysis of building security perimeters, or further alienating an already alienated Palestinian people.

Those security concerns are real, not imagined. All one must realize is how easy it had been for suicide bombers to walk one mile across an unguarded border between Israel and the West Bank to commit murder and mayhem as well as set back the prospects for peace.

But it is in Israel's long term interest to take steps toward the relaxation of border controls so as to enable Palestinians to go about their day to day lives, to facilitate the rebuilding of towns, to support and not inhibit economic development, and to end unnecessarily provocative settlement activity. These are just some of the essential measures needed to be taken by Israel to begin the long, arduous and painful road toward establishing renewed trust with Palestinians. Though many basic questions about Israel's character remain unanswered, poll after poll indicates that the vast majority of Israelis wish to be lead into a promised land where the seminal conflict of six decades is on an inexorable march toward resolution, and that march also begins by Israel taking the necessary steps, as well.

I believe that an inspirational 60th birthday initiative to encourage Palestinians to more fully embrace Israel as a Jewish state living side by side by a peaceful and demilitarized Palestine is something that could set the stage for many happy returns for years to come.

Tough, you bet ya.

Successive Democratic foreign policy experts have long understood the parameters of a viable settlement, and Democratic presidents have been at the forefront of attempts to resolve the conflict. We Democrats have long understood that America's commitment to Israel as a friend and strategic ally of the U.S. hearkens back to Israel's birth a view no less embraced by Republican presidents, with rare exception.

It was a Democratic president who, in 1948, extended recognition to Israel. Eleven minutes after Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion declared Israel's independence 60 years ago, President Harry S. Truman formally recognized Israel. Truman's courageous decision, taken against the advice of his respected and revered Secretary of State, represented the first step in what has become an irrevocable commitment by successive Democratic presidents (Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, and Clinton) to extend the strong hand of friendship and support to Israel, and every Democratic presidential and vice presidential candidate has reaffirmed that friendship.

In this 2008 campaign, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have exchanged occasional barbs attacking the other's campaign for failing to consider the best policy for defending Israel against Iran, and several respected advisors to Obama, notably Zbig Brzezinski and Rob Malley have been unfairly maligned for their balanced views on Middle East issues -- something that has unfortunately left some hard feelings at a time when a unified Democratic foreign policy agenda is essential for the nation's future. But in the end both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have made clear that they both firmly support America's strong ties to Israel, reaffirming a Democratic Party article of faith in our foreign policy.

Yet, supporting Israel's fundamental right to survive and flourish as a thriving Jewish state in the turbulent Middle East need not constitute an endorsement of every Israeli policy. Indeed, many Israelis take exception at one time or another to the very issues that are controversial at times to some Americans...such as settlement expansion, the humanitarian plight of Palestinians, or Israel's occasional heavy handedness in pursuit of its enemies.

Mind you, the alliance between Israel and the U.S. It has not been a one way street. Israel has given much to the U.S., from intelligence support, to technological innovations that have improved our lives. Most younger Americans would be surprised to learn that Instant Messaging (IM) was invented by two young Israelis in the garage in suburban Tel Aviv, or that the most advanced cancer fighting drug against ovarian cancer was invented in Israel.

The next president, along with the international community, can no longer engage in the photo-op diplomacy that has characterized the Bush administration's approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As former Secretary of State Albright aptly put it, the Bush administration finally discovered a "Road Map" that was sequestered in a glove compartment. However belated its discovery, its 11th hour diplomatic efforts have been feeble and half-hearted.

On its independence anniversary, many basic questions about Israel remain unanswered. Not least among these questions is what can be done to protect Israel from the threat of a nuclear-armed adversary without resort to armed conflict? What can be done to minimize the outbreak of another round of fighting with Hezbollah? Is there any chance to bring Hamas into overtly embracing Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state? Can effective U.S. diplomacy galvanize surrounding Arab states such as Syria to come to terms with Israel and put aside their state of war? Will Israelis and Palestinians make the necessary concessions to resolve intractable so-called "final status" issues, such as the future of Jerusalem, the permanent resettlement from squalid refugee camps of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, the future borders of each state, and the security of Israel.

Israel's future security will greatly depend on its willingness to take the bold risks for peace that will be necessary in the face of determined adversaries, but those bold risks must be equally met by convincing concessions from its adversaries. The situation does not look propitious for positive movement anytime soon. But in the hope and expectation that a Democrat will be elected president come next November, putting the Arab-Israeli conflict at the forefront of American diplomacy once again with 24/7 support to help the parties reach step-by-step agreements is part of that gift that will keep on giving to Israel, to Palestinians and the cause of peace throughout the world.

Israel's remarkable achievements since its birth have transformed Israel into a strong, dependable ally of the United States. Israel deserves and has earned America's continued support, but here again, it, too, must take into account broader American concerns about the future of a stable Middle East and recognize that difficult concessions are essential to help realize the dream of its founding fathers (and mothers).

Like any birthday present, it may be better to give than to receive.