Tag Archives: Obama


BLOG 320 September 26, 2016

Political jockeying is going on behind the scenes and the meaning of what is ahead is not entirely clear. In a speech before a joint session of the US Congress, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that Israel has come to the end of its childhood stage and was approaching a state of self-reliance. Netanyahu was saying that American economic aid could end (about $1.2 billion since the Camp David Accords in 1979). However, since 2007, Israel has settled on an annual aid of $3 billion for military aid.

Actually, Israel is doing quite well financially. The country’s high-tech sector is a significant financial success. The finalization of a gas deal will put billions of dollars in their economy. In my experience of traveling and working in Israel beginning in 1968, I have watched the country continually prosper. The first time I went to Jaffa, I had to take a bus down from Tel Aviv. Now Jaffa and Tel Aviv are one city with prosperous businesses in between.

In the ensuing years, US President Obama has been increasingly on a downhill slide in Israel. Netanyahu makes no secret of being highly suspect of Obama. However, the overall commitment of the USA to Israel has stayed intact. As observers in Israel have watched this relationship continue to deteriorate, questions have been raised about moving away from Uncle Sam and what they see as dictates from Washington. Theses voices argue that financial distance from Washington, D.C., will give Israel greater diplomatic independence.

Whether Netanyahu holds this view is not clear, but it is obvious that he has made almost every possible mistake in managing Israel’s relationship with President Obama. This even went to the extent that Netanyahu was seen as meddling in the US presidential electon by publically favoring Mitt Romney’s candidacy. Probably the all-time low point came in March 2015 when he side-stepped the White House and spoke to Congress critizing the administration’s Iran Policy. Ignoring this slap in the face, the White House concluded a Nuclear Arms Negoiation with Iran over Israel’s objections.

This is not how allies treat each other!

Netanyahu’s hubris and petty political actions will not stop American support. The larger Jewish population and lobby is too highly significant for that to happen. However, Netanyahu has already said he will wait and make further negotiations with the next president – another antagonistic response to Obama.

Is all of this trivial, mean-spirited, squabbling – or could it be a definite matter of policy? Netanyahu has already manuevered with the far-right and the ultra-Orthodox parties to give the US State Department no hope of renewned negotiations with Palestinians. Netanyahu is throwing the dice in a highly risky game.

The next American president will have to decide on how to respond and the negotiations will be tricky with an Israeli Prime Minister who has been playing this game for at least seven years.

Is it a policy change or just politics?

Stay tunned!


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BLOG 268 August 31, 2015

Been getting those commercials on the Iran Nuclear negotiations? One side says don’t do it: the other side says it’s the best deal since spaghettini. My suggestion? Jettison both sides. Commercials designed to sell you baked beans and cars are no place for an issues that is so complicated that the top politicians and world leaders are still trying to figure it out. This isn’t a battle over whether a “Happy Meal” is better than a “Whooper.”

Both Republicans and Democrats need to cut the self-serving political chatter and start studying the details instead of simply “popping off!” So, let’s take another look.

Twenty-nine of the nation’s top scientists including Nobel laureates wrote a letter to President Obama calling the agreement innovative and stringent. These are the most knowledgeable experts working with arms control and nuclear weaponry. Most of these signators are physicists and have the highest security clearances, giving them access to the countries most sensitive data on nuclear armaments. The words “innovative” and “stringent” were used more than six times. Their conclusion was that this agreement will advance peace and security in the Middle East. These scientists concluded the agreement allows for effective challenges of any suspected activity on the part of Iran. They believe the plan includes important long-term verification procedures.

One of the more recent troubling factors is that Russia has just agreed to provide state-of-the-art S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Iran. A the same time, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reiterated his pledge to support any group fighting Israel. As the world knows, Iran is the primary source of support for terrorists. The Supreme Leader isn’t backing down and Russia is stuffing missiles in his back pocket.

The Russians claim the missiles are purely defensive weapons. They were not give to Syria because it might have posed a threat against airplanes coming and going from Ben-Gurion Airport. So, the Russians are now calling the same weapons defensive? Who’s kidding who?

One of the generally unpublished factors about Iran in the ten-year moratorium is that the thirty- years of age and under are the fastest growing segment of Iran’s population. This group generally tend to be secular and are not in favor of the imposed style and leadership of Khamenei and his mullahs. Aging this young group by another ten years will pressure the current government even more.

Could ten-years make that must difference? Yes, it could.

The problem is that when one listens to Obama and Netanyahu they both present a strong case for their positions. If any nation knows what it is to be wiped out by anti-Semitism, it certainly is Israel. The matter is deadly serious. On the other hand, Obama represents a view currently held by the majority of the American public. No more war.

Now is the hour to put politics aside. Cut out the snide asides. Can the commercials. Stop making irresponsible statements. And start reading the fine print in the document detailing the Iran Nuclear Arms deal.

Will the politicians voting on this matter do so?

They better.

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BLOG 246 March 30, 2015

American-Israeli relationships have hit bottom. This week’s claim that Israel spied on the American-Iranian nuclear negotiations dumped another truck load of rocks on Netanyahu’s racist claims that barely won his re-election followed by a 24-hour flip flop on a two state resolution with the Palestinians. At the heart of the conflict is a collision between the American President and the Prime Minister of Israel.

What’s going on?

I have consistently attempted to stand above partisan politics in examining the Middle East. When it comes to explaining these two men –it’s tough! On one side are either Obama-haters or Obama-lovers pitched against multitudes who idolize everything that happens in Israel. Hopefully, I can get my readers to avoid any subjective perspectives and focus on the facts. So, why the traumatic collision?

Israelis tend to see Obama retreating from world leadership and withdrawing soldiers that ends in a vacuum filled by jihadists. Putin seized Crimea because of Obama’s failure to keep his threat in Syria that made Obama look like a paper tiger. They see Obama as a ‘80s progressive not to be trusted in handling Iran. His positions on the Middle East are seen as confused and contradictory. The Arabs are now forming their own army because they do not believe America can be trusted to stand with them against Iran.

On the other hand, Netanyahu is viewed as a liar that can’t be trusted to keep his word. In 2009 under intense American pressure, Netanyahu instigated a 10-month freeze on Jewish settlements in the West Bank. However, during the “freeze” 1,175 units were completed and 114 more were started. All in all, the Netanyahu government oversaw construction of 6,867 units in settlement areas, 2,622 were deep in Palestinian territory.  Critics in Israel noted that the $1 billion in illegal settlements could have been better spent to fight Israeli rising housing costs. America and Europe concluded he reneged on his promise and you don’t do that with Allies.

Behind such a “switching the checkers” deal, the Netanyahu politics have offered verbal deceit, talking of peace while torpedoing any two-state solution with the Palestinians. His stringent opposition to a nuclear arms treaty with Iran is seen as fundamentally wanting no deal on any terms with the Iranians. Regardless! His attempt to scuttle the negotiations is now suspect in Washington because he has overstated his oppositions hoping that Americans will not see through the smoke screen.

A week after the cease-fire during the Gaza war, Israel seized 1,000 acres in the West Bank for Israeli settlers. Peace Now, an Israeli group, called this the biggest land grab in over 30 years. The Netanyahu government would claim they were teaching the terrorist a lesson. The international community’s response was that’s not the legal way to teach a lesson.

The flip-flop on a two-state solution was viewed as a last minute attempt to save his election that worked in Israel and resulted in a re-evaluation in Washington of how relations between the two countries would be managed in the future. Not good for Netanyahu’s government nor Israel. A United Nations resolution would set a time table for withdrawal from Palestinians territories, a Palestinian state within 1967 borders, and East Jerusalem as their capital – all defeats for Netanyahu and Israel.

Will matters between Washington and Israel improve? Probably not until Netanyahu is gone. At this point, he probably will not be trusted again by the powers in Washington and Europe.

A most sad situation.

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BLOG 243 MARCH 9, 2015

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington came at the invitation of Speaker John Boehner – not the Obama administration. With Netanyahu only weeks from a re-election vote, his visit has been protested in Israel as well as by the current administration. The Western nuclear negotiators on Iran put out leaks to the media that ran from Netanyahu is a liar to a disruptive element for the White House. On the other hand, Israel maintains publically that if a bad deal is struck in Iran, their fate will end in total annihilation.

How do we sort out these contradictions? Possibly by considering what is behind each side’s position. One of the lingering criticisms of the Obama era will be the withdrawal of America from an international leadership position. As we now know, the vacuum was not filled by “good-guys.” Putin’s march into the Crimea following Obama’s backing away from his red-line in Syria is such an example. America appears to be back-tracking from its former role of leadership in maintaining world order.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the Israelis recognize that radical Islam comes into two varieties: Shi’ites and Sunnis. They worry more about the Shi’ites because they have a well-entrenched state in Iran that is hot pursuit of The Bomb. The potential capacities of this group are real. Israel lives daily with that fact.

The U.S. government continues to point to the United Nations as the enforcer of world peace. America resorts to the UN in debates and discussions of possible actions. Does anyone really believe the UN can enforce world peace? No.

Israel points to the fact that UN has repeatedly sided with the Palestinians and ignored such realities as Hezbollah shooting thousands of rockets into Israel. Study groups and committees within the UN have been labeled anti-Semitic. Israelis (as well as most of the rest of the world) see the UN as going nowhere when it comes to war and peace.

There is with Shi’ite Islam a “quietism” tradition that believes politics and religion don’t mix.  This ends up with the idea that ultimate leadership should come from the Muslim clergy. (i.e. Iran.) The Israelis certainly don’t see that system working out on their behalf.

Obama recently called the attacks in France “senseless violence.” Israel would call it “logical violence.” They see it as having definite reasoning.  For example, the New York Times refused to publish cartoons that Muslims protested while publishing cartoons that are offensive to Christians and Jews. An Islamic purpose was accomplished. This contradiction displays how what may seem pointless can mean a great deal in the Muslim world.

The bottom line is negotiations to end nuclear pursuit in Iran would be Obama’s major accomplishment in his second term. The agreement would be his legacy. On the other hand, the Israelis believe Iran has no intention of signing a treaty that halts their pursuit of The Bomb on a permanent basis. This view seems them as only stalling for time.

Does this amount to a problem between Israel and the United States? Big time.

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            Last week’s headlines proclaimed a breakthrough in US and Iranian relations. For the first time in over three decades, the leaders of the two countries spoke to each other. The new President Hassan Rouhani appeared to have come to the United Nations as a voice of reason and moderation. His message was that in a matter of months the problem of nuclear armaments could be settled. Obviously, international sanctions had made a difference in the Iranian viewpoint.

            But what is really going on?

Real transparency or more trickery?

The issues is far from clear. When Rouhani returned to Iran, he was met at the airport where protestors pelted eggs and one individual threw a shoe. Security guards scrambled to shield the president while other protestors blocked the road. Hard-liners shouted, “Our people are awake and hate America.” Other groups applauded Rouhani’s efforts and hoped he was bringing significant change to their country. Which group will prevail? The question remains, “What is really going on?”

For Israel and Persian Gulf states like Saudi Arabia, President Obama’s phone call was equally questioned and believed to show a lack of wisdom.  Some Israelis believed Obama was the next Neville Chamberlain who wrongly appeased the Nazis in l938. Suspicion and paranoia reflected fears of the possibility of some variety of a secret deal between Iran and America that would leave Israel out in the cold.

The lack of a comprehensive American foreign policy has caused many Israeli analysts to view the Obama administration as having only a weak and wavering policy toward the Middle East. Because Iran has threatened to wipe Israel out, the issue for Israelis is not slip and slide negotiations but the possibility of life and death. If Rouhani is only hoodwinking the West to buy time for further development of The Bomb, then Obama is indeed as naive as Israel fears he might be.

The crunch will be whether Iran is truly open to the changes that will be demanded. The West is rightly concerned about a scientist named Mohsen Fakhrizadeh who is the father of Iranians nuclear development. The work in his laboratories has set the stage for Iran’s rapid development of nuclear energy. A decade ago, Iran had l64 centrifuges (devices to enrich plutonium to a weapon grade level). Today they have 18,000. The Israelis point to this data as evidence that Rouhani may be attempting to trick the West again.

The bottom line for the West and Israel will be the degree of validation that Iran is willing to allow to prove they are not pursuing weapons development. President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry must insist that inspectors have total access to all aspects of the Iranian system as well as having limits imposed on future developments.

Will Iran do so or are they only kibitzing again?

The trump card that USA now holds is sanctions. If America is shrewd, then Iran will fold because sanctions have proven too expensive for them. If America falters, then the game will probably be over.

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            As you probably know, Vladmir Putin was a colonel in the KGB, the dreaded secret police organization of the Soviet Union: Meaning he specialized in everything from murder to international deception. Putin now majors in self-promotion sending out pictures of himself riding a horse shirtless, supposedly killing tigers, and practicing judo.  Recently, he stole a Super Bowl ring from Patriot’s owner Robert Kraft (although this issue is now under contention) He has clearly been the friend of Iran and Syria along with supplying the weapons to Assad to suppress his own people. Never underestimate Putin’s capacity to push himself to the front of the line. He has even hired an American PR firm to get his message in the newspapers.

            Putin showed up in the headlines of The New York Times lecturing President Obama and warning the American people about attacking Syria. You think this tyrant doesn’t know how to use propaganda?

The problem is that the Obama administration has been flapping around like the proverbial chicken with its head cut off. Jumping back and forth between threats and retreats, nobody is sure what they stand for or intend to do in Syria. For several years, they have had no clear cut stance on dealing with a tyrant like Assad and now are fishing for a way out of the bind Obama created with his own red line speech.

Enter Putin. While claiming to be a partner in diplomacy, he has overplayed his hand and betrayed his true purpose to gain global superiority. Never could he have reached for such a status if Obama had not dug himself into a hole. And nobody loves watching an adversary fall in the hole like Putin does.

America watched the Soviet Union sink and then attempted to be a friend to Russia as it struggled to regain integrity. Putin arose out of the chaos of Russia politics struggling to find footing. Putin remembers this time well and has been looking for a come back. By supplying arms to Assad, he has been able to payroll the arms industry in Russia.  Because we have been afraid to act decisively, he has continued to gain authority in world politics even if Russia ranks only around l8th in world economy.

Putin appears to be aiding Obama’s digging himself  out of the pit. But when you need the help of a former KGB officer to stabilize your position, you really are in trouble. Actually, Putin’s purpose is getting Syrian chemical weapons out of his own backyard. Only time will tell how far Putin is willing to go to enforce his grab for the top. My hunch I that there is no limit to how far he will attempt to reach.

This episode needs to remind us who Putin is and what he is about. There’s no happy ending to his story.

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            American crossroads has come to a significant bump in the road. The division between Republicans and Democrats is turning into a Grand Canyon. Listening to restaurant conversations, one is left with impression that people either like Obama or they hate him. Even a few wild-eyed members of Congress want to impeach him thought their charges are not clear. We are truly living in a difficult time. Even Egyptians recently took exception with his remarks.

            The National Salvation Front, a political party comprised of pro-democratic and secular members, objected to his views of the escalating violence in Egypt. They felt that only one side of the chaos was being presented. This group wanted Obama to recognize that the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) had threatened Christians with genocide and raised the black flags of Al-Qaida while marching with pictures of bin Laden and al Zawarhri. Forty-five attacks were made on Christian installations with 19 churches being torched. This group said, “Mr. President, peaceful demonstrators do not have the capacity to kill more than 50 police personnel in just a few hours.” They were stating that President Obama was ignoring the reasons for the strong reaction of the police and military.

The problem within the problem is that the Obama administration’s policy and strategy for the Middle East appears to be failing. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal details 5 fundamental mistakes America is now making in this part of the world.  Besides misreading the political maturity and capacity of the Islamists groups it supported, the USA badly misread the political situation in Egypt. (And continues to do so). Thirdly, America has not appreciated how its policy are effecting Saudi Arabia, and Israel, the two most important allies we have in the region. In addition, the USA has not grasp the dynamics of the terrorist movements across the region, Finally, American failed to understand the cost of inaction in Syria.

It must be noted that the majority of Americans don’t want the USA in a military conflict in Syria. We also must give Obama credit for recognizing the terrible cost when George Bush dragged the United States into with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that were far from successful. Obama has been correct to recognize the cost of another war on America.

However, Obama drew a red line with Syria over use of chemical weaponry. The world knows that line was crossed months ago. Now the issue that the president’s statements have created is American credibility. To not act has become as dangerous as being precipitous.

As August does to an end, the American government has declared that it is considering alternatives that include bypassing the United Nations. Prominent government leaders are predicting American will act soon even if Russia is an ally of Syria.

No one wants another military skirmish. Unfortunately, that is no longer the issue. Failure to recognize that Iran is in this war as well as Hezbollah is only to beg a bigger and more dangerous conflict. Iran continues to pursue nuclear weapons and American hesitates only to its ultimate disadvantage.

President Obama is at a crossroads that will reveal his legacy as well as theirs.

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The United States is now struggling with a pronouncement made by President Barack Obama concerning the use of chemicals in warfare by the Syrian government. Drawing a red line in the sand, Obama stated the employment of such weaponry would be a game changer and “there will be consequences” if it happens.

It happened. Syrian President Assad thumbed his nose. We did nothing. Now, we have a real problem.

Apparently, Washington assumed the Assad regime would get the message and retreat from such terrible weapons. When they did not, it made Washington’s tough talk sound cheap and at this point has damaged the credibility of the current government. The worst possibility is that both North Korea and Iran will make the same judgment and this sets the stage for a far more serious show down.

In a recent blog, I suggested that Israel is coming to the end of trusting in the Obama administration’s will to act. They will probably go it alone in striking Iran’s nuclear capabilities. The current problem with Syria’s use of chemicals further enflames this dangerous situation. If America doesn’t follow up on its statements about Syria, Israel certainly cannot depend on USA military force to stop Iran.

Obama’s bind is that a dictator who has killed at least 80,000 of his own people must go. American moral convictions stand behind such an action. Such logic was part of attacking Hussein in Iraq. On the other hand, the large majority of the citizenry are strongly opposed to another war and the economy cannot take another drain at this time. Consequently, Obama is in a “damned if you do; damned if you don’t” posture. For this exact reason, his drawing a red line now appears misguided.

One possibility is for America to act without getting soldiers in the war.  The Pentagon has cyberattack capabilities that could blind Syrian air defenses. Such an attack would be from a significant distance with minimum involvement. In 2007, Israel attacked a suspected Syrian nuclear power plant. With a cyberattack  system used to disable Syrians air defenses.  The problem is that once the radar and computer systems strike, the Syrians can then develop malware to prevent another such assault. After such usage, the USA would have to redevelop its system. Is this an approach America wants to use at this time? Maybe not.

Of course, another problem with red lines is that they can be crossed in unanticipated ways that do appear to violate the warning. For example, with Hezbollah reigning supreme in Lebanon, chemical weapons could be passed on to them. While this has not happened yet, it suggests another highly dangerous possibility.

In my opinion, the Obama administration should have had an attack plan in place and ready to be used before making red line statements. They needed to have already determined how they would strike. Unless, they take some action quickly, Obama has been discredited in this situation. At this point, delay only serves to further the chaos and that means more people getting killed.

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With blood-shed in Syria and chaos in Egypt, why would President Obama cross the Jordan to stop by the palace for a chat with King Abdullah II? The newspapers have been full of stories about the war in Syria and the riots in Egypt, pushing Jordan to the back burner. Unfortunately, many westerners have missed some important events transpiring there. Recent statements by the king and his uncle Hassan actually reveal a different story of turmoil.

Serious rumblings in Jordan spell significant trouble. On October 5 a massive demonstration expressed anti-regime sentiments and considerable dissatisfaction with the Hashemite rulers. The Kingdom’s media sources claimed it was only 5,000 protestors, but Jordan’s daily newspaper Alghad  reported 250,000 marched through downtown Amman. A considerable discrepancy in headcount!

I know Jordan well having traveled there for the first time in the late ‘60s, and had two sons with Ph.D.’s who lived in Amman and taught at the University of Amman. At one point, I delivered a lecture there. One of my sons is married to a Jordanian citizen. I have watched the country make significant developments over the past 40 years. However, the Arab Spring appears to be ratcheting up tension in the country.

Today there are regular anti-regime protests throughout the kingdom with open calls for toppling the king. Behind this unrest is a staggering economy. The impetus for the unrest comes from Jordanian East bankers and/or Beduin Jordanians. In response to these crisis, Prince Hassan made several statements that sounded more like desperation than explanations. The focus of what he had to say was an attempt to shift emphasis to Israel and renew Jordan’s claims to the West Bank area now held by Israel. In addition, these statements have been attempts to worry the Palestinian majority in that country that they might be absorbed if radical change occurred.

The threat has had more of a back-fire effect that causing the Palestinians to back off.  At this moment, Palestinians are excluded from government jobs, state colleges, and state healthcare. Some years back, the Hashemites ran Arafat and his P.L.O. organization out of the country and into Lebanon. Make no mistake. The Kingdom has an expansive intelligence system with spies as well as interception of all emails in and out of the country. I have personally observed how extensive this operation is. Certainly, the eves dropping is working over time today.

In his own statements, King Abdullah has attempted to rewrite history and ignore how the country came into being. The Faisal-Weizmann agree in l9l9 established a homeland for Arabs under the Hashemites. The fact is that Jordan is a Hashemite-occupied part of a British Mandate for Palestine. Even when Jordan held the West Bank area, the Arab League and the United Nations did not recognize their sovereignty. Only Britain, Pakistan, and Iraq gave recognition. As Palestinian-Jordanian writer Mudar Zahran, noted, King Adullah should consider himself very lucky to still be on the throne in Jordan.

Washington would certainly want to prop up the Hashemite Kingdom and keep Jordan stable. While this portion of Obama’s trip many not get great attention, it will be far more important to King Adullah who needs all the help he can get right now.

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Filed under Egypt, middle east, Syria, Violence


            As President Obama starts his second term in office, he will be making adjustments that reflect his new authority having decisively won in the fall elections. With a new Secretary of State, he can expect adjustments that will come from the leadership of John Kerry. How can the American government posture itself to achieve a maximum result in the powder keg situation between the Jews and the Arabs?

            Obama is immediately confronted with the continual posturing that has been going on for decades between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Neither side appears particularly willing to make the concessions that could achieve a breakthrough. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spelled out the bottom line when she said about achieving a settlement. “The parties have to want it more than us.” She put her finger on the tough starting point.

Do the Jews want a settlement? Of course – but! They have been in the power position since the Yom Kippur War. They hold the cards and are not about to relinquish power and control. With the most effective military in the region, there is no contest if push comes to shove.  The recent mini-battle in Gaza demonstrated that their military backed by the Iron Dome protection system could have pushed the entire population into the ocean. The Palestinians could claim some sort of victory, but that was nonsense. The offices of Hamas were destroyed. Israel believes time is on their side. They can wait as long as it takes for the Palestinians to throw in the towel.

Israel’s fear is that stepping back from control will only make them vulnerable to worse military action. With enemies like Iran publically stating that they will wipe out Israel, they can not afford to relinquish their advantage. Israel remains a small country with a big military.

Do the Palestinians want a settlement? Of course – but. The right-wing of the Muslim world has vowed to wipe out Israel. If Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas concedes and ends hostilities, he may well be destroyed by his own people. During the Bill Clinton era, Yashar Arafat came to the bargaining table with Israel ready to concede East Jerusalem to the P.A. and he walked out. The Arab world wants killing far more than compromise.

The Palestinians have a point. They have watched world opinion shift in their direction. The Iranians have supplied weaponry and missiles and will continue to do so. The P.A. has little to show in their struggles with Israel, but they are willing to wait. They believe time is on their side.

So, how does America deal with a struggle that has been going on forever while confronting leaders who appear relatively indifferent? I believe the answer is not in increasing pressure on either side, but taking the posture that we will guarantee that their national needs will be met and guaranteed by America. Israel’s issue is military security. The Palestinians want a guarantee that Israeli occupation will end and the Palestinian state will be recognized as a free and independent state. America has the power to achieve this result. An imposed peace plan will not work for either party. Israelis and Palestinians must come to their own terms. The fanatics cannot be pacified, but peaceful terms are achievable for both sides.

America has an opportunity. Let’s pray the USA makes the most of it.

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