President Barack Obama’s controversial candidate for the post of U.S. Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, believes that in any Middle East peace agreement there is only one issue that is not negotiable: Israel’s Jewish identity.
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The former Republican senator from Nebraska, described by conservative Republicans and Jewish critics as “antagonistic” toward Israel and even as a “borderline anti-Semite” wrote in his 2008 book America; Our Next Chapter that any U.S. president is required “to engage actively in the dangerous and politically risky business of peacemaking. We know that a peace settlement will not happen if the parties are left to their own devices.”
However, Hagel added, “there is one important given that is not negotiable: a comprehensive solution should not include any compromise regarding Israel’s Jewish identity.”
Obama is expected to announce Hagel’s nomination for the top post in the Defense Department in Washington on Monday. Republican senators, right wing columnists and several Jewish groups have already signaled that they will oppose Hagel’s nomination, citing, among other things, his “animus” toward Israel and his remarks about the power of the “Jewish lobby” in Washington.
Hagel’s positions on Arab-Israeli peacemaking, however, are shared by a substantial number of Israelis in the center and left of Israel’s political map: he endorses the “Clinton Parameters” enunciated by former President Bill Clinton following the 2000 Camp David summit, saying that these “represent the most comprehensive, detailed and practical plan to date for an Israeli-Palestinian settlement and a two-state solution.”
“The Israeli people must be free to live in peace and security,” Hagel wrote in his book. “Similarly, the Palestinian people must also have the same right to live in peace in Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital and with the same hope for a prosperous future.”
Hagel also writes that any peace agreement would require a “regional security initiative” that would include Israel and Arab states, with UN and NATO participation.
But, he added, at the core of the U.S. approach to Middle East “there will always be a special and historic bond with Israel, exemplified by our continued commitment to Israel’s defense. But this commitment cannot be at the expense of our Arab and Muslim relationships.”
In his book, Hagel also calls for direct bilateral talks with Iran, writing, “military strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities would signal a severe diplomatic failure and would have their own serious negative consequences for the United States and for our allies.”
He describes the war in Iraq as one of the five biggest blunders in U.S. history, and describes President George Bush’s foreign policy as “reckless."