Remembering What George H.W. Bush Did for the Jews, Even within a Decidedly Mixed Legacy

While the first President Bush, who died on Friday at the age of ninety-four, did not always have easy relations with Israel and the American Jewish community—most notably, his administration convened the 1991 Madrid conference, which helped to legitimize the PLO and to pave the way for the Oslo Accords—it was in his tenure that, thanks largely to the efforts of John Bolton, then an assistant secretary of state, the UN was induced to rescind its infamous 1975 Zionism-is-racism resolution. Bush also did much specifically to help Jews. Ron Kampeas notes that when Bush served as the U.S. ambassador to the UN during the Nixon administration, he “made Soviet Jewry one of his signature issues.” And these efforts continued thereafter:

[A]s Ronald Reagan’s vice-president, Bush quietly helped engineer some of the pivotal moments in the effort to bring Jews out of the former Soviet Union, Ethiopia, and Syria. . . . Bush was deeply involved in foreign policy as vice-president, and Jewish leaders said he helped orchestrate the dramatic seder hosted by then-Secretary of State George Shultz at the U.S. embassy in Moscow in 1987.

He also ignored advice from much of his national-security team in 1991—the very period when he was in the throes of his most difficult arguments with Jewish leaders [over loan guarantees for Israel]—and approved American overtures to the Mengistu regime in Ethiopia that resulted in Operation Solomon, which brought 15,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel. . . .

Bush also was instrumental in persuading Hafez Assad, the Syrian dictator, to allow young Jewish women to leave Syria for New York so they could be matched with men in the Syrian Jewish community. While some of these actions were secret at the time, Bush was averse to claiming responsibility even in subsequent years.

As for Bush’s relations with Israel, Kampeas notes that in his memoir, coauthored with his national-security adviser Brent Scowcroft, Bush recounts “that he expected a degree of gratitude from Israel for protecting it during the Gulf War—apparently not realizing that it was precisely this unwanted protection that stirred resentment among Israelis fiercely committed to protecting themselves.” Protecting itself was exactly what Bush pressured Israel not to do when Saddam Hussein bombarded it with Scud missiles.

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More about: American Jewry, Ethiopian Jews, George H. W. Bush, Israel & Zionism, Soviet Jewry, Syrian Jewry

The Military Perils of Ceding Israeli Control of the West Bank

April 24 2019

In the years since the second intifada ended, no small number of retired high-ranking IDF officers and intelligence officials have argued that complete separation from the Palestinians is a strategic necessity for Israel. Gershon Hacohen, analyzing the geography, the changes in warfare—and Middle Eastern warfare in particular—since the 1990s, and recent history, argues that they are wrong:

The withdrawal of IDF forces from the West Bank and the establishment of a Palestinian state in these territories will constitute an existential threat to Israel. The absence of an Israeli military presence in the West Bank, especially along the Jordan River, will enable the creation of a terrorist entity, à la the Gaza Strip, a stone’s throw from the Israeli hinterland. This withdrawal will box Israel into indefensible borders, especially in light of the major changes in the nature of war in recent decades that have made the astounding achievements of 1967 impossible to replicate, not to mention the stark international response [that would follow Israel’s] takeover of a sovereign state.

The deployment of international forces in the West Bank will not, [contrary to what some have argued], ensure the demilitarization of the prospective Palestinian state, let alone prevent the entry of Arab forces into its territory (with or without its consent) and/or its transformation into a springboard for terrorist attacks against Israel. . . .

Israel [now] maintains control of some 60 percent of the West Bank’s territory, . . . which is mostly empty of Palestinian population but includes all of the West Bank’s Jewish communities and IDF bases, as well as main highways, vital topographic areas, and open spaces descending eastward to the Jordan Valley. The retention of this territory constitutes the absolute minimum required for the preservation of defensible borders and meets two conditions necessary for Israel’s security: the Jordan Valley buffer zone, without which it will be impossible to prevent the rapid arming of Palestinian terrorist groups throughout the West Bank; and control of intersecting transportation arteries, which, together with control of strategic topographical sites, enables rapid deployment of IDF forces deep inside Palestinian areas.

It is the surrender of such conditions in Gaza that has transformed the Strip into an ineradicable terrorist entity. Uprooting the West Bank’s Jewish communities will also make it difficult for the IDF to operate in the depth of the Palestinian state, especially if it is forced to fight simultaneously on a number of fronts, [since] simultaneous fighting in Gaza, which will be an integral part of the future Palestinian state, is a foregone conclusion.

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More about: Israeli grand strategy, Israeli Security, Palestinian statehood, West Bank