Toomey’s learning curve

Toomey’s learning curve

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey deserves credit for his recent 72-hour visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. After he and his Democratic opponent in the 2010 election, Joe Sestak, met our editorial staff last year, it was apparent to us that Toomey’s first-hand experience in the region was limited compared to Sestak’s. Clearly, Toomey is correcting that situation now.
In a conference call interview last Friday Toomey said he delivered a tough message when he met P.A. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. “One of the things that I wanted to stress was that if, after this fall’s elections and further negotiations, if Hamas continues to have … any kind of meaningful role in the government, I don’t see how the U.S. Congress would continue to support financial aid to the Palestinian Authority.”
We agree. Unless Hamas recognizes Israel and accepts a two-state solution, the terrorist organization has no place in the peace process. At best, it would be obstructionist. At worse, it would resort to violence to scuttle the process and shove the region into yet another intifada that would cost lives on both sides.
But Toomey made another statement, which gave us pause.
Noting his opposition to President Obama’s call for peace talks based on a return to 1967 borders, Toomey acknowledged that some kind of land-for-peace deal would have to be made.
Then he said this:
“The Palestinians have to commit to a peace agreement to recognizing the right of Israel to exist, to exist freely and securely. I think a Palestinian state would have to be largely a demilitarized state. And Israel would have to have a security presence beyond whatever borders are negotiated.”
Yes to recognition and demilitarization — but a “security presence?”
Toomey didn’t clarify what he meant by that, but if he’s talking about keeping Israeli troops in a future Palestinian state after that state has been declared, then it’s a recipe for disaster.
First off, the P.A. would never agree to a deal that is little more than what it has now. Second, even if it would, a continued Israeli military presence on P.A. territory would be akin to lighting a stick of dynamite in a crowded theater, then walking away, hoping it doesn’t explode. It will.
Palestinians — not all, but enough — would see a continued Israeli presence on their territory as a provocation. Sooner or later, someone would strike.
The idea is to make peace, not sow the seeds for another conflict.
From Israel’s standpoint, it would make no sense to keep forces on Palestinian land once a treaty is signed. If the new Palestinian state is supposed to be demilitarized, then any effort on its part to arm would constitute a violation of the treaty, no doubt leading to a swift Israeli response.
Toomey’s visit to the Middle East is welcomed, and we agree with most of his conclusions. But this one statement reminds us in no uncertain terms that the freshman senator still has much to learn.