Commentary Magazine


Topic: Israel-Palestinian conflict

Understanding A Simple Question

The 19th-century British prime minister Lord Palmerston once joked about a thorny diplomatic question of his day that, “Only three people have ever really understood the Schleswig-Holstein business—the Prince Consort, who is dead—a German professor, who has gone mad—and I, who have forgotten all about it.”

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The 19th-century British prime minister Lord Palmerston once joked about a thorny diplomatic question of his day that, “Only three people have ever really understood the Schleswig-Holstein business—the Prince Consort, who is dead—a German professor, who has gone mad—and I, who have forgotten all about it.”

But while the Schleswig-Holstein question might have been hard to understand, the Israel-Palestinian question is not.  Indeed, as Dennis Prager explains in this short lecture, it couldn’t be simpler.

To be sure, while the question is simple, the solution, all too obviously, is not. It has defied the best efforts of men and women of good will for 67 years.

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Palestinians Build a Settlement

Though it was entirely unintentional, the New York Times deserves credit today for pointing out the hypocrisy of critics of Israel’s settlement building. No, the paper hasn’t reversed its policy of treating the presence of Jews in the heart of their ancient homeland as wrong or an obstacle to peace that is reflected on its news pages as much as it is on their editorial page. What they did was something more subtle than that and will require some context for their readers to understand. They published a feature about the Palestinians doing something that Israel hasn’t tried in more than two decades, the building of an entirely new city in the West Bank.

What’s wrong with that? Actually, nothing. If the planners of Rawabi own the land where they are constructing a town north of Ramallah, then why shouldn’t they build new homes and places of business for Arabs who want them? But the story about the effort and the travails of the planners—who are, ironically, under attack from Palestinians for their efforts to cooperate with Israel and Israeli businesses and contractors to get the job done—should remind us that doing so is no more of an obstacle to peace than the builders of homes for Jews.

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Though it was entirely unintentional, the New York Times deserves credit today for pointing out the hypocrisy of critics of Israel’s settlement building. No, the paper hasn’t reversed its policy of treating the presence of Jews in the heart of their ancient homeland as wrong or an obstacle to peace that is reflected on its news pages as much as it is on their editorial page. What they did was something more subtle than that and will require some context for their readers to understand. They published a feature about the Palestinians doing something that Israel hasn’t tried in more than two decades, the building of an entirely new city in the West Bank.

What’s wrong with that? Actually, nothing. If the planners of Rawabi own the land where they are constructing a town north of Ramallah, then why shouldn’t they build new homes and places of business for Arabs who want them? But the story about the effort and the travails of the planners—who are, ironically, under attack from Palestinians for their efforts to cooperate with Israel and Israeli businesses and contractors to get the job done—should remind us that doing so is no more of an obstacle to peace than the builders of homes for Jews.

The point about the West Bank that cannot be reiterated enough is that the conflict about ownership of the land is one in which both sides can muster arguments in their favor. Should the Palestinians ever reject their culture of violence and delegitimizing of Jewish rights to any part of the country, peace will be possible and the land will have to be divided, however painful that would be for both sides. Such a negotiation would be difficult but, assuming that the Palestinians were ever actually willing to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders were drawn, it would not be impossible. And since it is likely that if such a partition were ever to take place, Rawabi would be part of the Palestinian state, then why would Israelis complain that building on the site would make peace impossible?

Of course, Israelis aren’t making such a protest, any more than they speak out against the building going on in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem or any other place in the West Bank.

But when new homes are built in existing Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem or in those towns and communities in the major settlement blocs in the West Bank that everyone knows would be retained by Israel in the event of a peace accord, they are bitterly condemned by the Obama administration, the Europeans, and the liberal media.

In fact, Israel hasn’t done anything on the scale of Rawabi in many years. Outside of scattered hilltop camps with trailers, it hasn’t actually built a new settlement since the Oslo Accords. What Israel has done is added new housing developments to existing places. But the Arabs have done the same and in the case of Rawabi, they are seeking to expand their hold on the land by establishing new facts on the ground that strengthen their claims.

Of course, Israel’s critics assert that Arabs have a right to live in Rawabi while the Jews don’t have a right to live in “stolen land” on the West Bank. That argument rests on the fallacy that history began in 1967 when Israel came into the possession of the West Bank as a result of a defensive war. But in fact, the “West Bank” (a name for the territories of Judea and Samaria that only came into existence when the Kingdom of Jordan illegally occupied the land to differentiate it from their territory on the East Bank of the Jordan River) is part of a territory set aside by international authorities for a Jewish homeland where Jews, as well as Arabs, had rights. Though the international community has sought to abrogate Jewish rights there, they cannot be extinguished in this manner. The resolution of the dispute over the land requires a negotiation in which each side must be prepared to compromise rather than, as the Palestinian Authority continues to do, simply dictate.

Contrary to the claims of Israel’s critics, if both sides continue doing as they are now and building at the same pace, peace won’t be any easier or harder to reach in the future than it is now. The same boundaries will be there to be drawn with Jews and Arabs on Israel’s side and Arabs only on the Palestinian side (as Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority have repeatedly made clear), then as they are now. The building of new settlements, whether Jews or Arabs populate them, won’t stop peace if both peoples truly want it. Israel has already demonstrated that it is prepared to do so, as it has repeatedly offered and made territorial withdrawals while the Palestinians have never given up their maximalist demands that aim at Israel’s destruction, not coexistence. The reason the Palestinians focus on settlement building as a threat to their future is not because these places are actually obstacles to peace but because they are opposed to Jews living in anywhere in the country.

Rawabi also demonstrates the priorities of Israel’s foes. Many of them are, as the Times makes clear, opposed to it, because building it undercuts the attempt to boycott Israel. Much like the efforts to prevent the descendants of the 1948 refugees from being resettled so as to keep them as an issue to hold over Israel, they’d rather keep Palestinians from having a new town so long as it doesn’t mean doing business with Jews. 

If the Palestinians that will live in Rawabi and elsewhere in the West Bank truly want peace with Israel and to gain self-determination in exchange, they will get it. Moreover, if Palestinians persist in building on lands they are likely to keep and Israel keeps building in those places they will retain, it won’t put off peace by a single day. Let’s hope that, like its Jewish counterparts in Maale Adumim and Ariel, Rawabi will raise the quality of life for its inhabitants. Perhaps in doing so it will undermine the efforts of those Palestinians that continue to foment the hatred of Jews and Israel that remains at the core of the conflict.

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Palestinians Have Suffered … at the Hands of Their Leaders

Sometimes a great truth can be found even in a compendium of lies. That’s the upshot of the latest rant against Israel from a Palestinian leader. The leader in question is Jibril Rajoub, who currently serves as head of the Palestinian Olympic Committee, though prior to assuming that post this senior official of the Fatah Party was an Arafat advisor and a terrorist who was imprisoned for throwing a hand grenade at an Israeli bus. Rather than concentrating on trying to get Palestinian kids to turn to sports as a preferable outlet to violence, Rajoub has been outspoken about his commitment to conflict with Israel recently and was quoted as having said that Palestinians suffered “three times as much” as Israelis as a result of the 1972 Munich massacre.

There is something egregious about a Palestinian Olympic official attempting to rationalize or even downplay the significance of an event in which terrorists under the command of Arafat and Fatah (albeit operating under the false flag of “Black September” which was merely a front for the PLO) murdered 11 Israeli athletes. But as wrong as Rajoub is about so much else, he’s right that the Palestinians have suffered more as a result of these events even if he doesn’t quite understand what the source of the suffering really was.

When he spoke of Palestinian suffering, Rajoub was referring to the Israeli efforts to kill all those involved in that bloody terror attack. But the real suffering was the ultimate impact on the Palestinian people of that crime and the thousands more like it committed in the name of Palestinian nationalism. By embracing terror, the Palestinians have doomed themselves to decades of war and hardship that might have been entirely avoided had they decided to devote themselves to reconciliation and coexistence. Rather than focus on the supposed misdeeds of the evil Israelis, as Rajoub would have his people and those that wish them well do, Palestinians would do well to finally realize that the ones who have been inflicting suffering on them are their own violent and corrupt leadership.

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Sometimes a great truth can be found even in a compendium of lies. That’s the upshot of the latest rant against Israel from a Palestinian leader. The leader in question is Jibril Rajoub, who currently serves as head of the Palestinian Olympic Committee, though prior to assuming that post this senior official of the Fatah Party was an Arafat advisor and a terrorist who was imprisoned for throwing a hand grenade at an Israeli bus. Rather than concentrating on trying to get Palestinian kids to turn to sports as a preferable outlet to violence, Rajoub has been outspoken about his commitment to conflict with Israel recently and was quoted as having said that Palestinians suffered “three times as much” as Israelis as a result of the 1972 Munich massacre.

There is something egregious about a Palestinian Olympic official attempting to rationalize or even downplay the significance of an event in which terrorists under the command of Arafat and Fatah (albeit operating under the false flag of “Black September” which was merely a front for the PLO) murdered 11 Israeli athletes. But as wrong as Rajoub is about so much else, he’s right that the Palestinians have suffered more as a result of these events even if he doesn’t quite understand what the source of the suffering really was.

When he spoke of Palestinian suffering, Rajoub was referring to the Israeli efforts to kill all those involved in that bloody terror attack. But the real suffering was the ultimate impact on the Palestinian people of that crime and the thousands more like it committed in the name of Palestinian nationalism. By embracing terror, the Palestinians have doomed themselves to decades of war and hardship that might have been entirely avoided had they decided to devote themselves to reconciliation and coexistence. Rather than focus on the supposed misdeeds of the evil Israelis, as Rajoub would have his people and those that wish them well do, Palestinians would do well to finally realize that the ones who have been inflicting suffering on them are their own violent and corrupt leadership.

Rajoub’s checkered career has included some time spent trying to cultivate the affection of Israeli and American Jewish left-wingers via the Geneva Initiative, of which he was one of the signers. But in the last year, he has been among the most outspoken Palestinians when it comes to attempts to demonize Israel. As the Times of Israel reports:

Rajoub, former director of the Preventive Security Force in the West Bank, told a conference in October 2012 that “Jews are Satans, and Zionists the sons of dogs.”

In an interview with the Lebanese TV channel al-Mayadeen on May 1, he said that, for Fatah, “resistance to Israel remains on our agenda.

“I mean resistance in all of its forms,” he elaborated. “At this stage, we believe that popular resistance — with all that it entails — is effective and costly to the other side [Israel],” Rajoub said in the hour-long interview, which was highlighted by the watchdog group Palestinian Media Watch.

“If you ask me as a Palestinian,” he continued, “I say — our battle is with the Israeli occupation. Our main enemy, not [just] as Palestinians but as Arabs and Muslims, is Israel and the Israeli occupation.”

These sorts of statements are in keeping with the general tone of Palestinian politics in which vilification of Israel and support for conflict is always in fashion. But Rajoub’s reference to Munich is an opportunity to address just how badly those who act on such sentiments have damaged the Palestinians.

Violence against Jews and rejection of Israel has been the key element of Palestinian nationalism throughout its history. But imagine what the outcome would have been if instead of concentrating on trying to kill Jews, be they Olympic athletes or the children slaughtered by suicide bombers during the second intifada, Palestinians had focused their efforts on peaceful development, refugee resettlement or peaceful outreach. Untold suffering, death and destruction would have been avoided on both sides. And there’s little doubt the Palestinians would have achieved an independent state long ago.

Israelis have suffered from Arab terror such as the Munich massacre. But it is probably true that as awful as that pain has been, the Palestinians have been the much big losers in the exchange. It’s a pity that Rajoub can’t realize that. It’s even more of a pity that the people he supposedly represents haven’t come to the same conclusion and ousted their corrupt and violent Fatah and Hamas leaders in exchange for leaders who wish to end their suffering rather than prolong it in the name of an endless unwinnable war against Israel.

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Palestinians and the Hands of Time

This week marks the 46th anniversary of the Six-Day War and it cannot be said that the Palestinian Authority has neglected to remember the occasion. Earlier this week the PA’s chief “peace negotiator” Saeb Erekat schlepped a group of foreign journalists to Latrun, the crossroads town that once served as the choke point for the 1948 siege of Jerusalem to remind them—as well as Palestinians and Israelis—that what he is asking for is not negotiations for peace but an attempt to turn back the hands of time and return the region to the moment in history before the Israeli victory in 1967 changed the strategic balance in the region. As the New York Times reported:

“I am sure many of you are asking why is Saeb Erekat bringing you to this point,” Mr. Erekat said to a group of diplomats and reporters as he stood against a backdrop of green fields, a reservoir and an Israeli settlement of red-roofed houses in the valley below.

“It is not because I want to demarcate the maps or finalize the negotiations,” he said, referring to the intensive efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry to get the Israelis and Palestinians to return to peace talks. “I just want to stand here and say, ‘It is 46 years later.’ ”

Erekat’s candor is in a sense quite commendable. Latrun is a potent symbol of the nature of the Israel that existed in those halcyon days before the obstacle to peace was the presence of Jews in the West Bank and in which a small state with indefensible borders and a capital that could be isolated with ease stood on the precipice of destruction as Arab armies began to mass on its borders. Erekat was sending a clear message to Israelis that if they thought the PA would ever accept the fact that the world had irrevocably changed in those 46 years they could just keep dreaming.

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This week marks the 46th anniversary of the Six-Day War and it cannot be said that the Palestinian Authority has neglected to remember the occasion. Earlier this week the PA’s chief “peace negotiator” Saeb Erekat schlepped a group of foreign journalists to Latrun, the crossroads town that once served as the choke point for the 1948 siege of Jerusalem to remind them—as well as Palestinians and Israelis—that what he is asking for is not negotiations for peace but an attempt to turn back the hands of time and return the region to the moment in history before the Israeli victory in 1967 changed the strategic balance in the region. As the New York Times reported:

“I am sure many of you are asking why is Saeb Erekat bringing you to this point,” Mr. Erekat said to a group of diplomats and reporters as he stood against a backdrop of green fields, a reservoir and an Israeli settlement of red-roofed houses in the valley below.

“It is not because I want to demarcate the maps or finalize the negotiations,” he said, referring to the intensive efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry to get the Israelis and Palestinians to return to peace talks. “I just want to stand here and say, ‘It is 46 years later.’ ”

Erekat’s candor is in a sense quite commendable. Latrun is a potent symbol of the nature of the Israel that existed in those halcyon days before the obstacle to peace was the presence of Jews in the West Bank and in which a small state with indefensible borders and a capital that could be isolated with ease stood on the precipice of destruction as Arab armies began to mass on its borders. Erekat was sending a clear message to Israelis that if they thought the PA would ever accept the fact that the world had irrevocably changed in those 46 years they could just keep dreaming.

As Erekat well knows there now exists a broad consensus within Israel about the desirable nature of a two-state solution.  That consensus includes Prime Minister Netanyahu and most of the members of his government. Indeed, even the Israeli right knows that if the Palestinians ever offered a complete end to the conflict and recognized the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders were drawn they would find the majority ready to make painful territorial sacrifices. But by laying down a marker on Latrun—a place that no Israeli in his right mind would ever consider leaving—Erekat was making it clear their real priority was not peace but an effort to merely continue the conflict on more advantageous terms.

Indeed, reminding Israelis of the Israel that existed from 1949 to 1967 is not exactly the way to reassure his ostensible peace partners of the PA’s good intentions. But of course what else can you expect of a peace negotiator that has boycotted peace talks for the past four and a half years?

The actions of Erekat and his boss PA leader Mahmoud Abbas show just how much of a fool’s errand Secretary of State John Kerry has sent himself on by seeking to revive talks with the Palestinians. The PA says it will talk with Israel but only if Netanyahu promises in advance to use the armistice lines that stood until June 4, 1967 as the starting point for negotiations with the clear implication that they will accept little if any alterations to them.

Though Kerry and those American Jews who are cheering his efforts on seem to forget, Israel offered the Palestinians an independent state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem in 2000, 2001 and 2008 and were turned down every time. The latter offer even included a codicil from Ehud Olmert abandoning Jewish sovereignty over the Old City and the Western Wall. But even those terms were not enough to tempt Abbas to give up the conflict.

If the Palestinians were really interested in peace, they could do what President Obama asked them to do this past spring and negotiate without preconditions as Netanyahu has always been prepared to do. But since doing so would put them in a position where they might be forced to either say yes to an accord, which is unthinkable given the realities of Palestinian politics, or no, which would demonstrate that it is not the Israelis who don’t want to make peace, they will continue to find excuses to stay away from the table.

But instead of negotiating, they continue to talk about forcing the Israelis to accept the so-called “right of return” for the descendants of the Palestinian refuges of 1948—something that means the end of the Jewish state and grandstanding at Latrun—which reminds Israelis of what a return to the 1967 lines would mean.

Instead of trying to move the clock ahead to a time when Palestinians will have finally rejected the politics of hate and war, Erekat and Abbas continue to appear more interested in turning it back to a moment when there was not a single Jew living in the West Bank, Eastern Jerusalem or the Old City. It is no small irony that there was not only no peace when there were no settlements but also no Palestinian independence. If the PA ever truly wants a state as opposed to a never-ending conflict, the Israelis will be ready. History cannot go backward even if the Palestinians wish it could.

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Palestinians Want U.S. Cash, Not Peace

Secretary of State John Kerry and some Israelis, notably President Shimon Peres, had high hopes for the latest initiative to improve the Palestinian economy. Kerry arrived at the World Economic Summit in Jordan with his usual unrealistic high hopes for the value of his diplomacy but he did not go there without offering serious incentives to the Palestinian Authority to quit its boycott of peace negotiations that has been going on since before Barack Obama became president of the United States. The United States offered a $4 billion plan that was supposed to both boost the Palestinian economy as well as give PA leader Mahmoud Abbas a tangible benefit for cooperating with Washington’s new plan to restart talks with Israel. But the Palestinian answer wasn’t long in coming. Anyone who has paid attention to Palestinian responses to the various ways that President Obama has tried to tilt the diplomatic playing field in their direction or the way they answered various Israeli peace offers in the last 20 years knows that it was the usual one word reply: no.

As the Times of Israel reports:

Slapping down the notion that the PA might be appeased by Kerry’s focus on economic improvements, President Mahmoud Abbas’s economic adviser, Mohammad Mustafa, said ”The Palestinian leadership will not offer political concessions in exchange for economic benefits.” He added, in a statement reported by the Palestinian Ma’an news agency: “We will not accept that the economy is the primary and sole component.”

Mustafa, who also heads the Palestine Investment Fund, said the PA’s priorities are not economic but rather a political framework for the creation of Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines, with East Jerusalem as its capital, that also ensures the rights of refugees and a political compromise, the Palestinian news agency added.

Investors are nonetheless more than welcome to “come to Palestine,” the statement added.

In other words, the Palestinians say thanks for the cash but no talks except those that guarantee they get everything they’re asking for while giving nothing in return and even then there’s no guarantee they won’t continue the conflict as their insistence on the “right of return” — which is tantamount to calling for Israel’s destruction — indicates.

While this is another humiliating setback for Kerry, it’s actually far more significant than that. It exposes the fallacy at the heart of most efforts to create peace between Jews and Arabs for the last century.

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Secretary of State John Kerry and some Israelis, notably President Shimon Peres, had high hopes for the latest initiative to improve the Palestinian economy. Kerry arrived at the World Economic Summit in Jordan with his usual unrealistic high hopes for the value of his diplomacy but he did not go there without offering serious incentives to the Palestinian Authority to quit its boycott of peace negotiations that has been going on since before Barack Obama became president of the United States. The United States offered a $4 billion plan that was supposed to both boost the Palestinian economy as well as give PA leader Mahmoud Abbas a tangible benefit for cooperating with Washington’s new plan to restart talks with Israel. But the Palestinian answer wasn’t long in coming. Anyone who has paid attention to Palestinian responses to the various ways that President Obama has tried to tilt the diplomatic playing field in their direction or the way they answered various Israeli peace offers in the last 20 years knows that it was the usual one word reply: no.

As the Times of Israel reports:

Slapping down the notion that the PA might be appeased by Kerry’s focus on economic improvements, President Mahmoud Abbas’s economic adviser, Mohammad Mustafa, said ”The Palestinian leadership will not offer political concessions in exchange for economic benefits.” He added, in a statement reported by the Palestinian Ma’an news agency: “We will not accept that the economy is the primary and sole component.”

Mustafa, who also heads the Palestine Investment Fund, said the PA’s priorities are not economic but rather a political framework for the creation of Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines, with East Jerusalem as its capital, that also ensures the rights of refugees and a political compromise, the Palestinian news agency added.

Investors are nonetheless more than welcome to “come to Palestine,” the statement added.

In other words, the Palestinians say thanks for the cash but no talks except those that guarantee they get everything they’re asking for while giving nothing in return and even then there’s no guarantee they won’t continue the conflict as their insistence on the “right of return” — which is tantamount to calling for Israel’s destruction — indicates.

While this is another humiliating setback for Kerry, it’s actually far more significant than that. It exposes the fallacy at the heart of most efforts to create peace between Jews and Arabs for the last century.

Almost from the beginning of the Jewish return to their ancient homeland, many Zionists as well as their foreign friends thought the Arabs inside the country as well as those in neighboring lands would be won over to the new reality once they realized that the Jews brought development and prosperity with them. The influx into the country created tremendous growth even as the conflict escalated over the course of the first half of the 20th century. Throughout this era, Labor Zionists who combined a desire to rebuild the Jewish presence with socialist ideology believed Arab rejectionism was a function of the exploitation of the masses by an elite that profited from conflict. They thought once it was understood that all would benefit from peace and reconciliation, Palestinian Arab workers and peasants would welcome the Jews. Even hardheaded pragmatists like David Ben Gurion thought this way for a long time. They were wrong.

The Palestinian rejection of the Jews might have been exacerbated by the displacement of some Arab peasants whose landlords sold to Jews but the underlying animosity was always based in a refusal to accept the legitimacy of the idea that Jews would now be equal partners, let alone have sovereignty over part of the land. Only a few Jewish leaders, like Ben Gurion’s nationalist rival, Vladimir Ze’ev Jabotinsky understood that the Arabs could not be bought with prosperity. For them the conflict was about honor and religion, not money. He predicted that only when they gave up their last hope that the Jews could be pushed out or reduced to Dhimmi status would they ever make peace.

But the naïve misconception that the Arabs would realize that coexistence would be good for all persisted long after Israel was born in 1948 amid wars that would continue for decades. Shimon Peres launched the effort that led to the Oslo Peace Accords in large measure on the belief that an agreement would lead to a “New Middle East” where Israel and its Arab neighbors would come to resemble a Mediterranean version of the wealthy Benelux countries. But as Israelis who greeted Oslo with euphoria learned to their sorrow, the Palestinians didn’t care about becoming part of a new Benelux. They embraced terror because they valued the campaign to destroy Israel over their own economic well-being and even the lives of their children.

The last and perhaps most pathetic proof that the conflict isn’t about money came in 2005 when American philanthropists purchased the green houses of Israeli settlers in Gaza at the time of Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal from the strip in order to hand them over to the Palestinians. But rather than become the new owners of a prosperous agricultural infrastructure, the Palestinians destroyed the green houses in a fit of anger that encapsulated their hatred for the Jews.

The same spirit is very much alive today in the West Bank where Palestinian reformer Salam Fayyad remains a man without a party or a constituency because his people value the violence of Fatah and Hamas over his program of good governance and development. Logically the Palestinians should have embraced Kerry’s offer since it promises to boost Palestinian employment by two-thirds and raise wages by 40 percent. But it remains a loser in a political culture in which any plan that would recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn remains anathema.

The moral of the story is that it doesn’t matter how high a priority either the United States or Israel places on peace or how much an agreement would be to the Palestinians material advantage. They continue to regard economic incentives as merely yet another Western attempt to “buy” their birthright that they reject. They might like the cash — which will hopefully not be wasted or go into the pockets of the Fatah-run kleptocracy in the West Bank that has gobbled so many billions donated to their people in the last 20 years. But it won’t lead to peace. It’s a simple lesson but one which idealistic and foolish Westerners and Jews have refused to learn.

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Statesmen Stuck in Middle East Time Warp

While visiting Israel this weekend, Secretary of State John Kerry said that everywhere he goes – Europe, the Gulf States, China, Japan, even New Zealand and Brazil – the first thing he is asked about is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Perhaps his hosts are simply demonstrating tact by starting off with the only issue Kerry shows any real interest in. But if this is truly their number-one concern, we should all be afraid: It means the leaders and diplomats entrusted with managing global crises don’t have the faintest understanding of what is and isn’t important.

Even if we disregard some pretty major problems elsewhere on the planet – for instance, the adventurism of nuclear North Korea, or the serious instability in another nuclear power, Pakistan, where Islamic extremists slaughter thousands of their own countrymen every year – there’s a Middle Eastern problem right next door that’s infinitely more important than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I am talking, of course, about Syria.

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While visiting Israel this weekend, Secretary of State John Kerry said that everywhere he goes – Europe, the Gulf States, China, Japan, even New Zealand and Brazil – the first thing he is asked about is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Perhaps his hosts are simply demonstrating tact by starting off with the only issue Kerry shows any real interest in. But if this is truly their number-one concern, we should all be afraid: It means the leaders and diplomats entrusted with managing global crises don’t have the faintest understanding of what is and isn’t important.

Even if we disregard some pretty major problems elsewhere on the planet – for instance, the adventurism of nuclear North Korea, or the serious instability in another nuclear power, Pakistan, where Islamic extremists slaughter thousands of their own countrymen every year – there’s a Middle Eastern problem right next door that’s infinitely more important than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I am talking, of course, about Syria.

It’s not just that the Syrian conflict has already killed five to 10 times as many people in a mere two years – anywhere from 80,000 to 120,000, depending on whose estimate you believe – as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has in the entire 65 years of Israel’s existence (about 15,000). It’s that unlike the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Syrian conflict is rapidly destabilizing all its neighbors.

Over the last 25 years, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has manifested itself in two intifadas and two Hamas-Israel wars. Not one of them resulted in refugees fleeing to other countries, fighters pouring in from other countries, or violence inside other countries. The Syrian conflict, however, has produced large quantities of all three.

Some 1.5 million Syrian refugees have fled to other countries, mainly Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, and the UN says the number is rising by about 250,000 per month. This is putting a serious strain on the host countries.

Moreover, citizens of most of Syria’s neighbors – especially Lebanon, Iraq and Jordan – are now fighting in Syria, acquiring skills that their countries of origin fear will be turned against their own countrymen when they return. And the problem isn’t confined to Arab countries: Hundreds of European Muslims are also fighting in Syria, where they are being further radicalized and learning military skills that will make them serious terror risks when they return. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has attracted no similar influx.

Finally, the Syrian conflict is exporting violence to all its neighbors. To cite just two of the most serious incidents, a double bombing killed 52 people in Reyhanli, a Turkish town near the Syrian border, two weeks ago, while Sunni-Alawite clashes in the Lebanese city of Tripoli have killed 29 people in the last week.

The Syrian conflict is thus a clear and present danger to every country in the region, and even to some farther afield, like the European states whose citizens are fighting there. The same hasn’t been true of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in decades: The last time this conflict drew in another country was the 1982 Lebanon War (the Israel-Hezbollah war of 2006 had nothing to do with the Palestinians). Today, the conflict affects nobody but Israelis and Palestinians themselves.

Yet the statesmen whom we count on to manage global affairs appear to be stuck in a time warp, unable to see that the map of the world’s problems has changed. And that may pose an even greater danger than the bloodbath in Syria.

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Don’t Ignore Olmert’s Lesson in Futility

Those who choose to absolve the Palestinians of any responsibility for their own plight are faced with a difficult dilemma. After 20 years of peace processing that have included enormous concessions on the part of Israel, including the empowerment of the PLO in the West Bank and Gaza via Oslo, the withdrawal from Gaza and three separate offers of an independent Palestinian state that the Palestinian Authority rejected, it ought to be impossible for an objective observer to argue that Israel has not tried to make peace. But that hasn’t the stopped the Arab and Muslim worlds as well as American and Jewish apologists for the Palestinians from still trying to portray them as the victims of an intransigent Israel. When confronted with the chance for statehood they were given in 2000, 2001 and 2008, they argue that the offers were insufficient even if it isn’t clear what, short of Israel’s dissolution, would satisfy them.

These are important facts to remember as Secretary of State John Kerry tries to restart the peace talks the Palestinians have boycotted for four and half years. Though the political realities of Palestinian life—the most stark of which is the fact that the Islamists of Hamas control Gaza and exercise an effective veto over peace—make it clear his effort is a fool’s errand, Kerry and those inclined to blame Israel for the lack of peace are hoping to get the Palestinians back to the table and to agree to what they’ve already repeatedly rejected. It is in that context that we should understand the importance of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s recollections of his 2008 attempt to make a deal with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. Olmert gives a detailed accounting of his negotiations with Abbas in an interview in The Tower, which is important not just as a matter of historical detail and the curious fact that he and Abbas sketched out the proposed borders of a deal on a napkin and then on a piece of stationery. By explaining just how far-reaching the Israeli offer was, Olmert demonstrates just how empty the Palestinian excuses for their refusal to make peace really are.

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Those who choose to absolve the Palestinians of any responsibility for their own plight are faced with a difficult dilemma. After 20 years of peace processing that have included enormous concessions on the part of Israel, including the empowerment of the PLO in the West Bank and Gaza via Oslo, the withdrawal from Gaza and three separate offers of an independent Palestinian state that the Palestinian Authority rejected, it ought to be impossible for an objective observer to argue that Israel has not tried to make peace. But that hasn’t the stopped the Arab and Muslim worlds as well as American and Jewish apologists for the Palestinians from still trying to portray them as the victims of an intransigent Israel. When confronted with the chance for statehood they were given in 2000, 2001 and 2008, they argue that the offers were insufficient even if it isn’t clear what, short of Israel’s dissolution, would satisfy them.

These are important facts to remember as Secretary of State John Kerry tries to restart the peace talks the Palestinians have boycotted for four and half years. Though the political realities of Palestinian life—the most stark of which is the fact that the Islamists of Hamas control Gaza and exercise an effective veto over peace—make it clear his effort is a fool’s errand, Kerry and those inclined to blame Israel for the lack of peace are hoping to get the Palestinians back to the table and to agree to what they’ve already repeatedly rejected. It is in that context that we should understand the importance of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s recollections of his 2008 attempt to make a deal with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. Olmert gives a detailed accounting of his negotiations with Abbas in an interview in The Tower, which is important not just as a matter of historical detail and the curious fact that he and Abbas sketched out the proposed borders of a deal on a napkin and then on a piece of stationery. By explaining just how far-reaching the Israeli offer was, Olmert demonstrates just how empty the Palestinian excuses for their refusal to make peace really are.

The offer was every bit as far-reaching as previously reported. Olmert was not just prepared to sanction Palestinian independence in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem. He was also prepared not just to partition the capital; He agreed to relinquish Israeli sovereignty over the center of Jewish religious and historical memory: the Old City of Jerusalem. Though the only period in history in which Jews or members of all faiths have had full access to the holy sites has been the 46 years that it has been under Israel’s control, Olmert was prepared to abandon that in favor of a special committee made up of representatives from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the United States, Israel and the Palestinians that would jointly administer the Old City. He also agreed to take thousands of Palestinian refugees into Israel as a symbolic bow to the Palestinian “right of return.” In order to keep some of its major settlement blocs in the West Bank, he was also prepared to hand over large chunks of Israel to make it an even swap.

But Abbas couldn’t take yes for an answer.

Indeed, the Palestinian leader wouldn’t even initial the hand-drawn map of the deal. Nor did he ever dignify this generous offer with a response. As Olmert puts it, he’s still waiting for a phone call from Abbas with his answer.

The reason for that is not exactly a secret. Abbas could not say yes because doing so meant recognizing the legitimacy of the Jewish state that would remain in the parts of the country Olmert had agreed to give up. And that is not something he could do and survive in the violent world of Palestinian politics. Since Palestinian nationalism was founded out of the desire to reject Zionism, it is simply impossible for it to make its peace with a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn.

Olmert’s proposal is vulnerable to criticism because it creates a new divided Jerusalem that would be an unbearable mess. So, too, would his limited right of return for Palestinians and the tunnel he wanted to dig between Gaza and the West Bank. But the real problem is that, like Ehud Barak, who also tried to give the Palestinians almost everything they said they wanted, he got nothing in exchange for offers that compromised Israel’s rights.

In Olmert’s view the only conclusion to be drawn from this failure is that Abbas is, “no hero.” He’s right about that, but the lesson from this episode goes deeper than Abbas’s lack of heroism. If a Palestinian leader couldn’t bring himself to take an offer like that—one, I might add, that gives up far more in Jerusalem than most Israelis thought acceptable—than what this shows is that the 36 meetings Olmert had with Abbas was a charade. The only point of this process for the Palestinians is to use any concessions they get as the floor for future negotiations and demands. The result is that Israel continues to abandon its rights—including not just West Bank settlements but the most sacred places in Judaism—while getting neither peace nor security.

Olmert says he’s proud of his efforts, but all he really accomplished was to demonstrate once again that real peace with the Palestinians remains an illusion for the foreseeable future. 

Those expecting Kerry to improve on this record are in for a disappointment. 

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Why the al-Dura Blood Libel Still Matters

Nearly 13 years ago, then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak journeyed to Camp David to end the conflict with the Palestinians. With the approval of President Clinton, he offered Yasir Arafat an independent Palestinian state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza and in part of Jerusalem. Arafat said no. A couple of months later, the Palestinians put an exclamation mark on that refusal by launching the terrorist offensive that came to be known as the second intifada. Yet in spite of the fact that it was the Palestinians who had rejected peace and who were engaging in terror attacks on Israeli targets that would cost more than 1,000 Israeli lives, they were still portrayed in much of the Western media as the victims. While the process that brought about this perplexing reversal was complex, one particular incident became the symbol of this vicious distortion: the Muhammad al-Dura affair.

The story promoted at the time by the Palestinian propaganda machine was that Israeli army fire killed a small boy while he and his father were seeking shelter from fighting near a Gaza checkpoint. Film footage provided by French TV made this tragedy an international cause célèbre and an official Israeli apology reinforced the Palestinian narrative and helped turn al-Dura into the poster child for Israeli beastliness and their own suffering. Yet soon doubts began to surface about the veracity of the claim of Israeli responsibility and the discrepancies and falsehoods in the Palestinian narrative were exposed in various Western outlets. Over the years, the initial story has been debunked in a variety of places. A German documentary proved that the shots that killed the boy could not have come from Israeli positions and French gadfly Phillipe Karsenty, who pointed out the original report was false, was sued in the courts by prominent journalist Charles Enderlin (who had broadcast the initial lie) but ultimately vindicated. Now it appears the Israeli government has finally caught up to the problem and issued what may be a definitive report that comes to the harshest possible conclusion about the al-Dura myth. As Haaretz reports:

Thirteen years after an exchange of fire in Gaza appeared to have resulted in the death of a Palestinian boy at the start of the second intifada, an Israeli investigative panel has found “there are many indications” that Mohammed al-Dura and his father, Jamal, “were never hit by gunfire” – neither Israeli nor Palestinian – after all.

The national panel of inquiry further claims that contrary to the famed report carried by the France 2 television network on the day of the incident, September 30, 2000, 12-year-old Mohammed al-Dura appears to be alive at the end of the complete footage captured of the event.

The response to this report is predictable. The Muslim and Arab world will reject any investigation into it that will not accept their narrative. But more troubling will be the answer from many in the West and even in Israel who will ask why anyone should bother with such an old story. We should, they will assert, care about how to end the conflict, not who killed al-Dura. For Israel or its friends to spend any time on this issue is a diversion of effort from the peace process that will only anger Palestinians who will say that any argument about the incident demonstrates insensitivity, even if the facts are correct. But anyone who doubts the importance of debunking what has become a new version of the old Jewish blood libel is the one who is wrong.

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Nearly 13 years ago, then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak journeyed to Camp David to end the conflict with the Palestinians. With the approval of President Clinton, he offered Yasir Arafat an independent Palestinian state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza and in part of Jerusalem. Arafat said no. A couple of months later, the Palestinians put an exclamation mark on that refusal by launching the terrorist offensive that came to be known as the second intifada. Yet in spite of the fact that it was the Palestinians who had rejected peace and who were engaging in terror attacks on Israeli targets that would cost more than 1,000 Israeli lives, they were still portrayed in much of the Western media as the victims. While the process that brought about this perplexing reversal was complex, one particular incident became the symbol of this vicious distortion: the Muhammad al-Dura affair.

The story promoted at the time by the Palestinian propaganda machine was that Israeli army fire killed a small boy while he and his father were seeking shelter from fighting near a Gaza checkpoint. Film footage provided by French TV made this tragedy an international cause célèbre and an official Israeli apology reinforced the Palestinian narrative and helped turn al-Dura into the poster child for Israeli beastliness and their own suffering. Yet soon doubts began to surface about the veracity of the claim of Israeli responsibility and the discrepancies and falsehoods in the Palestinian narrative were exposed in various Western outlets. Over the years, the initial story has been debunked in a variety of places. A German documentary proved that the shots that killed the boy could not have come from Israeli positions and French gadfly Phillipe Karsenty, who pointed out the original report was false, was sued in the courts by prominent journalist Charles Enderlin (who had broadcast the initial lie) but ultimately vindicated. Now it appears the Israeli government has finally caught up to the problem and issued what may be a definitive report that comes to the harshest possible conclusion about the al-Dura myth. As Haaretz reports:

Thirteen years after an exchange of fire in Gaza appeared to have resulted in the death of a Palestinian boy at the start of the second intifada, an Israeli investigative panel has found “there are many indications” that Mohammed al-Dura and his father, Jamal, “were never hit by gunfire” – neither Israeli nor Palestinian – after all.

The national panel of inquiry further claims that contrary to the famed report carried by the France 2 television network on the day of the incident, September 30, 2000, 12-year-old Mohammed al-Dura appears to be alive at the end of the complete footage captured of the event.

The response to this report is predictable. The Muslim and Arab world will reject any investigation into it that will not accept their narrative. But more troubling will be the answer from many in the West and even in Israel who will ask why anyone should bother with such an old story. We should, they will assert, care about how to end the conflict, not who killed al-Dura. For Israel or its friends to spend any time on this issue is a diversion of effort from the peace process that will only anger Palestinians who will say that any argument about the incident demonstrates insensitivity, even if the facts are correct. But anyone who doubts the importance of debunking what has become a new version of the old Jewish blood libel is the one who is wrong.

There have been many good accounts of this affair, including this piece by Nidra Poller published in COMMENTARY in September 2005. I’ve also written about it on our blog several times, including this piece from last year about the French court case. Yet even before those were published one of the first Western accounts of the al-Dura affair got to the heart of this problem. James Fallows’s June 2003 article in the Atlantic, “Who Shot Mohammed al-Dura?” pointed out not just the fact that there was good reason to doubt the initial version of the story but that the facts wouldn’t change anyone’s mind because of the iconic status of the photo allegedly depicting the boy and his father. Indeed, he seemed to suggest in a deconstructionist spirit that objective truth was itself impossible since both sides sought to create their own facts in order to prove they were right.

Fallows had a point about the intractable nature of this debate. But the problem here is that the lie about al-Dura isn’t peripheral to the widespread misperceptions about the overall conflict. If, as I wrote last month, a mainstream media figure like CNN and Time magazine’s Fareed Zakaria can assert that Israel has never offered peace to the Palestinians, and get away with it, there is something profoundly wrong with the way our culture has accepted Palestinian lies as either reasonable assertions or even truths. It’s not just that the Israelis didn’t kill al-Dura; it’s that the fault for the continuation of the conflict at the moment in history when he was supposedly slain rests almost completely on the people who have elevated him to sainthood and used his mythical spilled blood to justify boycotts of Israel.

This story matters not because the truth can help undermine efforts to isolate Israel. It’s important because so long as the Arab and Muslim world clings to its blood libels all talk about peace is futile. The “Pallywood” productions, of which the al-Dura hoax is the most prominent, haven’t just deceived the West. They’ve also reinforced the Palestinian myths about themselves. As such, they’ve done more real damage to the prospects of peace than any Israeli settlement. Unless and until the Palestinians give up their campaign of incitement against Israelis and Jews and stop seeking to depict this conflict as one in which they are only the victims of a violent Zionist plot, there is no hope for any solution, let alone the two-state solution most in Israel and the West believe in. 

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Is the Arab Peace Plan Really About Peace?

Secretary of State John Kerry hailed the idea of reviving the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative put forward yesterday in Washington by a delegation from the Arab League. Kerry, who reportedly is hoping to host a multi-party peace conference this spring, was pleased that Qatar’s foreign minister had suggested that the proposal might be modified from its original take-it-or-leave-it demand that Israel return to the 1967 lines to one that allowed for a mutually-agreed “minor swap of land” that would modify the border.

This is progress of a sort, and should not be entirely dismissed. But before those advocating for more Israeli concessions in response to the proposal get too excited, it’s important to remember why this initiative flopped the first time around: it’s not really a peace proposal.

While the Arab Peace Initiative continues to be cited by Israel’s critics as proof that the Jewish state really does have partners, this idea has always been more about polishing the image of the Arab world in the United States than anything else. Conceived in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks when the Arab states, and in particular Saudi Arabia, were viewed with disgust by most Americans, the initiative was part of an effort to rehabilitate their image. But despite the fact that New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman (who claimed it stemmed from a conversation he had with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah) and others in the foreign policy community promoted the idea, it fizzled. Why? Because it was not an invitation to negotiate, but a diktat. Even worse, it contained a vital poison pill: the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel that would, in effect, mean the end of the Jewish state, not peace with it.

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Secretary of State John Kerry hailed the idea of reviving the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative put forward yesterday in Washington by a delegation from the Arab League. Kerry, who reportedly is hoping to host a multi-party peace conference this spring, was pleased that Qatar’s foreign minister had suggested that the proposal might be modified from its original take-it-or-leave-it demand that Israel return to the 1967 lines to one that allowed for a mutually-agreed “minor swap of land” that would modify the border.

This is progress of a sort, and should not be entirely dismissed. But before those advocating for more Israeli concessions in response to the proposal get too excited, it’s important to remember why this initiative flopped the first time around: it’s not really a peace proposal.

While the Arab Peace Initiative continues to be cited by Israel’s critics as proof that the Jewish state really does have partners, this idea has always been more about polishing the image of the Arab world in the United States than anything else. Conceived in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks when the Arab states, and in particular Saudi Arabia, were viewed with disgust by most Americans, the initiative was part of an effort to rehabilitate their image. But despite the fact that New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman (who claimed it stemmed from a conversation he had with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah) and others in the foreign policy community promoted the idea, it fizzled. Why? Because it was not an invitation to negotiate, but a diktat. Even worse, it contained a vital poison pill: the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel that would, in effect, mean the end of the Jewish state, not peace with it.

While the initiative does not specifically mention the so-called “right of return” by which the descendants of the Arab refugees of 1948 would be allowed to enter Israel, Prince Abdullah made this clear when he said this on the day the Arab League adopted the proposal:

I propose that the Arab summit put forward a clear and unanimous initiative addressed to the United Nations security council based on two basic issues: normal relations and security for Israel in exchange for full withdrawal from all occupied Arab territories, recognition of an independent Palestinian state with al-Quds al-Sharif as its capital, and the return of refugees.

It should be conceded that this is better than the famous “three no’s” enforced throughout the Arab world in the aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day War, when Muslim countries said they would not make peace, recognize or negotiate with Israel. But the effect is not all that different. The Arab League proposal envisions normal relations with an Israel that has been forced to retreat from all territories it won in a defensive war in 1967. But the Israel they want to make peace with is one that would be forced to accept millions of Arabs who would change it from a Jewish nation into yet another Arab one.

If Kerry really wants to promote the cause of peace, what he needs to do is tell the Arab League that while their support for recognition of Israel might be helpful, their proposal will not be allowed to be used as a distraction from the direct peace talks without preconditions that both President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu have endorsed. The Palestinian Authority, which has neither the will nor the ability to end the conflict or recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, has been trying to avoid such talks.

Instead of providing a distraction from this crucial question, the Arab League needs to be prodding the PA to drop its excuses and return to the negotiating table. The PA walked away from direct talks more than four years ago in order to avoid having to respond to the last Israeli proposal that offered them an independent state. With Hamas stronger than ever and emboldened by its friendship with the Islamist governments of Egypt and Turkey, the odds of getting the PA back to the table, let alone agreeing to peace, are slim.

Negotiations, rather than fiats that dictate the results even before talks begin, are the only path to statehood for the Palestinians. Yesterday, Netanyahu repeated his support for the creation of a Palestinian state living in peace alongside Israel. If the Palestinians can ever get past their ideologically-driven rejection of the Jewish state’s legitimacy, they will find there is a sturdy Israeli majority in favor of peace even along lines that many Israelis will find difficult to accept. But so long as the Arab world continues to attempt to divert the world with public-relations tricks, the Palestinians will continue to believe that if they wait long enough, the world will deliver Israel to them on a silver platter.

No peace proposal that has an attempt to sneak in the right of return at its core is really about peace. It’s time the U.S. told the Arab world to forget about this disingenuous idea and face reality. What the Middle East needs is not a John Kerry photo op in Washington but a sea change within the culture of the Palestinians that will enable their leaders to come to grips with the need to end the conflict and recognize the Jewish state. Until that happens, this latest version of Abdullah’s PR initiative will be as much of a dead end as the first time it was trotted out by Friedman.

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Kerry Should Forget About ME Summit

Earlier this week, Haaretz reported that “well placed U.S. sources” said Secretary of State John Kerry was planning to convene a summit in June at which the United States, Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority would, with the help of Turkey and Egypt, set a new agenda for peace talks. The starting point for this push would be the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative and the principle of “two states for two peoples.” But even before the idea had begun to percolate, the administration is publicly backing away from summit plans.

Bernadette Meehan, National Security Council Spokesperson: said “We have seen the media reports of a planned Middle East Peace summit in Washington. These reports are not true. We remain committed to working with the Israelis and the Palestinians to achieve a lasting peace through direct negotiations.”

What’s going on here? It’s hard to say with certainty but it appears that after four years of having a secretary of state who understood that the White House is the only place policy is made in the Obama administration, the switch from Hillary Clinton to Kerry involves a change in attitude as well as personnel. But whether Kerry is trying to slip the leash or not, it’s clear that whoever it is that has vetoed the summit understands the situation better than Kerry. A summit is an invitation to diplomatic disaster, not peace.

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Earlier this week, Haaretz reported that “well placed U.S. sources” said Secretary of State John Kerry was planning to convene a summit in June at which the United States, Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority would, with the help of Turkey and Egypt, set a new agenda for peace talks. The starting point for this push would be the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative and the principle of “two states for two peoples.” But even before the idea had begun to percolate, the administration is publicly backing away from summit plans.

Bernadette Meehan, National Security Council Spokesperson: said “We have seen the media reports of a planned Middle East Peace summit in Washington. These reports are not true. We remain committed to working with the Israelis and the Palestinians to achieve a lasting peace through direct negotiations.”

What’s going on here? It’s hard to say with certainty but it appears that after four years of having a secretary of state who understood that the White House is the only place policy is made in the Obama administration, the switch from Hillary Clinton to Kerry involves a change in attitude as well as personnel. But whether Kerry is trying to slip the leash or not, it’s clear that whoever it is that has vetoed the summit understands the situation better than Kerry. A summit is an invitation to diplomatic disaster, not peace.

Kerry may think bringing together the Islamist governments of Egypt and Turkey into the process may give PA leader Mahmoud Abbas the diplomatic cover he needs to take risks for peace. But far from helping bring about the goal of a two state solution, having two nations that are allied with Hamas (which governs the independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza) at the table merely makes it clear that Abbas doesn’t have the power to make peace even if he had the will to do so.

President Obama was right when he stated last month during his trip to Israel that direct negotiations between the two parties without preconditions was the only path to an agreement. Yet that is precisely why Abbas has sought to evade such talks. He knows he hasn’t the ability to sell the Palestinian people on a deal that recognized the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn. He also knows that the Arab peace initiative which Kerry thinks will draw Israel’s neighbors into the talks is a non-starter because it is antithetical to the notion of two states for two peoples.

Though the Arab initiative speaks of recognition of Israel, it eschews any understanding that Israel is the state of the Jewish people. It specifically insists upon implementation of the so-called Palestinian “right of return” that would swamp Israel with millions of the descendants of Arab refugees from 1948.

What’s so depressing about this idea is not just that it is foolish but that it shows Kerry hasn’t been paying much attention to diplomatic history. There have been a number of summits whose purpose was to broker Middle East peace dating back to Rhodes in 1949, Madrid in 1991 and most recently, Annapolis in 2008. While Madrid could be said to have at least initiated a dynamic where direct talks became imaginable, these gatherings were mostly about photo opportunities and the chance for world leaders to grandstand than any real breakthrough. Even worse by raising unrealistic expectations with a summit, Kerry could be setting the stage for a new round of violence where Fatah and Hamas would again compete for popularity with bombs rather than state building.

The only possible scenario in which a summit might make sense would be if Kerry miraculously achieved an agreement from the PA to start negotiations in advance. But given Abbas’s demands for Israeli concessions in advance as a precondition for talks — something Obama specifically rejected — it’s difficult to see how that happens.

If Kerry really wants to help the situation, he should concentrate on plans for economic development in the West Bank that would improve the lives of Palestinians and, at least in theory, give them an incentive to back peace rather than more conflict. But with the forced exit of PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, pumping more money into the area may do more to enrich Abbas’s corrupt Fatah cronies than to help the Palestinian people. His desire to give the PA control over areas that Oslo designates as solely under Israeli control also raises questions about the motives of this effort.

Doubling down on failure is a loser’s bet but that’s exactly what Kerry appears to be doing right now. His desire for a show that would highlight his pose as a peacemaker who can succeed where every predecessor failed is in keeping with his character. But if President Obama wants to keep the region from blowing up the Israel-Palestinian conflict at a time when he should be concentrating on Syria and Iran, he needs to make sure Kerry doesn’t go off the leash again.

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Do Jerusalem Homes Prevent Peace?

The lead article above the fold in Sunday’s New York Times teases President Obama’s visit to Israel by focusing on what it represents as a serious threat to the chances of peace: the building of homes by Jews in Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem. As the piece states, the government of Israel is not looking to provide any pretext for a fight with the Obama administration. So there will be no announcements of government-sponsored housing starts in the capital that have been portrayed as “insults” to the U.S. in order for the president to gin up spats between the two allies. As Eli Lake writes today in the Daily Beast, a “détente” now exists between the two governments that de-emphasizes the moribund peace process with the Palestinians and is allowing them to cooperate more closely on the nuclear threat from Iran. But for those determined to pin blame on Israelis for the lack of progress toward an end to the conflict with the Palestinians, Jerusalem remains a hot-button issue.

As the Times reports, the purchase of property in the Old City and in other parts of Jerusalem that are majority Arab is viewed as an unwelcome provocation by the United States, but it can’t pin the blame for it on Prime Minister Netanyahu since these are private initiatives. In the past, Obama foolishly picked fights about building in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem that even he understands would remain part of Jerusalem in the event the Palestinians ever decided to make peace. Such building in those places as well as in the settlement blocs that Israel would also retain has no effect on the prospects for peace. But peace plans backed by the U.S. and offered by past Israeli governments did offer the Palestinian Authority sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods in the city. So would the presence of a few scattered groups of Jews in those areas really “complicate” a solution for peace if the will for peace existed on both sides? The only honest answer to that question is no.

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The lead article above the fold in Sunday’s New York Times teases President Obama’s visit to Israel by focusing on what it represents as a serious threat to the chances of peace: the building of homes by Jews in Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem. As the piece states, the government of Israel is not looking to provide any pretext for a fight with the Obama administration. So there will be no announcements of government-sponsored housing starts in the capital that have been portrayed as “insults” to the U.S. in order for the president to gin up spats between the two allies. As Eli Lake writes today in the Daily Beast, a “détente” now exists between the two governments that de-emphasizes the moribund peace process with the Palestinians and is allowing them to cooperate more closely on the nuclear threat from Iran. But for those determined to pin blame on Israelis for the lack of progress toward an end to the conflict with the Palestinians, Jerusalem remains a hot-button issue.

As the Times reports, the purchase of property in the Old City and in other parts of Jerusalem that are majority Arab is viewed as an unwelcome provocation by the United States, but it can’t pin the blame for it on Prime Minister Netanyahu since these are private initiatives. In the past, Obama foolishly picked fights about building in existing Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem that even he understands would remain part of Jerusalem in the event the Palestinians ever decided to make peace. Such building in those places as well as in the settlement blocs that Israel would also retain has no effect on the prospects for peace. But peace plans backed by the U.S. and offered by past Israeli governments did offer the Palestinian Authority sovereignty over Arab neighborhoods in the city. So would the presence of a few scattered groups of Jews in those areas really “complicate” a solution for peace if the will for peace existed on both sides? The only honest answer to that question is no.

It should first be understood that the whole discussion of what Israeli policies would or would not enhance the chances for peace is itself something of a diversion from reality. Successive Israeli governments, including the present one, have endorsed a two-state solution. Three times—in 2000, 2001 and 2008—it offered the Palestinians an independent state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem that would include the areas that are discussed in the Times feature. Each time, they rejected the offers.

While critics of Israel keep saying that settlements are precluding the chance of peace, were the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table (which they have refused to do since the end of 2008), these offers might or might not be put back in play. Especially after the disastrous withdrawal from Gaza, which resulted in the territory becoming a huge terror base rather than advancing the chances for peace, the Israeli people are far more skeptical about such schemes. But were the PA ever to show its commitment to ending the conflict, anything would be possible.

But in the absence of such a commitment, talk about Israeli home building preventing peace is simply an attempt to divert attention from Palestinian rejectionism.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas did take up Netanyahu’s offer to conduct peace talks anywhere, anytime. Would the building in Arab areas stop such an initiative from succeeding?

As the Times relates, the sum total of Jews living in those neighborhoods amounts to approximately 2,200 people living in scattered homes and apartments. They, like the Jews living in far-flung settlements deep in the West Bank, would oppose being put into a putative state of Palestine. But were such an agreement truly promising peace, rather than a truce that would only postpone further Palestinian efforts to destroy Israel, it is not likely they would prevail in stopping such an agreement from being ratified or implemented. But if peace were really in the offing, the question arises: why would the presence of a few Jews in parts of their ancient capital be so offensive to the Palestinians?

The fact is, it is not a few people whom the Times characterize as extremists that oppose a partition of Jerusalem. The overwhelming majority of Israelis think division of the city is unworkable and not likely to enhance the chances of peace. Moreover, unlike the editors of the Times and others who insist that only an Israeli commitment to leave parts of Jerusalem will bring peace, most Israelis understand the Palestinians aren’t remotely interested in peace on virtually any terms that would require them to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state.

Given the ongoing Palestinian hostility to Israel’s existence and support for terror, many Israelis would question the wisdom of further entangling the Jewish and Arab populations by building in Arab neighborhoods. But few would question the right of Jews to live there.

As the final Palestinian quoted in the piece says, the Arabs are still laboring under the delusion that the Jews can be made to think Jerusalem isn’t “their place” or “their land” and will be made to leave. So long as attitudes such as these prevail, peace is truly impossible no matter what Israel’s government or its citizens say or do.

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If “Problem” Is Zionism, Peace Isn’t West Bank Activists’ Goal

With President Obama due to arrive in Israel on Wednesday, slanted pieces on the Jewish state found their way onto both the front page of the Sunday New York Times and the cover of its weekly magazine today. I’ll have more later on the newspaper story by Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren, which treats the erecting of homes for Jews in Jerusalem as an outrage that “complicates” the nonexistent hopes for peace with the Palestinians. But that piece is a model of objective journalism when compared to the magazine’s cover story. The title of the article, “Is This Where the Third Intifada Will Start?” promises an investigation into the chances of more Palestinian unrest and violence. But what author Ben Ehrenreich delivers is not so much an answer to that question as an argument about why it should happen and an affectionate portrait of some of those who are doing their best to see that it does.

Ehrenreich’s story centers on his experiences hanging out in the village of Nabi Saleh, where Palestinian organizers of violent demonstrations have been seeking out confrontations with a neighboring Jewish settlement and Israeli soldiers who guard it and nearby checkpoints every Friday afternoon. The weekly dust-ups have become a tourist attraction for leftist European anti-Israel activists (so much so that local Palestinian hosts for the foreign Israel-bashers are always ready with vegan meals). But, as with so much reporting from the Middle East, what it missing from this compendium of Palestinian derring-do and grievances is more interesting than what made it into the magazine.

In order to understand the piece, the first thing one needs to know is Ehrenreich’s personal point of view about this conflict. The second would be to examine the alternatives to confrontation that the heroes of his piece have no interest in pursuing.

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With President Obama due to arrive in Israel on Wednesday, slanted pieces on the Jewish state found their way onto both the front page of the Sunday New York Times and the cover of its weekly magazine today. I’ll have more later on the newspaper story by Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren, which treats the erecting of homes for Jews in Jerusalem as an outrage that “complicates” the nonexistent hopes for peace with the Palestinians. But that piece is a model of objective journalism when compared to the magazine’s cover story. The title of the article, “Is This Where the Third Intifada Will Start?” promises an investigation into the chances of more Palestinian unrest and violence. But what author Ben Ehrenreich delivers is not so much an answer to that question as an argument about why it should happen and an affectionate portrait of some of those who are doing their best to see that it does.

Ehrenreich’s story centers on his experiences hanging out in the village of Nabi Saleh, where Palestinian organizers of violent demonstrations have been seeking out confrontations with a neighboring Jewish settlement and Israeli soldiers who guard it and nearby checkpoints every Friday afternoon. The weekly dust-ups have become a tourist attraction for leftist European anti-Israel activists (so much so that local Palestinian hosts for the foreign Israel-bashers are always ready with vegan meals). But, as with so much reporting from the Middle East, what it missing from this compendium of Palestinian derring-do and grievances is more interesting than what made it into the magazine.

In order to understand the piece, the first thing one needs to know is Ehrenreich’s personal point of view about this conflict. The second would be to examine the alternatives to confrontation that the heroes of his piece have no interest in pursuing.

Ehrenreich is a curious choice to write an in-depth piece on the Israeli-Palestinian struggle for the supposedly objective Times. If the piece seems incredibly skewed toward the point of view of the Palestinians, it’s no accident. Ehrenreich has never made any secret about his view about the State of Israel: he thinks Zionism is the moral equivalent of Nazism and believes the Jewish state should not exist. He stated as much in a 2009 op-ed published in the Los Angeles Times titled “Zionism is the problem.” In that piece he didn’t merely repeat the canard that Israel was an apartheid state but actually said the racist South African government compared favorably to the Jewish state.

The author thinks it’s an injustice to say that denying to Jews the same rights that no one would think to deny to every other people on the planet is anti-Semitism. True to the beliefs of his Marxist grandparents, he thinks all nationalisms are bad, but he sees the destruction of the one Jewish nationalism as a priority. The piece is a farrago of distortions, not the least of which is the notion that a single secular state to replace Israel could guarantee the rights or the safety of Jews there. But the main takeaway from it is that he has no interest in even arguing the merits of a two-state solution or lamenting the fading chances of such a deal. That’s because he agrees with Palestinians who continue to refuse to recognize the legitimacy of any Jewish state, no matter where its borders are drawn.

That’s why Ehrenreich’s paean to the demonstrators of Nabi Saleh is so patently disingenuous. The people of the village resent the existence of the neighboring Jewish community of Halamish that has been there for 36 years. They dispute ownership of a spring that exists between the two and may have a good case that one of their number actually owns it–though the article only tells us the Israeli government says the Jews have not been able to establish their rights to it. But their real issue—and Ehrenreich’s—is not about the water, the presence of more than a thousand Jews in their neighborhood or the security fence that separates the West Bank from pre-1967 Israel.

Though the ostensible purpose of the protests at Nabi Saleh is to get rid of the Jews in their midst as well as the checkpoints and security fences (which were erected in order to halt the Palestinian depredations of the last intifada in which more than 1,000 Jews were slaughtered by other “activists”) in the area, Ehrenreich’s piece is honest enough to avoid a claim that the path to peace is merely an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank to the ’67 lines.

Indeed, his critique is not so much aimed at the settlers or soldiers (whose voices make only a cameo appearance in the article), but at the Oslo process itself that created the Palestinian Authority. Ehrenreich quotes with approval the condemnation of that peace accord as an outrage because it was predicated on the idea that the PA it created would be responsible for ending the conflict and stopping recurrences of terrorism. Of course, Yasir Arafat never had any intention of doing so, and actually subsidized terror groups with the money he got from European and American donors (at least that portion that he and his cronies didn’t steal).

The hero of Ehrenreich’s piece—Bassem Tamimi, a Fatah activist and holder of a no-show job from the Palestinian Authority—also makes no pretense about the morality of non-violence. He doesn’t think the suicide bombers were wrong, merely unsuccessful.

This is important because the whole idea of the legitimacy of the Nabi Saleh protests isn’t so much the supposed injustices that the villagers suffer (though almost all of the hardships recounted in the piece stem solely from a decision by them to seek out violent confrontation with Israelis rather than peaceful accommodation) as it is that they have no alternative to weekly sessions of taunting soldiers and throwing rocks at them.

That is the basic falsehood at the core of the piece. After all, if the Palestinian Authority that employs Tamimi really wanted to create an independent state, including Nabi Saleh, they could have accepted Israel’s offers of such a deal in 2000, 2001 or 2008. Saying yes to those proposals would have probably forced the removal of Halamish, leaving the Tamimi clan free to enjoy the spring on their own without the inconvenience or humiliation of having to share it or the area with the Jews.

Indeed, were the PA to go back to the table today—something that it has steadfastly refused to do ever since Mahmoud Abbas fled negotiations with former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2008 rather than be faced with a decision about accepting peace—they might well get a similar offer that would answer the Tamimis’ property claims.

But they don’t, and not one of the protesters is calling on them to do so. The reason for this is simple. They don’t want a state alongside Israel regardless of where the lines are drawn. Like Ehrenreich, they want a Palestinian state instead of Israel.

That’s why pieces such as this one, which seem to be based on the idea that a lack of progress toward peace (i.e. the failure of Israel to make enough concessions to the Palestinians) leaves the Arabs with no alternative but to resort to another intifada, are so misleading. The alternative to an intifada, be it armed or disarmed, is to negotiate and to compromise. And that is something that the PA, its stone-throwing villagers and their foreign cheerleaders won’t do.

Ehrenreich’s bias is so deeply embedded in the piece that it is pointless to criticize anything but the decision to employ him to write it. But there was at least one sentence that shows the magazine’s editors are either so ignorant or so biased that they couldn’t even bother to clean up obvious mistakes.

The piece describes last November’s fighting along the Gaza border as having started when “Israeli missiles started falling on Gaza” which activists hoped they could leverage into wider protests. You don’t need to be a fan of Israel or Zionism to note that the exchange was triggered by Hamas’s decision to unleash a massive rocket barrage on southern Israel. But correcting that slanted sentence or even just making a neutral reference to the violence was not something the editors thought worth the trouble.

One more point about the supposed non-violence of the Nabi Saleh demonstrators. The piece accepts the idea that throwing rocks and gasoline bombs at soldiers or settlers is a form of non-violent protest. It may be that these weapons seem less sinister to the foreign press than suicide bombing, but the notion that the use of such lethal force is consistent with the beliefs of Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. is absurd.

Case in point is just the latest incident in which Palestinian stone throwing caused a car to crash into a bus in the West Bank leaving several people injured and a baby in critical condition. When Palestinian children, who are encouraged to provoke soldiers to fire on them outside Nabi Saleh, get hurt when those soldiers try to protect themselves from rocks and firebombs, it is considered an outrage. When Palestinians deliberately target Jewish children, those same activists consider it as justified resistance. Though Ehrenreich thinks settler violence is underreported, the ongoing story of Palestinian attacks on Jews in the territories gets even less coverage.

The Times often shrugs off accusations of bias against Israel, but this article’s publication and its prominent placement demonstrates just how virulent the problem remains.

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U.S. Should Oppose EU Mideast Plan

Speculation about President Obama’s intentions to push a revival of the moribund Middle East peace process may increase today with reports of plans for a new European Union initiative. According to Ynet News, the British and French foreign ministries are concocting the plan with the support of Germany and the European Union. The conceit of the scheme is a return to the familiar theme of an accord based on the 1967 lines with a division of Jerusalem and agreed-upon swaps of territory between Israel and the Palestinians. It is expected that it will include specific details such as a demand for an absolute freeze in Israeli building in the territories including those areas that it might keep under the swaps. Even more troubling is the notion that the negotiations will be in the context of a regional committee which will include not only the Europeans, Israelis and Palestinians but also nations such as Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf states, a situation in which the Jewish state would be outnumbered, isolated and backed into a corner without much room for diplomatic maneuvering.

The only real variable as far as the push to implement such a plan is the United States. While the Europeans have reportedly held off on putting forward their plan until after President Obama was safely elected and then inaugurated, the question remains as to whether the administration will put its weight behind it. While on the face of it, the plan ought to be to President Obama’s liking since he has pushed Israel hard on settlements, Jerusalem and the ’67 lines, these attempts to strong-arm the government of Prime Minister Netanyahu have always been in the context of American-led negotiations. As with much of the rest of his Middle East foreign policies, it seems the administration is prepared to “lead from behind” on this track and throw its support behind a European initiative, marking a significant policy departure from past efforts in which the president made the Israel-Palestinian issue a priority. If he’s willing to defer to the EU here, it will be a step that could rightly be interpreted as abandoning Israel to a forum in which it will be treated badly.

But it could also be a sign that Obama has finally learned his lesson about the Middle East. The EU plan is doomed to failure just like every other past peace idea. Having been sandbagged by the Palestinians for four years, perhaps he prefers not to waste any of his time or his precious political capital in a second term on the Middle East.

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Speculation about President Obama’s intentions to push a revival of the moribund Middle East peace process may increase today with reports of plans for a new European Union initiative. According to Ynet News, the British and French foreign ministries are concocting the plan with the support of Germany and the European Union. The conceit of the scheme is a return to the familiar theme of an accord based on the 1967 lines with a division of Jerusalem and agreed-upon swaps of territory between Israel and the Palestinians. It is expected that it will include specific details such as a demand for an absolute freeze in Israeli building in the territories including those areas that it might keep under the swaps. Even more troubling is the notion that the negotiations will be in the context of a regional committee which will include not only the Europeans, Israelis and Palestinians but also nations such as Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf states, a situation in which the Jewish state would be outnumbered, isolated and backed into a corner without much room for diplomatic maneuvering.

The only real variable as far as the push to implement such a plan is the United States. While the Europeans have reportedly held off on putting forward their plan until after President Obama was safely elected and then inaugurated, the question remains as to whether the administration will put its weight behind it. While on the face of it, the plan ought to be to President Obama’s liking since he has pushed Israel hard on settlements, Jerusalem and the ’67 lines, these attempts to strong-arm the government of Prime Minister Netanyahu have always been in the context of American-led negotiations. As with much of the rest of his Middle East foreign policies, it seems the administration is prepared to “lead from behind” on this track and throw its support behind a European initiative, marking a significant policy departure from past efforts in which the president made the Israel-Palestinian issue a priority. If he’s willing to defer to the EU here, it will be a step that could rightly be interpreted as abandoning Israel to a forum in which it will be treated badly.

But it could also be a sign that Obama has finally learned his lesson about the Middle East. The EU plan is doomed to failure just like every other past peace idea. Having been sandbagged by the Palestinians for four years, perhaps he prefers not to waste any of his time or his precious political capital in a second term on the Middle East.

The EU plan is bad news for Israel in that it is clearly designed not so much to create peace as to embarrass the Netanyahu government. No one in their right mind could possibly believe that a Palestinian Authority that has refused every past peace offer will now embrace one that will still force them to recognize Israel’s legitimacy. But the main point of the process will be to put Netanyahu in a bind by forcing him to freeze building in Jerusalem and the West Bank without any real payoff in terms of peace.

More to the point, with PA leader Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah Party concentrating these days on negotiating some kind of rapprochement with Hamas, there is little reason to believe it has the flexibility or the willingness to compromise with Israel. The recent signs of a revival of Fatah’s terrorist arm—the Al Aksa Martyr’s Brigade—as well as Hamas’s interest in extending its reach make it impossible to sell Israel on the notion of allowing the Palestinians to replicate the independent state in all but name that exists in Gaza in the West Bank. It also makes it fairly obvious that any Palestinian participation in the EU plan will be to discomfit Israel in an international forum rather than actually making peace.

This is the sort of ill-considered notion that the United States should have no part in. In fact, were Obama willing to exercise leadership he would be currently warning the EU to stand down on the Middle East and tell the Palestinians that they should be negotiating directly with Israel rather than standing back and waiting for the U.S. and the Europeans to force Israel to its knees. The only path to peace is one in which the PA rejects Hamas and tells the Israelis that they are willing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and negotiate borders and other terms in order to end the conflict for all time. Until that happens, the United States should reject the EU plan and any other such idea that is aimed more at cornering Israel than making peace.

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What’s Makes an Outpost Illegal?

For years, Israel’s critics have been railing against the construction of illegal outposts by Jews in the West Bank. The hilltop enclaves are erected without government permits and are therefore illegal, but the settlers have often been able to win delays from sympathetic politicians or to otherwise tie up their status in court. This is seen as a failure of the rule of law in Israel but the Palestinians have apparently been taking notes from the settlers’ tactics. Today a group of Palestinians erected a tent city in the controversial E1 area just outside Jerusalem protesting plans to incorporate the area into the city and the Jewish state. Police told them they would eventually be evicted, but those involved say they are on Arab-owned land and intend to stay until their camp is incorporated into a independent Palestinian state rather than Israel.

This is an effective tactic, but at the heart of their stunt is a concept that doesn’t necessarily work in favor of their cause. If, as their sympathizers will argue, Palestinians have the right to live and/or build on Arab-owned land anywhere in the country, then why shouldn’t Jews, who want to do the same thing, have that same right? In other words, is an outpost only truly illegal, not because of the lack of government building permits, but because the residents of the tent are Jewish rather than Arab?

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For years, Israel’s critics have been railing against the construction of illegal outposts by Jews in the West Bank. The hilltop enclaves are erected without government permits and are therefore illegal, but the settlers have often been able to win delays from sympathetic politicians or to otherwise tie up their status in court. This is seen as a failure of the rule of law in Israel but the Palestinians have apparently been taking notes from the settlers’ tactics. Today a group of Palestinians erected a tent city in the controversial E1 area just outside Jerusalem protesting plans to incorporate the area into the city and the Jewish state. Police told them they would eventually be evicted, but those involved say they are on Arab-owned land and intend to stay until their camp is incorporated into a independent Palestinian state rather than Israel.

This is an effective tactic, but at the heart of their stunt is a concept that doesn’t necessarily work in favor of their cause. If, as their sympathizers will argue, Palestinians have the right to live and/or build on Arab-owned land anywhere in the country, then why shouldn’t Jews, who want to do the same thing, have that same right? In other words, is an outpost only truly illegal, not because of the lack of government building permits, but because the residents of the tent are Jewish rather than Arab?

According to those Palestinians interviewed by the New York Times, there is a distinction between their outpost and Jewish ones. It is that they think that only they have a right to live there and that Jews are foreign invaders. But the area involved is one in which both peoples have claims. Those of the Jews are backed by the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine as well as by history. Moreover, Israeli settlements are almost all on land that is not owned by individual Arabs. The point is, if the Arab tent city in E1 can be justified, so, too, most Jewish hilltop settlements as well as others that have been built with permission.

Those who oppose the Jewish presence in the West Bank or parts of Jerusalem often argue that incorporating these areas makes a two-state solution to the conflict impossible or undermine Israel’s future as a Jewish state. But the E1 area is not some remote hilltop outpost deep in the West Bank that would likely be given up in the event of a peace accord. It is a close Jerusalem suburb that would be incorporated into Israel in any treaty under the concept of land swaps that even President Obama supports. Should the Palestinians ever decide to make peace and accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state next door, having the E1 area under Israeli control won’t prevent them from creating an independent nation next to it. 

While Israel’s critics complain about Jews building in the West Bank and Jerusalem, the Palestinians are building there all the time. But by choosing to seize an area that is in between two large Jewish areas, they are, in fact, the ones complicating any possible two-state scheme. Their true goal is not really to create a new Arab town but to ultimately evict Jews from their homes in Maale Adumim next door.

The notion that Arabs can live anywhere in the West Bank or Jerusalem but that Jews may not is a recipe for unending conflict, not peace. Peace will only come when Palestinians reconcile themselves to the existence of Israel. But such a peace isn’t likely to last if a Palestinian state remains off limits to Jews. 

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Money Alone Won’t Bail Out the West Bank

As I noted yesterday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is on the road this week attempting to persuade Arab countries to give him money. Unfortunately for Abbas, his upgrade at the United Nations last month hasn’t made his panhandling act any more popular with those who voted to upgrade his status at the world body. In fact, the Palestinian Authority is broke. Though this isn’t the first time the PA has had cash flow problems, the current shortage is especially acute and enough to provoke a stern editorial from the New York Times blaming the problem primarily on Israel. But while Israel has withheld some tax revenue from Abbas, the problem in the West Bank goes a lot deeper than the current dispute between the Netanyahu government and the PA.

The Times is right that it is in no one’s interest that the PA collapse, but its call for more money from Israel, the United States, the Arab world and the international community to be poured into Abbas’s coffers misses the point about what is going on in the West Bank. No amount of foreign aid can fix a government and a society that is completely dysfunctional. The issue of the PA’s insolvency is directed related to its steadfast refusal to make peace. Though a Palestinian government that isn’t a basket case is needed to make a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict work, the issue here isn’t just that the PA is corrupt and incompetent. It is corrupt and incompetent in large measure because the political culture of Palestinian society is still more interested in perpetuating the conflict with Israel than in building a state.

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As I noted yesterday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is on the road this week attempting to persuade Arab countries to give him money. Unfortunately for Abbas, his upgrade at the United Nations last month hasn’t made his panhandling act any more popular with those who voted to upgrade his status at the world body. In fact, the Palestinian Authority is broke. Though this isn’t the first time the PA has had cash flow problems, the current shortage is especially acute and enough to provoke a stern editorial from the New York Times blaming the problem primarily on Israel. But while Israel has withheld some tax revenue from Abbas, the problem in the West Bank goes a lot deeper than the current dispute between the Netanyahu government and the PA.

The Times is right that it is in no one’s interest that the PA collapse, but its call for more money from Israel, the United States, the Arab world and the international community to be poured into Abbas’s coffers misses the point about what is going on in the West Bank. No amount of foreign aid can fix a government and a society that is completely dysfunctional. The issue of the PA’s insolvency is directed related to its steadfast refusal to make peace. Though a Palestinian government that isn’t a basket case is needed to make a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict work, the issue here isn’t just that the PA is corrupt and incompetent. It is corrupt and incompetent in large measure because the political culture of Palestinian society is still more interested in perpetuating the conflict with Israel than in building a state.

Though the Arab and Muslim states that profess to support the Palestinians have done little to help them, throughout the nearly 20 years of its existence, the PA has been the recipient of vast sums of aid from Israel, the United States and the international community. For the most part, this money has been either stolen or wasted. The portion of it that did filter its way down to the Palestinian public was often spent on backing terrorist groups or on a vast scheme of public employment. That did little to develop the economy of the West Bank but it did serve to solidify the loyalty of those getting no-show or no-work jobs to first Yasir Arafat and then his successor Abbas.

In recent years, as the Times notes, there has been an effort by PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to actually serve his people and to foster development as well as good government. The problem is that as much as the Americans and Israelis would like to help Fayyad, his efforts are still the exception to the rule. The unpopular Fayyad has little real influence over the PA’s future. He will also be sidelined if the Fatah-Hamas merger ever is brought to fruition.

More importantly, the failure of the West Bank economy is due to the refusal of Abbas to talk or make peace with Israel. Had he done so in 2008 when Ehud Olmert offered him statehood, things would be very different today. That is also true of Arafat’s refusal of Ehud Barak’s peace offers in 2000 and 2001. The second intifada that he launched ruined the West Bank’s economy.

The plain truth is that there is no assurance that the money that the United States, Israel or the Europeans are asked to hand over to Abbas will do anything more than prop up a failed regime. It may be that subsidizing failure is a better alternative than the chaos that would ensue if the PA completely collapsed, but it is not the answer to the problem.

What the PA really needs is not so much a handout as a sea change in its culture that would allow Abbas or a successor to end the conflict and to start the business of building a stable society that is not obsessed with violence against Israel. So long as that doesn’t happen, the Palestinians will continue to be beggars and the Israeli public will never support a withdrawal that might lead to the West Bank becoming a terrorist launching pad the way Gaza has become since 2005.

The PA’s bankruptcy is as much moral as it is financial. Until the Palestinians and those like the Times who want to help them realize this, aid to them will continue to be a case of throwing more money down the rabbit hole.

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Third Intifada Would Derail Obama Policy

Behind much of the Obama government’s pressure on Israel over the past four years has been the idea that concessions to the Palestinian Authority would strengthen moderates and increase the chances of peace. Of course, 20 years of such concessions have done no such thing, as even the so-called moderates are unwilling or incapable of recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Though the U.S. split from its European allies on the question of supporting an upgrade of the PA’s status at the UN, the administration appears ready to back a new push for peace in the coming year aimed at boosting PA President Mahmoud Abbas against his Hamas rivals. But as Khaled Abu Toameh reports, a shift in the strategy employed by Abbas’s Fatah may render the president’s plans moot.

As Abu Toameh writes in his blog for the Gatestone Institute, Fatah and Hamas may be working together in the coming months rather than against each other. Their common goal will be to capitalize on the “victories” won by Hamas in its military standoff with Israel and Fatah at the UN by launching a new round of violence whose purpose will be to heighten Israel’s diplomatic isolation. If this is true, it won’t silence those who will persist in believing that Israeli settlements or other distractions from Palestinian intransigence are the real obstacle to peace. But it will make it difficult, if not impossible, for the president to sell the Israelis on the idea that Fatah is a partner for peace.

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Behind much of the Obama government’s pressure on Israel over the past four years has been the idea that concessions to the Palestinian Authority would strengthen moderates and increase the chances of peace. Of course, 20 years of such concessions have done no such thing, as even the so-called moderates are unwilling or incapable of recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Though the U.S. split from its European allies on the question of supporting an upgrade of the PA’s status at the UN, the administration appears ready to back a new push for peace in the coming year aimed at boosting PA President Mahmoud Abbas against his Hamas rivals. But as Khaled Abu Toameh reports, a shift in the strategy employed by Abbas’s Fatah may render the president’s plans moot.

As Abu Toameh writes in his blog for the Gatestone Institute, Fatah and Hamas may be working together in the coming months rather than against each other. Their common goal will be to capitalize on the “victories” won by Hamas in its military standoff with Israel and Fatah at the UN by launching a new round of violence whose purpose will be to heighten Israel’s diplomatic isolation. If this is true, it won’t silence those who will persist in believing that Israeli settlements or other distractions from Palestinian intransigence are the real obstacle to peace. But it will make it difficult, if not impossible, for the president to sell the Israelis on the idea that Fatah is a partner for peace.

As Abu Toameh writes:

Emboldened by the “victories,” Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal recently reached a secret agreement on the need to launch a “popular intifada” against Israel in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestinian sources in Ramallah revealed.

The two men believe that such an intifada at this stage would further isolate Israel and earn the Palestinians even more sympathy in the international arena, the sources said.

Abbas and Mashaal are aware, the sources noted, that the Palestinians are now not ready for another military confrontation with Israel — neither in the West Bank nor in the Gaza Strip.

That is why the two men agreed that the best and only option facing the Palestinians these days is a “popular intifada” that would see Palestinian youths engage in daily confrontations with Israeli soldiers and settlers, especially in the West Bank.

The Palestinian leadership knows they are best served by televised violence that pits a powerful Israeli military against seemingly helpless Palestinians rather than by terror attacks or missile strikes. But it isn’t likely that their concerted campaign of low-level violence won’t soon escalate to the sort of attacks on Jewish targets that have always bolstered the popularity of the Palestinians groups that carry them out.

Nor is it likely than even a re-elected Barack Obama, who would no longer need to fear a backlash from Jewish voters over Israel, would be able to sustain a diplomatic campaign against a re-elected Benjamin Netanyahu while Fatah and Hamas were engaged in a competition over which presented the toughest approach to the Israelis.

The motivation for Abbas to join forces with Hamas is clear. As Haaretz reports today, a new poll shows Abbas would lose an election against Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh if an election were held. While Abbas, who is currently serving the eighth year of a four-year presidential term, may have no intention of allowing a free vote that would give the Islamist dictators of Gaza a chance to run the West Bank too, the poll shows Hamas’s violence gives it a crucial electoral advantage. The same survey said that were Haniyeh to face Marwan Barghouti, a Fatah leader serving multiple life-in-prison terms for the murders he ordered during the second intifada, he would lose.

As Abu Toahmeh writes, Hamas and Fatah do have different short-term goals. Fatah hopes to force Israel to retreat from all of the territory it won in 1967, including in Jerusalem and its suburbs where they would hope to create an independent Palestinian state, albeit not one prepared to end the conflict. On the other hand, Hamas still believes it can destroy Israel altogether.

This demonstrates the foolishness of the discussion on the left about the need for the U.S. to join Egypt and Turkey and recognize Hamas. But it should also illustrate the folly of a new diplomatic initiative whose Fatah beneficiaries have made common cause with the so-called extremists of Hamas. The illusions that many Israelis harbored about Fatah’s peaceful intentions were exploded by the terror of the second intifada. It remains to be seen whether the fantasies of foreign liberals, including those in the administration, will survive a third.

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Israel’s Building No Obstacle to Peace

The reaction to Israel’s announcement on Friday that it had approved building plans in Jerusalem and its suburbs was nearly unanimous. Even those who disapproved of the vote by the General Assembly of the United Nations to upgrade the Palestinian Authority to a pseudo-state at the world body damned the housing as either a childish tantrum on the part of the Israeli government to demonstrate their anger or a genuine threat to peace. The argument is that by allowing building in the E1 development area that connects the Maale Adumim suburb to the city, Israel will be foreclosing the possibility of a two-state solution since this would effectively cut the West Bank in half and forestall its viability as an independent Palestinian state.

It sounds logical but it’s absolute nonsense. If the Palestinians did want a two-state solution, the new project as well as the other ones announced yesterday for more houses to be built in 40-year-old Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem wouldn’t stop it. That’s true even of those that say that the final borders of Israel and a putative state of Palestine must be based on the 1949 armistice lines with agreed-upon land swaps. Those swaps wouldn’t amount to more than a few percentage points of the total land area of the West Bank and probably preclude Israel keeping many far-flung settlements in the territory. But everyone knows that the swaps would have to account for the Jewish suburbs of Jerusalem, including Maale Adumim and the other towns in the vicinity that are already inside the security fence that does not protect most settlements. But the operative phrase here is “if” the Palestinians wanted such a solution. They have refused every offer of a state they’ve gotten and refused even to negotiate for four years, not to mention employing the UN gambit specifically in order to avoid talks. The notion that Israeli building in areas that everyone knows they would keep if there was a deal in place is stopping peace from breaking out is ludicrous.

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The reaction to Israel’s announcement on Friday that it had approved building plans in Jerusalem and its suburbs was nearly unanimous. Even those who disapproved of the vote by the General Assembly of the United Nations to upgrade the Palestinian Authority to a pseudo-state at the world body damned the housing as either a childish tantrum on the part of the Israeli government to demonstrate their anger or a genuine threat to peace. The argument is that by allowing building in the E1 development area that connects the Maale Adumim suburb to the city, Israel will be foreclosing the possibility of a two-state solution since this would effectively cut the West Bank in half and forestall its viability as an independent Palestinian state.

It sounds logical but it’s absolute nonsense. If the Palestinians did want a two-state solution, the new project as well as the other ones announced yesterday for more houses to be built in 40-year-old Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem wouldn’t stop it. That’s true even of those that say that the final borders of Israel and a putative state of Palestine must be based on the 1949 armistice lines with agreed-upon land swaps. Those swaps wouldn’t amount to more than a few percentage points of the total land area of the West Bank and probably preclude Israel keeping many far-flung settlements in the territory. But everyone knows that the swaps would have to account for the Jewish suburbs of Jerusalem, including Maale Adumim and the other towns in the vicinity that are already inside the security fence that does not protect most settlements. But the operative phrase here is “if” the Palestinians wanted such a solution. They have refused every offer of a state they’ve gotten and refused even to negotiate for four years, not to mention employing the UN gambit specifically in order to avoid talks. The notion that Israeli building in areas that everyone knows they would keep if there was a deal in place is stopping peace from breaking out is ludicrous.

Nor should the Israeli gesture be viewed as petulant. To the contrary, it is exactly what is needed to start changing the one-sided nature of the argument in international forums about the dispute over territory.

Though you wouldn’t know if from listening to the UN debate or even to most spokespersons for the Jewish state over the last forty years, the argument about the West Bank is not solely about pitting rights of Palestinians against Israel’s security needs. The West Bank is, after all, part of the area designated by the League of Nations for Jewish settlement under the Mandate of Palestine. It is also the heart of the ancient Jewish homeland to which Jews have historical, legal and religious ties that cannot be erased by a century of Arab hatred.

Some of Israel’s friends and all of its enemies claim that for Israel to speak of its rights to the West Bank is tantamount to saying that it doesn’t want peace. Not so. Just because it has rights there doesn’t mean that it must assert them under all circumstances, or that it wouldn’t, if convinced that peace was to be had, give up some or all of the territory in exchange for an end to the conflict. Indeed, throughout the last 20 years, Israel has been in engaged in peace talks or attempts to revive them, during the course of which it has made numerous concessions about territory to the Palestinians.

For its pains, Israel has been subjected to even greater vituperation and delegitimization during this period than before. So long as it does not speak of its rights, it will always be treated as a thief who must return stolen property rather than as a party to a conflict with its own justified claims.

Even if the E1 area is developed, there will be no obstacle to peace talks that could produce a Palestinian state in almost all of the West Bank except for the major settlement blocs that no one expects Israel to give up. Nor would the Palestinian state be blighted by this project since highways and tunnels could easily be constructed to allow access between Arab areas to the north and the south of Jerusalem. Indeed, Jewish housing in the disputed areas is no more of an obstacle to peace than the far greater Arab housing boom in other parts of Jerusalem.

If the Palestinians truly wanted to live in peace in their own independent state next to Israel they could go back to the negotiating table and get it. If they were ever to actually offer an end to the conflict in which they recognized the legitimacy and the security of a Jewish state no matter where its borders were drawn, they would find the Israeli people would welcome their offer and no Israeli government could refuse. Instead, the so-called moderates among them — Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah-run PA — avoid talks and go to the UN where they seek an international fiat rather than an agreement. Meanwhile, the far more popular extremists of Hamas govern an independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza with an iron fist and use it as a terrorist launching pad rather than to help their people.

A few Jewish homes aren’t the obstacle to Palestinian statehood. Their existence would make no difference to a peace deal that spoke of the 1967 lines with swaps, if that was actually the Palestinian goal. The problem is that to the Palestinians and their terrorist leaders, the E1 area is no more or less a settlement than the rest of Israel. Until they can rid themselves of the rejectionist spirit of 1947 in which they rejected the first UN vote to give them a state, talk of peace is empty rhetoric.

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Why Hamas is Still Bragging About Shalit

One year ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu swallowed hard and made a decision that most Israelis understood was unpalatable but necessary: trading 1,027 imprisoned terrorists to Hamas in exchange for the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. On the anniversary of the unsightly deal, Hamas is still bragging about the ransom it exacted from Israel and promising to kidnap more Jews. As Haaretz reports, Hamas is celebrating not just with its boasts and threats but also by releasing a video about Shalit’s capture and imprisonment. The Israel Defense Forces has been on its guard since Shalit’s capture in 2006 but each cross-border raid from Gaza as well as those that have come via Sinai in the last year have had as their goal the creation of more Gilad Shalit dilemmas for Netanyahu.

In some quarters, this might revive the debate about the wisdom of Netanyahu’s choice that, as his critics pointed out at the time, certainly enhanced the prestige of Hamas and strengthened their grip on Palestinian public opinion. Even if Netanyahu could never have willingly consigned a conscript like Shalit to unending imprisonment or death, those arguments were correct as far as they went. But the real reason to revisit the Shalit episode is not to second-guess the deal but to get a better understanding of Palestinian political culture and the slim chances for peace.

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One year ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu swallowed hard and made a decision that most Israelis understood was unpalatable but necessary: trading 1,027 imprisoned terrorists to Hamas in exchange for the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. On the anniversary of the unsightly deal, Hamas is still bragging about the ransom it exacted from Israel and promising to kidnap more Jews. As Haaretz reports, Hamas is celebrating not just with its boasts and threats but also by releasing a video about Shalit’s capture and imprisonment. The Israel Defense Forces has been on its guard since Shalit’s capture in 2006 but each cross-border raid from Gaza as well as those that have come via Sinai in the last year have had as their goal the creation of more Gilad Shalit dilemmas for Netanyahu.

In some quarters, this might revive the debate about the wisdom of Netanyahu’s choice that, as his critics pointed out at the time, certainly enhanced the prestige of Hamas and strengthened their grip on Palestinian public opinion. Even if Netanyahu could never have willingly consigned a conscript like Shalit to unending imprisonment or death, those arguments were correct as far as they went. But the real reason to revisit the Shalit episode is not to second-guess the deal but to get a better understanding of Palestinian political culture and the slim chances for peace.

The point of Hamas’s chest-thumping 12 months after the Shalit deal is not to twit Netanyahu. As much as many serious thinkers bewailed the ransom, bringing Shalit home to his family only enhanced his popularity. Any reminder of this tough decision actually helps the prime minister as he prepares for a re-election campaign in which the opposition has no credible opponent for the country’s leadership.

What Hamas is doing with its histrionics is to puff its own reputation on the Palestinian street. With the prestige of its Fatah rivals on the decline and the Palestinian Authority seen as a bankrupt and corrupt failed state in the making, Hamas looks to remind ordinary Palestinians that they have done what Mahmoud Abbas cannot do: humiliate Israel and inflict pain and suffering on the Jewish people. Indeed, with Hamas being challenged by even more radical Islamist groups such as Islamic Jihad and other splinter groups, Gaza’s rulers see their key to popularity in reinforcing their image as the tormenters of Israel.

This is important not just because it makes the reliance placed on Abbas and the PA by both Israel and the West look like a shaky proposition but also because it highlights what is still the key to winning the hearts and minds of the Palestinian street: anti-Jewish violence.

The competition between Hamas and Fatah is seen not just in their on-again, off-again attempts to form a unity government but in the way the two churn out anti-Semitic invective in their official media and broadcast outlets.

What friends of Israel ought to remember most about the Shalit deal was not so much the horror of murderers being released by Israel to the consternation of the families of terror victims but the joyous welcome that those who killed without mercy received when they returned to Gaza.

So long as Palestinian groups can only curry favor with their people by boasting of killing or kidnapping Jews rather than by trying to give them a better life (something a genuine moderate like PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad knows only too well), talk about peace between Israelis and Palestinians is futile. That is something the majority of Israelis have come to understand and is one of the reasons why Netanyahu is an overwhelming favorite for re-election. It is to be hoped that this is also a lesson that either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney will take to heart if they are tempted next year to begin another campaign of pressure against Israel to make concessions to Palestinians who have no interest in peace.

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How Irrelevant Are the Palestinians? Very.

The key phrase in Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly today didn’t mention Israel. He had promised Jewish leaders he would recognize Jewish rights to the land that is disputed by Israelis and Palestinians. He moved a little closer to such recognition with his mention of the ties of the three monotheistic religions to the country and did say he didn’t want to delegitimize Israel–though much of his speech was clearly aiming at just such a goal. But the most important sentence was the one where he complained about the Palestinians being moved “to the bottom of the global agenda.” He then went on to claim that the PA alone was the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians and that there could not be two such bodies.

It was those sentences, in which he vainly banged his head against the wall of world indifference to his cause, that were telling. The fact is the Palestinians are at the bottom of the world agenda. That’s because, contrary to his boast, the PA is a corrupt, ineffective state which doesn’t control all of the territory it claims since Gaza is ruled by Hamas. Thus, while much of the world applauds Abbas’s imprecation of Israel as a racist, colonialist state and his outright lies about the fomenting of hatred that his government promotes, they have no interest in supporting him. It was for that reason that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu gave Abbas’s speech barely a mention as he went on to concentrate on his country’s real problem: a nuclear Iran.

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The key phrase in Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly today didn’t mention Israel. He had promised Jewish leaders he would recognize Jewish rights to the land that is disputed by Israelis and Palestinians. He moved a little closer to such recognition with his mention of the ties of the three monotheistic religions to the country and did say he didn’t want to delegitimize Israel–though much of his speech was clearly aiming at just such a goal. But the most important sentence was the one where he complained about the Palestinians being moved “to the bottom of the global agenda.” He then went on to claim that the PA alone was the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians and that there could not be two such bodies.

It was those sentences, in which he vainly banged his head against the wall of world indifference to his cause, that were telling. The fact is the Palestinians are at the bottom of the world agenda. That’s because, contrary to his boast, the PA is a corrupt, ineffective state which doesn’t control all of the territory it claims since Gaza is ruled by Hamas. Thus, while much of the world applauds Abbas’s imprecation of Israel as a racist, colonialist state and his outright lies about the fomenting of hatred that his government promotes, they have no interest in supporting him. It was for that reason that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu gave Abbas’s speech barely a mention as he went on to concentrate on his country’s real problem: a nuclear Iran.

Abbas’s unhappy acknowledgement of the world’s opinion of the PA summed up exactly why the “diplomatic tsunami” that was supposed to engulf Israel last fall never happened. The global community may not like Israel and is not enraged by the anti-Semitic incitement that the Palestinians routinely produce. But they know that Abbas can’t make peace with Israel and won’t negotiate with it to create a state that will, as Netanyahu said, recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state. They also know the PA is incapable of governing such a state and that Abbas, in the eighth year of his current four-year term as president, fears that Hamas will supplant him if given the chance.

The Palestinian issue is one that the world cares about. But it doesn’t care about the PA. That is why they are on the bottom of the global agenda and will stay there so long as they produce leaders such as Abbas.

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Peace Means Justice for Jewish Refugees

The tragic fate of Palestinian Arab refugees has always loomed over the Middle East conflict. The descendants of those who fled the territory of the newborn state of Israel in 1948 have been kept stateless and dependent on United Nations charity rather than being absorbed into other Arab countries so as to perpetuate the war to extinguish the Jewish state. The refugees and those who purport to advocate for their interests have consistently sought to veto any peace plans that might end the struggle between Israelis and Palestinians. They have refused to accept any outcome that did not involve their “return” to what is now Israel, an idea that is tantamount to the destruction of Israel. The Palestinians have gotten away with this irresponsible behavior because they retained the sympathy of a world that saw them as the sole victims of Israel’s War of Independence. But the historical truth is far more complex.

Far from 1948 being a case of a one-sided population flight in which Palestinians left what is now Israel (something that most did voluntarily as they sought to escape the war or because they feared what would happen to them in a Jewish majority state), what actually occurred was a population exchange. At the same time that hundreds of thousands of Arabs left the Palestine Mandate, hundreds of thousands of Jews living in the Arab and Muslim world began to be pushed out of their homes. The story of the Jewish refugees has rarely been told in international forums or the mainstream media but it got a boost today when the first United Nations Conference on Jews expelled from Arab Countries was held at the world body’s New York headquarters. While Palestinian refugees deserve sympathy and perhaps some compensation in any agreement that would finally end the conflict, so, too, do the descendants of the Jews who lost their homes. As Danny Ayalon, Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister rightly said today:

We will not arrive at peace without solving the refugee problem – but that includes the Jewish refugees. Justice does not lie on just one side and equal measures must be applied to both.

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The tragic fate of Palestinian Arab refugees has always loomed over the Middle East conflict. The descendants of those who fled the territory of the newborn state of Israel in 1948 have been kept stateless and dependent on United Nations charity rather than being absorbed into other Arab countries so as to perpetuate the war to extinguish the Jewish state. The refugees and those who purport to advocate for their interests have consistently sought to veto any peace plans that might end the struggle between Israelis and Palestinians. They have refused to accept any outcome that did not involve their “return” to what is now Israel, an idea that is tantamount to the destruction of Israel. The Palestinians have gotten away with this irresponsible behavior because they retained the sympathy of a world that saw them as the sole victims of Israel’s War of Independence. But the historical truth is far more complex.

Far from 1948 being a case of a one-sided population flight in which Palestinians left what is now Israel (something that most did voluntarily as they sought to escape the war or because they feared what would happen to them in a Jewish majority state), what actually occurred was a population exchange. At the same time that hundreds of thousands of Arabs left the Palestine Mandate, hundreds of thousands of Jews living in the Arab and Muslim world began to be pushed out of their homes. The story of the Jewish refugees has rarely been told in international forums or the mainstream media but it got a boost today when the first United Nations Conference on Jews expelled from Arab Countries was held at the world body’s New York headquarters. While Palestinian refugees deserve sympathy and perhaps some compensation in any agreement that would finally end the conflict, so, too, do the descendants of the Jews who lost their homes. As Danny Ayalon, Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister rightly said today:

We will not arrive at peace without solving the refugee problem – but that includes the Jewish refugees. Justice does not lie on just one side and equal measures must be applied to both.

It is true that the descendants of the Jewish refugees are not still living in camps waiting for new homes. Though the process was not without its problems, rather than abuse those Jews who were dispossessed and using them as political props as the Arabs did, refugees from the Arab world found homes and lives in Israel and the West with the help of their brethren. But that does not diminish their right to compensation or a fair hearing for their grievances.

The truth about the Jewish refugees is something that foreign cheerleaders for the Palestinians as well as the Arab nations who took part in the expulsion have never acknowledged, let alone refuted. As Ron Prosor, Israel’s UN ambassador, pointed out in his speech at the conference, what occurred after Israel’s birth was nothing less than a campaign aimed at eliminating ancient Jewish communities. Arab leaders “launched a war of terror, incitement, and expulsion to decimate and destroy their Jewish communities. Their effort was systematic. It was deliberate. It was planned.”

Indeed, not only did Jews lose billions of dollars in property but were deprived of property that amounts to a land mass that is five times the size of the state of Israel.

This is something that a lot of people, especially those to whom the peace process with the Palestinians has become an end unto itself don’t want to hear about. They believe that the putting forward of Jewish claims from 1948 is merely an obstacle to negotiations. But such arguments are absurd. Peace cannot be built merely by appeasing the Palestinian claim to sole victimhood. Just as the dispute over territory is one between two peoples with claims, so, too is the question of refugee compensation. Peace cannot be bought by pretending that only Palestinians suffered or that only Arabs have rights. Indeed, such a formulation is a guarantee that the struggle will continue indefinitely since the Palestinians are encouraged to think that they are the only ones with just claims.

For far too long the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has been cast as one pitting the security of the former against the rights of the latter. Framed this way, it is no surprise that the more emotional appeals of the Palestinians have often prevailed over the arguments of Israelis. Rather than asserting their historic rights, the Jews have often allowed themselves to be cast in the false role of colonial oppressor. The Palestinian pose as the only victims of the war enables them to evade their historic responsibility for both the creation of a refugee problem in 1948 as well as their refusal to accept Israeli peace offers.

Let’s hope today’s conference is the beginning of a serious debate about the issue as well as a turning point in discussions about Middle East peace. Peace requires respect for the rights of Jewish refugees as well as those of the Palestinians.

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