Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has been a piñata for those who think he should make even more concessions than his country has already made to the Palestinians even if the other side has shown no willingness to negotiate, let alone sign an agreement. But Thursday, he was assailed on another issue relating to the peace process. During a media session with a visiting foreign minister, he made it clear that if peace ever were to be signed, he would insist on the accord being submitted to the people of Israel for a vote.
This suggestion, made in the course of a discussion with Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter, whose nation is well known for its use of referendums, prompted some on the Israeli left as well as other Netanyahu critics to cry foul. Indeed, as the New York Times noted, even a member of his own government doesn’t like the idea:
Left-leaning Israeli supporters of a peace deal have long argued that a referendum could impede the leadership’s ability to seal a treaty with Palestinians.
[Tzipi] Livni, a former foreign minister and chief negotiator with the Palestinians under the government led by Ehud Olmert, Mr. Netanyahu’s predecessor, has publicly opposed the idea of a referendum. Ms. Livni now leads her own party, which is considered dovish on peace issues. She told Israel’s Army Radio a few days ago, “At the moment, a referendum is a way to forestall decisions approved by the Parliament and the cabinet.”
But rather than impeding peace, Netanyahu’s support for a referendum on any agreement with the Palestinians is the only way it can be implemented with the full support of the vast majority of Israelis.
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.
President Obama has received some well-deserved mockery for his factually inaccurate swipes at President Rutherford B. Hayes (yes, really) and Christopher Columbus’s contemporaneous critics. But his comments, made during his campaign-rally-esque energy address yesterday, are also revealing because of what they indicate about Obama himself. From his speech:
“Of course, we’ve heard this kind of thinking before. If some of these folks were around when Columbus set sail, they must have been founding members of the Flat Earth Society. … There always have been folks who are the naysayers and don’t believe in the future, and don’t believe in trying to do things differently. One of my predecessors, Rutherford B. Hayes, reportedly said about the telephone, ‘It’s a great invention, but who would ever want to use one?’ That’s why he’s not on Mt. Rushmore because he’s looking backwards. He’s not looking forwards. He’s explaining why we can’t do something, instead of why we can do something.”
In Obama’s mind, his critics aren’t just wrong, they’re idiots. Obama, in contrast, is a grand visionary of epic capacity – the type of man who in the past would have ended up on Mt. Rushmore or captaining the voyage that led to the discovery of America.
On today’s New York Times op-ed page, Palestinian parliamentarian Mustafa Barghouti makes the argument that what his people need to do is to eschew terrorism and to concentrate their efforts on promoting peaceful protests against Israel. Barghouti believes the limited success of a hunger strike by a Palestinian imprisoned by Israel ought to show the way for an escalation of non-violent demonstrations that will embarrass the Jewish state and pave the way for statehood for his people.
This is something supporters of the Palestinians have long wished for because the obsession with violence that has characterized the Arab national movement’s politics has been difficult to defend. Israelis would also cheer an abandonment of terrorism even if it would boost the international standing of the Palestinians. But the notion that a new round of peaceful protests against Israel has anything to do with the promotion of peace or the creation of an independent Palestinian state is pure fiction. That’s because the Palestinians need not resort to terror or to non-violent demonstrations or protests of any kind in order to achieve those goals. All they have to do is have their leaders negotiate with Israel and to be willing to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders are drawn. Unfortunately, that is the one thing no Palestinian leader or activist such as Barghouti appears willing to do.