Commentary Magazine


Topic: West Bank settlements

Blaming Israel to Preserve a Theory

Secretary of State John Kerry was in London yesterday trying to sweet talk Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas into talking peace again with Israel. But the main front in the peace process appears to be in Washington where the State Department is still spinning the collapse of Kerry’s initiative and placing the primary fault for the failure of his fool’s errand on Israel. While Kerry fired the initial shots of this campaign himself when he had his “poof” moment at a Senate hearing, at which he claimed Israeli housing construction announcements had ended the negotiations, it was then continued by an in-depth interview given by American officials (widely and credibly attributed to Kerry’s envoy Martin Indyk) to Yediot Aharonoth in which the Netanyahu government was thoroughly trashed and Abbas’s intransigence rationalized. But not satisfied with that, Kerry’s aides are back reinforcing their attacks on Israel this week helping to generate stories in both the New York Times and the Washington Post.

The point of the press barrage appears not, as with previous assaults on the Israelis, to pressure them to make more concessions to the Palestinians in future talks since, as the Times noted, the president seems to have no interest in sticking his neck out further on behalf of an effort that has no chance to succeed. Rather, the continued talk about settlements being the obstacle to peace seems to have two purposes. One is to defend Kerry’s reputation against accurate criticisms of his decision to waste so much time and effort on a negotiation that was always doomed to fail. The other is that the administration peace processors who largely repeated the same mistakes made by the Clinton administration during the Oslo period with regard to the Palestinians feel compelled to justify their behavior by blaming Israel. The problem with the focus on settlements is not just that it is both inaccurate and out of context but that railing at Israeli building is the only way to preserve belief in a theory about attaining Middle East peace that has failed again.

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Secretary of State John Kerry was in London yesterday trying to sweet talk Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas into talking peace again with Israel. But the main front in the peace process appears to be in Washington where the State Department is still spinning the collapse of Kerry’s initiative and placing the primary fault for the failure of his fool’s errand on Israel. While Kerry fired the initial shots of this campaign himself when he had his “poof” moment at a Senate hearing, at which he claimed Israeli housing construction announcements had ended the negotiations, it was then continued by an in-depth interview given by American officials (widely and credibly attributed to Kerry’s envoy Martin Indyk) to Yediot Aharonoth in which the Netanyahu government was thoroughly trashed and Abbas’s intransigence rationalized. But not satisfied with that, Kerry’s aides are back reinforcing their attacks on Israel this week helping to generate stories in both the New York Times and the Washington Post.

The point of the press barrage appears not, as with previous assaults on the Israelis, to pressure them to make more concessions to the Palestinians in future talks since, as the Times noted, the president seems to have no interest in sticking his neck out further on behalf of an effort that has no chance to succeed. Rather, the continued talk about settlements being the obstacle to peace seems to have two purposes. One is to defend Kerry’s reputation against accurate criticisms of his decision to waste so much time and effort on a negotiation that was always doomed to fail. The other is that the administration peace processors who largely repeated the same mistakes made by the Clinton administration during the Oslo period with regard to the Palestinians feel compelled to justify their behavior by blaming Israel. The problem with the focus on settlements is not just that it is both inaccurate and out of context but that railing at Israeli building is the only way to preserve belief in a theory about attaining Middle East peace that has failed again.

It cannot be emphasized enough that most of the discussion about the settlements from administration sources and their cheerleaders in the press is not only wrongheaded but also deliberately misleading. A perfect example of that comes today in David Ignatius’s column in the Post in which he writes:

The issue of Israeli settlements humiliated the Palestinian negotiators and poisoned the talks, according to statements by U.S. negotiators. When Israel announced 700 new settlements in early April, before the April 29 deadline for the talks, “Poof, that was sort of the moment,” Kerry told a Senate panel.

Phrased that way it certainly sounds egregious. But Israel didn’t announce the start of 700 new settlements. It authorized 700 new apartments in Gilo, a 40-year-old Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem that no one, not even the Palestinians expects would be given to them in even a prospective peace treaty more to their liking than the Israelis. Israel has built almost no new “settlements,” i.e. brand new towns, villages, or cities in the West Bank since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993 and claiming anything different isn’t just wrong, it’s a deliberate attempt to poison the atmosphere against the Jewish state. Later in the day, the Post corrected that line to read “settlement apartments,” but the intent to deceive on the part of Ignatius was clear.

More to the point, both Ignatius and the latest op-ed mislabeled as a news story by Times White House correspondent Mark Landler note their narratives of Israeli perfidy but fail to highlight that it was Netanyahu who agreed to Kerry’s framework for further peace talks and Abbas who turned the U.S. down. It was Abbas who refused to budge an inch during the talks even though Israel’s offers of territorial withdrawal constitute a fourth peace offer including independence that the Palestinians have turned down in the last 15 years. His decision to embrace Hamas in a unity pact rather than make peace with Israel sealed the end of Kerry’s effort, not announcements of new apartments in Jerusalem.

The reason for this obfuscation is not a mystery. Acknowledging the truth about the collapse of the talks would force Kerry and his State Department minions to admit that their theory about how to achieve peace has been wrong all along. It was primarily the Palestinians’ refusal to make the symbolic step of recognizing that Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people that would live in peace alongside a nation state of the Palestinian people that sunk the talks. But acknowledging that would mean they understood that the political culture of the Palestinians—in which national identity is inextricably tied to rejection of Israel’s existence—must change before peace is possible. Israel, which has already made large-scale territorial withdrawals in the hope of peace, has already dismantled settlements and would uproot more if real peace were to be had. Moreover, since most of the building that Kerry and company blamed for the lack of peace are located in areas that would be kept by Israel, the obsession with them is as illogical as it is mean-spirited.

Just as the Clinton administration whitewashed Yasir Arafat and the PA in the ’90s, so, too, did the Obama crew whitewash his successor Abbas’s incitement and refusal to end the conflict. The result is that the Palestinians believe there will never be any serious consequences for rejecting peace. Throughout the Kerry initiative, Obama and the secretary praised Abbas while reviling Netanyahu but rather than nudging the Palestinians to make peace, it only encouraged them to refuse it. But if the U.S. is ever to help move the Middle East closer to peace, it will require honesty from the administration about the Palestinians and for it to give up its settlement obsession. Seen from that perspective, it was Kerry and Indyk who did as much to sabotage the process as Abbas, let alone Netanyahu. But instead, Obama, Kerry, and Indyk refuse to admit their faults and continue besmirching Israel to their friends in the press. Sticking to a discredited theory is always easier than facing the truth, especially about your own mistakes.

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Does Israel Have a Plan B?

Last week, I wrote about Israel’s lack of attractive options now that Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiative has collapsed in the wake of the Fatah-Hamas unity agreement. Among the possible options being floated is the one that Michael Oren, Israel’s immediate past ambassador to the U.S. calls “Plan B,” which advocates for Israel to attempt to unilaterally determine its borders. In that piece, I said that Oren’s idea involved “a withdrawal to the security fence that would remove some settlements and make it clear that the settlement blocs and Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem will forever be part of Israel.” He has written me to say that this is untrue and asserts that his idea specifically rejects a retreat to the fence and instead says:

At this stage, Plan B is about principles, not specific borders. Maximum security capabilities for Israel. Maximum number of Israelis within Israel. And maximum degree of international–especially American—backing.

I’m happy to correct the record on this point. However, while I was wrong to specifically tie his Plan B to the fence, his eschewal of specifics makes it easy to imagine that any such unilateral move is likely to come pretty close to the current position of the fence in much of the West Bank. Yet even if we leave the fence out of the discussion, I’m afraid I can’t help being skeptical about the scheme. Oren—a brilliant historian and COMMENTARY contributor who ably represented Israel in Washington for four years—believes that it is in Israel’s interest to withdraw settlements, though not the Israel Defense Forces, from parts of the West Bank. He thinks that doing so will mean that the definition of Israel’s borders will be set by Israelis rather than being held hostage to the whims of a Palestinian leadership that seems incapable of making peace. While this is not as reckless as Ariel Sharon’s bold gamble for peace in which he pulled every last soldier, settlement, and Jew out of Gaza in 2005, it would still be a mistake.

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Last week, I wrote about Israel’s lack of attractive options now that Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiative has collapsed in the wake of the Fatah-Hamas unity agreement. Among the possible options being floated is the one that Michael Oren, Israel’s immediate past ambassador to the U.S. calls “Plan B,” which advocates for Israel to attempt to unilaterally determine its borders. In that piece, I said that Oren’s idea involved “a withdrawal to the security fence that would remove some settlements and make it clear that the settlement blocs and Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem will forever be part of Israel.” He has written me to say that this is untrue and asserts that his idea specifically rejects a retreat to the fence and instead says:

At this stage, Plan B is about principles, not specific borders. Maximum security capabilities for Israel. Maximum number of Israelis within Israel. And maximum degree of international–especially American—backing.

I’m happy to correct the record on this point. However, while I was wrong to specifically tie his Plan B to the fence, his eschewal of specifics makes it easy to imagine that any such unilateral move is likely to come pretty close to the current position of the fence in much of the West Bank. Yet even if we leave the fence out of the discussion, I’m afraid I can’t help being skeptical about the scheme. Oren—a brilliant historian and COMMENTARY contributor who ably represented Israel in Washington for four years—believes that it is in Israel’s interest to withdraw settlements, though not the Israel Defense Forces, from parts of the West Bank. He thinks that doing so will mean that the definition of Israel’s borders will be set by Israelis rather than being held hostage to the whims of a Palestinian leadership that seems incapable of making peace. While this is not as reckless as Ariel Sharon’s bold gamble for peace in which he pulled every last soldier, settlement, and Jew out of Gaza in 2005, it would still be a mistake.

Oren is right that his Plan B has the virtue of being in the best traditions of Zionism. Rather than waiting for others to decide where Israel should be, the Jews would act on their own and then wait for the world to accept their actions. It would balance the justice of Israel’s rights to the land against the pragmatic need to separate from the Palestinians and to grant them the right of self-determination. And by leaving the IDF in place, it will not lead to a repeat of Sharon’s fiasco in which Gaza was transformed into a terrorist base/independent Palestinian state in all but name that rained down missiles on Israel with impunity.

But any move that will leave the Israeli army in the territories will do nothing to increase international or American support for the Jewish state. While the settlements are the focus of much of the anger about Israel’s presence in the West Bank, so long as the IDF patrols parts of the territories—even without the burden of protecting Jewish communities there—it will still be termed an occupation. And, as such, it will not diminish the fervor of those advocating the boycott of Israel. Nor will it even stop those who specifically advocate the boycott of products from settlements rather than all of Israel since few of those communities that will be abandoned are producing much that is exported.

Unfortunately, like all past Israeli territorial withdrawals it would be quickly forgotten and the focus of international pressure would be on what was retained with no concern for past sacrifices. Both the Palestinian and the international position on the borders would be one that started with the assumption that the Palestinians would get whatever was left by Israel as part of Plan B. The bargaining would then be about how much of what Israel retained in Plan B, if anything at all.

Israel would be forced to go through the agony of uprooting tens of thousands of people from their homes with no upgrade in its security, its diplomatic position, or international support. The retreat would not be interpreted as a sign of moderation or a desire for peace that involved a painful parting from lands to which Jews have rights. Rather, the Jewish state’s critics and even some who call themselves its friends will see it as further proof that Israel had “stolen Palestinian land” and had decided to render some but not all of the restitution that they should be forced to make. It would merely increase pressure to force the removal of hundreds of thousands of Jews in the settlement blocs and Jerusalem that Oren rightly wishes to preserve as part of Israel.

Oren is right that Israel can’t, as he told the Times of Israel back in February, “outsource our fundamental destiny to Palestinian decision making.” He’s also right that there is no perfect solution to Israel’s problems. As long as the Palestinians define their national identity more in terms of rejecting Zionism rather than building their own state, the conflict will not end. Waiting for the sea change in the political culture of the Palestinians that will make peace possible is difficult. But this plan, like every other solution that seeks to cut the Gordian knot of Middle East peace without Palestinian acceptance of a Jewish state, will worsen Israel’s position rather than strengthen it.

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Netanyahu’s European Border Fantasy

While Secretary of State John Kerry’s negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority have often taken on the air of farce, in recent days they appeared to cross over into the realm of the truly bizarre. Over the weekend it was announced that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has tasked his cabinet secretary with researching the complex border arrangements that exist between Belgian Baarle-Hertog and Dutch Baarle-Nassau. Naturally, this is not some purely academic exercise concerning the eccentric cartography of the Low Countries. Rather, it seems that Israel’s prime minister is entertaining the disturbing notion that that the Jewish state might seek to emulate these border arrangements as a way of surmounting the problem of what to do about the Jewish communities in the West Bank, if a Palestinian state were to be established.

Belgium and Holland have what has been described as one of the most complex border arrangements in the world. Under these arrangements enclaves of each country sit within the territory of the other, with 24 separate and mostly non-contiguous fragments of land existing as minute islands within the greater territory of the two states. With the Palestinians having made clear that they want to join with the other countries of the region in enjoying the luxury of a Jew-free state, Netanyahu’s earlier suggestion that Israeli civilians would stay behind after an Israeli withdrawal has been rendered null and void. Yet while many were skeptical about whether Netanyahu had ever really been serious about that first proposal, it would seem that he is far more serious about his pledge not to forcibly evacuate any Israelis from their homes. 

Since the Palestinians are insisting that they won’t share a future state with Jews and with Israel’s prime minister saying he won’t make the Jews of the West Bank leave, it seems that the Baarle-Nassau plan has arisen as a farfetched attempt to bridge a clear impasse in negotiations. When President Obama attempts to set up Netanyahu as intransigent in the peace process, as he did in his recent interview in Bloomberg, proposals such as this one demonstrate the fantastical, and indeed ridiculous, lengths that Netanyahu is apparently willing to go to so as to assist Kerry’s plan. One can only imagine what kind of things the Obama administration might be threatening Israel with behind closed doors.

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While Secretary of State John Kerry’s negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority have often taken on the air of farce, in recent days they appeared to cross over into the realm of the truly bizarre. Over the weekend it was announced that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has tasked his cabinet secretary with researching the complex border arrangements that exist between Belgian Baarle-Hertog and Dutch Baarle-Nassau. Naturally, this is not some purely academic exercise concerning the eccentric cartography of the Low Countries. Rather, it seems that Israel’s prime minister is entertaining the disturbing notion that that the Jewish state might seek to emulate these border arrangements as a way of surmounting the problem of what to do about the Jewish communities in the West Bank, if a Palestinian state were to be established.

Belgium and Holland have what has been described as one of the most complex border arrangements in the world. Under these arrangements enclaves of each country sit within the territory of the other, with 24 separate and mostly non-contiguous fragments of land existing as minute islands within the greater territory of the two states. With the Palestinians having made clear that they want to join with the other countries of the region in enjoying the luxury of a Jew-free state, Netanyahu’s earlier suggestion that Israeli civilians would stay behind after an Israeli withdrawal has been rendered null and void. Yet while many were skeptical about whether Netanyahu had ever really been serious about that first proposal, it would seem that he is far more serious about his pledge not to forcibly evacuate any Israelis from their homes. 

Since the Palestinians are insisting that they won’t share a future state with Jews and with Israel’s prime minister saying he won’t make the Jews of the West Bank leave, it seems that the Baarle-Nassau plan has arisen as a farfetched attempt to bridge a clear impasse in negotiations. When President Obama attempts to set up Netanyahu as intransigent in the peace process, as he did in his recent interview in Bloomberg, proposals such as this one demonstrate the fantastical, and indeed ridiculous, lengths that Netanyahu is apparently willing to go to so as to assist Kerry’s plan. One can only imagine what kind of things the Obama administration might be threatening Israel with behind closed doors.

After all, Netanyahu is astute enough to know whom he is dealing with when negotiating about the contours of a future Palestinian state. That is why the Israeli government is insisting that Israel maintain defensible borders by holding onto the Jordan Valley. They make this demand precisely because they know that a future Palestinian state would be neither Belgium nor Holland. Indeed, the Dutch-Belgium border has been pretty quiet for several centuries now; the Dutch have not been embroiled in a generations-long conflict to extinguish the Kingdom of Belgium; one doesn’t generally hear statements from Brussels about how they will never recognize the Netherlands as a Dutch state.

That said, even in these two countries, supposedly at the heart of the project for a post-national European federation, neither exactly known for being rocked by fierce inter-ethnic strife, there is still constantly talk of Belgium being partitioned between the Flemish and the Walloons. Brussels might well become the divided capital of two states while Jerusalem remains the united capital of just one. Even for Europeans it turns out national identity cannot be made to vanish so easily.

Yet, where as in sleepy Baarle-Nassau the international border between Holland and Belgium passes between sidewalk cafes, with residents strolling casually between the two states without noticing, can anyone in their right mind imagine that the same jovial atmosphere would be repeated along an Israeli-Palestinian border? It was not so long ago that Palestinians were venturing to Israeli pavement cafes simply for the purpose of blowing them up. Experience should have taught Israel by now that it can vacate the West bank if it so chooses, but that the only prudent thing to do would be to prepare for that territory to become yet another terror state too.

Even if a Palestinian state in the West Bank managed to somehow resist becoming a second Gaza, it is still quite plausible that relations between the two states might often be strained. What then would become of the Jews clinging on in these many isolated and perhaps stranded communities? Think blockaded West Berlin during the Cold War, only instead of half a city, just a small Jewish village perched precariously on a hilltop, surrounded on all sides. Those who could massacre the Fogel family in their sleep, who could jubilantly hold up their blood stained hands to a cheering mob after murdering two IDF reservists in the Ramallah police station they stormed, might find such vulnerable outposts all too tempting.

And under such an arrangement, would there be Palestinian enclaves in Israeli territory? Through land swap deals, might Arab border towns go to the Palestinian side? After the Netanyahu government has insisted it must hold the Jordan Valley, it makes a mockery to talk of the need for defensible borders in one place while proposing such impossible borders elsewhere. The only comfort here is the thought that the Palestinians’ compulsive tendency for fleeing peace agreements means this kind of derangement will likely never come to fruition.       

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Obama’s Settlement Construction Lie

Since John Podhoretz, Elliott Abrams and Jonathan Tobin have all written excellent takedowns of the fallacies, outright lies and destructive consequences of President Barack Obama’s interview with Jeffrey Goldberg on Sunday, you might think there’s nothing left to say. But there are some additional points that merit consideration, and I’d like to focus on one: settlement construction. Because on this issue, Obama’s “facts” are flat-out wrong – and this particular untruth have some very important implications.

According to Obama, “we have seen more aggressive settlement construction over the last couple years than we’ve seen in a very long time.” But in reality, as a simple glance at the annual data published by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics reveals, there has been less settlement construction during Benjamin Netanyahu’s five years as Israeli premier (2009-13) than under any of his recent predecessors.

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Since John Podhoretz, Elliott Abrams and Jonathan Tobin have all written excellent takedowns of the fallacies, outright lies and destructive consequences of President Barack Obama’s interview with Jeffrey Goldberg on Sunday, you might think there’s nothing left to say. But there are some additional points that merit consideration, and I’d like to focus on one: settlement construction. Because on this issue, Obama’s “facts” are flat-out wrong – and this particular untruth have some very important implications.

According to Obama, “we have seen more aggressive settlement construction over the last couple years than we’ve seen in a very long time.” But in reality, as a simple glance at the annual data published by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics reveals, there has been less settlement construction during Benjamin Netanyahu’s five years as Israeli premier (2009-13) than under any of his recent predecessors.

During those five years, housing starts in the settlements averaged 1,443 a year (all data is from the charts here, here and here plus this news report). That’s less than the 1,702 a year they averaged under Ehud Olmert in 2006-08, who is nevertheless internationally acclaimed as a peacemaker (having made the Palestinians an offer so generous that then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice couldn’t believe she was hearing it). It’s also less than the 1,652 per year they averaged under Ariel Sharon in 2001-05, who is similarly lauded internationally as a peacemaker (for having left Gaza); the fact that even Sharon out-built Netanyahu is particularly remarkable, because his term coincided with the second intifada, when demand for housing in the settlements plummeted. And it’s far less than under Ehud Barak, who is also internationally acclaimed as a peacemaker (for his generous offer at Camp David in 2000): One single year under Barak, 2000, produced more housing starts in the settlements (4,683) than the entire first four years of Netanyahu’s term (4,679).

It’s true that settlement construction more than doubled last year; otherwise, Netanyahu’s average would have been even lower. But it doubled from such a low base that the absolute number of housing starts, 2,534, is not only far less than Barak’s record one-year high; it’s only slightly larger than the 1995 total of 2,430 – when the prime minister was Yitzhak Rabin, signatory of the Oslo Accords and patron saint of the peace process. In previous years, housing starts under Netanyahu were only a third to a half of those in 1995.

In short, if settlement construction were really the death blow to the peace process that Obama and his European counterparts like to claim, Netanyahu ought to be their favorite Israeli prime minister ever instead of the most hated, because never has settlement construction been as low as it has under him. The obvious conclusion is that all the talk about settlement construction is just a smokescreen, and what really makes Western leaders loathe Netanyahu is something else entirely: the fact that unlike Rabin, Barak, Sharon and Olmert, he has so far refused to offer the kind of sweeping territorial concessions that, every time they were tried, have resulted in massive waves of anti-Israel terror.

But it doesn’t sound good to say they hate Netanyahu because of his reluctance to endanger the country he was elected to serve. So instead, Western leaders prefer to harp on settlement construction, secure in the knowledge that no journalist will ever bother to check their “facts.”

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On the Eve of the Fourth Palestinian “No”

Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to orchestrate a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians has breathed new life into old arguments about West Bank settlements and the need for Israel to take risks for peace. Kerry’s clear advice to the Israelis that they must give the Palestinians what they want or find themselves boycotted and isolated is widely accepted as conventional wisdom by the foreign-policy establishment. The movement to boycott, divest, and sanction (BDS) Israel assumes Israel’s foes will ultimately win because in the absence of peace, frustration about failed negotiations will cause the Jewish state to be portrayed as the new South Africa, a crumbling nation that will be brought to its knees by economic warfare.

Israel’s enemies have always underestimated its resiliency and this time is no exception. But the problem with many of the discussions about such boycotts is that they invariably ignore some basic facts about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. If, in fact, Israel is willing to give up almost all of the West Bank and allow the Palestinians their independence, that renders moot Kerry’s condescending advice echoed by his supporters in the media. The majority of Israelis are rightly concerned about the consequences of a West Bank withdrawal and the very real possibility that the Hamas terror state in Gaza will be replicated in any other land that the Jewish state surrenders.

But the key question that those, like Kerry, who are urging the Netanyahu government to do just that is not about the merits of a pact that would make the Jewish state more vulnerable. Rather, it is about what Kerry and his minions will do after the Palestinians once again say, “no.” After all, they’ve already done it three times. And, if news reports are correct, they may be on the verge of a fourth rejection of American-imposed terms in the wake of Israel putting an offer of 90 percent of the West Bank while being compensated for the remaining ten percent with land swaps inside Israel’s pre-1967 borders, or other exchanges.

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Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to orchestrate a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians has breathed new life into old arguments about West Bank settlements and the need for Israel to take risks for peace. Kerry’s clear advice to the Israelis that they must give the Palestinians what they want or find themselves boycotted and isolated is widely accepted as conventional wisdom by the foreign-policy establishment. The movement to boycott, divest, and sanction (BDS) Israel assumes Israel’s foes will ultimately win because in the absence of peace, frustration about failed negotiations will cause the Jewish state to be portrayed as the new South Africa, a crumbling nation that will be brought to its knees by economic warfare.

Israel’s enemies have always underestimated its resiliency and this time is no exception. But the problem with many of the discussions about such boycotts is that they invariably ignore some basic facts about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. If, in fact, Israel is willing to give up almost all of the West Bank and allow the Palestinians their independence, that renders moot Kerry’s condescending advice echoed by his supporters in the media. The majority of Israelis are rightly concerned about the consequences of a West Bank withdrawal and the very real possibility that the Hamas terror state in Gaza will be replicated in any other land that the Jewish state surrenders.

But the key question that those, like Kerry, who are urging the Netanyahu government to do just that is not about the merits of a pact that would make the Jewish state more vulnerable. Rather, it is about what Kerry and his minions will do after the Palestinians once again say, “no.” After all, they’ve already done it three times. And, if news reports are correct, they may be on the verge of a fourth rejection of American-imposed terms in the wake of Israel putting an offer of 90 percent of the West Bank while being compensated for the remaining ten percent with land swaps inside Israel’s pre-1967 borders, or other exchanges.

Though most in the news media treat this information as being only slightly more arcane than the details of the Peloponnesian Wars, the fact is, Israel has already offered the Palestinians an independent state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem three times. And three times they refused to say yes to Israel. The first two refusals were straightforward “no’s” from Yasir Arafat in 2000 and 2001, who answered Ehud Barak’s peace offers with a terrorist war of attrition called the second intifada. The third time, Arafat’s successor Mahmoud Abbas was so worried about being forced to say no again that he fled the U.S.-sponsored negotiations with Israel in 2008 as soon as the Israelis made their offer in order to avoid giving an answer at all.

If Abbas finds another reason to avoid accepting a generous deal that would give the Palestinians the independence they claim is their goal, it raises the question of how Israel’s critics will justify the BDS campaign that Kerry threatened the Jewish state’s punishment if an agreement is not reached. Will they dismiss Israel’s offers as insignificant or not worthy of an answer? Or will they claim the difference between 90 percent of the West Bank plus swaps and every inch of the territories that Israel won in a defensive war in 1967 is so significant that it justifies an economic war on the Jewish state, terrorism, or both?

The answer to those questions is yes to all. As was the case after 2000 and each time since then, apologists for the Palestinians will find a way to justify the indefensible and to rationalize the Palestinians’ inevitable resort to violence, in addition to international campaign bent on Israel’s delegitimization. But for the most part they will do what they have done since 2000 and merely ignore Israel’s offers of peace and consider the absence of an agreement as proof of the Jewish state’s sole responsibility for the continuation of the conflict.

The first time Israel sought to give the Palestinians the West Bank, Arafat’s answer confused the Israeli left-wing that staked its political life on the transaction. The government of Ehud Barak went to Camp David in the summer of 2000 determined to give the Palestinians an offer they couldn’t refuse. But when Arafat did refuse it, they hardly knew what to think. At a press event I covered in the fall of 2000, Shlomo Ben Ami, Israel’s foreign minister conveyed his shock at the way his effort to satisfy the Palestinian desire for independence had somehow led to yet another bloody conflict. Yet he said there was a silver lining to these tragic events since at least the world would now know which side wanted peace and which had chosen war. More than 13 years later, I still don’t know whether to laugh or to cry at his naive faith in international public opinion.

As we now know, rather than undermine the Palestinian narrative of victimization those events only increased international support for their position and criticism of Israel. That was repeated after Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 when, again, an Israeli effort to make peace was repaid in blood as the evacuated territory was transformed into a launching pad for Hamas rockets aimed at Israeli civilians.

The prime obstacle to peace remains the Palestinian political culture that continues to view Israel’s existence as a crime and considers Tel Aviv, let alone the blocs of communities along the old border or in Jerusalem’s suburbs, to be as much of an “illegal settlement” as the most remote hilltop holdout of Jewish extremists in the West Bank. In the absence of a change in that culture that will allow Abbas to sign a peace treaty without a “right of return” for the descendants of the 1948 refugees and recognition of the legitimacy of a Jewish state, there is little chance that the Netanyahu government’s offer of 90 percent of the West Bank will be accepted. Nor is a slightly more generous formula likely to do the trick. As they did in 2000, 2001, and 2008, the Palestinian leadership seems to be preparing their public for continued conflict rather than for an acceptance of an accord that would force them to give up their dream of Israel’s complete annihilation.

Rather than twisting Netanyahu’s arm to do what it his country has already tried to accomplish in the past—trade land for the non-credible promise of peace—Israel’s critics should be thinking about how they will react to the fourth Palestinian “no.” Unfortunately, the odds are that most will barely notice it when it  happens and will simply continue blaming Israel. Indeed, that’s exactly what the Palestinians—who know that’s what happened the first three times they rejected Israeli offers of peace—are counting on.

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Will ScarJo Pay a Price for Her Principles?

The BDS campaign against SodaStream took an unexpected turn yesterday when actress Scarlett Johansson announced her resignation as a representative of Oxfam. The British-based coalition of philanthropic groups had condemned Johansson’s role as a commercial spokesperson for SodaStream, an Israeli soda machine manufacturer, because of its location in the Jerusalem suburb of Maale Adumim in the West Bank. Initially, Johansson sought to remain with both organizations, but it was soon clear that she had to choose and released the following statement through a spokesman:

“Scarlett Johansson has respectfully decided to end her ambassador role with Oxfam after eight years,” the statement said. “She and Oxfam have a fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. She is very proud of her accomplishments and fundraising efforts during her tenure with Oxfam.

In response, Oxfam thanked Johansson for her service but made it clear that her decision with SodaStream meant she was no longer welcome:

While Oxfam respects the independence of our ambassadors, Ms. Johansson’s role promoting the company SodaStream is incompatible with her role as an Oxfam Global Ambassador. Oxfam believes that businesses, such as SodaStream, that operate in settlements further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support.

Oxfam is opposed to all trade from Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law. Ms. Johansson has worked with Oxfam since 2005 and in 2007 became a Global Ambassador, helping to highlight the impact of natural disasters and raise funds to save lives and fight poverty.

This is a remarkable turn of events. For Johansson, a prominent Hollywood liberal who has campaigned for Democrats and progressive causes, Oxfam was a perfect fit because of her interest in poverty-related causes. But as one of the most visible international charities, it was also a good match for a career in that it added a touch of gravitas to an actress who might otherwise be trivialized as the only woman to be named the sexiest woman in the world by Esquire twice. One might have thought that in terms of an immediate monetary reward, Johansson would choose SodaStream over Oxfam because one pays her and the other doesn’t. But in terms of positive publicity and maintaining her status as a member in good standing of the Hollywood liberal establishment, Oxfam might have been the more sensible choice.

In sticking with SodaStream, Johansson will win the praise of many Americans, especially fellow Jews, but it opens a new and potentially bitter chapter in the struggle by the BDS movement against Israel. The question facing the actress as well as friends of the Jewish state is whether her decision will herald more defeats for those seeking to isolate Israel or will instead provide a new focus for a BDS movement that is gaining support in Europe even as it remains marginal in the United States.

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The BDS campaign against SodaStream took an unexpected turn yesterday when actress Scarlett Johansson announced her resignation as a representative of Oxfam. The British-based coalition of philanthropic groups had condemned Johansson’s role as a commercial spokesperson for SodaStream, an Israeli soda machine manufacturer, because of its location in the Jerusalem suburb of Maale Adumim in the West Bank. Initially, Johansson sought to remain with both organizations, but it was soon clear that she had to choose and released the following statement through a spokesman:

“Scarlett Johansson has respectfully decided to end her ambassador role with Oxfam after eight years,” the statement said. “She and Oxfam have a fundamental difference of opinion in regards to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. She is very proud of her accomplishments and fundraising efforts during her tenure with Oxfam.

In response, Oxfam thanked Johansson for her service but made it clear that her decision with SodaStream meant she was no longer welcome:

While Oxfam respects the independence of our ambassadors, Ms. Johansson’s role promoting the company SodaStream is incompatible with her role as an Oxfam Global Ambassador. Oxfam believes that businesses, such as SodaStream, that operate in settlements further the ongoing poverty and denial of rights of the Palestinian communities that we work to support.

Oxfam is opposed to all trade from Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law. Ms. Johansson has worked with Oxfam since 2005 and in 2007 became a Global Ambassador, helping to highlight the impact of natural disasters and raise funds to save lives and fight poverty.

This is a remarkable turn of events. For Johansson, a prominent Hollywood liberal who has campaigned for Democrats and progressive causes, Oxfam was a perfect fit because of her interest in poverty-related causes. But as one of the most visible international charities, it was also a good match for a career in that it added a touch of gravitas to an actress who might otherwise be trivialized as the only woman to be named the sexiest woman in the world by Esquire twice. One might have thought that in terms of an immediate monetary reward, Johansson would choose SodaStream over Oxfam because one pays her and the other doesn’t. But in terms of positive publicity and maintaining her status as a member in good standing of the Hollywood liberal establishment, Oxfam might have been the more sensible choice.

In sticking with SodaStream, Johansson will win the praise of many Americans, especially fellow Jews, but it opens a new and potentially bitter chapter in the struggle by the BDS movement against Israel. The question facing the actress as well as friends of the Jewish state is whether her decision will herald more defeats for those seeking to isolate Israel or will instead provide a new focus for a BDS movement that is gaining support in Europe even as it remains marginal in the United States.

It is possible that Oxfam’s decision wasn’t entirely based on the anti-Israel bias of its London-based leadership. One of the leading corporate donors to Oxfam just happens to be the Coca Cola Company that has given millions to the group. That tie between a company that can be linked to obesity and bad nutrition and a charity that promotes feeding the hungry is seen as a contradiction by some and only explained by the cash that flows from Coke to Oxfam. But the fact that SodaStream is a competitor that is already eating into Coke’s market share could account, at least in part, for Oxfam’s speed in denouncing Johansson.

But even if contributions from Coke had nothing to do with Oxfam’s decision, the most important conclusion to be drawn from the way this controversy developed is the ease and speed with which a theoretically apolitical charity like Oxfam publicly embraced the BDS stand even though it meant losing the services of such an effective ambassador as Johansson. The decisiveness and alacrity  with which Oxfam’s leaders condemned her ties with an Israeli company may well have come as a rude shock to Johansson after she signed on to appear in SodaStream commercials, including one scheduled for broadcast during the Super Bowl. Though she is an active supporter of many liberal causes who embraced Oxfam because of its apparent compatibility with her personal values, it may not have occurred to her that in international progressive circles such associations with Israel aren’t kosher.

The point here is not simply the factual inaccuracy of Oxfam’s accusations that settlements further Palestinian poverty or deny Palestinian rights. Having seen SodaStream’s operations herself, Johansson knew that charges that it exploited its Arab workers were nothing but propaganda and absurd lies. She rightly understood that its owners were committed peaceniks who genuinely believe that the cooperative and mutually profitable relations between Jews and Arabs that go on at SodaStream are exactly what the region needs. But in the world of Oxfam, opposition to West Bank settlements isn’t about what’s good for the Palestinians. The factory’s location, a few miles from Jerusalem’s city limits in territory that almost certainly would be incorporated into Israel in the event of a peace treaty, is merely an excuse to continue a campaign of delegitimization against the Jewish state. And in that struggle, there can be no exceptions or even any grey areas where people of good conscience may differ.

The arrogant moral certainty of Oxfam’s statement simply assumes that the presence of Jews in what is, under international law, disputed territory rather than that of a sovereign state, is repugnant. That is exactly the mindset of BDSers whose purpose is not aiding poor Palestinians but to further impoverish them by destroying businesses that provide them with income and an opportunity to better themselves that is largely denied them by the corrupt governments led by both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza.

But now that Johansson has rejected the leftist groupthink of Oxfam that assumes the Jewish state to be beyond the pale, it remains to be seen whether there will be a price to be paid for her principled choice. As I noted earlier this week, it is possible that in the future Johansson may become the focus of a concerted boycott by Israel-haters. Though their efforts won’t put even a minor dent in her career prospects in the United States, it is entirely possible that she will be become better known in Europe and Asia as a supporter of Israel than as a gifted A-list actress. The implications of such a development would not be trivial for film producers who increasingly rely on international markets to realize profits, nor for other companies seeking film stars to promote their products.

If Johansson had abandoned SodaStream it would have signaled an immediate and high-visibility victory for the BDS campaign, certainly its most important victory in the United States. But having cast her lot with defenders of the Jewish state, the actress must understand that this isn’t the end of the story. She may have thought her work for Oxfam gave her common ground with progressives in Europe and around the globe. But she may now discover that, from this day forward, they will only see her as a public figure to be rejected and shunned as a principled Jew who stands with Israel.

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Why Can’t Jews Stay in a Palestinian State?

For 20 years Israeli governments of both the left and the right have agreed on one thing: Jews and Jewish settlements could not be left behind in any territory handed over to the Palestinians. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has indicated that he is willing to change that policy and that seems to have upset almost as many Israelis as Palestinians. Netanyahu stated that even in the event of a peace agreement he had no intention of repeating the precedent established by Ariel Sharon in Gaza in which every single settlement, soldier, and individual Jew was uprooted. According to Netanyahu, if there is a peace treaty, there’s no reason that Jewish communities could not remain in part of the Palestinian state along with the Palestinian inhabitants, if they were willing to do so.

It was not surprising that the Palestinians would immediately and angrily reject the suggestion that Jews could live in their putative new state. Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas had already denounced the idea, but lest anyone be in doubt about the Palestinian position, PA negotiator Saeb Erekat sought to clarify the official view:

Anyone who says he wants to keep settlers in the Palestinian state is actually saying that he doesn’t want a Palestinian state. No settler will be allowed to stay in the Palestinian state, not even a single one, because settlements are illegal and the presence of the settlers on the occupied lands is illegal.

It was interesting to note that both right-wing and left-wing critics of Netanyahu as well as members of his own Cabinet were almost as angry as the Palestinians. The right is appalled at Netanyahu’s tacit willingness to accept a Palestinian state, and the left thinks the prime minister was just playing a cynical tactical game designed solely to embarrass the Palestinians. The concerns of both factions may well be justified. Netanyahu, however, was right to raise the issue and to provoke a debate about the nature of the Palestinian state that is, after all, one of the goals of the current peace talks. Regardless of his  motives, this is a topic that must be addressed if the negotiations are truly aimed at ending the conflict.

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For 20 years Israeli governments of both the left and the right have agreed on one thing: Jews and Jewish settlements could not be left behind in any territory handed over to the Palestinians. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has indicated that he is willing to change that policy and that seems to have upset almost as many Israelis as Palestinians. Netanyahu stated that even in the event of a peace agreement he had no intention of repeating the precedent established by Ariel Sharon in Gaza in which every single settlement, soldier, and individual Jew was uprooted. According to Netanyahu, if there is a peace treaty, there’s no reason that Jewish communities could not remain in part of the Palestinian state along with the Palestinian inhabitants, if they were willing to do so.

It was not surprising that the Palestinians would immediately and angrily reject the suggestion that Jews could live in their putative new state. Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas had already denounced the idea, but lest anyone be in doubt about the Palestinian position, PA negotiator Saeb Erekat sought to clarify the official view:

Anyone who says he wants to keep settlers in the Palestinian state is actually saying that he doesn’t want a Palestinian state. No settler will be allowed to stay in the Palestinian state, not even a single one, because settlements are illegal and the presence of the settlers on the occupied lands is illegal.

It was interesting to note that both right-wing and left-wing critics of Netanyahu as well as members of his own Cabinet were almost as angry as the Palestinians. The right is appalled at Netanyahu’s tacit willingness to accept a Palestinian state, and the left thinks the prime minister was just playing a cynical tactical game designed solely to embarrass the Palestinians. The concerns of both factions may well be justified. Netanyahu, however, was right to raise the issue and to provoke a debate about the nature of the Palestinian state that is, after all, one of the goals of the current peace talks. Regardless of his  motives, this is a topic that must be addressed if the negotiations are truly aimed at ending the conflict.

The reason that Israeli governments have always agreed with the Palestinians about the need to evacuate any Israelis living in what might become a Palestinian state is no secret. It’s not just that the Palestinians don’t want Jews in their state and the fact that the settlers don’t want there to be a Palestinian state. It’s that any Israelis who chose to remain in their homes wouldn’t last any longer than the greenhouses that wealthy Americans purchased from Gaza settlers who were uprooted from their homes in 2005. Within hours of the Israeli army pullout, every one of these valuable facilities that could have been used to help revive the strip’s moribund economy was burned to the ground. The same fate awaited every other building left by the Jews, including every synagogue.

Without the protection of the Israel Defense Forces, Jews in Arab territory haven’t a chance. That’s a basic fact of life in the country that predates Israel’s birth. Without self-defense forces, Jewish settlers in those lands inside the pre-June 1967 borders were exposed to relentless harassment, terrorism, and even pogroms. And there is no reason to believe the situation would be any different in a future West Bank state where the Palestinian population has been educated for decades to believe Jews have no right to live in any part of the country.

But, as Netanyahu rightly pointed out, a peace treaty that would actually end the conflict rather than merely pause it until the Palestinians felt strong enough to resume hostilities must entail an acceptance on both sides of the legitimacy of the rights of the other side. Just as Arabs are equal before the law in the State of Israel, have the right to vote, and serve in its Knesset, a democratic and peaceful Palestinian state must not exclude the possibility of allowing a Jewish minority within its borders. If that is something that the PA is unable to countenance, it proves once again that it isn’t interested in peace. A state where Jews are, as Erekat says, “illegal” is one that is committed to a permanent state of war against Israel.

Israeli right-wingers are angry at Netanyahu’s acceptance in principle of a Palestinian state. Without the threat of repeating the traumatic scenes that characterized the Gaza withdrawal, a division of the West Bank would, at least in theory, be more likely.

Yet the prime minister’s suggestion also angered supporters of a two-state solution. In particular, Israeli negotiator Tzipi Livni, who as Tom Wilson wrote earlier today seems to understand that the talks have little chance of success, bitterly denounced Netanyahu’s statement as designed more to prove the Palestinians weren’t negotiating in good faith than achieving a deal.

Livni may well be correct about Netanyahu’s intentions. Goading the Palestinians into repeating their intolerant and anti-Semitic objections to Jews living within their borders undermines their cause. Like previous generations of negotiators, Livni seems to think peace can be achieved by ignoring the hatred on the other side. But merely drawing a line between Israel and the Palestinians and calling it a border won’t end a conflict that is rooted in the Arab and Muslim rejection of the idea of legitimacy for any Jewish state no matter how large or small it might be.

It has become a cliché of Middle East commentary to speak of the painful sacrifices that Israel must make if it is to have peace. That is true. But the path to peace is a two-way street. If the Palestinians want a state, it cannot be on genocidal terms that require the ethnic cleansing of Jews. Until they’re ready to live alongside Jews inside their state—and to guarantee their security—genuine peace is nowhere in sight.

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Murder and the Settlement Distraction

The announcement earlier this week by Israel’s housing minister that approval had been given for the building of 20,000 new homes in Greater Jerusalem and the West Bank was enough to outrage the West and give Palestinians a new excuse for breaking off peace talks. Or at least it was until Prime Minister Netanyahu soon overrode his subordinate and pointed out that the announcement was a meaningless political gesture and signified nothing more than intent since actual building required his support. Not looking for an unnecessary fight with Washington and, even more to the point, unwilling to give the Palestinians any new talking points, the prime minister put the matter on hold. For all intents and purposes, that ends that kerfuffle. But there’s more here than an obvious attempt by some of the more right-wing members of the government to grandstand for their base and to embarrass the PM.

As Netanyahu said, any major housing push by Israel in the territories is a distraction from the more important issue facing his government right now. With the United States still seeking to keep alive a deal with Iran that would make it more likely that the Islamist regime will eventually achieve nuclear capability than not, Israel is better off avoiding gestures that will only divert Congress and other Americans who might speak about it from this policy of appeasement. But as much as Netanyahu was right to put a lid on this discussion, it is still important to point out that even if all of those houses were built, none of them would constitute a genuine obstacle to a peace deal if the Palestinians really wanted one. Moreover, in the 24 hours since Netanyahu spiked the plan, the murder of yet another Israeli by a Palestinian terrorist has refocused the country on the real obstacle to peace: the incitement of hatred by the same Palestinian Authority that is supposed to be Israel’s partner.

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The announcement earlier this week by Israel’s housing minister that approval had been given for the building of 20,000 new homes in Greater Jerusalem and the West Bank was enough to outrage the West and give Palestinians a new excuse for breaking off peace talks. Or at least it was until Prime Minister Netanyahu soon overrode his subordinate and pointed out that the announcement was a meaningless political gesture and signified nothing more than intent since actual building required his support. Not looking for an unnecessary fight with Washington and, even more to the point, unwilling to give the Palestinians any new talking points, the prime minister put the matter on hold. For all intents and purposes, that ends that kerfuffle. But there’s more here than an obvious attempt by some of the more right-wing members of the government to grandstand for their base and to embarrass the PM.

As Netanyahu said, any major housing push by Israel in the territories is a distraction from the more important issue facing his government right now. With the United States still seeking to keep alive a deal with Iran that would make it more likely that the Islamist regime will eventually achieve nuclear capability than not, Israel is better off avoiding gestures that will only divert Congress and other Americans who might speak about it from this policy of appeasement. But as much as Netanyahu was right to put a lid on this discussion, it is still important to point out that even if all of those houses were built, none of them would constitute a genuine obstacle to a peace deal if the Palestinians really wanted one. Moreover, in the 24 hours since Netanyahu spiked the plan, the murder of yet another Israeli by a Palestinian terrorist has refocused the country on the real obstacle to peace: the incitement of hatred by the same Palestinian Authority that is supposed to be Israel’s partner.

The murder of 19-year-old Eden Atias, an off-duty soldier who was asleep on a bus, took place in Afula, a small city well inside the 1967 lines. But he is just the latest of a number of Israeli fatalities that is starting to take on the appearance of a wave of violence. The murderer, who was from the West Bank and had come to Israel supposedly to look for work, told police he was seeking to “avenge” not settlement building but the imprisonment of two relatives by Israel for terrorist activities. As Netanyahu and others in his government rightly pointed out in the aftermath of the killing, the willingness of the Palestinian Authority to broadcast and publish hate directed against Israelis and Jews—such as the recent sermon broadcast on official PA TV in which Mahmoud Abbas’s religious affairs minister claimed that both Yasir Arafat and the Prophet Muhammad were poisoned by Jews—is what is driving the violence and perpetuating the conflict.

Though the international media continues to treat even the possibility of new housing starts as somehow compromising the peace talks, a few facts need to be restated to debunk that notion.

First, almost all of the proposed building would take place in either Greater Jerusalem or the major settlement blocs that even the United States has acknowledged would have to remain inside Israel under any peace deal. Thus the addition of a few more homes there would not prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state in the rest of the West Bank or in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem were the PA ever to agree to such a deal. The building also doesn’t mean new settlements, just more houses in existing ones. Since the Palestinians are not enjoined to freeze building in parts of the West Bank that they are expected to keep in the event of peace, the carrying on about a few more apartments in places Israel will never give up is merely an effort to avoid discussing the real problems preventing an accord.

Nor would, as some have falsely alleged in the past, even the most controversial settlement plans involving the area connecting the Jewish suburb of Maale Adumim to Jerusalem cut off parts of the West Bank from each other or evict any West Bank Palestinians from their current homes.

Indeed, the focus on settlements is merely a way for the Palestinian leadership to try and avoid being put in the same uncomfortable position they were placed in back in 2000, 2001, and 2008 when they rejected Israeli offers of statehood that would have given them almost all of the West Bank and a share of Jerusalem. They know Israel has withdrawn settlements in the past and would, if the Palestinians were finally willing to show they were ending the conflict for all time by renouncing the “right” of return for refugees and accepting the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state, be willing to do so again.

Instead of doing so, Abbas and his followers look for new rationales for walking out of the talks. Meanwhile, they keep the hatred flowing and the violence continues, something that convinces even more Israelis that they would be insane to duplicate the 2005 Gaza experiment and withdraw completely from the West Bank. If the Palestinians want to change their opinion, they’ll cease the fomenting of hate and stop the violence. Until then, they’ll have to content themselves with posturing about settlements that does nothing to get them closer to a state or the region to peace.

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Boycotting Ariel Not About Justice or Peace

In this week’s Forward, venerable columnist Leonard Fein imagines he will elicit gasps of shock from his readers when he suggests that they should boycott the city of Ariel. He writes that he can do so in good conscience because there is nothing inherently immoral about boycotts and because shunning Ariel, its people, institutions, and commerce is a blow struck for justice and the cause of peace. He’s right that boycotts can sometimes be appropriate if not a moral imperative. But he’s dead wrong about giving a small city filled with ordinary law-abiding Jews, synagogues, schools, and businesses the same treatment previous generations gave Nazi Germany or segregated buses in Montgomery, Alabama. Doing so is not only morally obtuse, it also has not the slightest thing to do with peace.

Fein is pushing on an open door when he suggests there’s something controversial about boycotts. Boycotts that are rooted in moral indignation against a specific policy whether it is Nazi racism, American segregation, Soviet refusal to allow Jews to emigrate, or apartheid were all defensible boycotts since they were aimed at highlighting injustice that could be corrected. But boycotts that are themselves the product of a spirit of discrimination are less defensible. For example, the Arab boycott of Israel and the efforts of the BDS campaign—which aims at isolating it via boycotts, disinvestment and sanctions, is rooted in a desire to eradicate the Jewish state, not to reform it.

Those who oppose the building of Jewish communities in the West Bank feel they constitute an obstacle to peace. That is an argument that is undermined by the fact that the Palestinians make few distinctions between the Jews who live in their midst and those in the settlements that were built on the other side of the 1949 cease-fire lines. But if there is to be a two-state solution to the conflict, do Fein and those who agree with him really think peace will be bought by dismantling Ariel? Is he prepared to take the same position about those Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem that are also on the other side of the old “green line?” Seen in that light, it’s hard to see his attitude toward Ariel as anything but an expression of political venom directed against Israelis whose politics he doesn’t like. Whatever the merits of his arguments about settlements, such a boycott has nothing to do with justice or peace.

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In this week’s Forward, venerable columnist Leonard Fein imagines he will elicit gasps of shock from his readers when he suggests that they should boycott the city of Ariel. He writes that he can do so in good conscience because there is nothing inherently immoral about boycotts and because shunning Ariel, its people, institutions, and commerce is a blow struck for justice and the cause of peace. He’s right that boycotts can sometimes be appropriate if not a moral imperative. But he’s dead wrong about giving a small city filled with ordinary law-abiding Jews, synagogues, schools, and businesses the same treatment previous generations gave Nazi Germany or segregated buses in Montgomery, Alabama. Doing so is not only morally obtuse, it also has not the slightest thing to do with peace.

Fein is pushing on an open door when he suggests there’s something controversial about boycotts. Boycotts that are rooted in moral indignation against a specific policy whether it is Nazi racism, American segregation, Soviet refusal to allow Jews to emigrate, or apartheid were all defensible boycotts since they were aimed at highlighting injustice that could be corrected. But boycotts that are themselves the product of a spirit of discrimination are less defensible. For example, the Arab boycott of Israel and the efforts of the BDS campaign—which aims at isolating it via boycotts, disinvestment and sanctions, is rooted in a desire to eradicate the Jewish state, not to reform it.

Those who oppose the building of Jewish communities in the West Bank feel they constitute an obstacle to peace. That is an argument that is undermined by the fact that the Palestinians make few distinctions between the Jews who live in their midst and those in the settlements that were built on the other side of the 1949 cease-fire lines. But if there is to be a two-state solution to the conflict, do Fein and those who agree with him really think peace will be bought by dismantling Ariel? Is he prepared to take the same position about those Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem that are also on the other side of the old “green line?” Seen in that light, it’s hard to see his attitude toward Ariel as anything but an expression of political venom directed against Israelis whose politics he doesn’t like. Whatever the merits of his arguments about settlements, such a boycott has nothing to do with justice or peace.

It should be understood that even those who are most ardent in advocating for the peace process understand that it will not be achieved by insisting that Israel retreat to the old “green line” border. Though the Palestinian Authority is making noises directed at liberal Jews and the Western media that it is ready to end the conflict for all time, there is good reason to doubt they will accept terms they have repeatedly refused in the recent past. But if they do, they know it will involve their having to accept that Israel will retain the large settlement blocs in exchange for some territory inside pre-1967 Israel.

Among those blocs that aren’t changing hands is the city of Ariel. So exactly what point is served by a boycott of a place whose existence as a Jewish community wouldn’t prevent a peace settlement? Ariel’s continued existence inside Israel is not really in question. Does Fein believe that every Jew must be removed from all of the areas that were illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 in order to create justice and peace for the Palestinian Arabs? If so, is he advocating for a similar boycott of the various Jerusalem neighborhoods and towns and villages that would also be kept by Israel in the event the “agreement whose terms everybody already knows” that fellow leftists keep talking about is signed?

I think not.

Just as calls for the eviction of Arabs from Israel are repugnant, if peace is ever to be achieved, it will have to be on the basis of mutual respect and coexistence, not on eradicating the Jewish presence in parts of the country. But even if some settlements were to be removed, as happened in Gaza, in the event of a peace settlement, why would Fein focus on one that is not in that category except to vent spleen against the settlement movement that is more about Israeli politics than the future of peace?

I understand the arguments of those who believe preserving Israel’s Jewish majority will require the separation of two peoples. Doing so may involve giving up some settlements. But the movement to boycott settlements does more to appeal to the Palestinian belief that all Jews should be evicted from the country than it does to the cause of two states for two peoples. Palestinians may think Ariel’s existence is an injustice and intolerable insult to their sensibilities. But so is every other Jewish village, town, and city inside Israel. In this case, it is the boycott that is the injustice, not the existence of Ariel.

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Another Sign Middle East Talks Are Fake

Both Israel and the Palestinians are doing their best to act as if they care about the peace talks that are about to resume this week at the behest of Secretary of State John Kerry. But in the absence of any real hope that a deal is possible, maintaining the pretense isn’t easy. Thus, the Palestinians are doing their best to turn the announcement that some 1,000 housing units will be built in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem and in the large settlement blocs that would remain part of Israel in any possible future agreement into a major controversy. Yet the pro forma nature of the protest on the eve of the talks makes it hard to believe their hearts are really in it. But since providing an alibi for not making peace remains a higher priority for the Palestinian Authority than making the hard compromises needed to reach an accord, protest they must.

The announcement of the housing bids is being interpreted by critics of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government as a sign that he is not sincere about the talks or as a sop to his allies on the right who are upset about the concessions he has made at Kerry’s request to entice the Palestinians back to the table. They are right about the latter, since many in Netanyahu’s coalition are rightly outraged about the release of terrorist murderers who will be welcomed home as heroes rather than vicious criminals by the PA.

However, the focus on settlement building, both by the Palestinians and the Americans, is a clear sign of how removed the peace processers are from the reality of the conflict. If there was any chance at all that the Palestinians were actually willing to sign a peace deal that would recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn or to end the conflict, the building of a few apartments in parts of Jerusalem that are not going to change hands wouldn’t be worth a mention. But since PA leader Mahmoud Abbas knows there’s no way he could take such a step, he and his followers must continue to try to turn settlements into an issue that will, after a decent interval, give him an excuse for weaseling his way out of the talks. Just consider it a fake controversy to go along with a peace process that is, at its core, just as fake.

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Both Israel and the Palestinians are doing their best to act as if they care about the peace talks that are about to resume this week at the behest of Secretary of State John Kerry. But in the absence of any real hope that a deal is possible, maintaining the pretense isn’t easy. Thus, the Palestinians are doing their best to turn the announcement that some 1,000 housing units will be built in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem and in the large settlement blocs that would remain part of Israel in any possible future agreement into a major controversy. Yet the pro forma nature of the protest on the eve of the talks makes it hard to believe their hearts are really in it. But since providing an alibi for not making peace remains a higher priority for the Palestinian Authority than making the hard compromises needed to reach an accord, protest they must.

The announcement of the housing bids is being interpreted by critics of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government as a sign that he is not sincere about the talks or as a sop to his allies on the right who are upset about the concessions he has made at Kerry’s request to entice the Palestinians back to the table. They are right about the latter, since many in Netanyahu’s coalition are rightly outraged about the release of terrorist murderers who will be welcomed home as heroes rather than vicious criminals by the PA.

However, the focus on settlement building, both by the Palestinians and the Americans, is a clear sign of how removed the peace processers are from the reality of the conflict. If there was any chance at all that the Palestinians were actually willing to sign a peace deal that would recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn or to end the conflict, the building of a few apartments in parts of Jerusalem that are not going to change hands wouldn’t be worth a mention. But since PA leader Mahmoud Abbas knows there’s no way he could take such a step, he and his followers must continue to try to turn settlements into an issue that will, after a decent interval, give him an excuse for weaseling his way out of the talks. Just consider it a fake controversy to go along with a peace process that is, at its core, just as fake.

As I wrote yesterday, the notion that Israel building in those areas that both sides know would remain part of the Jewish state is at all controversial is rooted in the notion that there really isn’t anything to negotiate about. If you consider, as do the Palestinians and their foreign cheerleaders, that every inch of the West Bank and those parts of Jerusalem that were illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 are stolen property and that Jews have no right to be there under any circumstances, then the negotiations are merely about Israeli surrender, not compromise. But since Israel rightly regards its rights there as rooted in international law and history and as valid as those of the Palestinians, compromise is what is needed to make peace. Israeli building in Jerusalem or the settlement blocs is no more an obstacle to peace than the homes Palestinians are building in Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem or the new settlement north of Ramallah that was featured in yesterday’s New York Times.

Optimists continue to hope that Kerry’s desperate gambit will pay off because Israel is so afraid of the explosion in terrorism that may result from yet another failure in the talks (much like the experience after the Camp David summit of 2000) that Netanyahu will fold on territorial issues, as he did on the prisoner release. If the day ever arrives when the leadership of the Palestinians—which is now divided between the moderates who don’t want to make peace and extremists who will never consider it—ever chooses to accept Israel’s legitimacy and agree to end the conflict now and forever while giving up the right of return, Netanyahu will face a difficult dilemma which could potentially tear his government apart. But since the PA remains more intent on preserving its maximalist legacy with bogus settlement protests, it’s doubtful that the fears of Netanyahu’s right-wing critics that he will give in to pressure will be realized. If the process were not so fake, we would be hearing about dissent among Palestinians as they contemplated Abbas making compromises rather than protests about building in Jerusalem. 

Until that happens, we’re stuck watching the same movie as the Palestinians continue to find new reasons to avoid peace and the world moves on to deal with the real issues destabilizing the Middle East in Egypt and Syria. Staying awake until the inevitable conclusion of Kerry’s drama won’t be easy.

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More Anti-Israel Bias at the Times

Earlier this week I took the New York Times to task for its article on the Palestinian “hobby” of throwing rocks at Jews. The piece illustrated the way violence is accepted as normal behavior in Palestinian culture. But the author, Jerusalem Bureau chief Jodi Rudoren, also gave short shrift to the Israeli victims of this hobby and dismissed the thousands of casualties they’ve suffered over the years with one throwaway sentence that gave a second-hand account of one case that resulted in the deaths of two people. The piece failed to ask why Palestinians never thought to try to interact with Jews who live nearby as fellow human beings rather than mere objects that must wounded, maimed, or killed.

But the previous day in a different article on the settlements, Rudoren also threw in a false statement in which she claimed the United States considered Israeli communities in the West Bank and Jerusalem to be “illegal.” This is false, and credit should go to Adam Kredo of the Washington Free Beacon for calling her out on this point. The U.S. may disapprove of Israeli building, but it does not take the position that the settlements are, a priori, illegal. In response, the Times has now issued a correction on that point acknowledging that the U.S. does not take a position on their legality. That’s a minor victory, but this isn’t the first time Rudoren has made an egregious error with regard to settlements. Assuming they care about the integrity of their pages, this latest mistake should prompt both the reporter and her editors to think seriously about the biased manner in which the Times continues to report about Israel and its conflict with the Palestinians.

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Earlier this week I took the New York Times to task for its article on the Palestinian “hobby” of throwing rocks at Jews. The piece illustrated the way violence is accepted as normal behavior in Palestinian culture. But the author, Jerusalem Bureau chief Jodi Rudoren, also gave short shrift to the Israeli victims of this hobby and dismissed the thousands of casualties they’ve suffered over the years with one throwaway sentence that gave a second-hand account of one case that resulted in the deaths of two people. The piece failed to ask why Palestinians never thought to try to interact with Jews who live nearby as fellow human beings rather than mere objects that must wounded, maimed, or killed.

But the previous day in a different article on the settlements, Rudoren also threw in a false statement in which she claimed the United States considered Israeli communities in the West Bank and Jerusalem to be “illegal.” This is false, and credit should go to Adam Kredo of the Washington Free Beacon for calling her out on this point. The U.S. may disapprove of Israeli building, but it does not take the position that the settlements are, a priori, illegal. In response, the Times has now issued a correction on that point acknowledging that the U.S. does not take a position on their legality. That’s a minor victory, but this isn’t the first time Rudoren has made an egregious error with regard to settlements. Assuming they care about the integrity of their pages, this latest mistake should prompt both the reporter and her editors to think seriously about the biased manner in which the Times continues to report about Israel and its conflict with the Palestinians.

It’s worth remembering the correction the paper was forced to make about a story published in December, in which Rudoren swallowed a Palestinian lie about the building of a new Jewish suburb in the Jerusalem area cutting off Bethlehem and the southern part of the West Bank from Ramallah and areas to its north. As Elliott Abrams noted, Rudoren’s work reflects the prejudices of the far left of Israeli society, leading her to misunderstand the country’s politics (in which that far left has been completely marginalized) and to misreport security and settlement issues.

It needs to be remembered that these issues are not minor goofs. The West Bank is disputed territory in which both Israelis and Palestinians can put forward historic and legal claims. If peace is ever to be achieved, it will have to be done on a basis in which the two sides acknowledge the legitimacy of their antagonists’ position, not on the total surrender of one or the other. By adopting the Palestinian canard about Jews having no right to live or build in the heart of their ancient homeland, Rudoren is affirming the position that the settlers are thieves who deserve violence. In doing so, the Times dehumanizes these people and portrays the conflict as a morality play in which only Palestinians are victims and never the perpetrators of crimes.

In this context, it is also worth repeating the point I made on Monday when I noted that Rudoren’s choice of the village of Beit Omar to profile Palestinian hobbyists was particularly ironic because the surrounding neighboring settlements predate the 1948 War of Independence. The Gush Etzion bloc was the site of Jewish communities that were overrun by murderous Arab gangs, and their inhabitants were either massacred or captured. After the 1967 Six-Day War they were rebuilt. Of course, mentioning this history would have undermined the Palestinian narrative of victimization and Israeli usurpation and illegality.

Many in Israel and in the pro-Israel community have long since given up hoping for fair coverage of Israel in the New York Times. But while we are used to the bias on their opinion pages and the slanted nature of their news coverage, it really isn’t asking too much to expect them to at least get their facts straight and to put stories in an accurate context. Unfortunately, so long as Ms. Rudoren is in place and supervised by editors who don’t seem to care much about these concerns, there is little reason to expect anything better than her appalling “hobby” report.

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Netanyahu Won’t Get Credit for Freeze

The narrative of the Middle East peace process according to the international media has pretty much been set in stone for the last 17 years since the first time Benjamin Netanyahu was elected prime minister of Israel: the “hard line” leader’s intransigence is the primary obstacle to peace with the Palestinians. Ever since then, we have been endlessly told that his ideology has prevented the Jewish state from making efforts to negotiate with the Palestinians. The fact that Netanyahu signed peace deals during his first term and has called for a two-state solution that would allow for an independent state for Palestinians, and even froze building in the West Bank to entice Mahmoud Abbas back to the negotiating table, hasn’t altered this. Nor will the prime minister’s latest attempt to bend over backwards to accommodate the Obama administration.

According to Haaretz, “senior Israeli officials” are confirming that Netanyahu “promised U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry ‘to rein in’ construction of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem until mid-June.” In doing so, Netanyahu will be depriving the Palestinian Authority of its standard excuse for not returning to peace talks four and a half years after fleeing them in the wake of Ehud Olmert’s offer of a state that included parts of Jerusalem as well as almost all of the West Bank. But don’t expect anyone in the liberal Western media that treats Netanyahu like a piñata to give him credit for playing ball with Kerry’s hubristic effort to achieve a deal that has eluded all of his predecessors. Even worse, this very far-reaching concession is unlikely to coax the leaders of Fatah, let alone the Hamas terrorists who rule the independent state in all but name that exists in Gaza, to negotiate.

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The narrative of the Middle East peace process according to the international media has pretty much been set in stone for the last 17 years since the first time Benjamin Netanyahu was elected prime minister of Israel: the “hard line” leader’s intransigence is the primary obstacle to peace with the Palestinians. Ever since then, we have been endlessly told that his ideology has prevented the Jewish state from making efforts to negotiate with the Palestinians. The fact that Netanyahu signed peace deals during his first term and has called for a two-state solution that would allow for an independent state for Palestinians, and even froze building in the West Bank to entice Mahmoud Abbas back to the negotiating table, hasn’t altered this. Nor will the prime minister’s latest attempt to bend over backwards to accommodate the Obama administration.

According to Haaretz, “senior Israeli officials” are confirming that Netanyahu “promised U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry ‘to rein in’ construction of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem until mid-June.” In doing so, Netanyahu will be depriving the Palestinian Authority of its standard excuse for not returning to peace talks four and a half years after fleeing them in the wake of Ehud Olmert’s offer of a state that included parts of Jerusalem as well as almost all of the West Bank. But don’t expect anyone in the liberal Western media that treats Netanyahu like a piñata to give him credit for playing ball with Kerry’s hubristic effort to achieve a deal that has eluded all of his predecessors. Even worse, this very far-reaching concession is unlikely to coax the leaders of Fatah, let alone the Hamas terrorists who rule the independent state in all but name that exists in Gaza, to negotiate.

Let’s understand that by even informally freezing building in Jerusalem as well as the West Bank, Netanyahu is tacitly agreeing to a measure that undermines Israel’s very legitimate legal claims in these areas. The freeze, which will not prevent Arabs from building in these areas during this time, is an indication that the prime minister accepts the right of Americans to dictate, even for a short period and for symbolic purposes, where Jews may live in their ancient homeland. While Netanyahu’s futile 2010 freeze was only in the West Bank, this appears to include parts of Jerusalem. As such, it is a very significant measure that ought, along with his recent reaffirmation of his support for “two states for two peoples,” convince both the Palestinians and the world that he is ready to deal if they are prepared to talk.

Understandably, the move has already generated considerable pushback from the Jewish right with even, as Haaretz reports, members of Netanyahu’s own government saying that he has gone too far. But the problem that this episode illustrates is not just that the prevailing narrative about Netanyahu is false but that his latest attempt to give the administration the room it says it needs to promote peace will boomerang against him when it inevitably fails.

That Abbas won’t bite on Obama and Kerry’s invitation for direct peace talks without preconditions is almost a certainty that Netanyahu’s quiet acceptance of a very important precondition won’t alter. The political culture of Palestinian society still regards any deal that would recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn as impossible. Nor can Abbas give up on the Palestinian “right of return” and definitively end the conflict and survive. Even if he wanted to do so, the threat of Hamas means that he can’t.

Thus when June comes and goes and there are no negotiations and no prospect of any in the foreseeable future, Netanyahu will understandably lift the quiet freeze and allow building in areas that Israel would keep even in the event of a peace deal. But once he does so, the Palestinians will scream bloody murder about his “provocation” and pretend that this is the real obstacle to talks, secure in the knowledge that most of the international media would revert to their “hard line” Netanyahu narrative and echo their lies.

Would Netanyahu and Israel be better off skipping this farce by not making this concession? Maybe. But Netanyahu understands that his job is to keep the U.S.-Israel alliance intact and must harbor the hope that after four years of being stiffed by the Palestinians, President Obama will understand who the real obstacles are. Hopes such as these spring eternal, but like those he may have about the press changing its tune about him, that’s probably not a realistic scenario.

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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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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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Israel’s Settlements and the Europeans

Those looking for an explanation for why almost all of Europe backed the Palestinians in the recent vote to upgrade their status at the United Nations are blaming it on Israel’s decision to continue building homes in Jerusalem and its suburbs. As reporter Laura Rozen put it in a tweet, “Does Israel really not get how fed up Europe is w/ its settlement policies?” The upshot of this sort of thinking is that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fanatical devotion to “Greater Israel” is isolating Israel and forcing even its friends to abandon its cause in international forums.

The problem with this thesis is that it is pure bunk. As Jonathan Schanzer and Benjamin Weinthal point out in their article in Foreign Policy (about which Rozen was commenting), there are a lot of reasons why the Europeans stabbed the Israelis in the back at the UN, among which their objections to “settlements” is by no means inconsiderable. But as I pointed out earlier, if the Europeans believe that the 1967 lines with land swaps is the formula for peace, it’s hard to understand why they are upset with Israel building in places that everyone knows they would keep under such a plan. After all, does anyone who is actually interested in peace–as opposed to those who think every Jewish home anywhere in the country is an illegal settlement–actually think Israel will abandon 40-year-old Jerusalem neighborhoods or the suburbs that are close to the green line? Far from the Israelis pushing the limits in their quest for settlements, it is the Europeans who are redefining the terms of peace.

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Those looking for an explanation for why almost all of Europe backed the Palestinians in the recent vote to upgrade their status at the United Nations are blaming it on Israel’s decision to continue building homes in Jerusalem and its suburbs. As reporter Laura Rozen put it in a tweet, “Does Israel really not get how fed up Europe is w/ its settlement policies?” The upshot of this sort of thinking is that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fanatical devotion to “Greater Israel” is isolating Israel and forcing even its friends to abandon its cause in international forums.

The problem with this thesis is that it is pure bunk. As Jonathan Schanzer and Benjamin Weinthal point out in their article in Foreign Policy (about which Rozen was commenting), there are a lot of reasons why the Europeans stabbed the Israelis in the back at the UN, among which their objections to “settlements” is by no means inconsiderable. But as I pointed out earlier, if the Europeans believe that the 1967 lines with land swaps is the formula for peace, it’s hard to understand why they are upset with Israel building in places that everyone knows they would keep under such a plan. After all, does anyone who is actually interested in peace–as opposed to those who think every Jewish home anywhere in the country is an illegal settlement–actually think Israel will abandon 40-year-old Jerusalem neighborhoods or the suburbs that are close to the green line? Far from the Israelis pushing the limits in their quest for settlements, it is the Europeans who are redefining the terms of peace.

For Israel’s European critics, “Greater Israel” is no longer all of the West Bank, which even Netanyahu has conceded may be ceded for a real peace deal, nor even retention of an undivided Jerusalem. They are now acting as if any Israeli government that acts as if it is going to hold onto all of the Jewish areas of Jerusalem is a foe of peace. In doing so, they are not only distorting Israel’s position — which is still perfectly compatible with a two-state solution based on the ’67 lines with swaps — but also covering up or ignoring the fact that the Palestinians have refused Israeli offers of a state and now no longer even wish to negotiate.

The idea that the Europeans — save for the principled stand of the Czech Republic — have turned on the Israelis solely because of “settlements” is a misnomer. The tilt toward the Palestinians and against Israel is not a recent phenomenon, nor is it the product of Netanyahu’s tenure as prime minister. Virtually any act of Israeli self-defense is treated as impermissible. Nor can one understand the unwillingness of these governments to stand with Israel outside of a context in which anti-Zionism has become the orthodoxy of European intellectuals and the rising tide of anti-Semitism on the continent.

Moreover, as Schanzer and Weinthal point out, the decision to back Mahmoud Abbas at the UN has just as much if not more to do with the hope that giving him a shot in the arm will undermine Hamas. This is a monumental misjudgment, since Abbas cannot hope to compete in the long run with the more violent Islamists who run what is already an independent Palestinian state in all but name.

Europeans who think isolating Israel in this manner will teach Netanyahu or the Israeli people a lesson are ignoring the realities of the conflict. Though they would divest themselves of almost all of the territories in exchange for an end to the conflict, the overwhelming majority of Israelis have no intention of allowing the West Bank to become another, more dangerous version of Gaza from which Islamist terrorists will launch missiles or terror attacks. A European demand for an Israeli withdrawal to the 1949 armistice lines including a divided Jerusalem and the eviction of nearly half a million Jews from their homes to empower a Palestinian entity that won’t negotiate is antithetical to the idea of genuine peace.

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Does the Levy Report Doom Israel?

As I wrote last week, the release of a report establishing the legality of Israel’s presence in the West Bank issued by a panel of Israeli experts chaired by former Supreme Court Justice Edmund Levy has been widely condemned. The attacks on Levy’s report have come from both those who support the Palestinians as well as Israelis and friends of Israel who oppose the settlement movement. Among the most prominent examples of the latter came in a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu organized by the Israel Policy Forum, a liberal group that came into existence to support the Oslo peace process and which has been eclipsed in recent years by the failure of the polices they promoted. The IPF letter takes the position that, if adopted by the government, the Levy report dooms the two-state solution to the conflict and “will strengthen those who seek to delegitimize Israel’s right to exist.”

While the concerns expressed in this letter are real, those who signed are mistaken not only about the impact of Levy’s report but also about how to build international support for Israel and the hope of peace. What the signers don’t understand is that it is the opposite tack — Israel’s abandonment of a position that would uphold its rights — that has done the most to convince the world the Jewish state is in the wrong and strengthened the resolve of the Palestinians to never accede to a compromise on territory and two states. While one document cannot undo the damage done by Oslo and 19 years of failed peace processing, the Levy report can at least begin to remind the world the Israeli-Arab conflict is not one of balancing Palestinian rights and Israeli security but the rights of two nations.

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As I wrote last week, the release of a report establishing the legality of Israel’s presence in the West Bank issued by a panel of Israeli experts chaired by former Supreme Court Justice Edmund Levy has been widely condemned. The attacks on Levy’s report have come from both those who support the Palestinians as well as Israelis and friends of Israel who oppose the settlement movement. Among the most prominent examples of the latter came in a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu organized by the Israel Policy Forum, a liberal group that came into existence to support the Oslo peace process and which has been eclipsed in recent years by the failure of the polices they promoted. The IPF letter takes the position that, if adopted by the government, the Levy report dooms the two-state solution to the conflict and “will strengthen those who seek to delegitimize Israel’s right to exist.”

While the concerns expressed in this letter are real, those who signed are mistaken not only about the impact of Levy’s report but also about how to build international support for Israel and the hope of peace. What the signers don’t understand is that it is the opposite tack — Israel’s abandonment of a position that would uphold its rights — that has done the most to convince the world the Jewish state is in the wrong and strengthened the resolve of the Palestinians to never accede to a compromise on territory and two states. While one document cannot undo the damage done by Oslo and 19 years of failed peace processing, the Levy report can at least begin to remind the world the Israeli-Arab conflict is not one of balancing Palestinian rights and Israeli security but the rights of two nations.

One of the letter’s most prominent signers, Shalem Center senior vice president (and COMMENTARY contributor) Rabbi Daniel Gordis, conceded in his op-ed published yesterday in Ha’aretz in which he explained his participation in the IPF letter, that its purpose was not to dispute Levy’s legal position. Indeed, it would have difficulty doing so from a Zionist frame of reference, as the rights of Jews to live and build in the West Bank was enshrined in the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine which is the last internationally recognized sovereign in the area. Levy’s point is not that the West Bank only belongs to Israel, but that it is disputed territory to which both the Jewish state and the Palestinians may assert a claim. Those claims can only be resolved by negotiations that could end the conflict with a territorial compromise.

But Gordis and his colleagues believe the mere assertion of Jewish rights in the West Bank, even if it is accompanied as it has been by an offer to negotiate peace and territorial compromise, will never be understood by the world. They believe it will signal Israel’s unwillingness to ever make peace and doom the Jewish state not just to unending conflict but also to the problems that will arise from the presence of a large Arab population under its control. These worries are not without basis. Israel is assailed by the world for its perceived unwillingness to make peace, even though the history of the post-Oslo era has shown that the land for peace formula it embraced brought it neither peace nor security.

But what Gordis and the other 40 signers of the IPF letter miss is that by consciously downplaying its legal rights in the dispute, Israel has unwittingly strengthened the hand of those who oppose its existence, be it inside or outside the green line. By ceasing to speak of the justice of Israel’s case, the so-called “peace camp” played into the hands of those who think Jews have no more right to live in Tel Aviv than in Jerusalem or the most remote hilltop West Bank settlement.

Far from encouraging the Palestinians to abandon their dreams of a “right of return” and the eradication of Zionism, the more Israel and its friends treat the West Bank and even Jerusalem as stolen territory, the less likely it is that the Palestinians will ever accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders will be drawn.

Indeed, if the Levy report has any impact on the Palestinians, it is a reminder to them that their hopes of achieving the eviction of every Jew from the West Bank as well as from the portions of Jerusalem that were illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 are dead. If they wish to have a Palestinian state in the West Bank — something they were offered by Israel but refused in 2000, 2001 and 2008 — they must return to negotiations instead of sitting back and waiting for the Obama administration or the Europeans to pressure Israel into a unilateral withdrawal such as the disastrous 2005 retreat from Gaza.

Even the Obama administration has conceded that Israel will retain many of the settlements in a theoretical peace deal that will include territorial swaps. How can Israel hope to bargain for such an outcome if it is unwilling to state that Jews have every right to live in these towns and villages as well as in Jerusalem?

The assertion of Jewish rights is not incompatible with peace talks or even the surrender of much of the West Bank as part of a genuine peace accord. It is hard to imagine such talks succeeding under any circumstances in the absence of a sea change in the political culture of the Palestinians that would enable them to live with a Jewish state. But they have no hope of succeeding so long as the Palestinians think Israel can be made to give up all of the land without peace. Nor will the international community ever support an Israel they believe has “stolen” Palestinian land.

A generation of abdication of Jewish rights to the West Bank has not softened the hearts of the world or the Palestinians. If Israel is ever to negotiate a peace that will bring security, it must start by saying that it comes to the table not as a thief but as a party whose legal rights must be respected.

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Dismantling Settlements Won’t Stop Iran

The reaction of the New York Times to the report authored by former Israeli Supreme Court Justice Edward Levy about the legality of Jewish settlements in the West Bank was predictable. It fulminated about the way the Levy commission differed from the consensus in the international community that holds, as the Times editorial put it, that “all Israeli construction there as a violation of international law.” But the Times is not just exercised about the legal dispute that it dismisses in a couple of sentences without even looking seriously at the arguments. As far as the paper is concerned, any measure or idea that does not contribute to the push to get Israel to leave the West Bank is an obstacle to peace and a threat to the Jewish state. Even worse, it went so far as to speciously claim that the ongoing dispute about settlements is diverting attention from the attempt to stop Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons.

This is a red herring that should and will be ignored by both the Israel and American governments. Iran is a threat to Israel but it is also a danger to the surrounding Arab countries as well as to the West. Israeli concessions won’t dampen Iran’s resolve to go nuclear because Tehran doesn’t care about a two-state solution for the Palestinians. Their hatred of Israel and the Jews and desire for hegemony over the Arabs can’t be bought off in this manner. But the mention of Iran should remind observers that what Israel’s foes oppose is not Israel’s presence in the West Bank but it’s existence.

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The reaction of the New York Times to the report authored by former Israeli Supreme Court Justice Edward Levy about the legality of Jewish settlements in the West Bank was predictable. It fulminated about the way the Levy commission differed from the consensus in the international community that holds, as the Times editorial put it, that “all Israeli construction there as a violation of international law.” But the Times is not just exercised about the legal dispute that it dismisses in a couple of sentences without even looking seriously at the arguments. As far as the paper is concerned, any measure or idea that does not contribute to the push to get Israel to leave the West Bank is an obstacle to peace and a threat to the Jewish state. Even worse, it went so far as to speciously claim that the ongoing dispute about settlements is diverting attention from the attempt to stop Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons.

This is a red herring that should and will be ignored by both the Israel and American governments. Iran is a threat to Israel but it is also a danger to the surrounding Arab countries as well as to the West. Israeli concessions won’t dampen Iran’s resolve to go nuclear because Tehran doesn’t care about a two-state solution for the Palestinians. Their hatred of Israel and the Jews and desire for hegemony over the Arabs can’t be bought off in this manner. But the mention of Iran should remind observers that what Israel’s foes oppose is not Israel’s presence in the West Bank but it’s existence.

What Levy’s critics are doing is, as I wrote earlier this week, conflating the issue of legality with that of the wisdom of the settlement enterprise. But what the Times editorial, as well as most of the comment about this issue ignores is that the question of the continued Israeli presence in the territories is not one that is controlled by Levy or even Prime Minister Netanyahu. Rather, it is the Palestinians and their refusal to make peace even when offered most of the West Bank and a share of Jerusalem for an independent state. So long as Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas and his Hamas allies refuse to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, the settlements will remain since withdrawal would remain of the 2005 Gaza withdrawal disaster. Should they ever truly choose peace, there is no question that many will be dismantled. That’s why the obsessive desire to brand the settlements as illegal and to depict the Jews as foreign colonizers in areas in places where Jewish civilization was born and thrived does nothing to advance the cause of peace. So long as the Palestinians think that they don’t have to negotiate over the territories, the status quo will remain in place.

There is a connection between the question of the settlements and Iran but it is not the one the Times thinks it is. In the minds of those Islamists who wish to destroy Israel— be they in Tehran, Gaza or here in the United States agitating against Israel — the West Bank settlers are no different from the cosmopolitan urban dwellers of Tel Aviv. To them, every Jew in the country, whether in the coastal cities or hilltop settlements is an illegal settler. From their point of view the whole idea of Israel, be it within the 1949 armistice lines or one that would incorporate some of the settlements in the sort of territorial swap that even President Obama has recognized as the only possible formula for a two-state solution is anathema.

Far from discouraging Israel’s foes, the push to brand the settlements as not just unwise but illegal gives encouragement to those Arabs and Muslims who still nurture the fantasy that Israel is on the brink of collapse. While the majority of Israelis do not wish to rule over Arabs in the West Bank any more than they did to control those of Gaza, from which Israel completely withdrew in 2005, until the Palestinians give up the dream of the end of the Jewish state, there will be no peace. Those who decry Levy’s report upholding Jewish rights while not saying that they must be exercised are only feeding this delusion rather than promoting peace. Nor are they doing anything to give Western leaders the guts to stand up to Iran.

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Settlements’ Legality Won’t Prevent Peace

The release of a report on the legality of Israel’s presence in the West Bank commissioned by Prime Minister Netanyahu is being widely dismissed by critics of his government as well as those of the Jewish state. Though its findings that Jews have the right to live in the territories and that Israel’s presence there does not fit the traditional definition of a military occupation are solidly based in international law, no one should expect the left to respect the report issued by a panel headed by former Supreme Court Vice President Edmond Levy. Nor should we be surprised if the international community ignores it. Opposition to the settlements is so deeply entrenched that there is no argument, no matter how grounded in logic or justice, that would persuade those committed to the myth settlements are the only obstacle to peace, that they are not illegal. As legal scholar David M. Phillips wrote in the September 2009 issue of COMMENTARY, international law supports this position.

But while we expect this effort to be trashed, those horrified by the fact that Israel is willing to assert that it has rights in the West Bank that are as worthy of respect as those of the Arabs are not just wrong about the legal arguments. Their assumption that a belief in the settlements’ legality makes a peace deal impossible is equally mistaken. Just because Israel has rights in the West Bank doesn’t mean it need necessarily exercise them on every inch of the territory. The assertion of Jewish rights merely means Israel has a leg to stand on when negotiating the permanent status of the West Bank and Jerusalem. Far from that rendering peace unlikely, it ought to give Palestinians an incentive to come to the table and work out a deal that will give them as much of the territory as they can get. The obstacle to peace is the Palestinian belief that the Jewish presence throughout the country — including pre-1967 Israel — is illegitimate.

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The release of a report on the legality of Israel’s presence in the West Bank commissioned by Prime Minister Netanyahu is being widely dismissed by critics of his government as well as those of the Jewish state. Though its findings that Jews have the right to live in the territories and that Israel’s presence there does not fit the traditional definition of a military occupation are solidly based in international law, no one should expect the left to respect the report issued by a panel headed by former Supreme Court Vice President Edmond Levy. Nor should we be surprised if the international community ignores it. Opposition to the settlements is so deeply entrenched that there is no argument, no matter how grounded in logic or justice, that would persuade those committed to the myth settlements are the only obstacle to peace, that they are not illegal. As legal scholar David M. Phillips wrote in the September 2009 issue of COMMENTARY, international law supports this position.

But while we expect this effort to be trashed, those horrified by the fact that Israel is willing to assert that it has rights in the West Bank that are as worthy of respect as those of the Arabs are not just wrong about the legal arguments. Their assumption that a belief in the settlements’ legality makes a peace deal impossible is equally mistaken. Just because Israel has rights in the West Bank doesn’t mean it need necessarily exercise them on every inch of the territory. The assertion of Jewish rights merely means Israel has a leg to stand on when negotiating the permanent status of the West Bank and Jerusalem. Far from that rendering peace unlikely, it ought to give Palestinians an incentive to come to the table and work out a deal that will give them as much of the territory as they can get. The obstacle to peace is the Palestinian belief that the Jewish presence throughout the country — including pre-1967 Israel — is illegitimate.

As Phillips and the new report pointed out, the international conventions prohibiting the movement of people into occupied territory has no application in the West Bank, as it forms part of the League of Nations Palestinian Mandate that was established to facilitate the creation of a national home for the Jews. Far from the West Bank being “stolen” from the Palestinians, it was simply unallocated territory from the former Ottoman Empire where Jews had legal rights as powerful as those of the Arabs. Nor do the postwar resolutions formed in response to Nazi policies in Eastern Europe that are frequently cited by settlement foes apply to Israel’s very different policies.

The widespread interpretation of this report is that it will allow Netanyahu to avoid demolishing those settlement outposts that were not previously authorized by the government. But any outpost that was built on land owned by Arabs can still be uprooted by legal action, as was the case with the Ulpana neighborhood of Beit El.

The fallacy here is not just that the effort to delegitimize the Jewish presence in the West Bank and Jerusalem is not a correct interpretation of international law. It is just as important to note that once Israel’s rights are confirmed, it doesn’t obligate Netanyahu or any of his successors to hold onto all of the land. The report’s recommendations that limits on growth in existing settlements should be lifted likewise doesn’t mean that a peace deal can’t be reached. Most of the settlements would be retained even in proposals put forward by the Jewish left, and those left out could still be evacuated, as the withdrawal from Gaza proved.

What it does do is force the Palestinians to understand that if they want peace, they must compromise.

But that is something they won’t do on the West Bank for the same reason they are unwilling to recognize Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. It is that reluctance to give up their opposition to Jewish sovereignty even inside the Green Line that prevents peace. Were the PA willing to make a peace deal that would end the conflict for all time, they could have the independent state they were offered and refused in 2000, 2001 and 2008. The settlement’s legality wouldn’t stop Israel from evacuating any place conceded in a peace deal. But so long as the Palestinians are encouraged to believe they can uproot all of the Jews, including those living in the Jewish settlement built on the outskirts of Jaffa a century ago that is now known as Tel Aviv, it won’t matter what the legal scholars say about any of this.

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Price Tags and the Bigotry of Low Palestinian Expectations

Earlier this week, a mosque in the West Bank was vandalized. This reprehensible attack is believed to be the work of radical Jews who wished to make it plain to Israeli authorities — and not as probably most Westerners think — the Palestinians, that the removal of settlers from housing that was not legally purchased or constructed with the permission of the state will carry with it a “price tag.” These so-called “price tag” attacks have grown in recent years, even though the overwhelming majority of settlers, not to mention the Israeli people, deplore them. But though any such attack on a religious institution is a stain on the honor of the Jewish people and inevitably generates negative coverage of Israel such as this feature published in the New York Times on Tuesday, the bottom line is that in a democracy thugs do not get their way. As the Times reported that same day, the Israeli government has secured agreement from the few inhabitants of Ulpana to leave their homes that were ruled by a court to be built on private Palestinian property in the vicinity of the existing and quite legal Beit El settlement. In doing so, the rule of law has been vindicated.

But amid the general condemnation of the behavior of the extremist settlers that for some calls into question the legitimacy of the entire Zionist enterprise, it is worth noting an element of the story generally missing from most accounts in the Western press of the “price tag” attacks as well as allegations of settler violence toward local Arabs. However wrong the extremists are–and they are dead wrong–their behavior has not occurred in a vacuum. To focus only on settler misbehavior ignores a context in which attacks on Jews in the West Bank is a regular occurrence. And that includes Arab attacks on synagogues. The problem is that the foreign press gives the Jewish violence the sort of “man bites dog” treatment that makes it worthy of notice, whereas Palestinian misbehavior is simply taken for granted. This bigotry of low expectations is at the heart of the problem.

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Earlier this week, a mosque in the West Bank was vandalized. This reprehensible attack is believed to be the work of radical Jews who wished to make it plain to Israeli authorities — and not as probably most Westerners think — the Palestinians, that the removal of settlers from housing that was not legally purchased or constructed with the permission of the state will carry with it a “price tag.” These so-called “price tag” attacks have grown in recent years, even though the overwhelming majority of settlers, not to mention the Israeli people, deplore them. But though any such attack on a religious institution is a stain on the honor of the Jewish people and inevitably generates negative coverage of Israel such as this feature published in the New York Times on Tuesday, the bottom line is that in a democracy thugs do not get their way. As the Times reported that same day, the Israeli government has secured agreement from the few inhabitants of Ulpana to leave their homes that were ruled by a court to be built on private Palestinian property in the vicinity of the existing and quite legal Beit El settlement. In doing so, the rule of law has been vindicated.

But amid the general condemnation of the behavior of the extremist settlers that for some calls into question the legitimacy of the entire Zionist enterprise, it is worth noting an element of the story generally missing from most accounts in the Western press of the “price tag” attacks as well as allegations of settler violence toward local Arabs. However wrong the extremists are–and they are dead wrong–their behavior has not occurred in a vacuum. To focus only on settler misbehavior ignores a context in which attacks on Jews in the West Bank is a regular occurrence. And that includes Arab attacks on synagogues. The problem is that the foreign press gives the Jewish violence the sort of “man bites dog” treatment that makes it worthy of notice, whereas Palestinian misbehavior is simply taken for granted. This bigotry of low expectations is at the heart of the problem.

If one reads the Israeli press, you know that a synagogue on a moshav in central Israel was vandalized with Muslim graffiti this week, but you missed it if all you see is the New York Times. Nor was that the first such attack on a synagogue. Similarly, tucked into some but by no means all of the stories about the dismantling of Ulpana is the fact that the houses were built there as a response to the murder 12 years ago of a Jewish mother and child by Arab terrorists.

Mentioning this does not rationalize settler violence, let alone excuse it. But doing so does spoil the prevailing narrative of the West Bank morality play that Israel’s critics promote which portrays the settlers as evil and the Palestinians the innocents. The situation in the West Bank is complex. The Arabs who live there have a right to have their property rights respected and to go about their lives without fear of violence. But the same should apply to the Jews who live nearby. But unfortunately, not only do the Palestinians not respect the right of Jews to live on this land, they also do not respect their right to do so in safety. This position is granted legitimacy of a sort by a foreign press that implicitly accepts the frame of reference that regards all Jews in the West Bank as usurpers or thieves, even if the land they live on is indisputably owned by Jews.

Those who believe Jews have no right to live anywhere in the West Bank or in the parts of Jerusalem that were illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967 can only do so by effectively negating the historic and legal rights of the Jewish people. But even those who hold this position must acknowledge that a peaceful solution to the Middle East conflict cannot be built on the sort of anti-Jewish violence that is so routine it barely rates any coverage in the West.

More to the point, until Arab violence is treated as being as reprehensible as most Israelis consider the “price tag” attacks, the Palestinians will go on laboring under the misapprehension they can force the Jews out. That bigotry of low expectations directed at the Palestinians is a far greater obstacle to peace than any settlement.

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What Six Days Achieved

Forty-five years ago today, the Six-Day War began. But rather than this being an occasion for the world to remember when Israel’s existence hung in the balance, it is, instead, merely being used as an opportunity for pundits and critics to urge the Jewish state to recreate in some way the world of June 5, 1967. In one such column, Jeffrey Goldberg resurrects the now familiar theme that Israel’s famous victory was actually a defeat because it left the Jewish state in possession of the West Bank. For Goldberg, the only way for Israel to finally win the war that began on that day is for it to begin a process of unilateral withdrawal from the territories.

Goldberg’s thesis is that the demographic threat from the Arab population of both the West Bank and pre-1967 Israel to the country’s Jewish majority requires the withdrawal of Jewish settlements even if a peace accord is not in sight. Goldberg’s support for another Israeli attempt at unilateralism is misguided, because the experience of Gaza proved that such tactics lead only to grief, and no critic of Israel will think better of it if the settlers are removed but troops remain. But the assumption that the outcome of that war is still in the balance and depends on Israel’s exit from the territories is flawed. It misunderstands the nature of the conflict and Israel’s ability to transform the attitudes of its neighbors or the world. So long as the goal of Israel’s foes is its destruction and not merely withdrawal from the West Bank or parts of Jerusalem, the only way to look at the Six-Day War or the current impasse is through the prism of survival, not the world’s perceptions. That was just as true 45 years ago when Israel’s government was instructed by the world — including the United States — to sit back and wait to be attacked as it is today.

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Forty-five years ago today, the Six-Day War began. But rather than this being an occasion for the world to remember when Israel’s existence hung in the balance, it is, instead, merely being used as an opportunity for pundits and critics to urge the Jewish state to recreate in some way the world of June 5, 1967. In one such column, Jeffrey Goldberg resurrects the now familiar theme that Israel’s famous victory was actually a defeat because it left the Jewish state in possession of the West Bank. For Goldberg, the only way for Israel to finally win the war that began on that day is for it to begin a process of unilateral withdrawal from the territories.

Goldberg’s thesis is that the demographic threat from the Arab population of both the West Bank and pre-1967 Israel to the country’s Jewish majority requires the withdrawal of Jewish settlements even if a peace accord is not in sight. Goldberg’s support for another Israeli attempt at unilateralism is misguided, because the experience of Gaza proved that such tactics lead only to grief, and no critic of Israel will think better of it if the settlers are removed but troops remain. But the assumption that the outcome of that war is still in the balance and depends on Israel’s exit from the territories is flawed. It misunderstands the nature of the conflict and Israel’s ability to transform the attitudes of its neighbors or the world. So long as the goal of Israel’s foes is its destruction and not merely withdrawal from the West Bank or parts of Jerusalem, the only way to look at the Six-Day War or the current impasse is through the prism of survival, not the world’s perceptions. That was just as true 45 years ago when Israel’s government was instructed by the world — including the United States — to sit back and wait to be attacked as it is today.

The belief that the Arabs can ultimately win the Six-Day War by waiting patiently until they outnumber the Jews between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River is based on the assumption that the status quo is untenable and must inevitably be replaced by either a two-state solution or the transformation of Israel into an Arab majority country. But that idea that Israel must choose now between the two is mistaken.

Goldberg is right that the overwhelming majority of Israelis have no wish to rule over millions of Palestinians. But the roadblock to peace that would create a two-state solution has never been the settlements. It has been, as Goldberg acknowledges, the Palestinians’ rejection of peace offers that would have given them independence in most of the territories in 2000, 2001 and 2008 and their refusal to even restart negotiations. In the absence of a sea change in Palestinian political culture that would allow them to live in peace alongside a Jewish state, peace is impossible.

As unpleasant as the status quo is for Israel, it is preferable to a return to the situation of June 1967 when Israel was, despite its underdog status, no closer to universal popularity than it is today. The assumption that it must lead inevitably to a one-state solution is foolish simply because there is no mechanism by which Israel will ever allow itself to be voted out of existence by the Palestinians. Nor is it a given that such an Arab majority will ever exist. What Israel must and can do is what it has been doing for 45 years: waiting for the Arabs to come to their senses and give up a notion of Palestinian nationalism that is rooted in negation of Zionism. That was only made possible by military victory.

The achievements of 1967 are by no means impermanent even if it led to a situation in the West Bank that is not optimal. In the wake of that war, Israel got the strategic depth as well as the confidence to survive even while it was besieged by hostile neighbors while the world looked on with indifference.

The victory won in those days also altered the relationship between Israel and the United States. It set in motion a process that has forged a strategic alliance between the two countries that is now a permanent fact in the Middle East that no amount of Arab or Muslim hatred or European hostility can erase.

What was at stake in those six days wasn’t a matter of perceptions or demography but simple survival as Arab armies massed to attempt to reverse the verdict of the 1948-49 War of Independence. What followed was a changed and often problematic new world but one that ensured Israel would not be erased, as many feared it would in the weeks before the shooting started. In winning the war with what seemed to be miraculous speed, the conflict wasn’t ended, but it was changed to one that could be managed from a position of Israeli strength.

Part of the problem with grasping this reality is the difficulty of recalling not only how dire Israel’s strategic situation was on June 5, 1967, but also how precarious its hold on the world’s sympathy was then. Jewish Ideas Daily is performing a valuable service to the public with a week-long attempt to provide perspective on the war’s anniversary, with daily summaries for both the prelude to the war and each day that provide insights on the situation then as well as subsequent evaluation. For those who have forgotten as well as those who assume that victory was inevitable or can be erased, it provides a good starting point.

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