Jackson Diehl, in a recent posting, wrote about the fact that in his State of the Union address, President Obama failed to mention Israel, the Palestinians, or the Middle East peace process, which was one of his most high-profile diplomatic initiatives during his first year. “For those reading tea leaves,” Diehl wrote, “and there are many in the Middle East — the president has offered a few signs recently that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations have moved down his list of priorities.” Diehl thinks that’s a wise idea.
As I argued in a column earlier this month, the history of Israeli-Arab diplomacy clearly shows that only peace efforts that originate with the parties themselves have succeeded. Or, as former secretary of state James A. Baker III once put it, we “can’t want peace more than the parties” themselves. Baker, a master of Middle East diplomacy, once publicly gave Israelis and Palestinians the White House phone number and invited them to call when they were serious about pursuing negotiations. In a more subtle way, Obama may be doing the same thing.
I agree that having the U.S. try to impose a solution is the wrong way to proceed. But where I disagree with Diehl is in his “pox on both your houses” approach to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. This is an almost reflexive habit among many people in the foreign-policy establishment and the political class. The Israelis and Palestinians are equally to blame for the tension and lack of progress. Both sides have made mistakes. Neither has done all it should. Both are equally culpable. Call us when you’re serious.
This account is not only wrong; it is fanciful. It ignores so many things that bear on this matter, such as the fact that in 2005, Israel did what its critics had been demanding of it: unilaterally return land to the Palestinians. (This is something that no Arab nation has ever done, even when, for example, Jordan occupied and annexed the West Bank and the Gaza Strip was occupied by Egypt.) It came in the form of offering the Palestinians self-rule in Gaza. Israel took this “chance for peace” — and in response it was on the receiving end of thousands of rocket and mortar attacks.
It isn’t the first time. In 2000, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians virtually all the territory they had asked for. He would accept certain districts in East Jerusalem as the capital of a new Palestinian state. And he was willing to grant the so-called “right of return” to 100,000 Palestinians and compensate the rest. In response, Yasir Arafat began a second intifada, one that was bloodier and more violent than the first.
Israel has shown that when it deals with Arab nations that are not committed to its destruction — see Jordan and Egypt — it is prepared to make enormous concessions. In fact, in returning the Sinai Desert to Egypt, Israel returned land three times its size — territory that accounted for more than 90 percent of the land Israel won in the 1967 war of aggression by Arab states. Israel also offered to return all the land it captured during the Six-Day War in exchange for peace and normal relations; that offer was summarily rejected in August 1967, when Arab leaders met in Khartoum and issued their infamous “three no’s” edict: no peace with Israel, no negotiations with Israel, and no recognition of Israel.
I’ve written previously about the false equivalence between the actions of Israel and the Palestinians:
It … ignores what Israel is: democratic and lawful, willing to grant rights to its Arab citizens, willing to hold itself accountable for its mistakes, a country of bustling energy, entrepreneurial spirit, and a thriving civil society. Israel is among the most admirable and impressive nations in the world, and that we have ever seen. And all of this despite living in a region that for the most part despises her and in some instances wants to destroy her.
The truth is that the people of Israel ache for peace; they have done as much as any people on earth to secure it. And for anyone to say that we in America want it more than they do is offensive. They cannot do it alone, and for Israel to offer concessions to nations bent on its destruction would be to sign a death warrant.
The Palestinian people have endured enormous suffering and hardship for more than half a century. But that has to do with the fact that other Arab nations have used the Palestinians as pawns in their own malignant games, and with Palestinians leadership, which has never made its inner peace with the Jewish state. That is at the core of this conflict; and until that burning hatred for Israel is finally extinguished, there is simply no chance for lasting peace.
Why this truth is overlooked so often, by so many, is a curious and troubling thing.