Commentary Magazine


If Israel Won’t Say It, Who Will?

In yesterday’s post, I discussed some of the negative consequences of Israel’s habit of treating its own negotiating demands as unimportant. But there is another devastating consequence: its effect on international public opinion.

Take the latest Israel Project poll, which found that even in America, normally a pro-Israel bastion, only 45 percent of respondents believe Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is committed to peace, and only 51 percent — down from 63 percent last year — think America should support Israel.

The second finding isn’t due solely to the first, but neither is it unrelated: even Americans who realize that peace isn’t possible now expect Israel to be committed to it in principle.

So why do Americans think Netanyahu doesn’t want peace? Well, everyone knows the Palestinians have demands that he refuses to meet (like a pre-negotiations commitment to the 1949 armistice lines); they say so constantly. But few people realize Israel has demands the Palestinians have consistently refused to meet because Israel doesn’t say so.

To understand how deep this Israeli pathology runs, consider official Israel’s response to a New York Times editorial earlier this month. The editorial urged Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to begin direct talks with Israel but sympathized with the fear he “no doubt” feels that Netanyahu “will use the process to give the illusion of progress while never addressing Palestinian concerns about borders, security, refugees and the future of Jerusalem” — and that despite this, “the Palestinians will be blamed if negotiations fail.”

Based on past experience, the reverse is far more likely: in previous talks, Israel made massive concessions on these issues while the Palestinian made no concessions at all to Israel’s concerns, yet most of the world still blamed Israel. The Times, however, neglected to mention that possibility.

That a leading American paper doesn’t recognize (or doesn’t acknowledge) that Israel, too, has legitimate concerns that must be addressed, and so far haven’t been, is problematic enough. Still, given the Times’s pro-Palestinian bias, perhaps you can’t expect anything better.

But it turns out you also can’t expect anything better from Israel’s own ambassador to the U.S. In the letter he wrote in response, Michael Oren correctly slammed the Times for implying that Netanyahu, rather than Abbas, has resisted direct talks until now; for ignoring “Israel’s attempts, in 2000 and 2008,” to address the Palestinians’ final-status concerns, “only to be rebuffed by Palestinian leaders, including Mr. Abbas”; and for its ad hominem attack on Netanyahu (whom it termed a “master manipulator”).

But he didn’t say a word about Israel having concerns of its own on “borders, security, refugees, and the future of Jerusalem” that the Palestinians have repeatedly failed to address. And if Israel’s own ambassador won’t say so, who will?

This is precisely why most of the world does blame Israel for the failure of past talks. Everyone knows Israel has yet to satisfy Palestinian demands; the Palestinians proclaim this nonstop. But few people even know what Israel’s demands are, let alone that the Palestinians have rejected every single one.

And unless Israel starts telling them, they never will.

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