Commentary Magazine


Days of Violence, Days of Mourning, Days of War

President Obama’s call yesterday to begin negotiations for a Palestinian state based on Israel’s pre-1967 borders has elicited a lot of excellent analysis here at Contentions. I wanted to add several points to what has been written.

The first is that President Obama’s speech was marked by astonishing self-deception. He presented a two-state solution that would already have been achieved long ago, if Israel were dealing with a genuine “peace partner.” But instead Israel is dealing with entities—Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA)—that are bent on its destruction of Israel or too powerless to stop it. (Doubts about the intentions of the PA have understandably increased ever since it engaged in a unity pact with Hamas.)

It is worse than folly to assume an agreement can be reached unless and until the Palestinians make their own inner peace with the existence of the Jewish state. That has not yet happened and until it does, repeating like a incantation the argument that a “lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples” is useless.

On one side is Israel, bone-weary for peace; on the other side, the Palestinians, who preach a steady diet of murderous anti-Semitism to their children and whose leadership has shown a fierce and burning hatred for Israel. It is stupid and morally indefensible to apply pressure to the former until there is a profound shift in attitudes by the latter. But thanks to President Obama, altering the rejectionist precepts of the Palestinians is less rather than more likely. Why should the Palestinians shift their stance if Obama is willing to do their bidding for them?

Then there is President Obama’s claim in his speech that “Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace,” a statement which raises questions about whether the president is aware of even the most basic facts on this matter.

To be specific: Is Obama aware that Israel has been willing to “act boldly to advance a lasting peace” since before its existence, when Israel accepted a U.N. proposal to establish two states in the region—one Jewish, the other Arab? We know that Arab states rejected that plan, which granted Israel land that constituted one-sixth of one percent of what was known as the Arab world, and five Arab armies invaded Israel the day after its independence was declared in order to annihilate her.

Is the president aware that from 1948 through 1967 Jordan and Egypt controlled the West Bank and Gaza—and during that time neither nation lifted a finger to establish a Palestinian state? Or that the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), whose declared purpose was the elimination of Israel, was founded in 1964—three years before the West Bank and Gaza fell under Israeli control? Or that in 1970 King Hussein of Jordan announced a war on the PLO, his army’s slaughtering tens of thousands of Palestinians and eradicating the PLO from Jordan? Or that when the PLO moved to Lebanon and created a state within a state and that by 1975 Lebanon—once known as the “Switzerland of the Middle East”—was ruined?

Is President Obama aware that the land Israel won in 1967—including the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Sinai desert and the Golan Heights—was the result of a war of aggression by Arab states against Israel? Or that after its victory in the so-called “Six Day War” Israel signaled to the Arab states its willingness to relinquish virtually all the territories it acquired in exchange for peace—but that hope was crushed in August 1967 when Arab leaders met in Khartoum and adopted a formula that became known as the “three noes”: no peace with Israel, no negotiations with Israel, and no recognition of Israel.

Does the president realize that in 1978 Prime Minister Menachem Begin submitted an accord with Egypt to the Knesset that won overwhelming bipartisan approval—and as a result Israel returned to Egypt the strategically crucial and oil-rich Sinai desert—territory three times the size of Israel and more than 90 percent of the land Israel took control of in the 1967 war? Is Obama aware that in the summer of 2000, then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered up an astonishing set of concessions to Yasir Arafat, including having Israel withdraw to virtually all of the 1949-1967 boundaries, so that a Palestinian state could be proclaimed with its capital in Jerusalem? And that Arafat not only turned down the offer but responded with a second intifada?

I wonder, too, if President Obama is aware that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon unilaterally and entirely withdrew Israel from the Gaza strip, only to watch as the militant group Hamas took control and began to shower Israel with rocket attacks.

I have detailed this history only because it’s terribly relevant to what is happening in the here and now. If one has even a cursory understanding of the history of Israel and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, then it would be obvious where the credit lies, where the blame rests, and where the pressure needs to be applied.

The facts I have enumerated here are not state secrets; they are part of the historical record and easily accessible. Before Obama decides to weigh in on the matter of Israel, its borders, and what steps it ought to take for peace, he might take the time to acquaint himself with the truth of events. If he does, he will come to realize that unless and until the Palestinians give up their goal of creating a state that reaches from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, no amount of Israeli good will and no amount of territorial concessions will lead to peace. It will, in fact, only inflame the passions of Israel’s enemies and draw the Jewish people closer to days of violence, days of mourning, days of war.

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