For far too long, Israeli diplomats have spent much of their time trying to avoid the basic arguments about the Middle East conflict. Rather than take every possible opportunity to hammer home the facts about why Israel is in the West Bank and the right of Jews to live there, the country’s foreign ministry has instead often concentrated its energies on smoothing over differences. It has also sought to avoid the arguments entirely with well-intentioned but largely pointless efforts to “brand” Israel in such a way as to make people think about pretty girls, beaches and scientific innovations.
But Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon has ignored this convention and created a clever and informative six-minute YouTube video answering the question of “The Truth About the West Bank.” This is driving the Palestinian Authority up the wall.
PA negotiator Saeb Erekat issued a statement last week claiming that by asserting Israel’s historical rights to the West Bank and debunking the conventional wisdom that claims the territory is “illegally occupied,” Israel is pursuing a “pro-conflict agenda.” Erekat went on to assert Ayalon’s video is filled with false information showing Israel is “denying the Palestinian people their inalienable right to self-determination.”
But all Ayalon does is tell the basic truth about the history of the last century. Israel did not capture the West Bank in 1967 from the Palestinians but from Jordan in a war of self-defense. Jordan had illegally occupied the area as well as half of Jerusalem in the course of its participation in a war to destroy the newborn state of Israel in 1948. Ayalon also says something that is indisputably true but almost never mentioned in the mainstream media: Jews were guaranteed the right of settlement in the West Bank by the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine.
To assert the Jewish state’s rights is not the same thing as saying Israel should never retreat from an inch of the West Bank. The borders between Israel and a future Palestinian state can only be determined by negotiations. But for too long, Israel and even most of its defenders in the United States have been so intent on trying to appear reasonable, they have appeared to concede the Palestinians’ false charge the land was stolen from them. That’s the problem for those who worry about the nation’s image and media coverage. If the West Bank is stolen property then it should merely be returned to its owners and not be a subject for talks. By rightly putting forth Israel’s claims, Ayalon is buttressing his country’s negotiating position, not undermining it.
So long as the Palestinians talk of rights and the Israelis speak of security, the Palestinians will win the argument every time. Thus, it’s no surprise Erekat and the Palestinians are so exorcised by Ayalon’s video. If it becomes, as it should, the model for a new Israeli diplomatic offensive, the deputy foreign minister’s mantra that the terms “illegal occupation” and “67 borders” are “simply not politically correct” will become an effective talking point for the country’s defenders.