President Obama’s failure to have learned anything in the last eight years about the Palestinian-Israeli dispute was evident in his speech to the UN General Assembly. In the mere 31 words he devoted to the subject he laid bare his ignorance: “Israelis and Palestinians will be better off if Palestinians reject incitement and recognize the legitimacy of Israel,” he said, “but Israel recognizes that it cannot permanently occupy and settle Palestinian land.”
Sounds reasonable enough, doesn’t it? Both sides have responsibility for the conflict – except they don’t.
First, the Palestinian side of the equation is severely understated. Yes, the Palestinians must reject incitement, but they must also actively prevent terrorism. They must stop using US and EU taxpayer money to pay terrorists and their families. Yasser Arafat said he recognized Israel, but it has been clear since that 1993 letter to Yitzhak Rabin that the Palestinians do not accept the legitimacy of Israel as the national home of the Jewish people.
Furthermore, they are unwilling to make any territorial compromises that would lead to a two-state solution. They continue to show support for the strategy whereby they would accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza as only a first stage in the eventual liberation of all of “Palestine,” a goal reflected in the media, maps, crossword puzzles, textbooks, Fatah insignia and every other representation of what is now Israel.
Worse, the possibility of a political solution has been eliminated not by Israeli actions, but by the ascendancy of radical Islam, best represented by Hamas, in Palestinian society. The Islamists, who have coopted the “secular” Palestinian leadership will never accept the existence of a Jewish state in what they consider the Muslim heartland nor will they tolerate a situation whereby Jews rule over Muslims.
Obama still fails to see these truths. In fact, he reinforces the Palestinians’ bad behavior by continuing to make excuses for them and holding Mahmoud Abbas out as a partner for peace even though the Palestinian “president” has rejected Obama’s calls for negotiations for nearly eight years. In fact, there is no better example of how weak the US has become under Obama than the fact that a pipsqueak like Abbas, who is totally dependent on international aid for his survival, has repeatedly defied Obama by refusing to negotiate and going around the president and the Israelis to the UN in search of international sanctions to impose Palestinian terms on Israel.
The president also continues to make the sophistic comparison between Palestinian terrorism and Jewish settlements. He seriously believes that Jews establishing homes on land that has been part of Jewish history for thousands of years is equivalent to Palestinians murdering Jews. Even as rockets were falling on Israel, bombs exploding and people being shot, stabbed and run over, he finds fault only with Israel.
In fact, with all the violence in the Middle East, and now in the United States, it is mind-boggling that the White House and State Department remain obsessed with publicly chastising Israel over its housing policies.
Opinion on the further development of West Bank communities is very controversial in Israel; however, in the absence of any Palestinian peace initiative, opponents have little ground to stand on. Left-wing critics in the US and Israel whine about the failure of the political system to produce a government that supports their minority views, ignoring the reality that the failure of prior peace efforts are responsible for the shift of Israeli voters to the right.
More than 20 years have passed since the Oslo agreements raised hopes for an end to the conflict. However, Palestinian violence never ceased and the territorial compromises Israel made did not lead to pace. When Israel completely withdrew settlers and soldiers from Gaza and gave the Palestinians an opportunity to start to build the infrastructure of a state, they, instead, demonstrated the right wing was correct when it warned that the Palestinians would pocket any concessions, seek more without any reciprocity, and escalate terror. If the “occupation” ended tomorrow, the conflict would continue and Israelis would be in more serious danger because the terrorists would be unencumbered, and have the capability to threaten Israel’s airports, population centers, industrial heartland and capital.
A case can be made against the expansion of settlements; for example, that it hurts Israel’s position internationally, that it diverts military resources away from more critical threats; that it is costly at a time when money might be better spent on domestic needs; that it makes a political solution – with the big caveat that the Palestinians someday want one – more difficult; and that it puts Israel in a conundrum whereby it will be increasingly difficult to remain a Jewish and democratic state as the proportion of the Palestinian population becomes a significant minority, if not the majority, between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River.
Still, history cannot be ignored. No settlements existed prior to 1967 and there was no peace. The Palestinians were unwilling to make peace even when settlers numbered in the thousands. They were unwilling to stop the violence when Israel evacuated Gaza. Today, with a settler population of 350,000, the Palestinians can denounce Israel all they want, but they have only themselves to blame. Their chance for statehood will continue to dissipate the longer they refuse to negotiate and compromise. Today, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to relocate 50,000 or more Jews from outlying settlements if Palestinians agreed to a two-state solution. When the number of settlers grows, as expected, to 500,000 over the next several years, territorial compromise will probably be impossible.
There’s little hope for Obama to figure this out in his last months and we can only hope he does not make the situation worse, as he has in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. It would be wiser for him to focus on those debacles and radical Islam. Given the candidates, I’m not terribly optimistic, but at least there is hope the next president will have a better grasp of the issues and not repeat the mistakes of the last seven years.
Dr. Mitchell Bard is the author/editor of 24 books including The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews and the novel After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.