I thank Marc Goldberg for his excellent article (“The Truth About the Nakba is Irrelevant”) and thank him for thanking me for my article as well. Though I do think the truth of the Nakba is relevant, I don’t disagree with anything he wrote, and I would agree that Israelis and Palestinians are never going to get anywhere convincing each other of the rightness of their historical narratives. Nonetheless, I would like to address myself to the issues he discussed.
Namely, why does peace elude Israel? Why all the bad press? Other than what has come to be an irrational hatred of the Jewish State on the part of certain self-styled “progressives,” and, of course, the ever-continuing, protean phenomenon of anti-Semitism, I can think of two contributing factors.
One factor has been a corruption in the practice and language of human rights by organizations and their advocates, along with the use of international law as tool of politics; the second factor, related to and influenced by the first, has been the corruption of diplomacy, or what is referred to as the “peace process.”
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I could cite many examples to illustrate the first factor, but for my purposes here, I will cite only one: the advisory ruling in 2004 by the International Court of Justice condemning Israel’s building of a security barrier in the West Bank to stem the flow of suicide bomber attacks. The ruling was a travesty, another sordid, shameful victory for the politicization of international law, and a clear demonstration of how the International Court of Justice, like the gruesome, Kafkaesque UN Human Rights Council, is a mere plaything of the General Assembly in its sinister attempts to delegitimize the Jewish State.
Because conflicts between nation states have traditionally been solved by force and diplomacy, the use of legal exchange to resolve conflicts is a novelty. While all members of the General Assembly have an equal vote, in practice dictatorship nations outnumber the democracies. Israel has almost nothing but enemies in the former category, and most of the latter are lukewarm toward Israel at best. There are a number of entities within the General Assembly that are openly hostile to Israel and devote much of their collective efforts toward castigating and deligitimizing her: the League of Arab States; the Organization of the Islamic Conference; and the “Non-Aligned Movement” — a combination of over 100 states, including the Islamic ones, all of which recognize the occupied territories as a Palestinian state.
Further reflecting the reality of this sinister super-majority, in 1968 the General Assembly created a standing entity called the “United Nations Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories.”
This vast alliance of hostile entities and states, reflecting the corrupt arithmetic of the General Assembly, has made for a repository of anti-Israel activity, and has facilitated the passing of scores of spurious, one-sided and politically charged resolutions condemning Israel over the years. Like the Goldstone Report sired from the despot-infested UNHRC, the advisory opinion of the ICJ judges merely reflected and underscored this biased state of affairs, and, like the General Assembly, willfully ignored the dire circumstances that necessitated the creation of the security barrier, rubber-stamped the Islamic Bloc’s tendentious characterization of the barrier as a “wall’ instead of a fence that can be moved or dismantled, and treated Israel not as a litigant but as a target. That the court did not exercise its discretion to demur when asked to adjudicate ex parte a highly charged, two-sided political conflict, is instructive of its biased disposition as well.
Most of these contentious condemnations, like the ICJ ruling and the Goldstone Report, flow from the spurious characterization of Israel as a racist, colonial, apartheid state that has murdered, oppressed, and ethnic-cleansed its way to statehood, and which has perpetuated its statehood by the unlawful use of force and occupation. This perverse narrative, in turn, has poisoned media coverage and perception of Israel, and provides a rich vocabulary of fashionable censure and condemnation from the likes of insufferable internationalist “progressives” like Catherine Ashton, Bishop Tutu, and former president Jimmy Carter, all of whom have next to nothing to say about the daily depredations committed against Palestinians by the PA, and Hamas; not to mention of the refugees rotting in camps in Lebanon and Syria, where they enjoy none of the rights of the local population and have been forced to live in appalling conditions for over six decades.
These refugees have been kept by their Arab brethren in camps as human title-deeds to a reconquest of Palestine that has been long promised but has as yet failed to come about. As Cairo Radio put it in 1955, “The refugees are the cornerstone in the Arab struggle against Israel. The refugees are the armaments of the Arabs and Arab nationalism.” Does it not occur to anyone what a brutal act of inhumanity this was, and is? The silence of the likes of Israel bashers like Catherine Ashton, Bishop Tutu, and the whole “human rights” community on the past and present treatment of the Palestinians by their Arab brethren is both deafening and appalling, and only underscores the extent of their hypocrisy; not to mention their bias and hostility toward the Jewish state: Palestinians are only victims worthy of notice and sympathy when Israel can be blamed for their mistreatment.
When speaking to the UN General Assembly in 1975 denouncing the odious “Zionism is Racism” resolution that was then being debated (and eventually passed), United States UN Rep Daniel Patrick Moynihan touched upon an important truth. He spoke of how recognition of human rights, as we know them today, had not always existed; how it really began when European philosophers of the late 17th and early 18th century began to argue that the individual had certain rights: the right to be consulted by his government; the right to hold the state accountable; to invoke the law against the state; and to petition courts of law to affirm and enforce this custom. That, in short, an individual was a being apart from the state, that the association with the state be voluntary, and that no individual must ever lose more than they gain by that association.
Like the dictatorships that comprised most of the UN roll call in 1975, and which sought to equate Zionism with racism for their own cynical, self-serving purposes, today’s NGOs and activists, in using the language of human rights to mask their naked political agendas, are part of a long and ignoble tradition.
Like the British Whig and American Democrat-Republican intellectuals who applauded the French Revolution and ignored the abuses and atrocities of the Jacobins; like the British Whigs who lionized Napoleon, excused his aggressions, and blamed their own government for the war; like the legions of Western intellectuals who applauded the Bolsheviks, praised Lenin and Stalin in the most fulsome terms, ignored, downplayed, or denied the famines, the purges, the show trials, the terror; and, later, like those same intellectuals and their ilk who did the same for mass-murderers like Mao, Castro, Ho Chi Minh, and Pol Pot, the whole sordid coalition of today’s anti-Israel NGOs and activist groups, through their hypocrisy and useful idiocy, carry forward the cause of illiberalism, comfort the oppressors, and aggravate the plight of the truly oppressed.
They regularly and gleefully confer legitimacy and even victim status on terrorist entities and totalitarian regimes where racial persecution, religious intolerance, and suppression of free speech are rife, and where the citizen is a dispensable, soulless fraction of the state. They do not promote human rights; they make the world safe for tyranny and terror.
Israelis, sadly, will always be at a disadvantage in this realm of international public opinion; Palestinian propagandists and their myriad supporters will always have the ultimate trump card: the refugees and their sufferings. And, of course, there is terrorism, which has always worked as it is intended to: people seen getting themselves killed murdering athletes, hijacking and blowing up planes, exploding themselves in buses and pizza parlors, and firing rockets indiscriminately at civilians must, in the eyes of the average Western pedestrian, be very, very hard pressed by their Israeli occupiers to commit such extreme and desperate acts, QED.
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The second point is amply demonstrated in the failure and corruption of the peace process of the last 19 years that began with Oslo. A peek at Dennis Ross’s “The Missing Peace” (2006) shows how the whole process was manipulated and perpetuated. It makes clear that Yasser Arafat, from the very beginning of the process, did not merely take issue with Israel as a Jewish state, but with its very existence, as he always had. His willingness to engage in Oslo was merely a tactical maneuver. Whatever he said to Western audiences and diplomats, he repeatedly denied any genuine Jewish ancestral connection to Israel or Jerusalem before Arab audiences. Like Nasser, Assad, his predecessor Haj Amin al Husseini, and so many other leaders of his time, he regarded the very existence of Israel as a crime, as a shame that had to be wiped clean, so that the injustice and humiliation of 1948 would be removed forever. However long it took, whatever it took, whether it be accomplished in his lifetime or not, he never, ever, wavered in his determination to destroy the “Zionist entity.”
Arafat’s charade as a statesman seeking “peace” was always like that of a violent mob boss who tried to insist that he was just a plumber or a humble shopkeeper. He was a shifty double-talker, a recidivist liar, and a violent terrorist who donned the mantle of a moderate statesman when the occasion demanded it. As historian Edward Gibbon said of Mehmed the Conqueror in his “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” “peace was on his lips, but war was in his heart.” Arafat never renounced violence; he simply turned it on and off like a faucet as it suited him, as he had always done.
As he promised in his May 1994 speech in Johannesburg, he would treat the Oslo Accords as the Prophet Mohammed treated the Hudaibiya agreement with the Quraish tribe, i.e., as an agreement to be broken when it was found to be convenient to do so. And he was as good as his word. He would use the peace process as merely jihad by other means: he would lie, and cheat, and sign agreements, break them, suffer no consequences, pocket concessions, and lie and cheat some more for even bigger concessions.
After all, why shouldn’t he have? What was Israel going to do, complain to the UN? What was Clinton going to do, cancel the peace process and scratch his legacy as a “peacemaker?” Please. Arafat smelled Israel’s weaknesses and Clinton’s vanity, sized up the situation with his usual shrewdness, and played it to his advantage. He also understood the corrupt dynamic of Oslo: that when he dug in his heels and threatened to derail the peace process, the Americans, the Europeans, and the UN would all lean hard on Israel to mollify and appease him with concessions. And it worked, like a charm, every time.
The evidence, both here and elsewhere, is overwhelming that Arafat never had any intention of making peace, and simply used the peace process to pocket as many concessions as he could and entrench himself in the territories for the next round of conflict with Israel. His refusal to compromise and make peace at Camp David in the summer of 2000 and the months following are thus perfectly consistent with this plan of action. He knew there would be no peace. He knew better than anyone the culture of maximalist rejection that he himself had cultivated with such care over the decades. He had never attempted to educate or persuade the Palestinian people in the ways of peaceful co-existence with Israel or the necessary and painful sacrifices that would be needed to make a practicable, workable peace. That was not his style and never his aim. The entire culture of anti-Israel incitement and rejection not only continued under his tenure but flourished and intensified at his behest. To forgo the right of return, that sure recipe to Israel’s demise; to concede the legitimacy of a Jewish state in Holy Palestine; to know that Arab schoolchildren would someday read of him as the “traitor” who “surrendered” Palestine to the Jews — these were simply out of the question.
Of course, Arafat, like any other Arab leader, was also well aware that making peace with Israel could be hazardous to his health; not for him the fate of Egypt’s Anwar al-Sadat. No, b0etter to be a live rejectionist than a dead peacemaker. As for the hardships that a prolongation and intensification of the conflict would heap on his stateless and long-suffering people, well, that was their problem; and anyway, what mattered most was not the suffering of his people, but who he knew would get the blame for it: Israel. With images of violence, carnage and death flooding television screens, the UN, the Europeans, the whole cabal of “human rights” and “peace” activists on the internationalist left, and even many Americans would soon resume making all their familiar noises about Israel’s “occupation” and “repression,” and in no time everyone would soon forget the peace he had rejected amidst all the fire and smoke and chaos of attack and counterattack. On that he could rely.
The cruelty and the cynicism inherent in Arafat’s strategic calculus were crucial to his success. The manner in which Arafat used the Oslo peace process to extract numerous concessions from the Israelis without making any in return was a masterpiece of Machiavellian diplomacy in which every ruse and stratagem advised by the 16th century Florentine diplomat were used with consumate skill and cunning.
This underscores an important truth about the malfunctioning of the peace process: Diplomacy, for the Palestinians, is merely war by other means. Of course all this makes a sham out of the words “peace process.” The difference between a war and a peace process is that in a war there is a winner and a loser; in a peace process both sides agree to lose something to win something. Both sides make compromises and concessions toward a common goal: peace. How can a peace process possibly function and produce results if one side does all the compromising and conceding while the other side remains adamantly inflexible? It can’t. Concessions by one side to another can only advance a peace process if they are made in an atmosphere of trust and mutual goodwill; at the very minimum, both sides must be aiming for peace.
The sad truth is that the Palestinian leadership (both the PA and Hamas) demand nothing less than a full, uncompromising reversal of the Nakba of 1948. This impossible, unachievable demand is accompanied by a refusal (demonstrated in Abbas’s latest communication to Netanyahu) to acknowledge any responsibility for any role that the previous refusals to compromise and peacefully co-exist have played in the creation and prolongation of the conflict. They want victory, not peace, and the sufferings that a further prolongation of the conflict have inflicted and are inflicting on the peoples of the West Bank — and even more so in Gaza — are a matter of complete indifference to them. But then again, what else is new?
The Fatah-Hamas merger, the latest nail in the coffin of peace, resembles nothing so much as a group of rival gangsters who have fought each other before, and might do so again, but, for the time being, are working the same racket. Abbas’s intransigence toward even coming to the negotiating table, let alone making a final peace, are more pronounced now than ever, and are unlikely to improve with Hamas riding at his side. His stewardship of the Palestinian Authority has been a sad, sorry failure.
In 2005 he received the priceless concession of a full withdrawal from Gaza, only to watch Hamas spread all over the strip. In 2006, he lost an election to the terrorist group, and was thrown out of Gaza by them altogether in 2007. In 2008 he received an offer of statehood slightly more generous than the one Arafat thumbed his nose at in 2000/2001, and rejected it without making a single counter-offer, just like his predecessor. In 2009 he told the Washington Post that he was through making concessions and would sit back and watch Obama squeeze Israel for them instead. In 2010 he had effectively jettisoned negotiation for UN support for a state. In 2011 he reconciled with the violent terrorist group that had evicted him from Gaza, and brought them into his government. His term of office expired more than three years ago.
I am inclined to view the election of Hamas in 2006 more as a protest against Fatah than as a mandate to govern; the vote was rather like the action of a grievously ill patient who, having exhausted all respectable medical opinion for a cure, turns in despair to the quack. The PA was then, and remains today, a wholly dysfunctional polity grievously compromised by corruption, violence, a culture of non-stop hatred and incitement, and a leadership that has now legitimized the very terrorists whose dismantlement was their primary obligation under the Road Map. Abbas has never negotiated in good faith and has sought one alibi after another to refuse numerous peace negotiations. He is still refusing direct negotiations, still rejecting a two-state solution, still demanding an endless “right of return” to Israel, still refusing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and still insisting that the Jewish people have no legitimate attachment to Jerusalem and, for that matter, to any of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. These facts, sadly, can no longer be denied.
The real culprit in the failure of the peace process is now what it has always been: an Arab/Palestinian rejectionism that has run long and deep, a fanatical intransigence that considers any sovereign Jewish state in Palestine illegitimate and views compromise and peaceful co-existence in terms of surrender and shame. The Palestinian leaders never have and do not now want a state beside Israel but in the place of it. This is, and always has been, the real obstacle to peace. For peace, as Spinoza once said, is not merely the absence of war, but a state of heart and mind. Until the Palestinians make that peace in their hearts, all of the diplomatic haggling over borders, settlements, and recognition as a Jewish state, will be futile.
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If it sounds like I’m putting all of the blame on the Palestinians for the absence of peace, and not faulting Israel sufficiently, that is because I have racked my brain to think of what, exactly, constructive measures the Palestinians have taken to promote peace, and what the Israelis can do that they have not already done. I agree with Marc that the present Israeli government should go all out to seize whatever window of opportunity to engage in some sort of dialogue, and Marc is right — that window is closing. Netanyahu can now bargain from a position of unusual strength, and anything that can lure — or even embarrass — the Palestinians to the table should be tried. But the question remains: will the Palestinians reciprocate?
The whole framework of agreements with the Palestinians has put the issue of the status of the territories and Israel’s settlements where it remains to this day — despite over three years of the Palestinians’ willful neglect and intransigence — on the negotiating table. That Israel has entered into this framework, has made tangible, verifiable concessions and withdrawals from the territories, and still embraces the framework of a negotiated solution to its conflict with the Palestinians underscores the good faith of its efforts, and, I think, further disproves any intent to colonize or displace the territories and its inhabitants. Did Nazi Germany enter into a “peace process” with Poland or any other country it conquered? Did Imperial Japan? Please. How can Israel’s antagonists continue with their spurious attempts brand Israel as an illegal aggressor and occupier/oppressor when it has been and remains open to a compromise solution?
Despite the depressing news of the past two decades, I had always believed in my heart that the Arafat/Hamas era of violent hatred and maximalist rejection would someday give way to more humane and responsible leaders that would put aside the old atavistic hatreds, and lead the long-suffering Palestinian people to a responsible statehood in which they could harness all of their energies and talents into building a state, rather than destroying another one.
I have long thought that the legions of pro-Palestinian activists in the West do the Palestinian people no favors as they continue to aid and abet the unhelpful behavior of the PA with regard to negotiating with Israel in good faith, or when they deny or downplay the lawlessness or the murderousness of Hamas, and the impediment that they constitute to the Palestinians’ aspirations for peaceful, democratic statehood, among other things. What the Palestinians need more than anything else is responsible leadership. That, by the way, would be someone who assumes a position of leadership and uses that leadership to better the lives of the long-suffering and neglected people they serve. They will attempt to advance the betterment of infrastructure, and foster the civil, and economic development and political reform that are the building blocks of responsible statehood. By example and exhortation, they will encourages civic-mindedness and a sense of self-sufficient and responsible citizenship among their people, instead of treating them as so much fodder for the “cause” and nourishing them on hatred, rejection, and cruel, lunatic fantasies of a “return” that will never be. Then, and only then, will the Israelis find the peace partner, and the peace, they deserve.