Steven Frank

The Only Question You Need Ask Israel’s Critics

1947 United Nations’ Partition Plan for Palestine. The proposed Arab State – – consisting of the entire West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and portions of the Galilee – – is in gold. The proposed Jewish State – – consisting mostly of a small coastal strip on the Mediterranean Sea and a larger area in the arid Negev Desert in the South – – is in teal.  The Israelis accepted the plan.  The Arabs rejected it and five Arab nations invaded Israel in an effort to drive the Jews into the sea.  They failed and have repeatedly rejected every proposal for their own independent nation to the present day.

Let’s say you are moderate politically and generally supportive of Israel because it is the only democratic country in the Middle East, a strong ally of the United States in the war on terror, the only Jewish State in the world amidst 22 Arab nations, or whatever reason you have for doing so.  However, whenever you try to engage in a civilized discussion about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict you are meet with the following:  “Israel is occupying the West Bank.”  The “Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal.”  The “checkpoints the Palestinians must pass through are oppressive.”  Occupation.  Settlements.  Checkpoints….Occupation, Settlements, Checkpoints…

This is the basic “narrative” of Israel’s critics.  Their mantra.   If only Israel would end the occupation and remove the settlements and checkpoints, there would be peace.  Occupation.  Settlements.  Checkpoints.

Now perhaps as a centrist, you are not comfortable defending Israel’s alleged “occupation, settlements, and checkpoints.”  You generally support Israel but these matters trouble you.

Are you forced to choose between engaging in a tedious, and ultimately futile, debate about “occupation, settlements, and checkpoints,” or abandoning your support for Israel?  No you are not.  You can control the discussion because there is an overriding issue that Israel’s critics must confront before there is any need to discuss the details of Israeli administrative policy.

Let me make the following suggestion.  Whenever you encounter an Israeli critic who just repeats the words, “occupation,” “settlements” and “checkpoints,” don’t engage in a time-wasting discussion of those concepts.  Do not let the critic control or divert the conversation.  Instead, merely ask the following basic question:

If all the Palestinians truly want is a state of their own, why have they repeatedly turned down good faith offers for their own independent state on at least six occasions in the last one hundred years?

That’s it.  That’s the only relevant question to be asked regarding the conflict.  That’s the one question critics cannot answer.  Actually, most of them aren’t even aware of this basic fact.  And it is a fact.  Not my opinion.  Not my “narrative.”  As that great 20th century philosopher Yankees manager Casey Stengel often said:  “you can look it up.”

Briefly, in 1937, the Peel Commission proposed the partition of Palestine and the creation of an Arab state; in 1939, the British White Paper proposed the creation of a unitary Arab state; in 1947, the UN would have created an even larger Arab state as part of its partition plan (see the map above); following the capture of the West Bank in the 1967 Six Day War, Israel indicated its willingness to return the territory in exchange for a comprehensive peace; in 1979, Egypt-Israel peace negotiations offered the Palestinians autonomy, which would almost certainly have led to full independence; the Oslo agreements of the 1990s laid out a path for Palestinian independence, but the process was derailed by terrorism; in 2000, at Camp David, Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered to create a Palestinian state in all of Gaza and 97 percent of the West Bank (see map below); and, in 2008, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered to withdraw from virtually the entire West Bank and allow East Jerusalem to become the capitol of an independent Palestinian state.

The 2000 Camp David Proposal for an Independent Palestinian State Which Yassar Arafat Rejected Without Making a Counteroffer.

The Arabs and Palestinians turned down each and every one of these offers.  And they never proposed a counter-offer.

Had the Palestinians accepted any of these offers over the last one-hundred years, there would be no occupation, no settlements, no checkpoints, none of the things about which Israel’s critics constantly complain and about which they prefer to focus the discussion.

Do not allow yourself to be diverted by extraneous matters when discussing the conflict.  When your Israel-critic friends shout “occupation, settlements, checkpoints,” just keep returning to the basic question.  Until your friends can answer this fundamental question, there is really nothing to talk about.

Here is what your friends will likely say:  (1)  I didn’t know that (about the numerous offers to the Palestinians); (2) I don’t believe that; (3) there must have been something wrong with the offers; (4) I’d like to hear what the other side has to say about that.

In other words, they will be at a loss for words.

End of discussion.

If you must engage further and find it useful to explain the Palestinian rejectionism to your friends (which explanation your friends are likely to reject), you might point out that the Palestinian response is due to the fact that the Arabs don’t really just want an independent state of their own living in peace side-by-side next to Israel.  Instead, what the Palestinians’ consistent and repeated rejectionism proves beyond doubt is that the Palestinians just can’t stomach the idea of a Jewish state at all and that their goal all along has been, and remains, the elimination of the Jewish state.

A quick review of history supports this fact.  For example, upon the birth of the Jewish State in 1948, Haj Amin al-Husseini the Mufti of Jerusalem, who represented the Palestinian people, said that the Arabs did not intend merely to prevent partition but “would continue fighting until the Zionists were annihilated.”  In 1967,  prior to the Six Day War, Hafez al-Assad, then Syria’s Defense Minister declared: “the time has come to enter into a battle of annihilation.”  That, of course, is why the relentless chant of Palestinian protesters to this day is to “liberate Palestine from the river to the Sea” (in other words from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, i.e., the destruction of the State of Israel).

And that, my dear friend, is that.

About the Author
Steve Frank is retired after a 30-year career as an appellate lawyer with the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. His writings on Israel, the law and architecture have appeared in numerous publications including the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun, the Jerusalem Post, the Jewish News Syndicate and Moment magazine.