Steven Frank

The Only Thing You Need to Know About the Middle East Conflict

The unwritten rule in today’s media is that any commentary on the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians must be balanced and “nuanced.”  The conventional wisdom is that the latest fighting in Gaza is just part of an ongoing “cycle of violence,” wherein one party engages in violence and the other party retaliates with violence.   It doesn’t seem to matter which party initiates the violence.  There is also a tendency to find “moral equivalency” between the two sides, the Palestinians kidnapped and murdered Israeli teens, and Israelis did the same to a Palestinian teen.  The Palestinians in Gaza fire rockets into Israel, and Israel “escalates” the violence with air strikes in return.  Under this balanced approach, both sides are equally at fault and both must “exercise restraint,” as President Obama recently urged.  But, is the conflict really one between two equally-worthy parties, each deserving of even-handed treatment?

There are many different opinions about the conflict.  However, as the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said:  “everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.”  Here is one indisputable fact:  at any point in the last 70 years the Palestinians could have had their own state and lived in peace side-by-side with Israel.  They simply have refused to do so.  Repeatedly.  Is this really indisputable?  Here’s the story in short form.

In 1948, the United Nations divided the land, formerly controlled by Great Britain, into two separate states, one as a Jewish homeland, the other (Gaza and the West Bank) as a state for Palestinians.  Israel agreed to this partition plan; the Arab states did not.  Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon, along with expeditionary forces from Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, invaded Israel with the stated goal of driving the Jews into the sea. They failed.  However, the Arabs took control of Gaza and the West Bank (the proposed Palestinian state).  At no time during the next 19 years that they occupied this territory did any of the Arab states seek to establish a Palestinian state on this land.

In 1967, and again in 1973, Israel was threatened with extinction by its Arab neighbors, but prevailed in both wars.  As a result of the 1967 war, Israel gained control of the West Bank and Gaza.  As a result of the 1973 war, Israel gained control of the Sinai, but promptly returned it to Egypt in its entirety after President Sadat made peace with Israel.

In 2000, at Camp David, Israel offered the Palestinians  a state of their own comprising 95% of the land in Gaza and the West Bank with Arab Jerusalem as its capitol. Yasser Arafat rejected the offer, did not present a counter-offer, and began a campaign of terror and suicide bombing, killing over 1,000 Israelis – – the equivalent of 50,000 Americans or 17 separate September 11’s.

In 2005, Israel decided unilaterally to end its occupation of Gaza, forcibly removed Israeli settlers from the land, and left behind apartments, schools, hospitals, and irrigation systems it had constructed in Gaza.  The Palestinians in Gaza immediately destroyed all the Israeli improvements and, in spite of the end of the “occupation,” began a series of rocket attacks on Israel that has continued to this day.

In 2008, Israel once again offered the Palestinians a state of their own, this time one comprising 98% of the land in the West Bank and Gaza.  Again, the Palestinians turned down this offer, without making a counter-offer, and continued bombarding Israel with rockets from Gaza.

Since 2005, when Israel left Gaza, followers of its governing body, Hamas, have launched over 8,000 missiles at civilian targets in Israel.  This has led Israel to respond with military action in 2008, 2012, and the ongoing conflict today.  During the present conflict, Hamas has fired over 1,800 rockets into Israel in two weeks.

These are facts, not opinion.  You could look it up.  If I am wrong about any of this, please respond and set the record straight.  Given these facts, one can only conclude that the Palestinians simply do not want a state of their own (which they have repeatedly been offered and rejected).  Rather, it is apparent that they want what the Arab nations wanted when they first invaded Israel in 1948, the complete elimination of Israel as a Jewish state.  What other conclusion can a reasonable person draw from these facts?

One might say that there are other facts relevant to this discussion.  Of course, there are.  These facts are not undisputed, but let’s consider them in any event.  Some contend that the sole cause of the conflict is the occupation of Palestinian lands by Israel.  Others argue that Israel has exacerbated the situation with unduly oppressive policies such as checkpoints and the building of a security wall.  Still others, including the President of the United States, believe that Israeli settlements are an “obstacle to peace.”  As for today’s conflict, Israel is criticized because its reaction to rockets fired from Gaza is not “proportional.”

Let’s assume – – just for the sake of argument – – that these arguments are factually correct.  Of course, in reality, they are not:   Gaza is not “occupied territory.”  It hasn’t been for nine years, since Israel left Gaza in 2005.  Yet, the rockets continue to fly from unoccupied Gaza.  Israel only established checkpoints and the security wall in the West Bank to stop the onslaught of suicide bombers from infiltrating Israel.  Israel demonstrated that it is willing to remove settlers in exchange for peace when it forcibly removed settlers from Gaza.  As for “proportionality,” Israel seems to be faulted because not enough Israelis have died vis a vis Palestinians.  Can you imagine how “proportional” the United States’s response would be, if 5 or 50 rockets were fired into this country by the drug cartels from Mexico – – let along 8,000 rockets – – even if no one was injured?  As Secretary of State Kerry stated today:  “no nation would sit there while rockets are  bombarding it. People can’t live that way.”

So let’s assume these facts which are adverse to Israel, or, you can assume any other facts you wish, such as the Israelis are racists or colonialists or socialists or capitalists.  Or you can assume all of the above.

These assumptions, or other facts one might wish to emphasize, might well place more opprobrium on Israel.  Taking them into account, Israel might lose points in the moral equivalency war.   But they do not change the fundamental fact discussed above that the Palestinians repeatedly have rejected offers to establish their own state and will not end the violence until there is an end to Israel.

As Prime Minister Netanyahu succinctly put it:  “If the Jews put down their weapons today, there would be no more Israel.  If the Arabs put down their weapons today, there would be peace.”

Some things are just right and some things are wrong and one must know the difference.  To be “nuanced” in such a situation, isn’t “even-handed.” It is amoral.



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.