Alan Silverstein

US Adds Its Voice to A “Not One Inch” Obstacle To Peace

On Friday December 23, the US abstained to Security Council Resolution 2334 condemning the presence of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and in  the former Jordanian administered sector of Jerusalem [including the Jewish Quarter]. As noted by a US Ambassador to The United Nations, the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “I state as a matter of plain and universally understood fact that for the United States to abstain on a Security Council resolution concerning Israel is the equivalent of acquiescing.”

On December 23, the US acquiesced to defining EVERY INCH OF LAND acquired by Israel [including the Kotel] as “Palestinian occupied territory,” to be relinquished by Israel unless Arab approval to the contrary is obtained!. Ambassador, Samantha Power insisted that  delineating EVERY INCH OF LAND was consistent with 50 years of bi-partisan US policy. A review of history indicates otherwise.

In the immediate aftermath of Israel’s June 1967 war of self-defense against Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq, the US position was articulated by President Lyndon Johnson. America opposed a return to the precise pre-1967 borders. In Johnson’s words, this “would not be a prescription for peace, but for a renewal of hostilities.” As hundreds of thousands of Jews flocked to the Kotel, no longer off limits to Jewry, President Johnson proclaimed that “there must be adequate recognition of the special interests of the three great religions in the holy places of Jerusalem.’

UN Resolution 242 set the framework toward peace, enabling Israel to “Trade Land [Captured In 1967] For Peace.” Crafted by Britain’s Foreign Secretary Lord Caradon, 242 rejected demands by the Arab States and Russia requiring Israel to relinquish EVERY INCH  OF LAND.  242 stated that Israeli withdrawal would not be from “ALL the Territories,” e.g. not EVERY INCH OF LAND. Caradon explained that “it would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of June 4, 1967 because those positions were undesirable and artificial [armistice lines of the war of 1948-9].” Resolution 242’s quest for “secure borders” reflected an awareness that security often requires adjustments following self-defense by one nation against outside aggressors.

Trading “Land For Peace” has remained a mantra to guide direct negotiations between the parties toward a Two State Solution, One Jewish State and One Palestinian State, living side-by-side in peace. When one-sided anti-Israel Resolutions have appeared before  the increasingly Arabist UN Security Council, the US routinely exercised its veto on behalf of an ally. A notable exception was a US abstention in 1980 authorized by President Jimmie Carter. Yet even the Carter Administration sent Secretary of State Edmund Muskie to the Security Council to go on record with an important objection to NOT ONE INCH.  Muskie stated that “the question of Jerusalem must be addressed in the context of negotiations for a comprehensive, just and lasting Middle East peace…” [and that this resolution] “fails to serve the goals of all faiths that look upon Jerusalem as holy… we must share a common vision of that ancient city’s future — an undivided Jerusalem, with free access to the Holy Places for people of all faiths.”

In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan promoted his administration’s similar strategy for peace. While opposing additional West Bank settlement construction, the Reagan Plan called for Israeli withdrawal from most but not all of  the West Bank. The President affirmed that the pre-1967 borders left Israel “barely 10 miles wide at its narrowest point. With the bulk of Israel’s population living within artillery range of hostile Arab armies… I am not about to ask Israel to live this way again.” Ronald Reagan also insisted that “final status [of Jerusalem] should be decide through negotiations.”

Face-to face negotiations sponsored by the Clinton Administration brought Israelis and Palestinians in 2000 to the brink of peace. The Clinton Plan rejected NOT ONE INCH, offering pragmatic compromises. Israel would retain the large West Bank settlement blocs in exchange for equivalent land swaps within pre-1967 borders. Arab Jerusalem neighborhoods would form part of the Palestinian capital while Jewish Jerusalem neighborhoods would be Israeli. The Old City with its “Holy Basin” of sacred sites was to be creatively divided between Israel and Palestine, as well as among Jewish, Moslem and Christian authorities.

The basic parameters of the Clinton Plan were accepted by Prime Minister Barak. As President Clinton reflected in his memoir, “Arafat never said no [to peace]; he just couldn’t bring himself to say yes.” Speaking to Al Jazeera in March 2009, Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat recalled that Arafat told Clinton, “I will not be a traitor [by compromising at all on Jerusalem or any of the territories, NOT ONE INCH]. Someone will come to liberate Jerusalem after 10 or 50 or 100 years. Jerusalem will be nothing but the capital of the Palestinian State.” In Erekat’s opinion, the very willingness to enter into these Jerusalem discussions “is why Arafat was besieged and that is why he was killed unjustly [e.g. unjust in that he had never agreed to any compromise].”

Warned by Bill Clinton no longer to place US trust in Arafat, President George W Bush sought to encourage Israeli unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and thereby test the Palestinian willingness for true peace. To reassure Israelis of American support, on April 14, 2004 a letter was sent from President Bush to Prime Minister Sharon stating “in light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.”

With the incapacitation of Sharon, in 2008 Ehud Olmert became Prime Minister. He stunned Washington by offering  a peace plan even more generous to the Arabs than the Clinton parameters. Secretary of State Rice was amazed by how far the Israeli leader was willing to go. She immediately brought Olmert’s proposal to Abbas in Ramallah. To Rice’s astonishment Abbas rejected it. Saeb Erekat indicated  in his 2009 Al Jazeera interview that when faced with the Olmert Plan, Abbas replied,  “I am in not in a marketplace or a bazaar. I came to demarcate the borders of Palestine – the June 4, 1967 borders – WITHOUT DETRACTING A SINGLE INCH.” NOT ONE INCH had remained the position of the Palestinian team.

On May 22, 2011, President Barack Obama reaffirmed the principles incorporated in Resolution 242, and the traditional US rejection of NOT ONE INCH.  Obama stated: “Let me reaffirm what `1967 and mutually agreed swaps’ means. By definition it means that the parties themselves – Israelis and Palestinians – will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967… It is a well-known formula to all who have worked on the issue for a generation. It allows the parties themselves to account for the changed that have taken place over the last 44 years.”

Diplomatic efforts resumed in earnest in March 2014. Secretary of State John Kerry formulated a “memorandum of agreement” outlining parameters for peace [probably similar to his speech on December 28, 2016]. In early 2015, while campaigning for election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s dovish electoral rival, Tzipi Livni, chair of the Israeli negotiating team of 2014, offered her assessment to journalist Roger Cohen. Cohen wrote, “On March 17, [2014], in a meeting in Washington, President Obama presented Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader, with a long-awaited American framework for an agreement that set out the administration’s views on major issues, including borders, security, settlements, Palestinian refugees, and Jerusalem…Netanyahu had indicated willingness to proceed on the basis of it while saying he had reservations. But Abbas declined to give an answer in what his senior negotiator, Saeb Erekat, later described as a ‘difficult’ meeting with Obama. Abbas remained evasive on the Kerry framework, which was never made public.” To this day, Abbas has never replied.

Time and again, US diplomats from 1967 until 2016, have sought a Land For Peace formula, rejecting non-compromising NOT ONE INCH Arab intransigence. The US view has been that peace would require direct negotiations between the parties and not be imposed by the UN. As Secretary of State Hilary Clinton told Abbas, “as you have said yourself, there is no alternative path to peace but through negotiations.” US policy distinguished between the dispensability of Israeli illegal outposts and of isolated West Bank settlements in contrast to the permanence of large settlement blocs, Jewish Jerusalem neighborhoods and the Jewish Quarter in the Old City, for which land swaps would occur.

Years of bi-partisan positions have been upended by America’s acquiescence  to the December 23, 2016  Security Council Resolution 2334, enshrining NOT ONE INCH with a US imprimatur. This alarming reversal has harmful consequences.

First, no Palestinian leader will enter into direct negotiations with Israel, recognizing that better results are obtained by UN fiat.

Second, Palestinians will reject any territorial compromise whatsoever, NOT ONE INCH, e.g. a deal breaker! As President Abbas now asserts, “the decision [at the UN on December 23] lays the foundation for any future serious negotiation.”

Third, Israel’s Center and Left political parties who advocate compromise while opposing the NOT ONE INCH mantra will be weakened.  Some Israeli voters will turn against compromise, assuming that the international community will treat the Jewish Quarter and illegal hill top outposts in an identical manner. Swing votes will shift toward Right-wing parties.

Fourth, Resolution 2334 expressly encourages BDS, boycott and divestment and sanctions against Israel in the  battle to delegitimize the existence of the Jewish State. BDS efforts on US campuses along with allied episodes of anti-Semitism on campus will be augmented, as will Palestinian legal action within the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

Finally, the Obama Administration has given encouragement to Israel’s domestic opponents in the USA, hoping to transform support for Israel into a partisan issue, pitting Democrats against Republicans.

December 23, 2016 is NOT a continuation of one half century of bi-partisan US policy. It represents an unfortunate tilt against direct negotiations. It makes more remote the pursuit of territorial compromise and creation of a Jewish State and Palestinian State living side-by-side in peace and security.

About the Author
Rabbi Alan Silverstein, PhD, was religious leader of Congregation Agudath Israel in Caldwell, NJ, for more than four decades, retiring in 2021. He served as president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the international association of Conservative rabbis (1993-95); as president of the World Council of Conservative/Masorti Synagogues (2000-05); and as chair of the Foundation for Masorti Judaism in Israel (2010-14). He currently serves as president of Mercaz Olami, representing the world Masorti/Conservative movement. He is the author of “It All Begins with a Date: Jewish Concerns about Interdating,” “Preserving Jewishness in Your Family: After Intermarriage Has Occurred,” and “Alternatives to Assimilation: The Response of Reform Judaism to American Culture, 1840-1930.”