Security Leaders” Adopt the Palestinian Narrative
March 12, 2018
March 2, seventeen “National Security Leaders” issued an alarming
statement about Israel-Palestinian peace and U.S. policy. The statement was
carried as an ad in The New York Times and a PDF version can be found here.
my view, the statement is fairly radical in its departure from what has been
U.S. policy for decades. How?
Statement claims that “previous U.S. administrations” have “accepted” a
Palestinian demand for “equal and minimal land swaps.” I will speak only
about the George W. Bush administration. We understood that land swaps were a
very useful idea to make the two-state solution work, but we did not back any
demand that they be “equal and minimal.” That was to be negotiated by the
Statement says that “Jerusalem [is] to be the capital of Israel and Palestine,
in the west and the east of the city respectively, an open city for the faithful
of the three monotheistic religions.” The Bush administration also left the
borders of Jerusalem to be determined by the parties, and never insisted on an
“open city”—whatever that means.
Statement calls for “Ensuring the security of the two states consistent with
their respective sovereignty and supported by a third-party security
mechanism.” The Bush administration understood that security was an enormously
complex and dangerous issue, but did not demand a “third-party security
mechanism.” Again, the meaning of that phrase is entirely unclear, while it
has long been entirely clear that Israel would not hand its security over to the
United Nations, the United States, NATO troops, or any other possible
Statement says our goal should be “Two states, Israel and Palestine, living
side by side in peace and security.” What’s missing here? Compare the words
of President Bush when addressing the United Nations General Assembly in 2002:
“In the Middle East there can be no peace for either side without freedom for
both sides. America stands committed to an independent and democratic Palestine,
living side by side with Israel in peace and security. Like all other people,
Palestinians deserve a government that serves their interests and listens to
their voices.” The Statement makes no mention whatsoever of freedom or
democracy, simply abandoning the hopes and indeed the rights of the Palestinian
people in this regard.
Statement says that a deal between the Israelis and Palestinians “remains a
core U.S. national interest.” Really? A desirable goal to be sure, but as one
thinks of the rise of China, American military preparedness, missile defense,
Iranian and North Korean nukes, energy issues, and the like, does solving the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict qualify as a “core national interest?”
Statement is radical in a more significant way in embracing the Palestinian view
that only Israel is to blame for the failure of peace negotiations. It says that
“Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, addressing the United Nations Security
Council on Tuesday, February 20, affirmed the Palestinian commitment to a
peaceful negotiated path….” Nowhere does it note that for nine years running
now, the PLO has refused to come to the table and negotiate. If Abbas is
committed to the path of negotiations, why did he not take it—especially in
the years when Secretary of State Kerry was energetically trying to make that
happen. It is worth recalling the comment of Martin Indyk,
who was part of the American team under Obama: while PLO chairman Mahmoud Abbas
“checked out of the negotiations," Israeli prime minister Netanyahu
"moved into the zone of a possible agreement." Indyk spreads blame to
both parties, but his statement fully contradicts the Palestinian
“narrative” that the Statement adopts.
Statement does say that “The Palestinian leadership has reiterated its
commitment to a non-violent path of diplomatic negotiations and dialogue. Having
articulated principles for a peaceful settlement, Palestinian leaders must also
demonstrate this commitment in words and deeds….” That’s fine, but nowhere
does the Statement actually demand that the PLO do the single thing that should
be most obvious: agree to get back to the negotiating table.
statement is radical in holding that the American role over the years is
blameworthy: “Addressing legitimate Palestinian grievances, and America's role
in their prolongation, is…crucial to the goal of de-radicalization, denying
oxygen to extremists, and resetting America's standing and relationships.”
Note that “legitimate Israeli grievances” are not even mentioned.
how exactly has the United States “prolonged Palestinian grievances?” This
is not explained. It must be assumed, given the overall tone of the Statement,
that the answer is simple: the United States has been too “pro-Israel” and
has not crammed a deal down Israel’s throat. So again, according to this
Statement the blame does not lie with the Palestinians, led for decades by the
terrorist Yasser Arafat and now by someone who refused a peace deal in 2008 and
has for nine years refused to negotiate.
Statement is radical in backing fully the Palestinian demand that the
traditional American role in fostering negotiations must be usurped by others.
The Statement backs the Palestinian call for a grand international conference
whose ambitions and participants are worth noting: “with the participation of
the parties themselves, the International Quartet, as well as the permanent
members of the Security Council and regional stakeholders, creating a
multilateral mechanism to assist the Israelis and Palestinians in negotiations,
and to realize the Arab Peace Initiative and conclude a regional peace based on
an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement consistent with UN Security Council
Resolutions 242 and 338.” That formulation would bring China into the mix, and
Syria as well (isn’t it a “regional stakeholder?”). And what does
concluding “a regional peace” mean, exactly? Israeli-Palestinian
negotiations may be insufficiently complicated, so peace between Israel and
Lebanon and Israel and Syria should now be in the mix?
there be any confusion as to its intent, the Statement concludes this way: “If
the Administration rejects two states and these reasonable parameters, then
other members of the Quartet, of the Security Council and International
Community should move forward with parameters and a mechanism to re-focus
efforts on an early return to the two-state solution.”
what is this all about? Clearly the signers believe the United States has long
been much too pro-Israel. And now the dreaded Trump administration has gone even
further in that direction (for example, one must suppose, by
recognizing that Israel’s capital, Jerusalem, is Israel’s capital) --and
this is intolerable. Therefore the signers demand that the “International
Community” take over. This is not entirely unreasonable in one way: we can
surely count on the “International Community” to abandon the support of
Israel that has characterized American foreign policy, and to try to force a
solution unfavorable to Israel. Israel has seventy years of experience with the
“International Community” and it is bitter.
all, that “International Community” includes 57 Islamic states, the EU, and
countries hostile to Israel such as Sweden and Cuba. The Statement is, then,
is a cry of anguish about the Trump administration’s strong support of Israel
and a demand that someone, somewhere, start meeting to take the Palestinian side
and pressure Israel for concessions.
surprising about this Statement is the thought that its many distinguished
signers believe this can possibly work. Admittedly, not all signers are
distinguished: one is distinguished only for hostility to Israel (see here and here);
several others are quite distinguished but have no particular expertise in this
subject area. But what of those who have long experience? Do they really think
any of this can happen, or would have any positive effect? A gigantic
international conference “by mid 2018”—this is in the Statement—in other
words with minimal preparation?
have an elixir that can calm the signers down. I suggest they travel in the Arab
world, where the main topics are Iran and (as always) regime survival.
they will find as I have that the sense of emerging calamity because Israel and
the PLO have not made peace is missing. No one is demanding vast conferences or
is seeking to exclude the United States. But the Arab world is far, so an
alternative is traveling to Capitol Hill. There as well they will find no sense
that America’s relationship with Israel requires that the “International
Community” push us aside and take over, nor any belief among the leaders of
either party that America is to blame for “prolonging” the Palestinians’
problems. They will find plenty of opposition to the Trump Administration, but
happily it has not been translated into an analysis of the Middle East that
blames Israel and the United States for the region’s troubles.
The Statement, like so many of its intellectual predecessors, infantilizes the Palestinians: they are victims and little else. But the past suggests, to me at least, that only when Palestinians take responsibility for their politics, their civic culture, their society, and their future can peace really be possible.