Vladimir Putin’s evil stroke of genius

As a child, one of my great fears was being the victim of a chemical attack. I read and reread the article on chemical warfare in the Encyclopedia Britannica in the school library with horrified fascination. When we practiced getting under our desks “in case of an atomic attack” I was relieved that it was only an atomic attack that was expected. Gas would be 100 times worse, I thought. Maybe this was because I was a Jew and heard that the Nazis had gassed Jews, even though as far as I knew my own relatives in Ukraine had been shot and not gassed.

The sarin gas attack carried out this Tuesday in Idlib by forces controlled by Bashar al Assad (the word ‘alleged’ is not necessary) was a war crime, a mass murder of civilians by horrific means. To make it even worse, hospitals where victims being treated were also bombed. It’s not the first time the same criminal has committed the same crime. But Assad could not have done it alone. He has a powerful accessory to his crimes.

Russian planes are not dropping sarin (or chlorine or barrel bombs), but they are supporting Assad’s forces with more conventional weapons, and killing plenty of civilians in the process. The Obama Administration, which initially provided some minimal support for the rebels that had opposed Assad, more or less gave up on the idea of deposing him when Russia stepped in, and recently the Trump Administration admitted that it too is “focused” on defeating Da’esh and not on removing Assad.

Interestingly, although Putin initially claimed that he was intervening in Syria in order to defeat Da’esh, he has actually done very little against it. The Atlantic Council, which is funded primarily by European governments, said this about the Russian intervention in Syria:

The results have been grievous. Russia carried out its air strikes with scant regard for the rules of war: Open-source footage shows the repeated use of banned cluster munitions, and strikes on targets including mosques, hospitals, and water treatment plants. Imagine the outcry if the United States or its allies conducted military operations in this manner. Russia’s military campaign allowed Assad’s forces to retake lost ground, a task they did with great brutality and immense human suffering. It barely dented the ISIS terrorist group, whose recent territorial losses have largely come at the hands of Kurdish militias backed by a US-led coalition. Far from shortening the war, it exacerbated it—and in so doing, it sent yet more waves of refugees flooding into Turkey and Europe.

Until recently, I hadn’t understood Putin’s motives. It’s been clear that he wants to protect and expand his naval and air installations in Syria, but by putting his eggs in Assad’s basket he is enabling the Iranian project of creating a corridor from its western border to the Mediterranean, something that might prove dangerous to Russia in the long term.

But if his goal is to destabilize his traditional enemies in Europe by flooding them with refugees, then both his intervention and the brutal way it is carried out – as well as his tolerance of Assad’s even worse behavior – become understandable. The wars going on in Syria and Iraq serve his purpose, and so does the continued existence of Da’esh.

This also explains why Russia has not interfered with Israeli activities in Syria. Although Assad and his Iranian patron are interested in building up Hezbollah as a threat against Israel, Putin doesn’t necessarily share their goals, and may even wish to limit the advance of Iranian hegemony in the region. Russia has its problems with radical Islamic jihadism, and Iran either has or shortly will have missiles that can reach Moscow. What does serve Putin’s purpose is chaos – which he promotes by helping Assad stay in power and kill anyone associated with (or stuck in the same town with) the opposition. Israel’s bombing of weapons bound for Hezbollah doesn’t detract from his goal.

It’s also an incentive for Israel to not interfere. There have been suggestions that Israel should intervene against Assad for humanitarian reasons. It is highly unlikely that Israel would take such a step. Not only would it place Israel in direct conflict with Russia, but Israel is dependent on Russia to allow it to operate against Hezbollah in Syria. The greatest direct threat against Israel today is Hezbollah as a proxy of Iran, and it would be disastrous if Putin were to decide to protect it.

I think Putin is the big winner here. In a stroke of malevolent genius, he managed to turn the Syrian civil war, the rise of Da’esh, the struggle between the Sunni and Shia worlds, the advance of Iran toward the Mediterranean, and the concomitant suffering of the peoples of the region, to his advantage. He now controls the airspace of the eastern Mediterranean region and is building up important air and naval bases here, a strategic coup against Europe and the US. Meanwhile, Europe is being destabilized by the waves of refugees from the conflicts in our region. All this on the backs of a few million dead and displaced Arabs!

Whether or not Russian activities had any effect on the American election, there is no doubt that Russia is carrying out psychological warfare against the US with the intent to create as much dissension and chaos there as possible. This isn’t anything new – the Soviet regime did it too – but social media have made it easier and increased the leverage of a small number of operatives.

Putin is a remarkable figure. I would call his actions in fanning the flames of war in Syria psychopathic, although maybe any despot has to be a psychopath. He seems to have suppressed internal opposition to his regime quite effectively (and brutally, in part by murdering anyone that threatens him). He has drastically improved the strategic position of Russia relatively cheaply, and is on his way to restoring the Soviet empire.

Various pundits have said that Putin is playing chess while Western leaders play checkers (or even simpler games, like marbles). I agree – except that the pawns he sacrifices so unemotionally are people.

Posted in Middle East politics, War | 3 Comments

If you love me, let me go

We recognize that some boycott advocates are driven by opposition to (and even hatred of) Israel. Our motivation is precisely the opposite: love for Israel and a desire to save it. – Steven Levitsky and Glen Weyl, “We are lifelong Zionists. Here’s why we’ve chosen to boycott Israel.”

I have something to say to the Jewish-American “we love Israel but we know what is good for you better than you do” crowd:

Stop it.

You don’t know better than we do. Even if you know a lot. And even if you did know better, you don’t have the right to tell us what to do.

Israel is a democracy. That means that the Knesset and the Prime Minister are chosen by its citizens. Even with 20% of those citizens being Arabs, we chose Benjamin Netanyahu to form our government. You don’t think that was a wise choice; I get that. But can you deny us the right to make that choice?

You say that our country is becoming less democratic. So you want to fix that by intervening in our politics?

You demand that we should “make peace,” or “end the Occupation,” or grant the “Palestinians” their “rights.” But do you know that only a minority of Jewish Israelis agree with you that withdrawal from Judea and Samaria is a good idea? Only 29% agree with the “moderate” idea of withdrawal to the Green Line with land swaps for the large settlement blocks!

The Israeli political party whose foreign policy most closely matches the views of J Street or the Union for Reform Judaism is Meretz. Meretz won five seats in the 120-seat Knesset. Only five, even though some of its domestic policies are relatively popular. There is a reason for that.

What do you, living in America, know that the majority of Jewish Israelis don’t? After all, they have to serve in the army or send their children to do it. Do you know what it feels like to know that your son (and lately, daughter) who is serving in a combat unit is on a battlefield in a hostile country? It really makes you care about the quality of your national leadership.

You don’t like the policies of our government. That’s your right. I think you’re misinformed, but go ahead and have whatever opinions you like about our government, yours, or North Korea’s. But you go farther. You say that as Jews you have a special right not only to criticize us, but to tell us how to behave. That’s ridiculous.

Yes, Israel views herself as the homeland of the Jewish people, and Israel will grant citizenship to any Diaspora Jew that asks for it. This degree of openness to immigration is uncommon, but came about because of the unique history of persecution of the Jewish people. Nevertheless, this doesn’t imply that potential citizens have a right to determine Israeli policy. Ireland will grant citizenship on request to someone with a grandparent who was born there, but eligible Irish-Americans don’t insist on the right to determine the policy of their ancestral home.

You are fond of telling us that your patience is running short and you will stop supporting us if we don’t do what you tell us. But that “support” is not all that it is cracked up to be.

Financial support is already politically targeted. I was the treasurer of a small Jewish Federation belonging to the Jewish Federations of North America. I was explicitly told by officials of the national organization that no Federation funds would support projects in Judea and Samaria, and that there are procedures in place to ensure that money given by JFNA to the Jewish Agency was not spent in “settlements.” Large independent federations like New York, Chicago, Boston, and others also limit the use of their funds in this way (J Street actually complained that in some cases they do it but don’t admit this publicly!)

You also contribute to J Street and the New Israel Fund, organizations that sharply criticize Israeli policy and try to get the US to pressure Israel, or fund NGOs that do. And you strongly supported Barack Obama in both of his elections, despite the fact that he was the US president least supportive of Israel since the founding of the state (even Jimmy Carter’s policies as president were not as bad).

At this point I want to distinguish the distressed “lovers,” like the academics responsible for the quotation at the beginning of this post or the Reform Movement leaders who invariably declare their love before bashing Israel, from the haters who skip the ritual profession of love, and claim that Judaism justifies siding with Israel’s enemies — for example, the members of “If Not Now” and Jewish Voice for Peace.

I too am a strong Zionist, so I think a lot about what’s right and wrong about my country. Every day I thank God for the privilege of living here. But it bothers me that my daughter can’t afford to buy her own apartment because real estate prices are insane. It bothers me to know that my children and grandchildren are within rocket range of our enemies (all of us are). It bothers me to know that unless something unforeseen happens, there will be a major war within the next few years in which many Israelis and Arabs will die. It bothers me to know that Haredim are blocking traffic because they think they have a right to live in the state of the Jewish people but not the obligation to help defend it. A lot of stuff bothers me, and when we have elections, I try to sort it all out and vote for the party that I think represents the best balance of policies and people to deal with these issues.

So here is what I think: stop trying to help us be better people, because it is much more complicated than you think. There are a lot of things in the USA that are, shall we say, suboptimal, that you can work on. There are ways that you can make your country fairer and more democratic. There are Americans who can’t exercise the rights guaranteed them in the constitution. There are even people who don’t have enough to eat.

Let me know when you’ve fixed that stuff and we’ll talk about improving Israel.

Posted in American Jews, Zionism | 1 Comment

A discussion at the seder table

So we are sitting around the seder table with our American Uncle Max and he says,

[I] remain convinced that a two-state solution is the only outcome that would quell ongoing incidents of violence, maintain Israel as a secure, Jewish and democratic state, and provide a just and stable future for the Palestinians.

Having had the traditional four cups of wine, my first, immediate reaction would be to say something about 1993 calling and wanting its policy back. But actually this and other surprisingly stupid things appeared in a letter signed by 191 members of the US Congress, read at AIPAC by Nancy Pelosi, and sent to Donald Trump.

Many things have happened in the past 24 years, both in the US and especially in the Middle East, but for these (mostly Democratic) lawmakers, nothing has changed. One wonders exactly what could happen that would change their minds, which seem to have accepted the necessity of an additional partition of the land of Israel as an article of faith.

My second thought is an almost overwhelming feeling of fatigue over the fact that this irrational and dangerous idea will not go away, and that I am yet again forced to argue about it.

So, pay attention, Uncle Max. I am not going to repeat this like the verses of had gadya.

First, there won’t be a “2-state solution.” The Palestinian leadership and man-in-the-street will not agree to anything acceptable to Israel. They have already rejected deals that were better than what Israel would offer today. Their conditions, including the right of return for millions of descendents of Arab refugees and the expulsion of Jewish residents of Judea/Samaria, will always be unacceptable.

But even if some kind of agreement were reached with the PA/PLO, why would we expect them to adhere to it? They have broken countless promises made in the framework of the Oslo agreements, including essential ones like ending official incitement and changing the PLO charter; and they have an ideological/religious mandate to break promises on the smallest of pretexts.

But even if the signers of the agreement did not break it, what guarantee is there that their successors – who could represent Hamas or even more militant radical Islamists – would honor it? If they didn’t, the only option for Israel would be war.

In this connection, it’s interesting that 2-staters often say that “Mahmoud Abbas is the most ‘moderate’ PLO leader,” and that therefore we should get an agreement with him before he is replaced and it is too late. But this is exactly why an agreement with him will be worthless.

But even if Abbas’ successors did not break the agreement, an additional partition of the land of Israel more or less along the Green Line would restore Israel’s pre-1967 indefensible eastern boundary. In addition to the absurdity of reversing the outcome and punishing the winner of a defensive war, it would leave the most populated parts of Israel vulnerable both to terrorism from the high ground in Judea and Samaria, and invasion from the east.

At this point I get my relief map of Israel off the wall and wave it under Uncle Max’s nose. How is it possible to defend Tel Aviv and Ben-Gurion Airport from short-range rocket and mortar attacks when terrorists can sit on commanding hills only a few miles away? How can Israel prevent the introduction of weapons and terrorists into these areas if it doesn’t control the Jordan Valley to the east? There are five mountain passes across the Judean and Samarian hills. With Iran controlling more and more territory in Iraq and the unstable country of Jordan tottering, what will prevent Iranian forces from reaching them?

John Kerry in 2014 suggested implementing American-assisted security arrangements that would theoretically protect Israel while allowing Palestinian sovereignty in most of the territories. But former Defense Minister and Chief of Staff Moshe Ya’alon considered the plan ludicrous, and “not worth the paper it was printed on.” Others have since come up with more sophisticated plans, but Israel is loathe to depend on high-tech sensors, Palestinian cooperation, or (especially) foreign troops. We also need to keep in mind that future American administrations might be even less friendly than the previous one. Only Israel can defend Israel.


“But it’s Palestinian land. There’s an international consensus. The settlers are motivated by extremist religious ideas, says Uncle Max.”

Wrong. According to the Palestine Mandate, whose guarantee to the Jewish people is still in force, it’s Jewish land. And the border of Israel legitimately extends to the Jordan River. The “international consensus” is a consensus between the Islamic bloc and the Europeans, both of whom are offended by the idea of a sovereign Jewish state. Both the Muslims and the Europeans, although in different ways, are no less “religious” in their convictions than the observant residents of the territories. The “consensus” is no more than a correspondence of racist anti-Jewish attitudes.

“But wait. Most Israeli Jews support the 2-state solution.”

No they don’t! A new poll shows that there has been a large decrease in support for a withdrawal from Judea and Samaria – from 60% in 2005, when Israel withdrew from Gaza, to 36% in 2017. Apparently Israeli Jews learned something from the Gaza experience.

“But,” Max continues, “the alternative to two states is one state, and Israel can’t absorb all those Arabs and still be Jewish and democratic.”

Wrong. There is no exhaustive dichotomy. Who said Israel has to absorb them? Who said there has to be a sovereign Palestinian state in almost all of Judea and Samaria? How about creating an autonomous territory in a contiguous part of the area – like Puerto Rico is to the US – where the population votes in local but not national elections, and in which external security is provided by the sovereign? That’s just one of many possibilities. Sure, working out the details would be complicated, but no more complicated than the “security arrangements” John Kerry tried to foist on us. And although some Arabs and some Jews might have to move, it would be far less traumatic than the massive expulsion of Jews that is envisaged under a 2-state plan.

“I don’t know,” he says. “There must be a way to make 2-states work.”

No, there isn’t, and that is exactly the problem. You are searching for an answer to the wrong question, one that does not have an answer. The real issue isn’t how to partition the land of Israel yet again. It’s how to guarantee the security of the state and its citizens within its rational, legitimate and defensible borders.

It’s time to say “dayenu” to the 2-state solution. The starting point must be defensible borders, not a Palestinian state.

Of course the Palestinians would find this approach unacceptable, but they also find any 2-state deal that doesn’t provide for the ultimate replacement of the Jewish state with an Arab one equally unacceptable. So why does it matter?

Why do you think we followed Moshe out of comfortable Egypt and into the desert, Uncle Max? It wasn’t in order to create ‘Palestine’!

Posted in 'Peace' Process, Israel and Palestinian Arabs, US-Israel Relations | Leave a comment

Why is Israel losing American Jewish youth?

Yesterday, Jewish activists belonging to the “If Not Now” (INN) group, a more-militant offshoot of J Street, held a demonstration in Washington outside the annual AIPAC policy conference, and even blocked the doors of the convention center for a time. They accused AIPAC of promoting “endless occupation and Islamophobia” and of maintaining a “cozy relationship with the Trump administration.”

Their complaints are wrong. AIPAC does not advocate any particular policy for Israel to follow toward the Palestinians: it supports the policy of the government of Israel. Today that calls for direct negotiations with the PA to create a Palestinian state with limited sovereignty (demilitarization, limitations on airspace and control of borders, etc.), not an especially “right-wing” policy. AIPAC isn’t ideological; to oppose it is simply to oppose Israel.

AIPAC also works to develop bipartisan support for Israel and its policies. It would be hard to do this if it adopted an antagonistic relationship with the current administration, and indeed it bent over backwards to try to stay on the good side of Obama’s anti-Israel one (including the embarrassment of acceding to his request to lobby Congress for military action against Syria in 2013, from which Obama pulled back at the last moment).

INN found AIPAC a very visible and convenient target to express their anti-Israel views, get national exposure for their organization, and energize their activists. And so they chained themselves to doors, called on Israel to “free Palestine” and otherwise demonstrated their strong negative feelings toward Israel and US support for it.

But it isn’t the facts that motivate them. Which is not surprising, because they don’t know them.

What is clear about almost all American Jews (except for the less-than 10% of them that are Orthodox), especially younger ones, is that their attitudes are not fact-based, they are ideologically driven. They do not know or choose to ignore the strategic and geographical facts that determine Israel’s security situation. They do not understand the motivations behind the Palestinian movement, and the intentions and goals of Palestinian leaders, nor the daily life of Palestinian Arabs. Whatever sketchy understanding they may have of the historical events leading up to and surrounding the establishment of the Jewish state is distorted.

If they did have that knowledge and understanding, then that would imply that the INN people are consciously calling for another genocide of the Jewish people. But I give them – at least the rank and file, if not the leadership – the benefit of the doubt and treat them like fools and not villains.

The leader of “If Not Now” is Simone Zimmerman (27), who was Bernie Sanders’ national Jewish Outreach Coordinator until someone found a year-old Facebook post in which she viciously and obscenely attacked PM Netanyahu. It’s interesting that she at least claims to have been a pro-Israel activist when she entered Berkeley, but quickly switched sides when her arguments “were not convincing to the other side.” She also noted the preponderance of “people of color” with the Palestinians, which seems to be important to her. She joined J Street, and later became National President of J Street U, J Street’s student group, which is more extreme than the parent organization. In a 2014 video, she comes across as a sincere but ill-informed person who internalized the Palestinian story when it was presented to her forcefully and in personal terms. Clearly the Jewish/Israeli point of view, despite her years of Jewish education, was not.

INN falls ideologically between J Street, which opposes the BDS movement, and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), which endorses it. INN takes no position. Like these other “Jewish” anti-Zionist organizations, it seems flush with money, with a sophisticated website, training programs and mass meetings; however in its filing as a  501(c)(3) organization it claims an income of less than $50,000 annually, and is not required to file a full IRS Form 990. J Street, by contrast, got $3.15 million in 2015 and its separate education fund received more than $9.7 million. JVP had more than $2.5 million in contributions and grants in 2015. None of these organizations is required to divulge their donor list (although J Street has an associated PAC which, because it supports political candidates, does list contributors, some of whom are associated with Arab and Iranian organizations).

I’m expecting that this organization will go somewhere. Perfectly in tune with the campus mood (for example, representing “Ashkenazi, Sephardic, and Mizrahi, secular and religious, queer and Jews of color”), with enthusiastic but not too scary followers, it has a young, attractive woman leader who speaks the language of her student constituency. Jewish students who feel the pull to belong to the social justice movement, but who have difficulty achieving the self-abasement necessary to join with black and Hispanic students in anti-racist activities, and who still have a strong enough Jewish identity to reject Students for Justice in Palestine, will find INN a perfect fit.

How did we lose Simone Zimmerman? And how are we losing her followers?

We have allowed the other side to put on the mantle of oppression. Supporting the Palestinians becomes a matter of social justice. Today’s university students are immersed in a conceptual scheme of oppressor and oppressed, colonizer and colonized. To get them on our side, we have to turn this around. And that requires both factual knowledge and emotional impetus.

Accurate and honest historical analysis of the Jewish and Arab peoples in the region, the creation of the Jewish state and its relations with the Palestinian Arabs would deprive the Arabs of their status of victims (except insofar as they have been victimized by Arab political leaders). It would also show that the oppressor/oppressed dichotomy is wrong; both sides act and are acted upon. And it would replace the image of a powerful Israel and a weak “Palestinian people” with one of a small, vulnerable Israel – despite its power – surrounded by a sea of implacable Arab and other Muslim enemies.

We do not provide this background. And if they don’t get it before they go to the university, there is no hope that they will learn it there.

But even more importantly, we have neglected the emotional element that is essential to persuasion. In her video Zimmerman tells about how Palestinians presented her with one powerful personal testimony after another – how they felt when “the bombs fell” in Gaza, how the speaker was “beaten at a checkpoint” or subjected to “racist” profiling at the airport. These testimonies had emotional impact that she didn’t get in her Jewish day school classes. She tells about numerous trips to Israel, but did she meet with the families of the victims of Arab terrorists? Did she try sprinting for shelter when the alarms blare in Sderot? Did her Israeli relatives describe digging graves in Tel Aviv before the 1967 war? That would be a start. Facts are necessary to win arguments, but emotional experiences are what move people to action. One of the reasons for the degree of success found in programs like Birthright is that they make such emotional encounters possible.

The last time American Jewish young people took action on behalf of a Jewish cause was to help Soviet Jews emigrate. They were encouraged to do so by personal stories, like that of Natan Sharansky, as told very effectively by his wife Avital. We have to find ways to bring emotionally powerful experiences to them again, this time from Israeli Jews.

The other side is ahead of us both in the intellectual and emotional realms. We rely on historical arguments from the 1960s that they have learned to refute. It’s as if the pathologically apologetic “new historians” of the 1980s (and the Zionist response to them) didn’t exist for us. But even worse, we let them take control of the emotional narrative.

No wonder that Jewish university students end up supporting, in the name of justice, the ones who would happily murder them.

Posted in American Jews | 2 Comments

No deal, Donald

Donald Trump likes deals. He likes the idea of brokering a deal between Israel and the Palestinians, and thinks that he can do it. He can’t, and here’s why:

The insurmountable obstacle to a deal is that the essence of the Palestinian movement is the denial of a state belonging to the Jewish people (they don’t even agree that we are a people) in any part of the land between the river and the sea. Questions of borders, Jerusalem, Palestinian unity, and settlements – no matter how difficult – are all secondary to this major problem.

This is why the Palestinian understanding of “two state solution” includes a right of return to Israel for the descendents of Arab refugees, and why it does not include recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, or a renunciation of their claim to all of the land. This is the Palestinian bottom line.

Israel is willing to make many compromises (including some that are extremely stupid and dangerous to our security) but we are not prepared to agree to disappear. This is the Israeli bottom line.

Neither side can go any lower.

Mahmoud Abbas understands this very well. This is why he correctly considers direct negotiations with Israel a waste of time. This is why he insists that PM Netanyahu does not accept the two state solution, because he understands that he and Netanyahu mean different things by that expression. This is why he favors getting the Europeans and the UN to force Israel to give him what he wants. He knows that deep down (or not so deep down) many of these elements believe there should not be a Jewish state and would be happy to see it disappear.

There is no hope of changing the bottom line of Abbas and the PLO. But couldn’t we appeal to the ordinary Palestinian, the man or (very occasional) woman on the street? Don’t they want to succeed like all of us, to raise their children in peace, to be secure economically and physically?

No. Or maybe they do want these things, but other things are more important.

Khaled Abu Toameh, an Arab citizen of Israel, often writes about the repression of Palestinian Arab journalists by the PLO and Hamas. He has written about the corruption and brutality of the Palestinian Authority and the attitudes of the Palestinian “street.” Unlike “pro-Palestinian” Jewish writers like Gideon Levy, he understands the language and culture of the Palestinian Arabs and has contacts that provide information rather than propaganda.

So when he tells us that PA Arabs favor armed struggle against Israel, despise Mahmoud Abbas as a collaborator with Israel and the US, and reject the idea of a peace agreement, we should pay attention. Last week, he reported on a demonstration against Abbas in Ramallah:

On the eve of US envoy Jason Greenblatt’s visit to Ramallah last week, hundreds of Palestinians demonstrated in the city, calling on Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas to resign. The protesters also condemned the ongoing security cooperation between the PA and Israel.

“Listen, listen to us, Abbas; collect your dogs and leave us alone,” the Palestinian protesters chanted during what has been described as the largest anti-Abbas demonstration in Ramallah in recent years. They also called for the abrogation of the Oslo Accords with Israel, and denounced Abbas as a “coward” and an agent of the Americans. …

Yet this was far from a simple a protest against Abbas and his security forces. It was also a rallying cry for pursuing with further vigor the armed struggle against Israel.

“No to peace and no to all the nonsense, we want bullets and rockets,” some of the protesters chanted. Notably, these calls in favor of an armed struggle against Israel were coming from the streets of Ramallah and not the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

The protests also reflect Palestinians’ rejection of the so-called peace process with Israel. In addition to the calls on Abbas to step down, the protesters demanded as well that the PA leadership cancel all agreements with Israel, first and foremost the Oslo Accords.

In other words, Palestinians are trying extremely hard to get their message across: Israel is our enemy, not our peace partner.

This has been clear since Arafat’s intifada in the early 2000s. Polls consistently show that a majority of Palestinian Arabs believe that “an armed intifada … would help achieve national rights in ways that negotiations could not.”

It’s interesting to note that polls show that a majority of Palestinians also say they favor a “two state solution.” This is because they define it just like Abbas, with a right of return, no recognition, no end of claims. This is why they too consider negotiations fruitless. When they are asked, a majority also say that the two state condition is only a temporary step on the way to the “unification of ‘Palestine’.”

But despite the fact that both the leadership and the population do not want a deal, the Trump administration still thinks one is possible, and this week we have been hearing about it in the context of a “regional solution” involving the Arab league. The theory seems to be that the PLO will make concessions like recognizing a Jewish state or giving up their demand for a right of return if the Arab states tell them to. Abu Toameh believes that this approach is probably even less likely to succeed than direct Israel-Palestinian talks.

First of all, Palestinians don’t trust the Arab regimes, who have always preferred to talk about how badly Israel treats Palestinians to doing anything for them themselves. Lebanon, Jordan and Syria have all oppressed and even killed Palestinians. Palestinians in those places today are second-class inhabitants (in Syria, most are dead or have become refugees). They also provide little or no financial help to the PA. What the PLO wants, Abu Toameh explains, is for the Europeans and the US to force Israel to give in and meet their demands. But this is not going to happen, regardless of whether the Arab League is involved in the negotiations or not.

Secondly, most of the Arab countries don’t see anything good for them in a possible deal. Jordan is afraid that it might end up with the Hashemite regime replaced by a Palestinian one; Lebanon worries about possibly being forced to grant citizenship to the Palestinian refugees it presently treats like dirt; and Egypt fears being asked to cede part of the Sinai to Gaza Palestinians. The Syrian regime is presently in chaos, hates Palestinians and Jews almost equally, and isn’t likely to be a constructive partner.

Finally, Abu Toameh notes that,

Israel as a Jewish state is anathema to Palestinian aspirations. No Arab leader in the world can persuade the Palestinians to give up the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees or accept a solution that allows Israel to retain control over certain parts of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Any Arab or Palestinian leader who promotes such compromise is taking his life in his hands. And Palestinian history will record him as a “traitor” who sold out to the Jews and surrendered to American and Israeli pressure.

Abbas has been straightforward about rejecting negotiations. But Israeli leaders have acted as though they believed that something positive could come out of them. They have done this either out of naïveté or because they wanted to placate the Americans who were demanding it and threatening to withhold diplomatic or financial support. Israel paid a high price for this: murderers were released who murdered again, and Israel’s honor vis-à-vis her enemies was weakened; Israel froze construction in Judea and Samaria and weakened her claim to be a sovereign nation. But even despite this, the Palestinians didn’t change their bottom line.

Trump should know from his real estate experience that a deal is only possible when both sides think they are getting something that they want. But what the Palestinians want is something that Israel isn’t selling.

It doesn’t matter how persuasive you are. It doesn’t matter what sweeteners one side or the other can throw in. It doesn’t matter how hard you push or what you threaten. Sometimes there just isn’t a deal.

This is what Netanyahu should explain to Trump. There isn’t a deal here.

Posted in 'Peace' Process, Israel and Palestinian Arabs, Middle East politics | 2 Comments