By: Roger Aronoff
Accuracy in Media
The Palestinian Authority’s (PA) actions at the U.N. on September 23 have effectively ended the near-future possibility of a peaceful two-state solution between Israel and a Palestinian state. On that day, PA president Mahmoud Abbas made a speech at the United Nations formally requesting the Security Council to grant full UN membership to an independent Palestine. He followed that up by seeking to gain the required two-thirds of the Security Council to approve his request, though a promised veto by the U.S. would end that effort. President Obama is hoping he doesn’t have to exercise that veto, but says he is prepared to do so.
If his bid at the Security Council fails, Abbas could file a petition directly with the General Assembly, where the U.S. has no veto, to gain recognition as a non-state observer member of the United Nations. The Vatican, for example, holds that position. This would give Palestine certain privileges without granting it full statehood.
Even if the U.S. doesn’t veto the Palestinian request for statehood, how would it be achieved through this process? The only way, presumably, would be through war. Israel certainly isn’t going to give up half of Jerusalem because the Palestinians claim it as their own. And there won’t be any so-called “right of return.” It would certainly harden the positions, and be a de facto end of any sort of peace process, which has largely been a charade anyway for the past two decades.
These facts remain incontrovertible. Until 1967, Israel didn’t control the West Bank, Gaza or East Jerusalem, and yet the Arabs went to war against Israel three times—in 1948, 1956 and 1967. Israel offered statehood to the Palestinians three different times: in 2000, 2001 and 2008, each time rejected. The first two times it was with the terrorist PLO leader Yasser Arafat, and in 2008 with Abbas. Israel can never agree to the “right of return,” especially one that includes descendants of the Palestinians who voluntarily left Israel after being warned by the Arab countries that were about to attack Israel in1948, because it would overwhelm their Jewish population and end Israel’s existence as a Jewish state. But the Palestinians were offered East Jerusalem as their capital, and the West Bank with sufficient land swaps and all of the Jewish settlements removed from what would have been the new state of Palestine.
So why won’t they accept such an agreement today? Former President Bill Clinton told Foreign Policy magazine’s blog, The Cable, that Israel is at fault for the supposed failure of the peace process, because the government of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has moved the goal posts. He said that Palestinian authorities have told him that they would now accept the terms of the deal that they passed on in 2008.
But Charles Krauthammer begged to differ, in a September 30th Washington Post column: “Because saying yes would have required them to sign a final peace agreement that accepted a Jewish state on what they consider the Muslim patrimony.” He said they were prepared sign interim agreements, such as the Oslo accords. But not “final” agreements, like the ones they walked away from, because doing so would be an acknowledgement of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, which so far they have been unwilling to do.
Krauthammer argued that the purpose of Abbas going to the UN to make his speech was to get land without peace. Sovereignty with no reciprocal recognition of a Jewish state. Statehood without negotiations. An independent Palestine in a continued state of war with Israel.
Obama’s Unintended Consequences
Abbas is now saying that the only way he will talk further with Israel is if they first stop expansion of all settlements in the West Bank, even natural growth, and Israel must first agree to the 1967 borders. This is strong evidence that President Obama, in his determination to pressure Israel into a deal from the moment he got into the White House, has done more to damage chances for a two-state solution than to help it along. Israel did in fact freeze settlement expansion for 10 months at President Obama’s request, and yet the Palestinians still refused to come to the bargaining table until that period was nearly up, and they demanded an extension of the freeze. That was the first time any Israeli government had agreed to put a halt to expanding their settlements.
The Arab Spring is also working against a deal. For Israel to enter into an agreement requires them to have a reasonable level of security that its neighbors aren’t intent on destroying it. Israel finds itself in an increasingly hostile neighborhood, surrounded by Lebanon, which had a few years of moderate, democratic rule following its Cedar Revolution in 2005, only to have its government hijacked by Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed militia group responsible for many American deaths; Turkey, a former moderate regime that had good relations with Israel, but which has become Islamist and is in the process of reconciling with Iran; Egypt, which after the fall of Mubarak has moved toward better relations with Iran, a likely takeover by the Muslim Brotherhood, and a serious deterioration in relations with Israel; and Iran, which continues threatening to wipe Israel off the map. On October 1st, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a speech to an international conference that “Any plan which would lead to the division of Palestine is unacceptable.” He called Israel a “cancerous tumor” and “a permanent threat” to peace in the Middle East, and added that “the ultimate goal is to liberate all of Palestine from the Mediterranean to the Dead Sea.”
And if all that weren’t enough, the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hamas is in control in Gaza and considered a partner with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.
This context for the demand that Israel stop being intransigent, and to compromise more, is largely ignored by the American media. Israel is painted as the obstacle to peace when the Palestinians refuse even to negotiate.
For years, the Palestinians have gotten away with saying one thing in Arabic, very hostile to Israel’s right to exist, while saying conciliatory words in English that keep the financial aid flowing and sympathetic treatment from the American press. But thanks to MEMRI, the Middle East Media Research Institute, founded in 1998 by Yigal Carmon, a former colonel in the Israeli Defense Forces Intelligence, many of the speeches and comments are translated.
MEMRI recently translated an interview from Al Jazeera on September 23 with Abbas Zaki, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, part of Abbas’s governing body in the West Bank. “The settlement should be based upon the borders of June 4, 1967,” said Abbas Zaki. “When we say that the settlement should be based upon these borders, President [Abbas] understands, we understand, and everybody knows that the greater goal cannot be accomplished in one go.”
He added that “If we say that we want to wipe Israel out… C’mon, it’s too difficult. It’s not [acceptable] policy to say so. Don’t say these things to the world. Keep it to yourself….”
But even on American television, some vile, baseless charges are allowed to stand. Hanan Ashrawi, a familiar face to many Americans, who holds a Ph.D from the University of Virginia and whose father was one of the founders of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), was on ABC’s This Week with Christiane Amanpour the weekend after the UN speeches in late September.
“I’m not prone to hyperbole or lies or anything,” she told Amanpour. She then said that “Israel has maintained the enslavement of the whole Palestinian people.” These sorts of baseless and absurd accusations go unquestioned by Amanpour, and much of the Western media. It is despicable.
Another problem with this whole process is that the UN doesn’t have the authority to grant the Palestinians statehood. According to Lee Casey and David Rivkin, writing in The Wall Street Journal, the UN does not decide who becomes a state. They can only admit states to the UN, as a full-fledged nation, or with observer status. Casey and Rivkin were Justice Department lawyers under Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
According to their analysis, “putting the U.N.—and particularly the General Assembly—in the business of state recognition is inconsistent with international law and the U.N. Charter, and it is manifestly not in their interests.”
They argue that “The right to recognize statehood is a fundamental attribute of sovereignty and the United Nations is not a sovereign. Those who cite as precedent the General Assembly’s 1947 resolution providing for the partition of Palestine misread that instrument and its legal significance.”
In that case, “Resolution 181 outlined a detailed (and rigorous) process whereby the British Mandate in Palestine was to end and two new states, one Jewish and one Arab, were to be established. It recommended that process to Great Britain (as the mandate-holder) and to other U.N. members. It did not create or recognize these states, nor were the proposed states granted automatic admission to the United Nations. Rather, once the two states were established as states, the resolution provided that ‘sympathetic consideration’ should be given to their membership applications.”
Casey and Rivkin say that it is “unfortunate that the Obama administration has failed to present the case against a Palestinian statehood resolution in legal rather than tactical terms, even though these arguments are obvious and would greatly reinforce the U.S. position, also providing a thoroughly neutral basis for many of our allies, particularly in Europe, to oppose Mr. Abbas’s statehood bid.”
The reality is that the only thing that will ultimately lead to a stable peace between the Israelis and Palestinians is for some Palestinian reformer to step up, as Anwar Sadat did in Egypt, prepared to give his life if necessary, to say “enough” to the violence, the hatred, and the incitement against the Israelis. The plight of these people exists because it has been in the interests of Arab leaders to have this as a festering issue, to take their own people’s minds off their lack of freedom and opportunities.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu followed Abbas at the UN with his own impassioned speech about the steps and risks that Israel has taken, and is willing to take. “The truth is,” said Netanyahu, “that Israel wants peace. The truth is that I want peace. The truth is that in the Middle East at all times, but especially during these turbulent days, peace must be anchored in security. The truth is that we cannot achieve peace through U.N. resolutions, but only through direct negotiations between the parties. The truth is that so far the Palestinians have refused to negotiate. The truth is that Israel wants peace with a Palestinian state, but the Palestinians want a state without peace. And the truth is you shouldn’t let that happen.”
While President Obama generally received high marks from many Jewish leaders and groups for his speech at the UN that same week, some of those same people are wondering if this is the speech he would have given if it wasn’t for the fear that ran through the Democratic Party following the previous week’s special election results in New York’s ninth congressional district. In that race to fill the seat vacated by the disgraced Democrat, Anthony Weiner, a conservative Republican Catholic won a significant victory over a Democratic Orthodox Jew in a heavily Jewish district. The seat was also previously held by Democrats going all the way back to 1923, including Sen. Chuck Schumer and VP candidate Geraldine Ferraro.
Many in the media are focusing on the claim that the Palestinians have made this request for statehood at the UN because of their “frustration” with Israel’s “intransigence.” But the reality is that Israel has, three times in the past 11 years, offered them statehood, and Palestinian leaders have rejected the offers. And today, it is very unlikely that the Palestinians will receive as generous an offer as they did in 2000/2001 and 2008.
Israel’s Existential Threat
Columnist and historian Victor Davis Hanson believes that “The next war against Israel is no longer a matter of if, only when. And it will be far more deadly than any we’ve witnessed in quite some time.” Hopefully his prediction will not be borne out.
Hanson wrote, “It is trendy to blame Israel intransigence for all these bleak developments. But to do so is simply to forget history. There were three Arab efforts to destroy Israel before it occupied any borderlands after its victory in 1967. Later, it gave back all of Sinai and yet now faces a hostile Egypt. It got out of Lebanon—and Hezbollah crowed that Israel was weakening, as that terrorist organization moved in and stockpiled thousands of missiles pointed at Tel Aviv. Israel got out of Gaza and earned as thanks both rocket showers and a terrorist Hamas government sworn to destroy the Jewish state.”
The irony is that Obama’s demands on Israel to stop building or adding on to any existing settlements in the West Bank and in their capital city of Jerusalem has led to this intransigence by the Palestinians, who have refused to negotiate with Israel for the past two years, whereas before that the issue was not an obstacle to the two sides getting together.
Israel is facing its greatest existential threat in its 63-year existence, and America’s government, media, and even in some cases American Jewish leaders are not only refusing to confront this reality, but they are blaming the situation on Israel. The New York Times said that Israel is most responsible for the lack of movement toward a Palestinian state. “The main responsibility right now,” the Times said in an editorial, “belongs to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel who refuses to make any serious compromises for peace.”
A resolution was unanimously passed in the U.S. Senate in June that called on President Obama to veto the Palestinian’s unilateral bid for statehood, and declared that the Senate “will consider restrictions on aid to the Palestinian Authority should it persist in efforts to circumvent direct negotiations by turning to the United Nations or other international bodies.”
The House also voted to withhold approximately $200 million in aid to the Palestinians as a consequence of their actions at the UN that had the effect of abrogating the Oslo accords, an agreement by the two sides to settle all issues by direct negotiations.
According to Robert L. Bernstein, the former chairman of Random House, and founding chairman emeritus of Human Rights Watch, “The real obstacle to long-term peace is the endless and overwhelming words of hate and incitement to genocide effectively spread to Arabs and Palestinians. One example is the textbooks given to millions of children in Saudi Arabia, distributed in the Arab world and beyond, that label Jews ‘monkeys and pigs.’ This continues to foment discord, radicalism and violence.”
Bernstein added that “The absence of criticism by the United Nations and human rights groups is more than just a lack of judgment and fairness. It is proof that the Arab Spring has yet to thaw the old thinking that has stymied progress toward peace for far too long. There will be no peace between Israel and the Arabs while hatred and incitement to genocide continue. Sixty years of spewing hate won’t be undone in a day. Human rights groups should be leading this battle—not ignoring it.