In July, 2013, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced an agreement between the Government of Israel and the Palestine Authority to “return to the peace table” The Secretary made the announcement from Amman, Jordan, following several hours “shuttling” among Jerusalem, Ramallah and Amman. As in all previous episodes of this long-playing drama, the Americans insisted that the Government of Israel “demonstrate its good faith” by undertaking to release up to two hundred prisoners then serving lengthy sentences in Israel’s prisons. Most of those released had been charged with murder, and most of these murders had caught public attention at the time because of their gruesome character, the conspicuous helplessness of their Israeli victims and the brazen pride with which the perpetrators had publicly dedicated these gifts to Allah.
A statement from the Prime Minister’s office said that “if any of the released prisoners return to hostile activity against the State of Israel, they will be returned to continue their sentences,” but did not explain how this would be accomplished. The same statement noted also that the Prime Minister had urged Mahmoud Abbas to tone down the official celebration, but had received no response.
Nothing even dimly resembling acknowledgment of Israeli “good faith” has followed then or since from the other side or, for that matter, from other governments or international media. Indeed, the Ramallah government openly mocked the Israeli authorities for their naivety:
No one expected that Israel, which hands down life sentences and decided that they [the prisoners] would go from prison to the grave, [would release them]. They have become medals of honor on the chest of this nation….We say to Israel: Die in your rage. Go to your cemeteries and recite over your dead whatever you recite. Here they are [who Israel says] ‘have blood on their hands’; here they are [back] among their own people: fighters, knights, free men!’ [“Fatah official mocks Israel for releasing murderers from prison,” November 3, 2013,www.palwatch.org; “In Ramallah, prisoners return to a hero’s welcome, Times of Israel, August 14, 2013; “”Palestinian Prisoner Release ‘Sad Day’ for Israelis,” www.cbn.com, October 19, 2013.]
Some Obstacles (to put it mildly) to Success.
The best gauge of prospects for the resumed Peace Talks is to be seen in the circumstance that U.S Government sources attribute responsibility for this “breakthrough” to the Secretary of State – not explicitly to the President. This is in line with the historical pattern: if success is seriously anticipated, it will be the President’s initiative (as, uniquely, it was in Carter’s Camp David exercise); if not, it goes out into the world as the Rogers Plan, the Shultz Plan, the Albright Plan, and now the Kerry Plan. In official notices, it is the Secretary of State, not the President, who is partnered (inequitably) with the Prime Minister of Israel as the topmost negotiator in the process. It is the Secretary of State, not the President, who proclaimed his expectation of completion of final stages in six months (subsequently revised to “nine months.”
The State Department has set aside even-handedness by re-affirming the public commitment made by President Obama some months ago to the assumption that the cease-fire lines following the 1967 War will be the basis for a drawing of sovereign boundaries. [“Netanyahu Responds Icily to Obama Remarks,” New York Times, May 19, 2011.] Netanyahu has always rejected this assumption, but the Americans are assuming that there is room for him to give, even though a key partner in his coalition, Naftali Bennett, the Economy Minister, has stated that “the Bayit Yehudi party, which I head, will not be a partner, even for one second, in a government that agrees to negotiate based on ’67 lines.”
Some weeks into the process, Secretary John Kerry headed to the scene with the purpose of energizing the Mideast Peace effort. [“Kerry to Press for ‘Framework’ Accord to Keep Mideast Peace Effort Moving,” New York Times, December 31, 2013.] Coinciding with this visit there appeared in the New Times an opinion piece disguised as a work of reportage that illustrates clearly the public relations obstacles that Israeli faces so long as the government of the United States imagines that only its own enlightened, hands-on involvement in these negotiations can lead to the lying down of the lion with the lamb. [Jodi Rudoren, “Sticking Point in Peace Talks: Recognition of a Jewish State,” New York Times, January 1, 2014.]
As Middle East peace talks churn on, Israel has catapulted to the fore an issue that may be even more intractable than old ones like security and settlements: a demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as Jewish state….At its heart, it is a dispute over a historical narrative that each side sees as fundamental to its existence. Critics skeptical of Mr. Netanyahu’s commitment to a two-state solution to the long-running conflict say that recognition of a Jewish state is a poison pill that he is raising only to scuttle the talks …. The Palestinians … contend that recognizing Israel as a Jewish state would undercut the right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees, and, most important, require a psychological rewriting of the story they hold dear about their longtime presence in the land.
But this is not a new issue, “catapulted to the fore.” It is the original issue – the issue that the United Nations General Assembly settled by the Partition Decision of November 29, 1947: “a Jewish state and an Arab state.” It turns history on its head to say that recognizing Israel as a Jewish state threatens to undo all hope for a negotiated settlement. In mainstream opinion (as here in this New York Times item) it is commonly argued that Israel is perversely making peace impossible by refusing to give up on the Jewish character of the State. Overlooked here is the plain fact that Israel committed itself to the two-state solution in November 1947 and the Arab world committed itself against it. All of what had been the Palestine Mandate, they insisted, was “Arab land” and\or “Muslim land.” The holistic character of this was understood at the time to be irreconcilable with the need of the Jewish people for a homeland.
People who accuse Israel of perversity for wishing to sustain the Jewish character of its modern state simply ignore the fact that with the exception (at least for now) of Lebanon and Syria all the neighboring polities are founded upon constitutions which declare allegiance to Islam as the first principle of government and society. No exception in this respect is the Basic Law of Palestine, upon which the Palestine Authority claims to operate, and which boldly proclaims that shariah is the fundamental law of Palestine. (I have elaborated on this in Christian Attitudes Towards the State of Israel, (2001), pp. 91-93.)
There are, indeed, two rival narratives sustaining two rival arguments about the right of Jews to live in the Middle East. One of these meets the criteria of modern historical scholarship. The other is a counter-historical fantasy.
Palestinian “historiography” (if sheer assertion without reference to any documentary or archeological evidence can be dignified by such a term) asserts that until the day before yesterday the Jews, or Israelis, call them what you will, never resided in this area. The official Palestinian counter-history speaks of an aboriginal “Palestinian nation” existing “since time immemorial” — until its rights and dignities were stolen in the Twentieth Century by an imperial conspiracy. PA Muftis proclaim “There never was a Temple for the Jews in any period, nor was there, at any time, any place of worship for the Jews or others at the Al-Aqsa Mosque site (built on the TempleMount, 705 CE)” (Palestinian TV, Jan. 5, 2012.]
There never was a Kingdom of Israel, there never was a King David, there never was a Temple. Moses, however, did exist; he was a Muslim teacher who led Muslims in Exodus from Egypt. (While we have your attention: “Moses was succeeded by Saul, the leader of these Muslims in liberating Palestine. This was the first Palestinian liberation through armed struggle to liberate Palestine from the nation of giants led by Goliath. This is our logic and this is our culture” (PA TV (Fatah), Feb. 15, 2012.) [Sources for these as well as a mountain of similarly loony assertions by officials of the PA and Muslim clergy in promotion of this anti-history can be found by consulting the website of Palestine Media Watch, palwatch.org (inter alia: PA TV News: No trace of Jewish history in “our land” November 12, 2012; Itamar Marcus and Nan Jacques Zilberdik, “Jewish History denied,” Apr. 2, 2012.]
In order to keep this dogma unsullied, Muslim religious authorities on the Temple Mount have been hauling away to garbage dumps the debris from their never-ending work of construction below the surface of the Temple Mount. To their shame, academic friends of “Palestine” and leaders of all the mainline churches sit through endless elaborations of this knuckle-dragging nonsense for the purpose of showing solidarity with Palestine in its struggle with the Jewish-imperialist oppressor. And in keeping with this liberal spirit, spokesmen for our governments likewise decline to challenge these recitals, either privately or openly. Such suppression of historical-criticism speaks to our culture’s declining faith in historical fact and, more specifically, to the sophisticated version of this anti-historicism that has overtaken teaching in all the seminaries and which operates unchallenged in the Schools of Religion of the major Universities.
We can hardly imagine how demoralizing it must be for an educated man like Binyamin Netanyahu, the son of one of the leading Jewish historians of our time, to observe the success that has attended the PA in establishing in the minds of our scholars, our leaders of opinion and, with truly resounding success, our churchmen the counter-factual theorem that Palestine is a ancient and distinguished while Israel is a fraud. Among the great and the good in our part of the world it is de rigueur to castigate Binyamin Netanyahu, who was elected by democratic process three times as Prime Minister of Israel, for his failure to spring with enthusiasm at every opportunity to shake hands and break bread with Mahmoud Abbas, the “President” of Palestine.
When circumstances have demanded, however, Netanyahu has always measured up. In the genial photo-ops following from their meetings, Netanyahu gives no clue of the distaste that lesser spirits might betray at being in the company of the terrorist Abu Mazen, the man who coordinated fund-raising for the massacre of Israeli athletes ad the Munich Olympics in 1972, the man who today accuses Netanyahu before the world media of assassinating his former boss, Yasir Arafat. So far as I know, Netanyahu has never demanded that the BCC withdraw its description of Abbas as “A highly intellectual man … the author of several books,” or that the New York Times reconsider its assessment of him as “a lawyer and historian” without referencing his Doctoral thesis at Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow. This document, The Connection between the Nazis and the Leaders of the Zionist Movement pooh-poohs the sob-sister belief about six million Jewish victims of a Holocaust; if there were, let’s say, a few hundred thousand Jews who died there were, in any case, no gas chambers. [Scott Brown, “ Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” http://scottbrownscerebralcaffeine.wordpress.com/tag/protocols-of-the-elders-of-zion.%5D
Both wings of the “Liberation” movement that for several decades has been pretending to govern “Palestine”– the one now located in Ramallah and the other in GazaCity – remain publicly committed to the total liquidation of the State of Israel and the removal of its Jewish inhabitants. Fatah’s commitment is clearly spelled out in the Palestine National Charter. [For the text of the Charter, see http:/r/www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/ForeignPolicy/Peace/Guide/Pages/The%20Palestinian%20National%20Charter.aspx; For definitive refutation of the myth that the Charter was amended on the urging of President Clinton in 2000, see “The PLO Charter Amendment that never was,” Israel National News, June 1, 2012, http://www.israelnationalnews.com/Articles, June 1, 2012.]
All the maps used in the schools under the Palestine Authority and in all materials that Palestinian diplomats hand out to friendly contacts in media circles in our part of the world — including all the literature which ecumenical church organizations and local churches hand out gratis to Pilgrims — the letters PALESTINE are engrossed across everything between the Mediterranean and the Jordan river. The PLO’s blatant and proud commitment to the elimination of the State of Israel from all maps, ours as well as theirs, is simply overlooked by our media and by our governments, enthralled as there are with the mission of achieving through negotiation “a Two-State Solution to the Arab-Israeli dispute.”
The leading figures within the Palestine Authority continue to call aloud for jihad for the purpose of elimination of the Jewish state and people from the region. For internal audiences they characterize the present Israel- Palestinian talks as modeled on the Hudabiyyah agreement between Prophet Mohammad and the Jewish tribe of Mecca – a truce for the strategic purpose of building strength ahead of the ultimate defeat and elimination of the Jewish enemy. [“Abbas applauds as Minister calls for Jihad in Jerusalem,” PMW Bulletin, January 14, 2014, email@example.com.]
The Palestine Authority, embraced by all member states of the UN, including Canada, is headed by Mahmoud Abbas, wined and dined throughout the world as the President of Palestine (or, by the more meticulous, as President of the Palestine Authority. Yet Mahmoud Abbas himself has absolutely no right under the Basic Law of Palestine to refer to himself as President of anything. The term of office to which he was elected by democratic vote ran out over four years ago. It is exactly as though Paul Martin were still strutting around as Prime Minister of Canada or George W. Bush as President of the United States.
It was not Abbas’s party (Fatah) but Hamas that won the mandate of January, 2006. The Hamas leader, Ismail Haniyeh, was appointed Prime Minister of the Palestine Authority by President Abbas (February, 2006.) But the ensuing round of assassinations of Hamas figures by Fatah figures and vice versa led the Hamas leaders to conclude that more could be gained by quitting Ramallah, the administrative capital pro tem of Palestine, seizing all of Gaza, liquidating the leading Fatah figures there, and proclaiming themselves to be the rightful rulers of Palestine. Ismail Haniyeh has no more right to any of his titles than Abbas has to the title of President, as the tenure of the Parliament elected in 2006 has also run out.
Kerry’s Ultimate Big Stick: A Third Intifada.
All alert students of the long history of negotiations between the government of Israel and those who over six decades have enjoyed recognition as the voice of the Palestinian people will recognize in journalistic coverage of the present phase of this history a familiar pattern. The attention of western reporters is quickly drawn to proofs of disunity and also lack of good faith on the official Israeli side while, at the same time, failing to notice or to record blatant proofs of contempt for the good faith of the Israelis and (more significantly) of the U.S. on the Palestinian-Arab side. Even large street demonstrations taking place in several cities within the PA and featuring burning of U.S. flags and of effigies of leaders of American government escape notice. At mass meetings, the most senior PA leaders denounce the Americans as tools of the Netanyahu government – and the U.S. government does not respond. [Khaled Abu Toameh, “Kerry’s Peace Process Double Standard, www.gatestoneinstitute.org, January 16, 2014.] None of this diminishes the confidence of the American government in its qualification to accomplish what all previous Presidential administrations have failed to accomplish – Peace In the Middle East.
Our elected politicians go on wining and dining “President Abbas” out of a Machiavellian calculation that if anything is ever to be rescued from the long-collapsed Peace Process we have to pretend to have a “Partner for Peace” that once got himself popularly elected. It is all Orwellian double-think, kept alive by the agreement among media, politicians and opinion-elites that the figures in whom we have invested the hope for negotiated peace must have Great Titles and democratic credentials. The New York Times, imagining that it sees this dispute from some transcendent height where history and counter-history are equally-validated in terms of some tertium quid, offers with a straight face the advice that “a peace deal must… allow each version [of the past] some legitimacy.”
While the Obama government imagines that its primary loyalty is to the cause of peace, its dogged abstention from criticism of Palestinian Myth exposes its bias towards appeasement of forces whose agenda cannot be accomplished without violence and who dedicate their best energies to creating conditions in which mob violence will prove the ultimate argument-settler. Repeatedly over these last months Kerry has proposed out loud that “a third Intifada” is to be expected, and if and when it occurs it will have to be seen not as mindless mob violence but as a righteous force setting straight ways that have been made crooked by Israel’s adamancy.
The likelihood of the Palestinian-Arab resort to yet another intifada has, indeed, been increased, by reason of the recent decanting back into the civilian life of the Palestine Authority of the many scores of convicted assassins, released from Israeli jails at Obama’s request as “a gesture of goodwill.” With this disingenuous speculation about a Third Intifada the Obama government has thrown away the right to pose as a disinterested friend of peace. [“Kerry Warns of third intifada, Israel’s isolation, if peace talks break down,” Jerusalem Post, November 7, 2013.]