Sorry Bill, It's Not Up to Israel
Jonathan S. Tobin Commentary, November 1, 2015
He should have known better. Bill Clinton spent the years after he left the White House loudly and bitterly lamenting the fact that Yasir Arafat cost him a Nobel Peace Prize. Clinton hosted a peace summit at Camp David in the summer of 2000 at which Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians an independent state including almost all of the West Bank, a share of Jerusalem and Gaza in exchange for peace. Arafat said "no" and months later launched a terrorist war of attrition. But in spite of this, Clinton told a huge crowd in Tel Aviv last night that "it is up to you" in order to make peace in the Middle East. Clinton was an honored guest at a peace rally/commemoration of the 20th anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin's murder. President Obama also sent taped remarks along similar lines that were played at the event.
It is all well and good to praise the search for peace. It is quite another to tell them that it is up to them to decide whether there will be peace. Because if there is anything that the last 22 years have taught us, it is that it clearly not up to the Israeli people.
According to Clinton:
I always thought the role of the United States was to provide whatever help necessary to ensure Israel's security, maximize the benefits of peace and minimize the risks. But the decision is yours. The next step in the magnificent story of Israel… the next step will be determined by whether you decide that Rabin was right, that you have to share your future with your neighbors, that you have to stand for peace, that the risk for peace isn't as severe as the risk of walking away from it. We are praying that you will make the right decision.
Yet, as Clinton knows, Barak repeated the offer the next year, and Ehud Olmert sweetened it in 2008. Both times the Palestinians again refused. Then Benjamin Netanyahu offered withdrawals from most of the West Bank and committed himself to a two-state solution and still the answer was no. Before that, Ariel Sharon withdrew every soldier, settler and settlement from Gaza hoping to create an opening for peace and instead set the stage for the creation of an independent Palestinian state in all but name there that is an Islamist terrorist dictatorship. Each time Israel took the kind of risks for peace that its friends and critics had been urging it to do yet got neither peace nor credit for the sacrifice.
To be fair to Clinton, there's little doubt that he cares about Israel and the Israeli people have always appreciated his genuine affection and returned it. That's more than can be said for Obama, who, at best, regards Israel with condescension, restricting his praise for a mythical Israel of the past that didn't face the real country's terrible war and peace dilemmas.
But in spite of Clinton's intimate knowledge of the peace process, he still clings to the notion that somehow it is within the power of the Jewish state to force an end to a century-long conflict with the Palestinians.
The signing of the Oslo accords on the White House lawn was a high point of Clinton's presidency and sealed his relationship with Rabin. Clinton's honoring a man who was tragically murdered is entirely appropriate. But the problem here is the implicit assumption that it was assassin Yigal Amir's bullet that killed the peace process or the Israelis who peacefully demonstrated against their government for empowering terrorists and not the third man in the famous picture with Clinton and Rabin: Arafat.
What more can Israel do to convince the Palestinians to make peace than they have already done? According to the Obama administration and leftist critics of the Netanyahu government, they need to stop building homes in existing settlements in the West Bank and 40-year-old Jerusalem neighborhoods or release more convicted terrorists. But does anyone really think that will convince the Palestinians to make peace when offers like the ones Barak and Olmert made were not enough? Did Sharon's experiment in trading land for peace—which turned out to be an exchange of territory for terror—not go far enough?
The problem isn't Israel not recognizing Palestinians rights and aspirations. Even the supposed hard line Netanyahu has done that. The problem is that even PA leader Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian lauded by President Obama as a moderate and a champion of peace, won't recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Moreover, it is that same Abbas who has been inciting terror fueled by religious hatred in recent months by cynically circulating canards about mythic Israeli plans to destroy mosques or proclaiming that he doesn't want "filthy Jewish feet" profaning holy places.
Nor is the building of homes in places that even Clinton and Obama know would be part of Israel after a peace agreement an obstacle to peace if the Palestinians ever choose peace rather than a continuation of the conflict.
It's not the Israelis who need the lectures from Clinton and Obama. It's the Palestinians. Like many in Israel who have always wanted to believe their country could magically make peace without the Palestinians having to change, that's the line the U.S. seems to buy too. But it's bunk, and if anyone should know it, it's the president that still feels he was cheated out of a Nobel Prize by Palestinian intransigence.
Clinton is right when he cites Rabin's belief that the costs of ignoring chances for peace are high. But the costs of a reckless pursuit of it are also high as the mounting toll of Israeli victims of terror proves. Thousands have died in no small measure because of the Oslo process that empowered terrorists like Hamas, Arafat and other killers honored by Abbas.
Yet this mistaken emphasis on what Israel can do is not a harmless gesture. The more international leaders, even those that rare correctly labeled as friendly to Israel like Clinton, mouth these bromides, the less inclined the Palestinians will be to finally make peace. Such lectures only reinforce their belief that sooner or later international opinion will isolate Israel and bring them one step closer to their fantasy of its destruction. They need to be reminded that throughout the century-long history of the conflict they are the ones who have always rejected compromise. Oslo was not a catastrophe because the intentions of Yitzhak Rabin or Bill Clinton were bad because the process they created provided no accountability for the Palestinians. Far from making compromise an imperative, it convinced the Palestinians that they didn't have to do anything to make peace. That not only robs them of agency in their fate but also gives them reasons why they shouldn't budge or cease cheering or subsidizing terror.
So far from advancing the cause of peace, speeches like Clinton's actually retard it. Of course, if Clinton were to go to Ramallah and tell the Palestinians that it was up to them to finally make peace, he would not be greeted with thunderous cheers, as was the case in Tel Aviv. But it would be an important wake-up call for a people that are still trapped in its own rhetoric of delegitimization. Israel has taken plenty of risks for peace. It's time for Americans to stop ignoring that fact and start putting pressure on Israel's foes to take some risks of their own.