Dear Friend of FLAME:
As you may have read, France is trying to organize an Israeli-Palestinian peace summit—inviting some 30 nations to participate, but, bizarrely, without inviting the Israelis or Palestinians. In fact, this contradiction—this supreme irony—exposes the fundamental flaw in trying to force Israel
and the Palestinians to make peace.
Indeed, as the conflict between the two parties has been conceived by Europe and the U.S., peace can never be achieved. The French effort, like so
many before it, especially American-led peace initiatives, ignores the gorilla in the room: In truth, if the Palestinians wanted peace and wanted a state, they could have had it 16 years ago when Ehud Barak and Bill Clinton generously offered it to Yasser Arafat at Camp David. Palestinian President
Mahmoud Abbas could have had it in 2008 when Ehud Olmert and George Bush offered it, and he could have it today if he cared to take it.
The point is, if you think the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is in any way related to Israel's borders or Israel's building of settlements
in Judea and Samaria (aka the West Bank)—as most peace negotiators have—you're doomed to failure.
Israel has offered land to the Palestinians for peace many times, but both peace offerings and Israel's abject abandonment of Gaza in 2005 to Palestinians
have been met instead with increased hostility. Why? Because the Palestinians have shown—and clearly articulated to all who will listen—that they are not negotiating for peace and don't care about the fine points of Israel's borders.
No, the Palestinians have a much larger goal that will not be resolved by negotiations. As you'll see in this week's superb FLAME Hotline featured article,
the Palestinians want something that neither Israel nor any sovereign nation will give up: Its existence.
This article, by Professor Michael Mandelbaum, Director of the American Foreign Policy program at Johns Hopkins University, lays bare the sham of previous
negotiations and lays out the Palestinians' pathetic evolving strategies for defeating Israel. But most importantly, Mandelbaum provides bold, crystalline
advice for the next U.S. President, should she or he be crazy enough to throw more American political capital at resolving the conflict. In short, tell the Palestinians to get real or fuhgeddaboutit.
While this article is a bit longer than most we recommend to you, I guarantee it will make you a smarter pro-Israel advocate, and it may be one you want to
pass along to your more serious friends and colleagues. It's well worth your time.
In addition, on a similar note, I hope you'll also review the P.S. immediately below, which describes FLAME's recent hasbarah campaign on a similar
theme—addressing the question: Why can't the Palestinians have a state?
Executive Vice President, Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME)
The Peace Process Is an Obstacle to Peace
And it always has been, because its premises are false
By Michael Mandelbaum, Commentary, April 14, 2016
The American presidency has accumulated a number of traditions that anyone holding the office is expected to perpetuate. Examples include delivering the
State of the Union address to Congress, lighting the national Christmas tree, and presiding over the Israel-Palestinian peace process. The next president
will no doubt continue all three. If he or she follows the pattern established by the most recent incumbents, however, the result of the peace process will
be failure. Indeed, the continuation of the peace process as it has been practiced will not simply be futile: It will be positively harmful. The conduct of
the peace process has made peace less likely. If it is to continue at all, a fundamental change in the American approach is needed.
Successive administrations have failed at the peace process
because they have not understood—or not admitted to themselves—the nature of the conflict they have been trying to resolve. In the eyes of the American
officials engaged in this long-running endeavor, making peace has been akin to a labor negotiation. Each side, they have believed, has desired a
resolution, and the task of the United States has been to find a happy medium, a set of arrangements that both sides could accept. In fact, each side has
wanted the conflict to end, but in radically different and indeed incompatible ways that have made a settlement impossible: The Israelis have wanted peace;
the Palestinians have wanted the destruction of Israel.
At the core of the conflict, standing out like a skyscraper in a desert to anyone who cared to notice, is the Palestinian refusal to accept Jewish
sovereignty in the Middle East. This attitude has existed for at least a century, since the Arab rejection of the Balfour Declaration in 1917. While much
has changed in the region over those 10 decades, the conflict's fundamental cause has not. The Palestinians' position is expressed in their devotion to
what has come to be called incitement: incessant derogatory propaganda about Jews and Israel, the denial of any historical Jewish connection to Jerusalem
and its environs, and the insistence that all the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea belongs to the Arabs, making the Jews living
there, in the Palestinian view, contemptible interlopers to be killed or evicted. The Palestinians' attitude has expressed itself, as well, in their
negotiators' refusal either to accept any proposal for terminating the conflict or to offer any counterproposals of their own. The goal of eliminating
Israel also lies behind Palestinian officials' glorification as "martyrs" of those who murder Israeli civilians, giving their families financial rewards to
encourage such killings.
American officials have either ignored or downplayed all of this. They have never emphasized its centrality to the conflict, instead focusing on Israeli
control of the West Bank of the Jordan River, which the Israeli army captured from Jordan in the 1967 War and on which Israel has built towns, villages,
and settlements. American officials have regarded the "occupation," as the international community has chosen to call it, of the West Bank as the cause of
the ongoing conflict. In fact, the reverse is true. It is the persistence of the conflict that keeps Israel in the West Bank. A majority of Israelis
believes that retaining control of all of the territory brings high costs but that turning it over entirely to Palestinian control, given the virulent
Palestinian hostility to their very existence, would incur even higher costs. A withdrawal, they have every reason to believe, would create a vacuum that
anti-Israel terrorist groups would fill. Ample precedent supports this view: When Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon and Gaza, two terrorist
organizations—Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza—took control of the vacated territories and proceeded to launch attacks against the Jewish state.
While sometimes acknowledging in private that it would not bring peace,
American peace processers have in the past nonetheless justified continuing the peace process on the grounds that it served American interests by making it
possible to have good relations with Arab governments while at the same time sustaining close ties with Israel. According to this rationale, the Americans
could tell the Arab rulers, and those rulers could tell their fervently anti-Zionist publics, that the United States was, after all, working to address
In fact, the conflict never had the importance for Arab-American relations claimed for it. The Arab leaders determined their actual policies, toward the
United States and toward other countries, on the basis of their own interests, above all their common interest in remaining in power, which seldom had
anything to do with Israel. Now, however, with civil wars raging across the region, with the United States drawing back from the Middle East, and with
their archenemy Iran becoming increasingly powerful, Arab leaders have dropped even the pretense that the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians
matters greatly to them.
The peace process has therefore become unnecessary for the United States, even by the reasoning that sustained it in the past. In its familiar form it is,
however, worse than that. It has caused real damage and will continue to do so if not fundamentally changed. In fact, the American conduct of the peace
process bears an unhappy resemblance to the custom of treating diseases by placing leeches on the body of the afflicted person: It was based on an
inadequate understanding of the pathology it attempted to cure, it did not solve the problem it was intended to fix, and it sometimes made it substantially
The orthodox approach to the peace process has harmed American interests by wasting the most valuable commodity the American government possesses: the time
of its senior officials. It has done harm as well by diverting attention from the real cause of the conflict—the Palestinian refusal to accept the
legitimacy and permanence of Israel—thereby reducing the already small chance of ending it. Worst of all, the peace process has actually obstructed a
settlement of the conflict by supporting—unintentionally—the current Palestinian strategy for eliminating the Jewish state.
The next administration should tell the truth about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: namely, that the responsibility for creating and perpetuating it
rests with the Palestinian side.
The current Palestinian strategy is the third since the founding of Israel. The first, which began with Israel's declaration of independence in 1948,
involved frontal attacks by Arab forces with the goals of conquest, occupation, and annihilation. It collapsed with the resounding defeat of the Egyptian,
Syrian, and Jordanian armies in June 1967. The second strategy relied on terrorism, with the goal of demoralizing all Israeli citizens, leading ultimately
to the implosion of their society. Although terrorism continues, it, too, has failed: Israel has become an island of social solidarity, political
stability, and economic dynamism in a region where other countries lack all three.
In recent years, therefore, the Palestinians and their allies have adopted a third strategy: delegitimation. They have sought to portray Israel as a
neocolonial power that practices the kind of discrimination that characterized apartheid-era South Africa. The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement
is the most visible instrument of this strategy, the proponents of which seek to turn Israel into an international pariah and thus weaken it, economically
at first and ultimately fatally.
This strategy will also fail, not least because the charges it levels are false. Nonetheless, the peace process has given the champions of the strategy of
delegitimation reason to believe that it can work. The Palestinian authorities, led first by Yasir Arafat and now by Mahmoud Abbas, have managed to ensure
the failure of all negotiations with Israel by their intransigence while at the same time avoiding responsibility for that failure. Successive American
administrations have refrained from telling the world-clearly, emphatically, and repeatedly—precisely why the peace process has never succeeded. The Obama
administration has in fact blamed Israel. By failing to rebut the false narrative about the fate of the peace process and, even worse, by occasionally
propagating it, the American government has reinforced the strategy of delegitimation and made the faint chances of settling the conflict even fainter.
By flooding the country with people hostile to it, finally, the result of implementing the Palestinian "right of return" would be the destruction of
What, then, should the next administration do? It would improve on its predecessor's performance by abandoning the peace process entirely. If, however, as
history suggests is likely, it insists on following in the footsteps of the last seven administrations and pursuing a peace process, it should make two
fundamental changes in how the United States conducts it. First, it should tell the truth about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: namely, that the
responsibility for creating and perpetuating it rests with the Palestinian side. Peace requires that the Palestinians accept international law: Israel is a
legitimate, internationally recognized sovereign state. It requires that they accept international custom: Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people,
and the nation-state is the standard form of political organization in the world. And peace requires that the Palestinians accept the norms of common
decency and common sense: The Jews have the same right to sovereignty as any other people. Peace, that is, requires a fundamental change of attitude on the
part of the Palestinians, nothing less.
Negotiations will be fruitless at best without such a transformation, which raises the question of how to know that it has taken place. This leads to the
second change the next administration should make in the peace process if it insists on continuing it. The next president should make it a condition for
resuming negotiations that the Palestinians renounce their so-called right of return.
They have insisted that, as part of any settlement, all the descendants
of the 400,000 Arabs who fled what became Israel in 1948, a group that they assert numbers several million people, be allowed to settle in Israel. As well
as entirely impractical, the demand is morally ludicrous. The original refugees left because of a war started by the Arabs, not the Israelis. The new
Israeli government even urged them to stay; Arab leaders told them to leave, promising that they would return after the anticipated destruction of the new
state. The demand also has no historical precedent. The 20th century saw other such large-scale flights-of Hindus from Pakistan and Muslims from India at
the time of the partition of South Asia in 1947, for example, and of Jews from Arab countries, who were expelled, in many cases from places where their
ancestors had lived for centuries, in numbers comparable to if not greater than the total number of Arabs who left the new Israel in 1948. In no case was
the country the refugees had abandoned expected to take them back.
Nor does the "right of return" have any basis in international law. The Palestinians assert that it stems from United Nations General Assembly Resolution
194 of 1948. That resolution, while devoted chiefly to other matters, included a paragraph suggesting the return of all refugees-implicitly including Jews
who had resided in Arab countries-to their original homes. It was not drafted to be mandatory and was never intended to have the force of law. The Arab
governments never made any effort to extend such a "right" to Jews who had had to flee their countries and, in any event, did not vote for the resolution
when it came before the General Assembly.
This Palestinian demand is in fact an assault on the sovereignty of the Jewish state and thus part of the century-old campaign against Zionism. It asserts
that Israel should not be allowed to exercise the fundamental, indeed defining, prerogative of sovereignty—the control of its own borders. It would also
deny to Israel another sovereign prerogative, deciding who has the right to citizenship. By flooding the country with people hostile to it, finally, the
result of implementing the Palestinian "right of return" would be the destruction of Israel, which is surely the reason that the Palestinians insist on it.
In peace-process orthodoxy, the "refugee problem" is classified as one
of the "final status" issues—problems so difficult that they can be addressed only after all the easier ones have been resolved. In fact, the insistence on
a "right of return" assures that negotiations will fail, and thus should not be started in the first place, because they amount to the Palestinian
insistence on achieving what is not negotiable: Israel's disappearance.
If and when the Palestinians do signal their acceptance of Israel by abandoning this claim, it will become possible to address the issues that do require
negotiation: the border between Israel and a Palestinian state, which may well require uprooting some Jewish settlements to the east of Israel's eastern
border of 1967, and the disposition of military forces between the new border and the Jordan River. As long, however, as the Palestinians make clear, by
asserting their "right of return," that they refuse to live peacefully side by side with a Jewish state, negotiations are at best a waste of time and at
worst a way of perpetuating the conflict by encouraging the Palestinians to persist in their goal of eliminating Israel.
To be sure, the two necessary changes to the American approach to the peace process will not, in and of themselves, bring peace. Only the abandonment of
the fundamental Palestinian attitude to Israel can do that; and the United States does not have the power to transform that attitude. The changes would,
however, have desirable consequences. They would discourage the strategy of delegitimation by making it clear that the United States rejects the strategy's
premises, which would in turn reduce, although not eliminate, the constituency for that strategy in the United States and in the place where it is most
popular, Europe. Reducing support for it would send to the Palestinians the message that, like a frontal military assault and terrorism, delegitimation
will not succeed in destroying Israel. The two changes would also improve the moral tone of American foreign policy. Telling the truth about the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict would affirm American support for international law, democracy, the peaceful resolution of international disputes, and the
principle of equal rights for all peoples. It would also affirm American opposition to aggression and terrorism. It would, that is, put the United
States—to use a term favored by recent administrations—on the right side of history.