As President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken ponder how to entice the Palestinian Authority (PA) to negotiate with Israel, a far more significant problem is being ignored. The Biden team marched along, facilitating a transfer of money to the PA and reopening the U.S. Consulate in East Jerusalem, another Palestinian demand, without tangible reciprocity. But this will not reveal the elephant in the room: an inevitable, coming uprising by Hamas in the West Bank.
Well-meaning American negotiators over the years have done a disservice to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. To try to bridge the perhaps insurmountable gulf between the warring parties, diplomats have employed Henry Kissinger’s diplomatic tool of “constructive ambiguity” to obscure the profound ideological divides. This is not just the old adage, “I gave it the old college try but failed.” The consequences of failed negotiations and unfulfilled expectations using ambiguous language “to disguise an inability to resolve a contentious issue” can lead directly to bombs exploding on Israeli buses and an atmosphere of mistrust that moves the parties even further apart.
This is one of many seditious statements over many years from leaders of the Arab Joint List. There should be no rationalization of these seditious statements. In America, there would be an overwhelming call on both sides of the aisle to remove those members of Congress that called for the overthrow of their nation’s Capitol.
The complexity and contrast become even starker as a new Israeli coalition was sworn in this week with the support of an Islamist Arab leader Mansour Abbas, who choose pragmatism over rhetoric. With incendiary bombs targeting Israeli communities in the South, Israeli retaliation, and the raw nerves in the wake of the Israeli flag day march in Jerusalem, the new Israeli government has its hand full to keep the desperate members of its coalition together. Its collapse would please both ends of the spectrum, Bibi and Hamas.
The article states Prime Minister Netanyahu’s long tenure has left a “lasting legacy. He shifted the fulcrum of Israeli politics firmly to the right —and presided over the dismantling of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.”
The Israeli polity shifted from center-left to the center right not because of Mr. Netanyahu, but because of the Second Intifada beginning in 2000. That was when President Arafat rejected a Palestinian state and East Jerusalem as his capital and started the bloody Intifada of homicide bombers in Israeli malls, restaurants, and busses. Israelis were shocked and realized that their hopes for compromise with their Palestinian neighbors were an illusion. In 2008, an even more generous offer of 100% of the West Bank, East Jerusalem as a Palestinian capital, and even control of the Temple Mount was rejected by the moderate Palestinian President Abbas.
For all of his triumphs and faults, Netanyahu did not dismantle the peace process or move Israel to the right. That was the Palestinians themselves, who could have had a state at least five times over the last 73 years.
Former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s article says that a two-states-for-two-peoples (Arab and Jewish) solution is the only “answer to the national aspirations of both the Jewish people and the Palestinians.”
Interestingly, she chooses not to mention the most significant event that occurred during her tenure as Foreign Minister, that when Prime Minister Olmert offered Palestinian Authority President Abbas 100% of the West Bank with land swaps, East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital, and internationalization of the Temple Mount, Mr. Abbas never even responded. He was not willing to give up the demand for an unlimited right of return of descendants of Palestinian refugees that would demographically destroy the Jewish state, as well as signing an end of conflict agreement to end all future claims.
Ms. Livni says that neither side will ever accept the narrative of the other and won’t convince the other of “who has more rights to the land.” That may be true, but what is needed is for each side to respect the narrative of the other and be willing to compromise. Only then will the possibility of a resolution of the conflict come into view.
Palestinian Israelis refuse to acknowledge the dilemma they put Jewish Israelis in when they choose to align themselves with the enemies of the Jewish state.
In 2003 at the height of the Second Intifada, I tagged along with a group of American Conservative Rabbis who went to Israel to show solidarity with the Jewish state. We were brought to the King David Hotel to hear from then-foreign minister Shimon Peres, and the event was covered by Israeli television. During the Q&A, I asked Mr. Peres if there was a fifth column brewing in Israel among Israeli Arab citizens, “fifth column” being a term used for citizens who sympathize and support an external enemy.
Peres looked at me with an angry stare, and I will never forget what he said to me. “I do not like that expression. I do not like that term.” He then proceeded to march off the stage.
The point in telling this story is that for generations, Israeli leaders have not been willing to contemplate the possibility of a painful truth of what Palestinian Citizens of Israel (PCI) truly believe about living as citizens in the State of Israel. Suppose that the most Israel can offer PCIs (Israeli Arabs) – full rights, recognition of their Arab identity and economic empowerment, while simultaneously accepting the responsibilities of living as minority citizens in a Jewish state – doesn’t meet the minimum they can accept, namely the eradication of the Jewish nature of the State of Israel?
Too many PCIs and anti-Israel activists believe Judaism is only a religion, not a legitimate national movement of a people or a civilization. Despite having freedom of speech, religion and the press, and elected Muslim members in the Knesset, and being freer than any other Arabs in the region, Israel to them will never be a democracy so long as it retains the Jewish nature of the state and the Jewish right of return for Jews living in the Diaspora.
In 2018 I wrote an article titled, “What Do Palestinian Citizens of Israel Want?” This was based on a MEPIN/Keshet seminar I helped organize in which we met with Arab academics and school children and Israeli Arab mayors, and visited Arab colleges, teachers and human rights organizations. That was just the beginning. To deny that PCIs have faced discrimination in allocating government funding, infrastructure and employment opportunities would be to deny reality. As Yossi Klein Halevi said, “Palestinian Israelis have a profound sense of dislocation, humiliation and grievance going back to 1948. Palestinian Israelis are conflicted, as the country they reside in is at war” with their brothers over the Green Line.
But then I asked Palestinian Israelis, if all the economic inequities were magically erased, would they then accept living in a Jewish state assuming the responsibilities of minority citizens? None said yes, proving this is an existential, not an economic issue. They do not believe Israel ever had a right to be created on land that was once Islamic or was their ancestral home.
The current Gaza war between Israel and Hamas may not differ from the three previous military actions (2008, 2012 and 2014) between Israel and the terrorists in Gaza. Israel will not risk the lives of its soldiers or innocent civilians embedded within Hamas military assets in an attempt to replace Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and then having to take charge of civil services for the Gazan people. It will “mow the grass” and hopefully buy a few years of deterrence.
What is different about this war is that the Palestinian Arab street in the West Bank and Palestinian citizens of Israel are openly cheering on Hamas. Hamas told PCIs to “rise up” against “our enemy and yours.” And a not too insignificant number of Israeli Arab citizens responded by lynching Jews, burning synagogues and fomenting pogroms. This is of existential importance, especially when 21% of your population empathizes with an enemy who wants to end your existence. Far-right Jewish nationalists attacking Arabs in retaliation have fanned the flames of violence. They also need to be condemned and incarcerated – one standard of justice and the rule of law for all.
So does Israel have a civil war on its hands? Are the Abraham Accords in danger of collapsing because of the allegation that Israeli security entered al-Aqsa Mosque for no reason? Can’t the world see that Hamas has exploited a land dispute involving just a few Arab families to weaken the Palestinian Authority and prevent a groundbreaking possibility of an Israeli Arab party joining a coalition as a full stakeholder?
So, where do we go from here?
Palestinian Israelis complain about job discrimination because employers favor Israelis who served in the military. But when presented with the option of compulsory non-military civil service to match fellow Jewish citizens, leveling the playing field for employment opportunities, they overwhelmingly reject that option. There is almost no acknowledgment that they, too, have the responsibilities of citizenship.
You can’t complain you aren’t getting your fair share when you refuse to do compulsory civil service to match the time young Jewish citizens give to the nation. Palestinian Israelis refuse to acknowledge the dilemma they put Jewish Israelis in when they choose to align themselves with the enemies of the Jewish state.
Israeli Arab politicians elected to the Knesset, except for Mansour Abbas’s Ra’am party – who seemingly prioritized the PCIs he represents and who wants to work with the Israeli government – have bordered on treason for years. Mansour Abbas’s pragmatism is a significant reason that Hamas wanted to fight a war at this time, lest Arab citizens in Israel look towards a new path that could reconcile them with the Jewish majority.
The Middle East is in flux, and Israel may be facing one of the most critical tipping points in its history. How Israel deals with its Arab minority over the coming years may rival in importance the threat of 150,000 Hezbollah missiles and Iranian nuclear weapons capabilities. As Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz said, the internal Jewish-Arab violence is “no less dangerous than the Hamas rockets…. We must not win the Gaza battle and lose at home.”
The Clinton White House public relations “war room” mantra was never to let any charge go unanswered. Today, many people believe that being selective about which charges to respond to is a more prudent course to avoid bringing undue attention to unpleasant issues. For Israelis and pro-Israel Americans, the choice is not always so clear, especially when falsehoods and slander arrive daily.
This choice came front and center in April, when former CIA director and New York Times opinion writer John Brennan singled out Israel for not living up to his moral standards. He claimed Israel should be more “empathetic” to the Palestinians because of the Jewish legacy of “unspeakable violence perpetrated against them.”
This double standard applied only to the Jewish state and not to any other nation on earth, which got many American and Israeli Jews quite upset. David Harris, the mainstream head of the AJC, tweeted, “Using Jewish history, (the) Holocaust, as a cudgel against Israel is obscene.” Newsday deputy editor Batya Ungar-Sargon went further, saying, “There’s a word for holding Jews to a higher standard than everyone else: It’s called anti-Semitism.”
So would it be better to keep silent and not add any more fuel to the fire, bringing even more attention to Brennan? After all, he is a respected pundit on the progressive MSNBC cable network, and pointing out his offensive remarks could bring more mainstream Democrats to his defense. Should Jews remain silent, hoping that these types of incidents will pass? The real question is: When has it ever been good for Jews to keep quiet about anti-Semitism? If done respectfully, pointing these things out becomes a teaching moment and hopefully an opportunity for those who didn’t mean to cross a line to recant their words. With Israel being accused by “The Squad” in Congress, J Street endorsing legislation to limit military funding of Israel and the once venerable but now anti-Israel Human Rights Watch perversely claiming Israel is an apartheid state, it’s time to speak up to each false charge.
If Brennan’s remarks were an isolated incident, then perhaps it could be passed over with some behind-the-scenes education. But in his case, his default position is to target Israel. In December, when he accused a nation of “state-sponsored terrorism” and flagrantly violating international law, he wasn’t talking about Iran but saved those words for Israel. Unfortunately, this is a much bigger issue than Brennan, as it represents a mainstreaming of anti-Semitism in the guise of anti-Zionism.
Brennen blames Israel for the absence of a Palestinian state, ignoring what we all know, that PLO/Palestinian leaders Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas could have had a state in 2000 and 2008, as well as eastern Jerusalem as their capital. In his essay, he considered it wrong to end funding to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNWRA), even though it perpetuates the conflict by advocating for their so-called “right of return.” That is the demand that all the many descendants of Arabs who left Palestine up to 72 years ago be given the right to return to the place they or their ancestors left, thereby in effect overwhelming and conquering Israel. This month, even the European Parliament called for a review of UNWRA funding because of the hate and violence it teaches for both Jews and Israelis.
You wouldn’t know it from Brennan’s remarks, but most Israelis have empathy for Palestinians living over the Green Line. Many Israelis try to work together with them in political and economic ventures. But the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and other Palestinian factions forbid “People to People” initiatives, ostracize, intimidate and arrest Palestinians who work with Israelis and publicly brand them as collaborators. What the P.A. encourages is the ongoing struggle against Zionism in all its forms, including violence. It spends about 7 percent of its budget (more than $350 million a year) on salaries and stipends to reward convicted and dead terrorists, and their families.
The majority of Israelis are still in favor of a two-state for two people’s solution. However, to Israel’s enemies, “two states” means an entirely Arab state in the West Bank and a binational state with an unlimited right of return of the descendants of refugees to Israel. In other words, two Arab states. No people on earth score higher on the anti-Semitism scale than the Palestinians, thanks to their indoctrination of hatred beginning in early childhood.
In the Times essay, Brennan’s sympathy for the Palestinian cause is apparent. He begins his article by personalizing the “humiliation” of a Palestinian child and her father at an Israeli checkpoint, described in a documentary that he recommended to President Joe Biden. He then added his memories from 1975 that corroborated the brutal unfeeling Israeli and the victimized Palestinian image.
Checkpoints are not nice places for either party. However, in the last 15 years, the number of checkpoints has diminished dramatically. Almost all of them are located on the 1967 lines or around Jerusalem to control the entrance of Palestinians to Israel itself. Traffic inside the territories under P.A. control is mainly unimpeded. Unfortunately, and ignored by Brennan, checkpoints are made necessary because they are the entry point for many terror attacks within Israel, most recently the two on May 2.
Brennan chooses not to add any personal anecdotes to tug at your heartstrings of equally compelling stories of Israelis murdered by Palestinians who crossed into Israel. There was the incident of two men hiding rifles within prayer rugs and killing Jewish soldiers at point-blank range at a checkpoint near Bethlehem. An American physician tried unsuccessfully to remove the bullet from the soldier’s heart on the way to the hospital as a last-ditch effort to save the young soldier. Does Brennan have empathy for these Israeli victims?
What worries us no less is that these misconceptions were the views of the CIA director from 2013 to 2017 while in office. With such distorted views of Israel, it wasn’t surprising that the Obama administration adopted a disappointing approach towards Israel, orchestrating UNSCR 2334, which adopted most of the Palestinian positions, labeling any Israeli presence over the 1949 Armistice (1967 Line) a war crime. One would hope that future CIA directors would work hard to have a balanced, nuanced and in-depth knowledge base without prejudice when advising the president. Americans should be concerned about the politicization of intelligence.
Far-right violent attacks against Jews get headlines, but anti-Semitism in the form of anti-Zionism coming from more leftist sources that have the sympathy of the press is given a pass. Let’s be clear that criticism of Israel and pro-Palestinian views are acceptable as part of free speech. However, present and past U.S. government officials are expected to uphold a high standard. That standard is not met by citing a one-sided litany of complaints against Israel to advocate a double standard that wouldn’t be expected of any other country and demand what amounts to national suicide. Israel is a lone democracy with the rule of law for all its citizens in a sea of authoritarian regimes where anti-Semitism, religious intolerance, denial of rights to women, LGBTQ, minorities and suppression of the press are considered normal.
Perhaps Brennan can write about that in his next essay.
Two media events struck me this weekend. The first was the lack of mainstream media reporting that Palestinian Authority President Abbas’ Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade claimed responsibility for shooting rockets from Gaza into Israeli civilian population areas this Saturday. Isn’t this the government that President Biden just restored funding to?
The second story involves NPR and their reporting of the recent riots in Jerusalem. The story reported that right-wing Israelis were marching in Jerusalem, screaming death to Arabs, while attacking Palestinians leaving Damascus gate after Ramadan prayers.
What was not reported was that this was in reaction to videos circulating on social media of those same Arabs attacking religious Jews in Jerusalem on previous nights. Of course, there is no justification for attacking anyone, and certainly not for screaming death to Arabs, but the situation was complex. This was classic reporting of facts out of context to advance an anti-Israel political viewpoint. It was an opinion disguised as news.
Just to be clear, the only person interviewed by NPR in the report was a so-called Israeli activist who parroted the anti-Israel narrative. Unfortunately, nuance and balance are not on the agenda if they get in the way of progressive activism.
Previously published in the Jerusalem Report. Written with Sarit Zehavi.
Does the US fully understand Iran’s grand designs for the Middle East?
The Iranian regime presents its long-term strategic plan to export the Islamic revolution as a religious duty. Establishing civilian communities and loyal fighters in surrounding lands to further its sphere of influence and exert control is an integral part of their plan.
The goal is to make these tribal communities financially dependent on the Islamic Republic while proselytizing Shi’ism and increasing the respect for their brand of Shi’ism in these vulnerable populations. Israel watched this strategy play out in Lebanon and is now seeing it implemented in Syria and Iraq.
In 2018, after Syria’s President Bashir Assad regained control of southern Syria with Iran and Russia’s help, Iran began cultivating and investing in the local Syrian population. It used a strategy that helped civic organizations along with economic investment. Iran planned to turn southern Syria into a dependent front line against Israel, mimicking the infrastructure and populace under Hezbollah’s control in Lebanon.
The research and educational think tank Alma (co-writer Sarit Zehavi is the founder and CEO) has uncovered civic foundations under Iranian control in Syria, receiving direct funding from Hezbollah and Iran. At the same time, their combatants are embedded within the civilian Sunni population.
According to Alma’s research, after the reconquest of southern Syria, there was a concerted effort to take over mosques and establish Hussainiyas (Shi’ite religious gathering sites). The goal was to ingratiate themselves with the population who would become dependent on Iran for all aspects of their economies, education, and religion.
The Iranian-controlled axis from Tehran to Beirut includes Shi’ite brethren, and co-opted Sunnis, Druze, and Alawites. Iran’s imperialistic ambition is always on the lookout for opportunities to embed itself within local populations to exert new influence. Whether it was the instability of the Arab Winter in 2011 or the chaos that followed in the Syrian civil war, Iran has a single-minded focus on perpetuating its revolutionary plans and dominating the Middle East and beyond.
To understand what is happening in Syria, you need to understand Lebanon. Since Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese government with cabinet ministries, it allows them to transfer monies to themselves. The estimated amount of financial support Hezbollah sent to the Lebanese provinces of Tyre, Bint Jbeil, and Marjayoun in 2020 was twenty-two billion, one hundred thirty million Lebanese pounds for health, education, and social services. Unfortunately, there is little counterweight from the Lebanese government to oppose Iranian influence as it provides few public services to its people, especially in Hezbollah-dominated regions.
Iranian-controlled Hezbollah fills the void, providing the daily necessities, a terrorist organization masquerading as a social movement to create dependency and willing soldiers. Hezbollah is also the dominant political organization that effectively controls an impotent Lebanese government. Shockingly, there are still European nations that treat Hezbollah as a legitimate political entity, making a disingenuous moral distinction between Hezbollah’s political and military wings.
The Achilles heel of American foreign policy is that it changes every four years with a presidential election. The US is profoundly disadvantaged in creating long-term planning to oppose Iranian influence. In contrast, authoritarian regimes like Iran, Turkey, and Russia can remain in place for decades, knowing they can strategize for the long term.
Today, Israel’s north is in the hands of the Iranians. Israel knows it, but the US doesn’t fully appreciate it, minimizing the Supreme Leader’s and his Revolutionary Guards’ apocalyptical words as hyperbole and rhetoric. The US incorrectly believes that sending one hundred forty million dollars a year to the Lebanese Armed Forces provides an effective counterweight to Hezbollah. When Iranian and Hezbollah leaders deliberately lie (taddiyah), it is part of a grand strategy to defeat the greater and lesser Satans – the US and Israel. What all American administrations since the Iranian Revolution of 1979 have in common is a difficult time fully comprehending the Iranian Twelver Shi’ite mindset that prioritizes Islamist imperial desires over its people’s well-being.
US Democratic Party administrations’ single-minded focus on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (Iran nuclear deal) in dealing with Iran serves them poorly in understanding Iran’s goals. In particular, it distracts from what is likely to be the arena for the next major Middle East War on Israel’s northern border, with Iran calling the shots.
For decades, US Congress members have visited Kofi (café) Annan, a coffee shop at an old Israeli fortification on Mount Bental that looks into Syria’s Golan. In plain sight is the abandoned old city of Quneitra that seems just a stone’s throw away. They were told that this was Israel’s quietest border, at least until the start of the Syrian civil war. Today Iran has created and controls civilian life in the Quneitra, Daraa, and Suwayda districts of southern Syria, in plain sight of Cafe Annan. The civilian establishment solidifies the long-sought-after Shi’ite Crescent across the Middle East, an Islamist conduit for the transfer of precision-guided weapons systems and military personal, as part of an extended-range plan to destroy Israel.
In March 2021, Hezbollah chief Nasrallah looked directly into the camera and told the world that if we had “accurate (precision-guided) missile factories, we would tell everyone with “pride.” But “we don’t have anything of the kind.” On the contrary, Alma has overwhelming documentation of weapons depots, launching pads, and missile factories throughout Lebanon and Syria.
It should make everyone pause because they are embedded in civilian neighborhoods. Especially in Beirut, Hezbollah hides missile launching sites and rockets within heavily populated civilian areas. Using Wikimapia, an open-content collaborative mapping project site on the internet, Alma exposed rocket launching sites next to Al Rassoul Al Azam Hospital. Another production site for Iranian Fatah-110 missiles is located in the Ghobeiry neighborhood, near the Lebanese Ministry of Labor, another civilian facility. Prime Minister Netanyahu also exposed missile factories in the Alelichi neighborhood under four seven-story residential buildings’ housing foundations, next to a medical center and church. In the Shuifat area, a missile factory is hidden under civilian housing and is next to a mosque.
Can you imagine the international uproar if Israel, in retaliation for a Hezbollah attack against Israeli civilians, struck a mosque or apartment house from where the missiles were fired?
In January, Alma Research and Education Center published a connection between two military facilities and a Lebanese charity. The Islamic Shi’ite Waqf Committee in Burj al Barajneh is complicit in hiding Hezbollah’s Fatah 110 missile launch sites within Beirut. The Hussein Maktabi High School and the Burj al Barjneh-America Football Stadium are situated next to missile sites. Launchers and missiles were found not only next to the hospital but next to the Al Aytam petroleum facility, many restaurants, and the Ansar football (soccer) field.
The local Lebanese council members demanded the Lebanon Armed Forces investigate the use of a hospital by Hezbollah, but the LAF claimed there was nothing there. They are simply intimidated by Hezbollah. The local council members resigned in protest, not wanting to be blamed if another massive Beirut port explosion occurred under their watch.
Iran and Hezbollah have taken notice of Alma’s embarrassing exposés. The research center in Galilee is now in the Islamist’s crosshairs, literally. Hezbollah made public the exact coordinates of Alma’s research and educational facility in Galilee, where Congress members often visit. Alma has been cyber-at-tacked multiple times by Iran and its proxies.
This is what Hezbollah posted on its page: “Who is Alma? The Zionist Alma Center is an educational and research center dedicated to fabricating security lies on the northern borders of occupied Palestine and educating Zionist opinion-makers, research centers, academia, and others on how to make innocent civilians a military target in war.”
Nasrallah said, “Hezbollah points the finger of blame and repeated claims, that Alma is nothing more than a branch of the Israeli government.” In reality, Alma is independent and receives no funding from the IDF. Scapegoating to deflect your deficiencies is a tried and true formula of Islamist regimes. Facts are inconvenient problems when you have brainwashed those who have trusted you to protect them, and you not only fail to deliver but put them in harm’s way by using your people as human shields.
Why is Hezbollah taking this so seriously? In part, the information Alma exposes is damaging, as it justifies Israel’s repeated attacks to thwart the Iranian missile threat. But even more critical is that Hezbollah’s strength is that it receives the support of the Shiite population. If it loses the people’s help, its legitimacy could crumble. Exposing missiles and launchers next to schools, hospitals, residential neighborhoods, and sports facilities have struck a nerve with Hezbollah. They know that this is a line in the sand that the local population may not stand for as it purposely endangers their families and neighborhoods.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi has made clear that Hezbollah’s human shield strategy doesn’t grant Iran’s Hezbollah proxy immunity against future attacks. Israel will attack legitimate military targets as long as the military advantage outweighs the civilian loss. And yes, this is according to international law. In response, Nasrallah has said there is no difference between Israeli civilians and soldiers, an old story first told by the Palestinians to justify terrorist attacks on Israeli innocents.
Hezbollah and Iran are banking on winning a propaganda war against Israel. The global community would judge Israel harshly if more Lebanese are killed than Israeli civilians, a cynical battle of moral equivalence.
In a future Israeli northern war, Iranian-controlled militias that have partially withdrawn from Syria could quickly return to Israel’s Golan border in great numbers if the border gets hot. Missiles could fly this time from not only Lebanon but Syria, Iraq, and even Yemen.
Israel knows it will have to strike fast before the diplomatic fallout constrains its efforts, as the Israeli people who will suffer terribly will demand an overwhelming response, knowing the Lebanese and Syrian human shields will be paying the price.
Israel is worried that if the US rejoins the JCPOA, sanctions relief will directly flow to Iran’s proxies. That will increase the chance for war. The Biden administration should hold fast to sanctions no matter how immovable the Iranians are on the JCPOA, especially if they want to minimize the chances for a northern Israeli war with Iran and its proxies. At the very least, the sanctions against Iran for missiles and terror will be maintained.
In 2017, Congress passed the bipartisan Taylor Force Act (TFA) to put an end to the Palestinian Authority (PA) practice of using US taxpayers’ dollars to finance “Pay for Slay,” a policy rewarding terrorists and family members of imprisoned and deceased terrorists. The legislation’s clearly expressed goal is to deny the PA funding until it stops their program of incentivizing and paying for the murder of civilians.
The bill was named after an American Army veteran who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan and was killed by a Palestinian terrorist while visiting Israel. The PA media called his killer a “martyr,” and he was venerated throughout the Palestinian territories.
The Taylor Force Act requires the Biden State Department to issue a report to Congress for Acts of Terrorism. Despite the report’s conclusion that the PA “has not terminated payments for acts of terrorism to any individual (and) has also not taken proactive steps to counter incitement to violence against Israel,” the administration’s report states that the “Biden-Harris Administration has made clear its intent to restart assistance to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.”
Which is to say, they intend to ignore the continued support of terrorism and resume supplying the money.
The Biden administration claims it can restore funding to the PA without violating the TFA. It claims its goal is to provide humanitarian assistance, rebuild trust with the Palestinians that was undermined by the Trump administration, economically stabilize the government while advancing the moribund peace process with Israel.
The Trump administration cut off funding to the PA and UNWRA, the UN agency that financially supports descendants of Palestinian refugees. The Biden administration is also planning as a goodwill gesture to reverse Trump’s decision to close the PLO / PA office in Washington, which was done to give more consequence to their continuing to incite and pay for terrorism.
The State Department report is clear enough; it says the “PA expressed its intention to expend approximately $151.6 million in payments to convicted prisoners, administrative detainees, and former prisoners (and) expressed its intention to expend approximately $191 million in support of families of deceased Palestinians referred to as ‘martyrs’ by the PA.” In November 2020, PA President Mahmoud Abbas said they would “remain loyal to the souls of martyrs, the blood of injured, and the sufferings of prisoners… we will not abandon them.”
The perverse incentive used by the PA is that the more gruesome and worse the attack, the more money the imprisoned “martyr” and his family receive through the PA’s Martyr’s Fund. The PA spends nearly $350 million per year on Pay for Slay, but just $220 million for its other welfare programs for the rest of its citizens.
In Washington today, everything is seen through a political lens. In 2017, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer said, “Abbas has to stop making payments to terrorists and their families, and all elected officials should call them out.” Will Schumer, now majority leader, challenge the president of his party to keep the pressure on the Abbas and enforce the law? Or will he go along with spinning some words to fashion a legal loophole to allow money to flow to the PA? The PA would like to create a legal fiction by distributing the money through the PLO, Abbas being both the president of the PA and head of the PLO.
For the first time in 16 years, the Palestinian people will be voting for a new president and parliament. The list of potential candidates is not promising if you are looking for moderation. The leading candidates try to outdo one another with their non-conciliatory rhetoric and incitement of violence.
The Biden administration should learn from prior administrations’ failures. America giving the PA carrots without reciprocal concessions has never been fruitful. As surely as the sun rises in the east, giving up leverage for nothing gets you nowhere with the PA/PLO.
The administration needs to uphold the Taylor Force Act.
How can a democratic nation fight and defeat asymmetric enemies in the 21st century?
Previously published in the Jerusalem Report.
by Dr. Eric R. Mandel
The recent International Criminal Court decision to investigate Israel for “war crimes” in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) highlights not only the hypocrisy of the international community’s anti-Israel bias but the difficulty of militarily responding to terrorists who play by no rules.
Can America and Israel ever receive a fair hearing in analyzing the complexity and legality of their military actions against asymmetric actors? Especially when international bodies like the UN Human Rights Council are dominated by some of the worst human rights abusers in the world. These anti-American and anti-Zionist organizations have become weaponized political instruments in a war of lawfare against the US and the Jewish nation.
Israel faces asymmetric threats from Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iranian-controlled militias in Syria and Iraq. America has at least a 40-year history of fighting non-state actors in the Middle East – from the Iranian-orchestrated bombing of the US Embassy in Beirut to one of the worst asymmetric actors, Islamic State.
Israel’s dilemma is that what the US did to ISIS, with civilians embedded within its terrorist network, would not be tolerated by a world with double standards for the Jewish state. Israel will continually be delegitimized for its response to attacks from civilian areas, where its enemy cynically uses civilians as human shields.
Proportional responses are a matter of ongoing debate in this murky environment. Let’s be clear: “Proportionate” does not mean that if Hezbollah or Hamas sends 100 missiles indiscriminately into Israeli civilian communities, Israel should be expected to send 100 missiles into Palestinian or Lebanese communities. That is immoral and would never even be considered by any democracy, especially Israel or the US.
Articulating a policy on what constitutes a proportional response in asymmetric warfare is both in American and Israeli interests. This past February, the US struck Iranian-controlled weapons depots in Syria in retaliation for an attack on American soldiers at a US base near the Erbil international airport. One American soldier was injured, but 22 Iranian militiamen of the terrorist organizations Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada were killed, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Is that proportionate or disproportionate?
According to Pentagon spokesman John Kirby, “The strikes were necessary to address the threat and proportionate to the prior attacks.”
What is not acknowledged by critics is that it is well within the bounds of international law to retaliate even if the number of casual ties turns out to be more than were incurred, especially if the enemy deliberately uses civilians’ lives for propaganda purposes.
When civilians are inadvertently killed in homes where missiles are stored or whose living room is used as an entrance for an attack tunnel, is it still legal to attack those homes as long as you try to minimize civilian casualties? How do you cope when your intelligence finds kindergartens or hospitals used by terrorist organizations to store weapons or mount operations against your civilians? Israel has called off many operations, walking the fine line between a nation’s obligation to protect its civilians and its moral responsibility to minimize danger to the enemy’s non-combatants.
What is a proportionate response? It behooves Israel, the US and all Western nations not to wait until after civilians are killed in confronting an enemy, but to clearly state what proportionality is, and in a very public way.
Proportionality is wholly misunderstood by democratic governments, the press and the public. It is not the number of causalities that determines proportionality but the necessity of the military action balanced against the potential civilian loss.
As Victor Davis Hanson said, “Every Hamas unguided rocket is launched in hopes of hitting an Israeli home and killing men, women, and children. Every guided Israeli air-launched missile is targeted at Hamas operatives, who deliberately work in the closest vicinity to women and children.”
According to Human Rights Watch, no fan of Israel, for a specific attack on a military objective to be lawful, it must discriminate between combatants and civilians. The expected loss of civilian life or property cannot be disproportionate to the attack’s anticipated military gain.
Does Israel take care to avoid civilian casualties, even when they are purposely placed in harm’s way?
Asa Kasher, the co-author of the first IDF Code of Ethics, said, “We can’t separate the terrorist from his neighbors. The terrorists have erased the difference between combatants and non-combatants. They operate from within residential areas. They attack civilians. The world doesn’t have a clue what proportionality is. Proportionality is not about numbers.”
According to international law, the question of proportionality is whether the military benefit justifies the collateral damage. As for B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty, all have double standards. For them, there is the poor, pitiful side and the strong side. Testimony that comes from the pitiful side is taken at face value. They think it is immoral to give priority to the defense of the citizens of your state over the protection of the lives of the neighbors of the terrorists.”
The number of casualties, civilian or combatant, is not a determinate for proportionality. War crimes and proportionality are for those who target civilians, are indiscriminate in their attacks, or cause disproportionate civilian loss. Israel does not target civilians, but you would not know that from reading European newspapers or reports from so-called human rights organizations in which body counts determine proportionality.
Jeffery Goldberg, writing in 2014, hit the nail on the head in describing terrorist actors. “Hamas is trying to get Israel to kill as many Palestinians as possible. Dead Palestinians represent a crucial propaganda victory for the nihilists of Hamas. It is perverse but true. It is also the best possible explanation for Hamas’s behavior because Hamas has no other plausible strategic goal here.” This is the strategy of Hamas, Iran, Hezbollah and ISIS.
As Middle East analyst, British Col. (ret) Richard Kemp said, “Of course innocent civilians are killed in every war; war is chaotic and confusing, and mistakes are frequent, but mistakes are not war crimes.”
The problem is that the international community judges a disproportionate response by a body count. A democracy like Israel will always lose because its asymmetric enemy uses its citizens as human shields, hoping to demonize Israel and deter legitimate use of force.
A few years ago, I spoke to the international medical director for Syrian refugees living in Lebanon, who told me that in the 300 villages he had visited in southern Lebanon, there was not one where missiles were not placed in civilian homes. This man was no Zionist.
All of this came to the fore in February when the ICC ruled that it is under its jurisdiction to investigate Israel for war crimes for its past military activity in the Gaza Strip. Also, it wants to determine if settlements in Judea and Samaria also constitute war crimes against the Palestinians.
The ICC is also supposedly looking into the potential war crimes of Hamas. Yet, it seems morally perverse to equate Hamas, a designated terrorist entity that indiscriminately targets Israeli civilians while using human shields to induce Israeli retaliation, with a democratic nation that tries as much as any other military on earth to minimize enemy civilian causalities. I have witnessed this firsthand along the Gaza border.
The three-judge panel ruling in favor of investigating Israel in 2021 is a far cry from former chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo, who said in 2006 that the ICC’s Rome Statute “permits belligerents to carry out proportionate attacks against military objectives, even when it is known that some civilian deaths or injuries will occur.”
The goal of Hamas and Hezbollah is to induce Israel to kill their civilians for political and diplomatic gain. Knowing international arbiters act only as bean counters plays right into their hands.
Whether from the north or south, Israel’s next war will again feature the use of human shields. This time it will be on a massive scale, with the inevitable international condemnation. Lt.-Col. Sarit Zehavi’s ALMA think tank, with the best expertise on Israel’s northern border, has documented many precision-guided missile factories purposely placed in civilian neighborhoods, next to schools, gas companies, and recreational facilities. It takes a herculean effort to fight UN officials and progressive media outlets who don’t hide their bias against Israel, choosing civilian body counts as their weapon to delegitimize Israel, knowing full well that Israel goes to extraordinary lengths to minimize civilians’ causalities.
Since the term “disproportionate” has been politicized and misused, it is appropriate to ask if an overwhelming response can be legal and justified if it acts as a deterrent to further attacks against your civilian population? What if it is the only effective deterrent against an asymmetric enemy that doesn’t play by international conflict rules, strategizing that it will not be on the receiving end of more missiles than it sends?
Can a case be made for a disproportionate response? Yes, it is called the Powell Doctrine and, in the long run, can decrease casualties by deterring the enemy. According to the late Charles Krauthammer’s interpretation of the doctrine: “The key to success in a military conflict is the use of overwhelming force. For decades the US had followed a policy of proportionality: restraint because of fear of escalation. If you respond proportionately, you allow the enemy to set the parameters… you grant him the initiative.”
In 2006’s Second Lebanon War, Israel’s alleged use of disproportionate force deterred Hezbollah for nearly 16 years. Yet just two year later, the international community ganged up on Israel after Operation Cast Lead in 2008, alleging excessive force constituting war crimes that culminated in the infamous but now discredited and retracted Goldstone Report. The current ICC investigation against Israel for war crimes in 2014 is a continuation of the diplomatic war to discredit Israel and undermine its right to exist like every other nation in the world.
So what can US President Joe Biden’s administration do? It is in America’s interest to protect Israel and itself, so it shouldn’t wait until missiles fly in the next inevitable war. Being proactive before the next war, articulating an American policy on proportionality, would protect both your ally and yourself.
Sooner or later, the US will also be on the docket of the ICC for war crimes. In any war, bad things happen, and yes, war crimes occur. The difference is that for America and Israel, they are far and few between, are legitimately investigated, and punishment is meted out when warranted. Just ask the soldiers in Israeli or American military prisons.
The international community’s goal is to redefine proportionality and tar Israel and America by isolated incidents for political gain. Don’t be misled. Both nations follow the rule of law that is guided by their democratic values.
Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the U.S. Senate, House and their foreign-policy advisers. He is a columnist for “The Jerusalem Post” and a contributor to i24TV, “The Hill,” JTA and “The Forward.”