Category Archives: Israeli – Palestinian Conflict

After Abbas; The Coming War of Palestinian Succession

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Report, the magazine of The Jerusalem Post}

The advantage of a new year is that it offers us an opportunity to understand better the previous year, especially one like 2020 with such extreme highs and lows. For Israel and the world, the pandemic represented a low point that we are all still trying to navigate. In contrast, the normalization agreements with Arab states represented a groundbreaking high to build upon in the new year. Israel’s third and hopefully last lockdown and its stellar vaccine program mean the light at the end of the tunnel to end their pandemic nightmare. Going forward, the new diplomatic agreements have the possibility of reshaping the Middle East for generations, leading to prosperity and stability for Israel and its Arab neighbors in the years to come.

For all of its possibilities, 2021 may still hold even more uncertainty and potential risks than 2020. The most significant security threat for Israel is President Biden’s promise to rejoin the Iranian nuclear agreement (JCPOA). The risk that a northern war with Iran could begin with the killing of an Israeli soldier by Hezbollah, or an over-zealous Iranian-directed response to an Israeli pre-emptive attack, is always on the minds of Israeli security and military strategists.

But Israel’s next major security crisis that seems to fly under the radar of American Middle East analysts is the possibility of the quick and unexpected demise of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The handwriting has been on the wall for some time with lots of false calls that the ailing octogenarian President has one foot in the grave. Abbas is a chain-smoking 83-year-old with significant heart disease who always has a doctor at his side, hidden as a security team member.

Even if Abbas lives on and runs for re-election, the result could favor his nemesis Hamas, as it did in the last election nearly sixteen years ago. The Biden administration should remember that an election alone does not make for democracy, certainly not without the rule of law, freedom of the press and speech, and tolerance for other people and their religions. According to the NY Times, the announcement of elections is “viewed by analysts as a bid to lift his standing with the (incoming) Biden administration.” That could backfire if the results don’t go his way.

A December 2020 Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research Center poll revealed that most Palestinians do not believe Hamas or Fatah would accept the results of an election this spring if they were on the losing side. Over half of Palestinians do not believe the election would a fair or free. A prescription for a civil war whether President Abbas runs again or not.

Suppose tomorrow Abu Mazen passes or there is a contested election. In that case, the potential fight for Palestinian leadership succession could ignite a war between rival Fatah factions that could spill over into Israeli settlements and the nation’s heartland. Not only will factions of Fatah clash, but its bitter Hamas rival will view the chaos as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to overthrow the Fatah led Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, as it did in Gaza during the 2007 coup.

Even if Abbas lives on, a Palestinian election this year as planned could again favor Hamas as it did in the last election 15 years ago. In the crazy world of the Middle East, Hamas, a branch of the world’s leading Sunni Islamist organization (Muslim Brotherhood), receives financial support from Iran’s Persian Shiite Islamists. They would love nothing better than to destabilize Israeli security and place a compliant proxy in Ramallah. “My enemy’s enemy is my friend,” is an apropos description.

The Biden administration should remember that an election alone does not make for democracy, certainly not without the rule of law, freedom of the press and speech, and tolerance for other people and their religions.

Just as Israel is planning for the inevitable transition in Iran when the aging Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei passes from the scene, it must also prepare for the consequences of a chaotic transition within the Palestinian Authority with the changing of the guard. It could ignite a Third Intifada (uprising) with its anti-Zionist participants, Fatah, Hamas, or Islamic Jihad, taking advantage of the chaos to attack Israel.

The cast of characters to succeed Abbas is overwhelmingly a roster of former terrorists, corrupt officials, and long-term party hacks, who will be vying with each other to show who can be more extreme in their approach to confronting Israel. Corruption, violence, and maximal demands will almost certainly be part of any Palestinian candidate’s election platform. No one will win by being conciliatory or pragmatic.

Unlike the Gulf states that have come to terms with Israel’s existence, the Palestinian rhetoric will return to the familiar playbook of scapegoating Israel to explain their predicament. The hard work to prepare the Palestinian people for moderation and explaining there will be no right of return to Israel is something no Palestinian leader can ever utter at this time unless he wants to be assassinated.

Will the next Palestinian leader be part of the last generation of Arafat sycophants, a placeholder until a more consequential leader can be found, or will the playing field shift towards Islamist rule and Gaza style radicalization? If Hamas wins a Palestinian election and takes control of the West Bank, it would be a game-changing nightmare for Israeli security services and the nearly half a million Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria (West Bank).

Unfortunately, the pickings are slim. The most likely non-Hamas candidates include Mohamed Dahlen, Mohamed Shtayyeh, Majid Faraj, Jibril Rajoub, and Marwan Barghouti, a convicted murderer.

Mohamed Dahlen is, in many ways, the most interesting. He taps into the anger of the disgruntled and abandoned Palestinians, especially those in the refugee camps. He was thrown out of Fatah and forced into exile by Abbas, seeking refuge in Abu Dhabi. Before that, he was in charge of PA security services in Gaza, when in 2007 Hamas handed Gaza-based PA loyalists a one-way ticket out from Gazan rooftops. After becoming persona non grata in Fatah, he reportedly was close to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed and was allegedly supportive of facilitating Israel’s normalization agreements with the Gulf state.

A 2020 Haaretz article by Amira Hess asked, “Is Abbas Rival Mohammed Dahlan the Secret Broker of the Israel-UAE Deal? Rumors say Dahlan, adviser to UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, acted as middleman. He is also a favorite of the Israelis and the Americans, who are planning to crown him the next Palestinian leader.”

This could also simply be a strategic move on Dahlan’s part, as he knows he will need the financial backing of the UAE to take power and control the Palestinian security forces. According to the Times of Israel, “Dahlan has spun a web of political and financial connections all over the Arab world: Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and most recently Jordan. He owns a great deal of property and also has connections in Gaza and the West Bank (mainly in the refugee camps).” Although no Israeli politician would publicly discuss who their choice for the next PA President would be, Avigdor Lieberman stated his preference for Dahlen a few years ago.

Economist and current Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh is a frontrunner to lead the Palestinian Authority, PLO, and Fatah, the three titles both Arafat and Abbas held. He has the right credentials as a supporter of the BDS movement to delegitimize Israel and was a vocal supporter of ending security coordination with Israel.

Who would Israel want? Many security officials would be satisfied with the 57-year-old Maj.-Gen. Majed Faraj, the Palestinian intelligence service head. He works well coordinating operations against Hamas operatives in the West Bank, making sure the territories continue to be stable. He was allegedly the target of a Hamas assassination attempt a few years back when he traveled with the previous Prime Minister.

In the category of old-time corrupt cronies is Jibril Rajoub, the former head of Palestinian Security Forces and now the head of the Palestinian Football Association, a position he hopes to leverage for support among young Palestinians.

The last time Abbas seemed on death’s doorstep, the presumptive leading candidate was Mahmoud Aloul, Abbas’s Fatah deputy, the “right-hand man of terrorist Abu Jihad.” His strong resume includes Israeli soldiers’ abduction in Lebanon and ransoming them for thousands of Palestinian prisoners.

According to previous polls, the most popular figure among Palestinians is Marwan Barghouti, a terrorist serving five consecutive life sentences. Not only was he the favored candidate to succeed Abu Mazen, but despite being part of Fatah and the PLO, he has allegedly, while in prison reached a meeting of the minds with Hamas, reaffirming that the primary goal is first to destroy the Jewish state.

How will the new Biden administration, sympathetic to Palestinian aspirations for a state, respond to the transition of Palestinian leadership? Will it revert to the see no evil approach of Bill Clinton when he ignored Arafat’s direct involvement in terrorism after the Oslo Accords? Will the Biden administration simply use the Obama template to pressure Israel, viewing Israel as the illegitimate occupier of the rightful Palestinian victims’ land? Or will the new administration judge the new Palestinian leadership by what it says and how it acts, likely corrupt and anti-Semitic? With so many new administrative appointees being former Obama officials, it is a safe bet that their spots will not change, remaining tied to previously failed understandings of Palestinian aspirations.

Israel is already wary because the Biden administration is looking to create a mechanism to bypass Congress’ Taylor force legislation that compels America to stop funding the Palestinian Authority until it ends its support and incentivization of terror. The next Israeli government will be a center-right, perhaps even more to the current government’s right, that will inevitably clash with the new Biden administration. Yet privately, Israeli security officials want the US to find ways to fund the PA security forces as the best choice for continued stability and cooperation.

Will the next Palestinian leader be more radical than Abbas? Abbas was no angel. His doctoral thesis defended Holocaust denial, and at the 2018 Palestinian National Council, he said Jews in Europe were massacred for centuries because of their “social role related to usury and banks.” Even the ordinarily sympathetic New York Times editorial said, “Let Abbas’s vile words be his last as Palestinian leader.” Yet he did work with Israel and avoided starting another Intifada, something not to be minimized.

Israel may not be so lucky with the next Palestinian leader, even if he is from Fatah, not Hamas. America must remember that our national interests require us to do everything we can to keep the Levant quiet while fostering the rapprochement between Arab states and Israel. American support to encourage an early Palestinian election would be the wrong strategic choice for the region.

Still, it may not have a choice, as Abbas’s departure from the scene from natural causes may create an unstable situation in an instant, even without an election. This reality requires prioritizing pre-emptive planning by the Biden administration in conjunction with the Israeli government and Arab states to manage the situation and not be just reactive. Israel’s temptation is to be focused on putting all of its energies into influencing the Biden approach in rejoining the JCPOA. Israel can walk and chew gum at the same time. It can prioritize Iran while also coordinating its response and contingencies if the struggle for Palestinian Supremacy occurs sooner rather than later.

The writer is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of the US Senate, House of Representatives, and their foreign policy advisers. He is Senior Editor for Security at The Jerusalem Post/The Jerusalem Report. His work appears in The Hill, RealClearWorld, Defense News, JTA, JNS, Thinc., the Forward, and Israel Hayom, among others.

Democratic Think Tanks on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

{Previously published by The JNS}

If you want to know what the incoming Biden administration thinks about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, read the analysis of Democratic think tanks. A new report from like-minded center-left think tanks one year in the making, “A New U.S. Strategy for the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” recommends a fresh approach, as it does not foresee a resolution in the short term. What makes it particularly noteworthy is that it was written by senior analysts of think tanks that are the most influential and respected by Democrats in Congress and the incoming Biden foreign-policy team. The report was written by Ilan Goldenberg, Michael Koplow and Tamara Cofman-Wittes, longtime Mideast policy pundits from the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, the Israel Policy Forum (IPF) and the Brookings Institute.

IPF policy director Michael Koplow said, “The approach the U.S. has taken for a quarter-century… isn’t going to work until the parties themselves indicate they’re ready to dive in … most of the successful breakthroughs have come when the U.S. comes in at the end, not when we’re initiating.” They correctly conclude that there is almost no chance for final-status talks at this time.

Many non-partisan observers of the conflict argued years ago that American-mediated interventions focused on land for peace was not the path likely to lead to two states for two peoples. In part, this is because it ignores more fundamental problems, especially the Palestinian demand for an unconditional “right of return” of descendants of refugees. This goal is not as some Middle East analysts claim—merely a bargaining chip for future negotiations—but something imprinted on the Palestinian people from the first time they attend a school or pray at a mosque.

In a Haaretz interview, the authors called “for a fundamental rethink of how the United States approaches the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It urges America to avoid actively harmful high-profile diplomatic initiatives in favor of tangible actions that would lead to diplomatic and on-the-ground improvements.” This is welcome if surprising news, as experts who previously recommended a ground-up economic approach were routinely disparaged by many of the writers’ ideological travelers, believing that it favored Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s goal to delay creating a Palestinian state.

The report should be applauded for acknowledging that the current situation is not fertile ground for significant change, recommending slow-walking any new American diplomatic initiatives. However, diving deeper into the report reveals too many assumptions and recommendations to eventually resolve the conflict that ignores its root causes. The writers’ beliefs seem stultified in a strategy created a generation ago that never led to a resolution. It does not fully appreciate how profoundly the region has changed, as much of the Arab world has now ended the Palestinian veto that prevented relations with Israel unless Palestinian demands were met in full. This was most evident when the Arab League in 2020 refused to condemn the Abraham Accords or any nations that normalized relations with Israel.

As JNS editor Jonathon Tobin wrote, “While some American liberals have stubbornly ignored the evidence … (the) Arab and Muslim world understands that the Palestinians have no intention of making the kind of compromises that would enable the implementation of a two-state solution … their political culture is so inextricably linked to their century-old war on the Jews that such flexibility appears to be impossible.”

Koplow underestimates the ground-breaking change of normalization, seeing its primary importance through the prism of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “It’s appropriate to applaud these agreements, but also to figure out how they can redound back into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, on both sides.” He fails to grasp that the best way to resolve the conflict is to marginalize the Palestinians until they give up their unrealistic demands. This includes ending the demand for millions of descendants of refugees to return to Israel, refusing to sign an end of conflict agreement to end all outstanding claims and unambiguously recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. None of these fundamental issues is addressed in their analysis.

The writers follow the Obama playbook, recommending punishing Israel and seeing the Palestinians almost entirely as victims. “The United States should make clear that it will not shield Israel from international consequences,” as when Obama torpedoed the only mutually agreed U.N. resolutions between the parties, UNSC Resolution 242 and 338, orchestrating the passage of UNSC 2334. The resolution undermined Israel’s right to defensible borders as envisioned by the authors of UNSC 242. Israel needs to retain some parts of the West Bank, such as the Jordan River Valley, to remain secure. UNSC 2334 prejudged the conflict’s resolution with a politically motivated anti-Israel reading of international law, making any Israeli presence over the 1949 Armistice line (1967 line) a war crime.

The same faulty reasoning plagued previous administrations—from Clinton to Bush to Obama—seeing Israel’s occupation of the disputed territories as the primary problem without mentioning the Israeli concessions in 1967, 2000, 2001 and 2008 negotiations. The real issue is they fail to address the Palestinian rejection of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state in any territorial dimension.

Center-left think tanks too often ignore the generational brainwashing of the Palestinian people into thinking Israel will disappear if they persist, while Jews have no right to a millimeter of the land. It is a prime reason so many attempts have failed to resolve the conflict over the years. The dream of eradicating Israel has become part of the Palestinian DNA emanating from their mosques, government officials, media and school curriculums. Even Norway, a staunch defender of the Palestinians, recently cut funding to an NGO supporting incitement in Palestinian schools. The worst the authors can say about the Palestinian Authority is that it is “opaque and unaccountable” instead of a more accurate description as “corrupt and a financial supporter of terrorism.” Rewriting history and moral equivalence doesn’t advance American interests or create stability in the region.

The authors state that “the United States should take immediate steps to address the humanitarian crisis and economic challenges facing the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza. Part of this effort should involve the United States restarting its economic assistance programs to the Palestinian people and funding of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), both of which were cut off in the past four years.” Israel knows it is in their interest to help the Palestinian people, but these recommendations without context mislead readers by omitting the sound reasons for funding suspension.

American law (the Taylor Force Act) passed on a bipartisan basis, compels the United States to cut funding to the P.A. because hundreds of millions of dollars a year of U.S. taxpayer dollars finance the P.A.’s support and incentivization of terrorism by rewarding convicted terrorists in jail and their immediate family. There is similar Israeli legislation.

As for America’s decrease in funding to UNWRA, this was done because its raison d’être is against resettling Palestinian descendants of refugees. This flies in the face of the authors’ stated desire for a two-state solution. Restoring funding to UNWRA should occur only if its position, aiming to bring refugees’ descendants to Israel, ends.

The authors ask America to “renew ties with the Palestinian people and their government and demonstrate its commitment to independent ties with the Palestinian.” This “balanced” approach, treating Palestinians and Israelis on equal footing, undermines American security interests that need a strong and secure Israel. Demanding nothing of consequence from the Palestinians is a prescription for intransigence and violence. America can be a fair mediator even if its sympathies and interests lie with Israel.

Tamara Cofman Wittes told Haaretz, “We wanted to take a step back and look at all the core assumptions of American engagement on this issue.” Yet the report revealed no new understanding of the etiology of the conflict. They said, “Three core principles should drive U.S. policy, and the new president or secretary of state should take an early opportunity to articulate them to the world: first, a recognition that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations based on U.N. resolutions and broadly recognized international terms of reference—most importantly the concept of land for peace—remain the only means to achieve a permanent agreement between the parties.”

They fail to see that for the Palestinians, two states means one in the West Bank absent of Jews and a second binational state in present-day Israel with the Palestinian right to an unconditional return of refugees’ descendants—in other words, the destruction of the Jewish state by non-military means. Although they say their approach is new and the United States should step back from the conflict, their demand for “Immediate Actions to Rebuild U.S. Credibility” is Palestinian-centered. In the end, this is simply a repackaged plan that will not create a path to peace because it fails to acknowledge the obvious; it’s the Palestinians who have to change.

In the first six months of the new administration, expect President Joe Biden’s foreign-policy officials to be careful in their public statements, as they will have bigger fish to fry on the world stage. Still, it is more likely than not that they agree with this report’s thesis and the recommendations of “A New U.S. Strategy for the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.”

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.”

Why Palestinians can’t sign an end-of-conflict pact

Palestinian Arabs cannot sign an agreement that ends all claims and recognizes the right of a Jewish state to exist and live unmolested on land that was ever Muslim.

According to the usual international peace negotiators, everyone knows the end game to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, exactly what each party must concede for a final treaty. They say all that is needed is for Israel to withdraw to the 1967 lines with minor adjustments, with east Jerusalem as the capital of the new Palestinian state. If only Israel offered that, peace would reign.

But diplomats twist themselves into knots, finding ways to rationalize Palestinian intransigence, trying to explain away the fact that all those concessions were already offered to the Palestinian Authority in 2001 and 2008 and were soundly rejected. In 2008 the Israelis offered 94% of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) with land swaps to make up for the 6%, east Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state, while Israel even conceded giving up exclusive sovereignty of the Temple Mount, the Mount of Olives, and the City of David, not to mention billions in international investment in a new Palestinian state. The Palestinians only had to give up the right of return, sign “an end-of-conflict and end-of-claims” agreement for perpetuity and be demilitarized.

If the Palestinians’ goal was truly two states for two peoples, and they truly wanted an independent Palestinian state living side by side a Jewish state, as UNGA Resolution 181 called for, why has this conflict not been resolved?

A recent article in The Hill by Dennis Ross and David Makovsky, two veteran peace negotiators and advisers who should know better, referred to a “two-state solution” and a “viable two-state outcome” in their attack on the Trump peace plan. Those terms mean completely different things to the Palestinians than they do to Western negotiators.

To Palestinians, two states mean an Arab state in the West Bank and a binational state in Israel that will become Arab-ruled with time, because the Palestinians will never give up the right of return, as well documented in the new book The War of Return by Adi Schwartz and Einat Wilf, a former Knesset member from the Center-Left Independence and Labor parties. The Palestinian demand is that all Palestinian refugees and their descendants in perpetuity have the right to move into Israel at any time of their choosing. In other words, this is the demographic destruction of Israel as a Jewish state.

Western negotiators and politicians of both American political parties have never fully understood or let on that they understood what the Palestinians really want, believing the answer to bridge the divide was leaving any documents between the parties ambiguous, so both could claim victory.

The only logical approach to truly ending this conflict is to write the most clear, unambiguous and specific documents, with every possible “i” dotted and “t” crossed, so no party can ever claim it still has outstanding issues in the future. Even contingencies should be included in the agreement, with a mechanism to respond to any violations.

Why?

Because Palestinian Arabs cannot at the present time sign an agreement that ends all claims and sign an end-of-conflict resolution that recognizes the right of a Jewish state to exist and live unmolested on land that was ever Muslim. I brought this up with president Bill Clinton in 2004, a man who truly gave his all to solve the conflict. Surprisingly, despite his sincere personal investment in the conflict, he didn’t seem to appreciate the essential importance of signing an end-of-conflict resolution, but he did tell me that prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak insisted upon it, as did Ehud Olmert in 2008. This is the eternal blind spot of Western negotiators and American presidents who seem to just want a deal signed, and inexplicably believe ambiguity will build trust. That was the failure of the Oslo Accords, giving away tangible assets for unfulfilled promises.

Western peacemakers have claimed without a credible basis that acknowledging the Palestinian right to return is just a needed gesture for Palestinian dignity, and say that the Palestinians will never take advantage of it, knowing that only a token number of refugees can be allowed. Just listen to what Palestinian leaders from Yasser Arafat to Mahmoud Abbas say, that vehemently contradicts this.

There is no international right for the return of refugees, certainly not descendants of refugees. In fact every other refugee in the world aided by the UNHCR (UN High Commission for Refugees) is to be rehabilitated in the country where they received refuge. This is especially true for refugees from the 1948 War of Independence, who were active participants in the war to annihilate the Jewish inhabitants, joining five Arabs armies whose goal was the complete annihilation of the Jewish state. The most the pro-Palestinian world can argue is that UNGA Resolution 194 calls for the right of return. However as with all General Assembly resolutions it has absolutely no force of law.

If peacemakers truly want a sustainable peace, they have to acknowledge that Israel has legal rights over the 1949 armistice lines if an eventual deal includes land swaps. Just like with the refugee issue, if it is not completely spelled out, no matter what agreement is signed, Palestinians will always have a pretext to say Israel stole Palestinian land with land swaps, and once again, preach and prepare for a new war.

The pro-Palestinian Middle East Monitor said it the best. “Palestinians will continue to seek a just peace that will provide future generations with their birthright; their land will be returned, one way or another.” Naïve Westerners hear the words “just peace” and assume it means two states for two peoples. What it actually means is the unlimited right of return for every Palestinian forever to Israel, as no Palestinian government can give up an individual Palestinian descendant’s claim to be a displaced owner of what is now Israel.

The annexation debate has obscured the true paradigm of the conflict. The question is not if Israel annexes 30% of the West Bank, would it end the dream of a Palestinian state. The question to ask is, would the Palestinians accept the West Bank with land swaps that ensure Israel’s security, sign an end-of-conflict resolution and accept a Jewish state? The answer for the foreseeable future is no. This is not a territorial conflict or else this would have ended long ago.

If this hill for a comprehensive agreement is too high to climb at this time, so be it. What is needed is honesty, so a putative peace agreement is not just a recipe for fruitless concessions by Israel.

If all the Palestinians are capable of doing is negotiating a better status quo with more economic development and investment in exchange for nonviolence, then that should be the path for this generation.

The Trump peace plan or any other agreement will never have any staying power if it doesn’t include an end-of-conflict agreement, a recognition of two states for two peoples that clearly states that one of those states is Jewish, and an absolute end of any right for descendants of original Palestinian refugees to return to the State of Israel.

The writer is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political Information Network). He regularly briefs members of Congress and their foreign policy aides, as well White House advisers. He is the senior security editor for the Jerusalem Report/ Jerusalem Post, and writes for The Hill, JNS, JTA, RealClearWorld and Defense News.

Two States for Two Peoples Requires Recognizing Israel’s Legal Rights

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

Ten years ago, I was briefing a senator and her chief of staff about the complex nature of international law regarding the building of Israeli communities, i.e., settlements over the 1949 Armistice line (1967 Line or Green Line), in land claimed by the Palestinian Arab people as their future national home. They thanked me for new information, which surprised me, telling me that the leading pro-Israel groups almost never mention anything about settlements, not even the militarily essential ones in the Jordan River Valley that are supported by many Israelis. So I filled in the blanks.

Does Israel have any legal rights over the 1967 Line?

Is every Israeli settlement over the 1967 line a violation of the international law, including Judaism’s holiest site, the Western Wall?

What does international law say about settlement in non-populated areas of disputed territory acquired in a defensive war?

When I was a guest lecturer in a Middle East Studies class at a major university and when I began explaining what I thought was a straight-forward explanation of UNSC Resolution 242, the basis for all international agreements and negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, the Lebanese professor who invited me to speak told me that I mistranslated the text. I said the text said Israel was to withdraw from “territories” it captured during the 1967 Six Day War, the authors specifically leaving out the indefinite article “the” to imply it didn’t have to return from 100% of the occupied area.

The professor said the correct translation in Arabic was “the territories” meaning Israel must completely withdraw, so I retorted that it was written in English, citing the words of the authors of the resolution who explained that it was written purposely without “the,” as they never expected or required Israel to return to the indefensible borders of 1967. He was unpersuaded, but students who came up to me afterward thanked me for adding some gray to the black or white picture the professor had painted regarding Israel and the territories in question.

When US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently announced that Israeli settlements are not per se illegal, it touched off a political firestorm with partisans going into their corners citing international law without actually looking at the complexities of the issue or what a non-politicized version of international law actually says.

Whether it is wise for Israel to have their current settlement policy is a different question. But not differentiating between settlements based on security issues like the Jordan River Valley, or rather, as defined by the professor as any Jewish presence over the ‘67 line, which would include the Western Wall of the old Jewish quarter of Jerusalem, makes an eventual resolution of the conflict almost impossible.

Adding to the complexity was President Barack Obama’s parting shot at the end of his term to Prime Minister Netanyahu, with the American orchestration of UNSC Resolution 2334, which declared an Israeli presence of one centimeter over the 1967 line as a “flagrant violation of international law,” contradicting UNSC 242, and hardening the Palestinian position.

SO WHAT does international law actually say about the issue? A recent Democrat-penned letter that garnered more than 100 signatures cited a 1978 opinion by State Department legal counsel Herbert Hansell that said Israel’s settlements violate Article 49 of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, prohibiting the deportation of its civilian population into the disputed area.

What he chooses to ignore is that this prohibition was specifically written because of what the Nazis did during World War II, where they forcibly transferred their populations into occupied lands that they ethnically cleansed of Jews for colonization and for racial reasons. Comparing Israel’s settlement policy to a policy designed to prevent a recurrence of Nazi fascism is not only inaccurate but obscene.

According to Alan Baker, defenders of Israel’s settlement policy have international law on their side, citing Article 80 of the UN Charter, which memorialized the Balfour Declaration, the San Remo Declaration and the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine, granting Israel rights in today’s contested territories over the 1967 Line (West Bank or Judea and Samaria).

In addition, from 1949 to 1967, the area was claimed by Jordan, but the international community, with the exception of Pakistan and Britain, did not recognize that claim. Since the last legal stakeholder of the land was the Ottoman Empire, which had dissolved after World War I, the land was best described as disputed after Israel captured the territory during the Six Day War.

Why is this important even if you believe the eventual resolution of the conflict is two states for two peoples and an Israeli return to the 1967 lines with land swaps, which is what many of those who signed Congressional letter believe?

Because if Israel in a negotiated settlement with the Palestinian Authority is ceded any territory over the 1967 line, whether for defensive reasons or part of a land swap, it will always be viewed as a burglar returning only part of his ill-gotten gains, setting up a pretext for future generations of Palestinians to undermine any settlement in the future.

Israel’s legal rights over the 1967 line must be recognized for there to be a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Counterintuitive, yes, but considering the failures of all previous negotiations, it is something that should be championed for those who want both a Jewish state and an Arab state.The writer is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. Dr. Mandel regularly briefs members of the Senate, House, and their foreign policy advisers, as well White House advisers. He is a columnist for The Jerusalem Post, and a contributor to The Hill, i24TV, JTA, Defense Post, JNS, The Forward and has appeared in RealClearWorld.

Israel’s Self-Inflicted Black Eye

{Previously published in the JNS}

If Israel had better control of its foreign-policy public relations, lemonade could have been made out of lemons. Instead, the harsh critics of American mainstream media will now be able to depict Israel as being unable to tolerate criticism.

In the aftermath of Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s rejection of Israel’s offer for her to visit her ailing grandmother, which has completely exposed for all but the anti-Semite her real intentions, it’s important to step back and ask: Was Israel’s initial acceptance and then denial of the congresswomen’s visit to Israel a wise decision? What does it say about Israel’s public-relations strategies?

Brooke Goldstein of the Lawfare Project writing on Fox News said “Israel was wise to deny entry. … These freshmen Democratic congresswomen have built their brands on delegitimizing the Jewish state … (they) would have used a visit to Israel to give themselves an international platform to spew their hate.”

Her description of the congresswomen (Tlaib and Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar) may be accurate, but denying them entry seemed unwise. Yes, they intentionally misled Israel regarding their dates of entry as part of a ploy to maximize their media coverage, and their presence would have been a circus for the international media who delight in anything that paints Israel in a bad light.

But denying entry after Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer had said that the women would be allowed to enter the country out of respect for the dignity of the office they hold—and not their personal views or policies they advocate—has for many Americans who do not fully understand the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict turned them into sympathetic figures, despite their odious views.

It has deflected attention from the spotlight that could have been focused on them during their visit, revealing a deep stain of anti-Semitism, and highlighting the frustrations of dealing with a Palestinian leadership under Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas that turned down more than 100 percent of the disputed land and eastern Jerusalem as its capital in 2007, which was confirmed last year by chief P.A. negotiator Saeb Erekat.

This would have been a perfect opportunity for Israel to make the case that this conflict is not a territorial issue for this generation of Palestinians, but that it’s still an existential issue to destroy the Jewish state entirely.

If Israel had better control of its foreign-policy public relations, lemonade could have been made out of lemons. Instead, the harsh critics of American mainstream media will now be able to depict Israel as being unable to tolerate criticism.

Would it have made a difference?

Gil Troy writing in The Jerusalem Post in 2017 asked if Israel’s bad PR is its own fault. He wrote, “We need Israeli policies that are good, not policies to make Israel look good. … We haven’t explained ourselves well, yet our efforts are doomed. Anti-Semitism, the world’s longest … hatred, persists no matter how brilliant our arguments. … Anti-Zionism grew … during the Oslo peace process, when Israel was conceding territory.”

U.S. President Donald Trump’s advice to Israel to deny entry after Israel had said it would accept the two congresswomen was well-meant, but counterproductive. Israel should have politely rejected his advice, while thanking him for his extraordinary support of the Jewish state.

As Jonathan Tobin writing in JNS said, “This is a moment when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should have not only sought to establish a little distance between his government and the White House but also ignored the advice coming from the Twitter account of @realDonaldTrump. … Banning members of Congress, even anti-Semitic BDS supporters … is a grave mistake that will only help Israel’s foes.”

The president intentionally or not, interfered in Israeli politics during an election season, which will be counterproductive and a distraction from Israel’s real issues. This was an opportunity for Netanyahu to show some independence, while keeping the ever strained bipartisan U.S. support for Israel in Congress from being damaged.

As Herb Keinon of The Jerusalem Post wrote, “This will force Israel’s friends in the Democratic Party to condemn it, and it could impact on the positions presidential candidates will now take on Israel in the debates.”

The congresswomen’s trip was a no-win situation for Israel—a choice between bad or worse. However, Israel‘s vibrant democracy could have easily withstood these Israel-haters.

Was Israel’s action not to allow these women to visit Israel legal? Yes.

According to Professor Eugene Kontorovich  of the George Mason University School of Law, “As someone one who has argued that Israel should admit Omar and Tlaib, I must also say that the decision to bar them is legitimate. … Countries routinely deny visas to those with extremist views. The U.S. excludes people for ideologies fundamentally hostile to the U.S.”

But was it a wise decision? I think, on balance, not.

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.”

Israelis and Arabs Say One Thing in Public and Another Behind Closed Doors. Politicians and Pundits Need to Understand the Difference.

{Previously published in the JTA}

By the end of this year, my research and travels in the Middle East will have brought me through Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan and Kurdistan, as well as many visits to Capitol Hill.

What I’ve learned from security, defense and intelligence officials is this: When Israelis and Arabs talk off the record, what they say differs markedly from their public statements. America policymakers are too often unaware of what Israeli and Arab experts and official say behind closed doors, even to one another.

This may not come as much of a surprise, given the global diplomatic crisis that resulted from the 2010 Wikileak of diplomatic cables. But it does mean that the American public, not to mention elected officials, are often ignorant of the full breadth of information needed to understand the most important issues going on in the Middle East. 

As Jonathan Spyer, a leading Middle East analyst, told me after his most recent travels, “It’s very important for Western policymakers to be aware that leaderships and elites throughout the Arab world today find a great deal of common ground with Israel on the issues of the Iranian and Sunni Islamist threats.”

“To an increasing extent,” he continued, “they are also weary of Palestinian intransigence and see Israel as a model for successful development. Much of that, however, cannot be said openly by these leaders because this does not reflect the views of parts of the societies of the leaders in question, where Islamist and/or Arab nationalist sentiments continue to hold sway.”

Today, despite some public lip service to the Palestinian cause, the Sunni Arab world knows that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at most a “side issue.”

Incitement and scapegoating may have political advantages for authoritarian regimes, but it undermines forging people-to-people relationships and the acceptance of Israel as a permanent part of the Middle East.

I recently interviewed an Israeli military intelligence expert who had just returned from private meetings in Europe with Arab and EU officials. He told me that behind closed doors, their analysis of the Middle East, including Iran, is often light years away from the public rhetoric offered by European — and to a lesser extent, Arab Sunni government officials — to their citizens and the world at large. 

When politicians or pundits make foreign policy critiques, unaware of what is discussed privately between insiders in the Middle East, the public is misinformed.

Most Americans don’t realize that the conflicts of the Middle East are primarily tribal and religious in nature, and that the primary allegiance is not to modern states artificially constructed by the West 100 years ago, something Arabs and Israelis know all too well.

Too many Americans fail to realize this, but insiders know that if there were no Israel, the Shiites would still hate the Sunnis, Iran would still aspire to hegemony, Turkey would still be an unreliable NATO ally and Libya and Yemen would still be chaotic.

It is this American blind spot that attempts to recreate nation-states like Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, and undermines America’s ability to foster stability in nations where rule of law and the primacy of clan don’t follow a Western path. 

Some European officials, who vociferously defend the Iran nuclear agreement publicly, privately acknowledge the dangers of the Iranian revolutionary theocracy that acts against their values, from the hanging of gays to the Iranian complicity in the Syrian genocide, the ethnic cleansing of Sunnis in Iraq and Syria and the population transfer of Shiite families from Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan into Syria.

Europeans have long tried to have it both ways, appeasing illiberal Middle Eastern states and actors in the hope that terrorism won’t land on its shores, while rhetorically taking a value-based foreign policy position that ignores the worst players in the region while saving all of their criticism for the only democracy that shares their values.

My own work in Congress over the years has consisted of private, off-the-record briefings. In private meetings, when you are trusted by members and their foreign policy aides, conversations of substance can take place. Ideas and observations that normally wouldn’t see the light of day are discussed, which hopefully translates into a better-informed and nuanced policy proposals. 

Quantifying the success of private meetings is sometimes hard to judge. But when a leading member of the Senate uses my notes to prepare himself before going on “Meet the Press,” or I am asked for ideas for new legislation or for my opinion regarding pending legislation, I consider that a measure of success.

Unfortunately, we Americans are in our own echo chambers, not challenging ourselves to see the merits of other uncomfortable positions, afraid to express contrary points of view if they don’t reflect our party’s talking points. In our conversations, whether in Washington or on social media, you are defined as evil if you challenge a politically correct narrative that undermines the alleged victims of Western perfidy.

It is common today to unfriend people whose viewpoints do not corroborate one’s own world view. Removing oneself from the opportunity to engage in dialogue that conflicts with one’s own perspective makes it easy to delegitimize any differing viewpoints and creates an increasingly more insular social media community.

In Washington, I was in a closed-door meeting in Congress when a legislative aide told me that the member agreed with my analysis regarding Palestinian intransigence, corruption and funding of terrorists, but he had advised the member not to publicly express that opinion — it would endanger the member’s chances of moving up to a leadership position because it challenged the party’s current narrative.

On both sides of the aisle, I have often tried to bring offices together to work on shared interests in the Middle East, and more times than not, politics wins over policy. We are reluctant to upset the simplistic echo chambers we have created.

It would be illuminating for American policymakers if they could hear what is said privately about the Middle East among intelligence, security and defense officials. 

Not making an attempt to understand the Middle East beyond the talking points of like-minded sources is a prescription for America to get dragged into another Middle East war in the not-too-distant future.

When the gap between public policy statements and a fully informed politician is wide, the chances for miscalculation leading to dangerous policy recommendations greatly increases. The pieces of the Middle East puzzle do not fit into a Western frame, and we ignore this at our peril.

Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. Mandel regularly briefs members of the U.S. Senate, House and their foreign policy advisers. He is a regular columnist for The Jerusalem Post, and a contributor to i24TV, The Hill and the Forward.

What should be done with UNRWA?

{Previously published by The Jerusalem Post} 

Hady Amr, former Obama State Department deputy special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, wrote in The Hill that the administration’s defunding of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) undermines a “cornerstone of America’s support for stability in the Middle East and flagship of our values to provide for the most vulnerable… UNRWA is so in-sync with our (American) values that American citizens directly donate millions of dollars to UNRWA.”

While it is true that UNRWA provides important health services to Palestinian civilians, Amr chooses not to comment about the State Department designated Hamas group’s infiltration of UNRWA facilities in Gaza, or UNRWA teachers glorifying terrorism, or UNRWA refusing to take off its rolls the two million Palestinians living as full citizens of Jordan. He also ignored a 2013 UN audit that found UNRWA vulnerable to “misappropriation, graft and corruption,” while a Newsweek op-ed in 2016 asked, “Why Are American’s Paying for (UNRWA) Antisemitic Textbooks?”

UNRWA considers Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza as stateless refugees, despite the fact that they are already living in the land the international community says will be their eventual state. The problem is that the Palestinians living in the West Bank (Judea/Samaria) and Gaza, as their “Mass March of Return” clearly states, consider themselves refugees from today’s Israel within the 1949 armistice line, demanding an unlimited right of return that UNRWA’s mission advocates for and which would effect the demographic destruction of Israel.

According to James Lindsey, UNRWA’s own general council from 2000 to 2007, “More than two-thirds of the registered refugees have moved out of refugee camps and into the general population of the countries or areas in which they live.” Yet UNRWA still adds “10,000 new fifth- and sixth-generation refugees to its lists per month” according to the Institute of National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.

Stephen Rosen, writing in the Middle East Forum, said that the “‘Right of Return’ symbolized by UNRWA’s very existence, is a sacred issue to Palestinians.”

During a discussion last month with a current Middle East State Department official, I recommended that if you truly want to advance a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and not perpetuate it, you need to change UNRWA’s mandate allowing every descendant of an original Palestinian refugee from 1946 to 1948 to claim an eternal refugee status.

What must be clearly differentiated, but too often is treated as one issue, are UNRWA’s definition of refugees, which is counterproductive to resolving the Israeli Palestinian conflict, and the important humanitarian aid it provides, which as Amr and many in the IDF and within the Israeli government believe, is an essential stabilizing force. Let’s leave aside that much of this is self-inflicted by Hamas rule in Gaza, and by 70 years of discrimination against Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and Syria

As happens so often with today’s hyperpolarized politics and Middle East analysis, the discussions about UNRWA are fraught with half-truths and historical revisionism.

According to a news article in the Washington Post, “Many UNRWA critics appear to believe incorrectly that UNHCR (the refugee agency for every other refugee in the world) does not recognize descendants of registered refugees as genuine refugees themselves. The two organizations have the same definition — giving assistance to those driven from their countries because of a well-founded fear of persecution, war or violence and to their descendants for as long as that status continues.”

This seems to be a half-truth. Although there are descendants of refugees other than Palestinians who are still counted as refugees, the vast majority of refugee populations throughout the world have decreasing populations of refugees over time, as the priority of UNHCR is to find a permanent home for the world’s refugees. Palestinians, on the other hand, have a perpetually growing refugee population, without a single descendant of a Palestinian refugee ever taken off the UNRWA roll.

Two million Palestinians have Jordanian citizenship but are still counted as full-fledged stateless refugees by UNRWA; they would not be considered refugees if they were part of UNHCR. These Palestinians have no “well-founded fear of persecution, war or violence.” In fact, Palestinians constitute the majority of the Jordanian population!

According to UNHCR, “Our ultimate goal is to find solutions that allow them to rebuild their lives. Many refugees cannot go home… UNHCR helps resettle refugees to a third country.”

UNRWA refuses to help any Palestinian resettle outside of Israel. It will only remove Palestinian refugee status voluntarily, which does not follow the UNHCR vision, but instead is in lockstep with the Palestinian Authority agenda that does not want a single Palestinian anywhere in the world taken off its census, which works directly against a resolution of the conflict. It is essential to those who wish to destroy the Jewish state that the “refugees” and their descendants not disappear from the news by becoming anything other than displaced persons, instead of living as citizens of Arab or other countries.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s office accused the Trump administration of “stripping millions of Palestinians of their refugee status” because it would negate the true agenda of the PA and Hamas, which can never accept a state of the Jewish people with full minority rights living in peace next to a totally Judenrein state of Palestine in today’s West Bank and Gaza.

If this weren’t the truth, then Abbas would have accepted the Israeli offer in 2008 for a Palestinian state on 100% of the territory with land swaps, east Jerusalem as its capital, and continued Muslim control of the Temple Mount.

There is also the hypocrisy of UN refugee agencies ignoring the millions of Jews descended from the 750,000 Jews who lived in Arab countries for millennia, who were expelled from their native lands in response to the creation of Israel.

Those Jews who had all their property confiscated by Arab governments aren’t counted by any UN agency, but an Arab migrant worker who came from outside the British Mandate area and happened to live for two years in Mandate Palestine between 1946 and 1948, is counted to this day as a refugee, as well as the hundreds of thousands of his descendants who are entitled to indefinite UNRWA services.

Emphasizing the absurdity and danger to American interests of continued funding of UNRWA without a change in its definition of refugees is indeed a step toward destabilizing the current unsustainable situation, a step away from funding the Islamist desire to destroy Israel, and a step toward a genuine peace.

Let the Palestinians have a normal economic life, exchanging productivity with their neighbors, including Israel, to everyone’s benefit, instead of maintaining a desolate state of war, propped up forever by foreign aid, with the corruption that it almost always entails. Palestinian “refugees” receive more aide than any other refugees in the world.

America can find another way to support legitimate humanitarian aid to Palestinian civilians, while insisting on reform of their anti-Israel, anti-peace, anti-American educational system.

Alternatively, the international community could also simply demand that Hamas stop firing its rockets against Israeli civilians over the internationally recognized Gaza-Israeli border and stop attacking the very checkpoints that bring humanitarian aid into Gaza. Israel would then happily open its borders to trade, give humanitarian help, set up desalination plants and move toward an equitable final resolution.

The writer, director of the Middle East Political Information Network, regularly briefs members of the US Senate, House and their foreign policy advisors. He is a regular columnist for The Jerusalem Post, and a contributor to i24TV, The Hill and The Forward.




What Palestinians Mean When They Talk About A ‘Two-State Solution’

{Previously Published by Forward.com}

At a recent campaign-style rally, President Donald Trump said that Israel is going to have to pay a “higher price” in future negotiations for his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The Palestinians, he added, “will get something very good, because it’s their turn next. Let’s see what happens.” Whether this was an off-the-cuff remark or preparation before his long-anticipated grand strategy to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this or a future administration will again be pressuring the parties to accept its version of a two state solution.

To American ears, the meaning of “two states” is unambiguously straightforward. The struggle between Israel and the Palestinians, to them, is a struggle between two indigenous peoples fighting over the same space of land in which they share a history. A fair solution, then, would be one in which Israel is the state of the Jewish people, and alongside it will exist a separate Palestinian State.

But in the Middle East, nothing is easily understood or obviously clear. American negotiators, many American supporters of Israel and Israelis themselves use the term “two states” believing its definition is self-explanatory and accepted by all parties — but this is far from the case.

To Palestinians on both sides of the green line, “two states” is a capitulation that would leave one small state, Palestine, for indigenous people, and one state, Israel, would be given to the oppressive foreign colonialists.

Shlomo Avineri, a well-respected Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the Hebrew University, outlined this view in a 2015 column for Haaretz:

“According to the Palestinians’ view, this is not a conflict between two national movements but a conflict between one national movement (the Palestinian) and a colonial and imperialistic [sic] entity (Israel). According to this view, Israel will end like all colonial phenomena — it will perish and disappear. Moreover, according to the Palestinian view, the Jews are not a nation but a religious community, and as such not entitled to national self-determination which is, after all, a universal imperative.”

Of course, the natural conclusion of this view is that the American conception of “two states for two peoples” is not a fair or an acceptable solution. From my extensive experience speaking with Palestinian leaders and laymen alike, I have come to learn that the Palestinian version of the two state solution leaves no room for a Jewish state.

This year, I lead an in-depth seminar in Israel trying to understand what Palestinian citizens of Israel want in the 21st century.

To almost all Palestinian citizens of Israel I spoke with, from Arab mayors to teachers, a state of the Jewish people is illegitimate in their eyes; Zionism is a colonizing enterprise of Jews stealing Arab land. Judaism, to them, is exclusively a religion, without a legitimate civilizational or national aspirational component. They view the Jewish historical claim to the land as fictional and Zionism as racism.

Their idea of a fair “two state solution” is one completely Arab state in the West Bank and one democratic binational State of Israel that allows the right of return for descendants of Palestinian refugees. It is a “two state solution,” but not the one American Jews would recognize or Israel could survive.

I asked these Palestinian citizens of Israel if, were they to have every economic advantage Jewish Israelis have, even without performing any compulsory civil service, would they then consider Israel a legitimate democracy. Almost all said no: not until the Jewish star is removed from the flag, Hatikvah is no longer the national anthem and the right of return for Diaspora Jews to Israel is rescinded.

In 2011, Fatah Foreign Relations Chief Nabil Shaath was very clear: . He said, “the story of ‘two-states for two peoples’ means that there will be a Jewish people over there and a Palestinian people here. We will never accept this… we will never agree to a clause preventing the Palestinian refugees from returning to their country.”

Today in American politics, some candidates have abandoned any façade of a fair two state solution. The first Muslim American Congresswomen from Michigan, Rashida Tlaib, told Britain’s Channel 4 that she would “absolutely” vote against U.S. military aid to Israel, and declared that she believes in the ”one state” solution, i.e. the demographic destruction of Israel.

There is little doubt that future American administrations will re-attempt negotiations with the Israelis and Palestinians in hopes of achieving some form of a two-state solution. But it would be wise, before proceeding, to have both parties sign an agreement that at the end of the negotiations, one of those states must be the State of the Jewish people, with the final resolution including a signed end-of-conflict agreement that unambiguously states that 100% of all Palestinian claims to that state are settled.

The security of Israel, and the future of a Jewish state in the Middle East, depends on it.




Can Trump’s Peace Plan Avoid the Pitfalls of Previously Failed Negotiations? 

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

Has the Kushner/Greenblatt peace initiative learned from the mistakes of previous negotiation efforts?

The long-awaited Trump peace plan to end the Israeli Palestinian conflict is finally ready for its unveiling in June, coincident with the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

American presidents for generations have been grasping for the elusive gold ring of a final solution to the conflict.

Whether out of a misguided belief that all the problems of the Middle East revolve around the conflict, or a sincere desire to solve one of the world’s most intractable conflicts, American efforts more times than not have worsened the situation.

The failures have not lacked for effort, especially on the part of Bill Clinton and his inexhaustible determination at Camp David and Taba in 2000 and 2001. Unfortunately, that failure laid the groundwork for the Second Intifada – the profound unintended consequence of which was to convince many Israelis who really believed in the possibilities of peace offered by the Oslo agreement that Israel will never have a Palestinian partner it can trust.

Has the Kushner/Greenblatt peace initiative learned from the mistakes of previous negotiation efforts? Can they offer a different course, perhaps incorporating the fleeting window of opportunity offered by the new confluence of interests between America, Israel and the Sunni Gulf states, to move the negotiations forward? Here are some of the conventionally accepted wisdoms for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that should be avoided: 1. Believing this conflict is primarily territorial. If it were, the conflict would have been resolved as recently as 2007, when Israel offered 100% of the territory with land swaps and east Jerusalem as their capital, but was dismissed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

2. Believing the conflict is the key to unlocking the other problems of the Middle East. Even if Israel did not exist today, almost all of the Middle East’s problems from the 1400-year-old Sunni- Shi’ite divide to the quest for Iranian hegemony would still be raging.

3. Believing you can make peace without effectively addressing generations of fervent Arab incitement in their media and classrooms that says Israel has no legitimate right to exist in any territorial dimension, with no Jewish historical association to the land.

4. Believing America cannot be a fair intermediary unless it is a neutral negotiator. America can make the effort to be balanced in mediation, but the reality is that Israel is an indispensable security interest, and consistently since its inception, an ally of the United States.

5. Believing the Palestinians subscribe to the Western nation-state model, where in reality Palestinians identify themselves by clan and tribe.

6. Believing financial incentives are the primary lever to influence the Palestinians. It is certainly true in any final peace deal, billions of dollars may be paid the descendants of Palestinian refugees as compensation for not demanding a return to Israel proper, and none to the greater number of Jews who, at the same time, became refugees from Arab lands. But the ingrained Palestinian narrative to this day demands an unconditional return. Although ordinary Palestinians are one of the most subsidized people in the world, the Palestinian leadership’s primary grievance, the existence of Israel, will not be addressed simply by monetary compensation.

7. Believing this is the last opportunity to end the conflict. It is not.

President Abbas is in very poor health and anything he signs will be suspect the minute he passes on.

That is why any new peace initiative must include an “end-of-conflict agreement” as the agreed goal of all parties. Israel cannot be asked to make territorial concessions endangering its security, without knowing the result is to be such an agreement. If the Palestinians are unable give up all further claims, which is what an “end-of-conflict” agreement is, then Israel should only be asked to make modest concessions for a stable long-term ceasefire.

It is not in America’s interest to pressure Israel to give up large portions of territory, if the Palestinians are only, as in the past, looking to use this as a step to eventually conquer all of Israel.

This is something American negotiators – from Nixon/Rogers, to Bush/ Baker, to Clinton/Ross, to Bush/Rice, to Obama/Kerry – never understood and appreciated.

ANY SUCCESSFUL initiative will need to answer the following questions in order to achieve a true end-of-conflict agreement.

1. Can Israel accept a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem?

2. Can the Palestinians accept Israel’s minimal demands for a demilitarized state, no right-of-return, Israeli control of Jordan River Valley and control of airspace.

3. Does Israel have the will to remove tens of thousands of its citizens from the West Bank (Judea/Samaria) who live beyond the major settlement blocs and Jerusalem? 4. Has the peace plan been drafted to prescribe how to deal with contingencies that would set the treaty on fire? For instance, suppose there is a Hamas coup in the West Bank endangering not only Israel but also the existence of Jordan. The unspoken secret is that the Jordanian Hashemite monarchy is fearful of the creation of any Palestinian state next door that might empower its Palestinian majority population and destabilize the state, a vital American ally.

You will know that peace has taken root when the Palestinians stop preaching their current defining narrative, which is the nakba (“the catastrophe”), the negation of the Jewish people and Israeli state, and begin celebrating the anniversary of their independence, accepting living in peace next to the Jewish state.

The writer is director of MEPIN™, the Middle East Political and Information Network™. Dr. Mandel regularly briefs members of Congress on the Middle East.

He is a contributor to ‘The Jerusalem Post,’ ‘The Hill,’ and ‘The Forward.’




The Jew-Free State Solution

{Previously published on Forward.com}

In a recent solicitation email, J Street President Jeremy Ben Ami proclaimed that the “Palestinians are the only party willing to publicly endorse the goal of two states for two peoples.” Referencing Abbas’ speech to the United Nations Security Council, Ben Ami claimed that “Abbas laid out explicit support for the two-state solution and put forward a serious proposal for how to get there.”

He did — if your goal is a Palestinian state ethnically cleansed of every Jew.

When we talk about creating two states for two peoples, shouldn’t we mean a Jewish State of Israel and an Arab State of Palestine living side by side, created through a final status agreement which settles territorial disputes and leaves each state secure and in control of its destiny?

If this is what you mean by a two state solution, President Abbas and the current Palestinian leadership are not your ideal partners. Just listen to Abbas:

In 2014, he told the Arab League, “We will never recognize the Jewishness of the state of Israel.” In 2016 in Sudan, he reiterated that he will “recognize the State of Israel, and that is it. However a Jewish state is not my affair. I will not recognize it at all and I will not accept it.” In December, his chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said Palestinians need to strive to reclaim “historic Palestine, from the river to the sea.”And this January, clearing up any ambiguity, Abbas asserted from the safety of his West Bank compound that the state of Israel is “a colonial project that has nothing to do with Judaism,” and rejected any Jewish ties to the land.

As for accepting Israel’s legitimacy and right to a state, Abbas asserts that Israel’s occupation started in 1948, not 1967. This clearly means that he believes Israel proper to be occupied, not just the West Bank and Gaza.

Abbas’s “serious proposal” calls for Israel to become a binational non-Jewish state with an unlimited right of return for descendants of Palestinian refugees, a clear path to the demographic elimination of a democratic and Jewish Israel. Nowhere in that speech did Abbas call for two states for two peoples.

Abbas’ speech was also notable for its denial of Jewish historical claims in Israel and fanciful claims that the Palestinians are the original residents of Israel, “ the descendants of the Canaanites that lived in the land of Palestine 5,000 years ago and continuously remained there to this day.”

This contradicts the claims of almost all Palestinian tribal clans, who trace their lineage to the Arabian peninsula or Egypt.

Grant Rumley, writing in the Atlantic, said that Abbas’ January speech “ deployed anti-Semitic tropes, undercut the Jewish connection to Israel, and blamed everyone from Oliver Cromwell to Napoleon to Winston Churchill for Israel’s creation… Frustration, it seems, has led Abbas to reveal his true colors.”

Abbas again calls Israel an apartheid state, and yet the Palestinian Arab state he wants to create must be a Judenrein, free of Jews. In Israel, 20 percent of the population is Arab — they have full voting rights, freedom of speech and government supported Arab schools.

Making Abbas something that he is not is both disingenuous and dangerous to Israel’s existence. The claim that Abbas is the best, last chance for Israel to have a moderate partner is doubtful.

Claiming Abbas is for two states for two peoples is simply untrue. It may be a pro-Palestinian position, but it is definitely is not a pro-peace, pro-Israel position.

Dr. Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN™. He regularly briefs Congress on issues related to the Middle East and is a columnist for the Jerusalem Post.