Category Archives: Israeli – Palestinian Conflict

What CIA’s John Brennan teaches about mainstreaming anti-Semitism

by Dr. Eric R. Mandel and Brig. Gen. (Res.) Yossi Kuperwasser

Published by JNS.

source: https://www.youtube.com/

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.

MEPIN Thoughts for the Weekend

Replying to the following reporting.


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. 

Israel’s northern border: An Iranian threat underappreciated by the US

Previously published in the Jerusalem Report. Written with Sarit Zehavi.

A view of Mount Bental on Israel’s northern border, Source: 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.

Biden needs to uphold US law on pay-for-slay

The Biden administration claims it can restore funding to the PA without violating the Taylor Force Act.

Published in the Jerusalem Post.

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. 

WORKERS CLOSE the aid distribution centers of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in Rafah in February, protesting against the reduction in food aid.
(photo credit: ABED RAHIM KHATIB/FLASH90)

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. 

Before the next war: Israel and the US should articulate a policy on proportionality

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.

Source: Alma Research and Education Center

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.”

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.”