Tag Archives: Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Middle East peace won’t happen without addressing religious issues

Credit: The Forward

Published by the Hill.

In the decades-long conflict between Israel and Palestine, there is an essential component that well-meaning Western negotiators have underestimated: religion factors more into the equation the West might expect, even for secular Arab citizens. 

Religious beliefs are a core reason that many Palestinians cannot accept the legitimacy of Jewish nationalism (Zionism) or peoplehood. For them, it is a religious obligation never to cede land that once was Islamic. The Western mindset can’t fathom the importance of this, unable to comprehend that there is no separation of mosque and state for these believers. If it were simply about haggling over borders, the conflict probably would have ended long ago. 

Israelis also have a religious narrative, especially among those who settle the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) for religious reasons — the biblical homeland of Jewish people.  

With the Biden administration re-engaging with the Palestinian Authority and restoring funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestine refugees, it would be wise to reflect on past failures in achieving Middle East peace. This requires something difficult for Washington: thinking beyond conventional State Department wisdom. Typically for Washington diplomats, it is all about Israeli settlements and not the role that religion plays in the conflict.

But Western analysts have underestimated the vehemence of those who believe that Judaism is only a religion, and not a people or a nation. From their perspective, the Jews don’t have a civilization or one with legitimate aspirations for their ancestral home in the Levant. On the other hand, they feel a duty to keep, or to regain, control of any place that once was under Islamic control.

For example, the first Islamic presence on the Temple Mount (Haram al-Sharif), the Dome of the Rock, was built in the late 7th century, nearly 1,600 years after the Jewish temple first stood on that location. If you listen to the Palestinian Authority’s line, never mind the archeology, Jews were never there and are simply colonialist interlopers. 

Western experts should appreciate the importance of the Abraham Accords, in which moderate Islamic nations chose pragmatism and respect for their Jewish cousins’ claim to nationhood. It could be a gift to create a new paradigm between the Israelis and Palestinians. But only if a new Palestinian leader emerges in the image of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MbZ), a pragmatic Sunni moderate who signed a peace treaty with Israel, will there be a chance to resolve the conflict anytime soon. Such a leader must accept a Jewish state without territorial demands dictated by strict interpretation of Islam. Many Middle East experts failed to see the Abraham Accords coming, wherein Arab states would recognize Israel and choose moderation over religious orthodoxy. 

The origins of the Israel-Palestine conflict were never simply territorial, ending in Arab and Jewish states as envisioned in United Nations Resolution 181. The most unmistakable evidence is that former leaders Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas both declined offers for a Palestinian state and Arab East Jerusalem as the capital in 2001 and 2008, respectively.  

Western foreign policy officials say that we all know how this conflict has to end — two states for two peoples, with a division of the land and Jerusalem based on the 1949-1967 Armistice Lines. Yet, they forget there were those who would not sign an armistice unless it made clear that these lines would not be permanent borders, insisting instead on a ceasefire that stated, “The Armistice Demarcation Line is not to be construed in any sense as a political or territorial boundary,” so it could not legitimize a Jewish entity.  

Today, conventional Western wisdom is that Palestinians sustained “Al Naqba,” a “catastrophe,” with the creation of the State of Israel, which expelled 600,000 indigenous people. But this catastrophe for the Palestinian people wasn’t only of Israel’s doing. Respecting Palestine’s loss is something with which most Israelis could empathize — if most Palestinians could overcome the belief that Israel has no right to exist. Both peoples must learn to respect the other’s narrative.

Religion was a motivating factor in Palestinian leaders and Arab nations not accepting a Palestinian state in 1948, 1967, 2000 and 2008. This more realistic, but politically incorrect, narrative is not one that today’s foreign policy experts want to accept.

America should not mediate any negotiation for final-status talks without a precondition: The signing of an unassailable end-of-conflict treaty, stating that neither side can have claims on the other’s territory. That is a non-negotiable demand to avoid past failures, because it would mean the religious dimension of the conflict is addressed regarding territorial concessions.

Palestinians deserve a government that prioritizes their future and begins the process of accepting the painful compromises needed for their economic empowerment and freedom. With Palestinians about to vote in legislative elections, it is incumbent on the U.S. to articulate a clear position on what it expects of Palestine and Israel. 

If accepting Zionism and embracing the principles of the Abraham Accords is a bridge too far for the political leaders to cross at this time, a good beginning would be to foster grassroots dialogues between moderate Muslim and Jewish religious leaders, who can see the humanity in the other people with whom they are destined to live in the land. Who knows — if the Abraham Accords were possible, anything may be possible?

Sorry professors, but BDS and double standards for Israel are anti-Semitism

Where are their voices for freedom of speech when their pro-Israel students and their speakers are screamed down in the name of racism, apartheid and colonialism?

The growing acceptance of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism by scores of nations, including the European Union, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres and our own country, have made critics of Israel apoplectic. This is because the IHRA asserts that many forms of anti-Zionism rise to the threshold of anti-Semitism. This has driven both anti-Zionists and harsh critics of Israel to find ways to undermine the legitimacy of IHRA. The most recent attempt is to create new definitions of anti-Semitism that minimize or eliminate any association between anti-Semitism and delegitimizing Israel’s existence.

Recently, a group of 200 university professors has taken up the mantle against the IHRA with their Jerusalem Declaration of Anti-Semitism (JDA). It states that opposing Zionism or Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state doesn’t necessarily constitute anti-Semitism. It defines anti-Semitism as discrimination, prejudice or violence against individual Jews or Jewish institutions, but eliminates any association between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.
It is as if they are living in a time warp, damning old-time anti-Semitism while ignoring the most recent and virulent strain of anti-Semitism emanating mainly from the hard left. That virus has mutated from the politically incorrect prejudice against the Jewish religion into the new anti-Semitism, hatred of the Jewish nation. As one of the signatories said, “The Israeli government and its supporters have a keen interest in blurring the distinction between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism to paint any substantive, harsh criticism of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians as anti-Semitic.”

Photo credit: Stand with US

According to the JDA definition of anti-Semitism, “hatred of Israel” is not anti-Semitism. Boycotting, demonizing and sanctioning Israel is not anti-Semitism. Mind you, this is not just BDS of products from the West Bank, but boycotting all of Israel because it does not have a right to exist, as their Palestinian supporters allege. Sorry professors, this is anti-Semitism in its most blatant form. One doesn’t even need the IHRA definition to know it.

Harsh critics of Israel are alarmed that the IHRA definition is gaining more legitimacy, adding more national governments, colleges, organizations, and local and state governments to the list of supporters. And they worry for a good reason. IHRA explicitly targets all forms of anti-Semitism—from old-time right-wing hatred of Jews to today’s progressive anti-Semitism. Right-wing anti-Semitism gets all the notoriety because it is often manifested as local violence against Jewish people or their property. Left-wing anti-Semitism is ubiquitous on college campuses among academics and pro-Palestinian students, and of more significant consequence, advocating policies that threaten an entire country’s safety. And being Jewish does not mean that someone who supports reprehensible anti-Jewish policies gets a pass.

Signers of the JDA twist themselves in knots claiming that anti-Israel actions don’t have much to do with anti-Semitism. Yet many of them are invested in Palestinian “rights” and disregard Palestinian society’s pervasive advocacy of hatred and violence, from their mosques to media to schools and government, which is blatantly anti-Semitic. When these professors next go to Ramallah, they should notice that the word “Jew” and “Israeli” are interchangeable. Palestinian calls for two states—one binational and the other Arab—are just fine with them, knowing that this would mean Israel’s demographic destruction.

Many of these professors who rightly claim love for the freedom of speech are mute about today’s campus environment, where pro-Israel students are demonized, intimidated and restrained from their First Amendment rights by Palestinian supporters. Protecting students who disagree with your perspective used to be a pillar of academic freedom, but too many professors are activists first, not academics. Silence makes one complicit in stigmatizing Zionist students and pro-Israel professors. This is the very definition of illiberalism. Where are their voices for freedom of speech when their pro-Israel students and their speakers are screamed down in the name of racism, apartheid and colonialism? Is that not anti-Semitism?

One signer of the JDA claimed the IHRA had reached a “point where Palestinian students feel threatened on campus.” This is Orwellian. A primary reason for the need for the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism was the threats and intimidation to Jewish students on campus by Palestinians and their supporters. A 2015 Brandeis University poll of North American colleges’ Jewish students found “nearly three-quarters of the respondents reported having been exposed … during the past year to a least one anti-Semitic statement.” There is little evidence of any concerted intimidation against Palestinian students. Still, they and their progressive supporters are often the perpetrators of anti-Semitism against Jewish students who are pro-Israel.

True academic integrity should demand that many of these professors define themselves as pro-Palestinian or anti-Zionist and not hide behind the pro-peace, pro-Israel moniker. Who are some of the signatories? City University of New York professor and New York Times writer Peter Beinart wrote an article in July 2020 titled “I No Longer Believe in a Jewish State.” In response, the ADL’s deputy director said “such calls are themselves anti-Semitic, or at the very least, as in the case of Mr. Beinart, play into the hands of the anti-Semites.”

Another endorser of the JDA definition is the anti-Zionist Richard Falk. Former President Barack Obama’s representative to the Human Rights Council, Eileen Donahoe, called his comments on Israel “deeply offensive,” condemning them in the “strongest terms.” She charged that Falk had a “one-sided and politicized view of Israel’s situation and the Palestinian Territories.” No wonder he signed a definition of anti-Semitism that minimized equating anti-Zionism with Jew-hatred.

So kudos to those professors who fight against right-wing anti-Semitism; we should all join them. But shame on them for claiming that it’s not anti-Semitism to back the BDS movement, to deny the Jewish people a right to self-determination, to allow Israel to be judged by a double standard and to intimidate Jewish students on campus because they are pro-Israel.

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.”

What Freshman Members of Congress Should Learn on Their Trip to Israel

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

How does one reconcile this moral dilemma if you believe Israel has a right to exist as the home of the Jewish people but believe in two states for two peoples?

This year’s August congressional trip to Israel is different from previous years, as so much attention is focused on who is not joining, specifically the members of the pro-BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) “Squad,” Reps. Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

However, most members who come to Israel do have an open mind and can grasp the difficulties that have thwarted decades of efforts at resolution of the conflict between Israel and its enemies, some who will not be satisfied until there is no Jewish state and no Western-oriented presence in the region.

Some say the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is all about the occupation, and Israel for its own good should unilaterally withdraw to the pre-1967 lines, and that the Jews of all peoples, after centuries of oppression, should not be occupying another people’s land.

Yet if there is to be created an autonomous Palestinian state adjacent to Israel, is it reasonable to expect that missiles won’t be exploding in Tel Aviv, or that they won’t have to run their children into bomb shelters all the time everywhere in Israel?

Israel withdrew completely from Gaza in 2005. Its reward was three wars launched from the coastal enclave and plenty of indignant international condemnation for Israel defending itself against forces launching missiles from school yards and hospitals, and digging tunnels under borders to sneak across and murder civilians.

Some advocate that the two peoples should have their own states based on the pre-1967 lines. Aside from the technicalities of armistice lines and borders, what if an objective analysis of Israel’s legitimate security concerns and the current pathology of the Palestinian leadership leads to the conclusion that the Palestinian Authority remains in power only because of the help it receives from Israel’s security forces? What if an Israeli withdrawal would likely lead to the creation of a “Hamastan” on the Jordan, a proxy of Iran backed with money and armaments?

How does one reconcile this moral dilemma if you believe Israel has a right to exist as the home of the Jewish people but believe in two states for two peoples?

Groups like J Street and their congressional supporters preach that the corrosive effect of occupation is worse than the security risk of withdrawal, finding a small group of former IDF officers to support their claim. All will be well if the cause of the conflict, the “illegal” occupation,” disappears.

If that were so, then how would one explain PA President Mahmoud Abbas walking out in 2007 when more than 100% of the disputed territory was offered with land swaps? In December 2018, Palestinian chief negotiator Saab Erekat confirmed that this was indeed the Israeli offer, and they turned it down.

If you are a congressional representative who prioritizes security considerations, the question to ask is: What do secure boundaries mean for Israel in the 21st century?

Those who advocate for a complete Israeli withdrawal minimize the importance of strategic depth in the age of missiles, as missiles fly over borders in a split second while Israel has the proven capabilities to intercept projectiles at a rate of 80%-90%, mitigating the need to have more territory. This argument rings hollow as territorial depth is essential for a country the size of New Jersey, 11 miles wide at its narrowest point.

The minimal Israeli mainstream security consensus, considering current logistics, is control of the Jordan River Valley, especially with Iran already having a military presence in Iraq and Syria, a demilitarized Palestinian state with defensible borders, and control of airspace.

Unfortunately, Palestinians were encouraged to become even more intransigent by former president Barack Obama’s parting gift to Israel in 2016, UN Security Council Resolution 2234, when the US abstained and joined for the first time with the UN claque of Israel-bashers.

It labeled any Israeli presence over the Green Line, including the vital Jordan River Valley and the Western Wall of the Jewish Temple, as illegal. This undermines the legitimacy of any land swaps, as Israel would be retaining, according to it, stolen land, a pretext for future conflict no matter what the Palestinians sign onto now. The only saving grace of 2234 is that it was adopted under the sixth chapter of the UN Charter, so it is considered a non-binding resolution. 

Suppose the Palestinians again remain intransigent. What would members of Congress who want an end to the occupation propose then?

Since the Palestinians will remain the perpetual righteous victims to the Squad, while Israel remains a Western colonial occupier, we can expect from some quarters more clamoring for BDS. Never mind that Israel is the only real democracy in the region with rights for all its citizens and the one steadfast ally of the US in the region. 

Israelis have enough on their plate with Iran threatening from the north, east and south, so the status quo, in spite of everyone’s distaste for the current situation, is the only logical choice until a durable Palestinian leadership is willing to sign an end of conflict agreement that credibly won’t endanger Israel’s existence as a Jewish State.

The writer is the director of Middle East Political and Information Network™ and a regular columnist to the Jerusalem Post and i24TV, and contributes to JNS, The Hill, the Forward, and JTA. MEPIN™ research analysis is read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, Knesset members, journalists and organizational leaders. 

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.

The West’s Refusal to Recognize the Religious Basis for the Israeli Palestinian Conflict

{Previously published in The Jerusalem Post}

A future Palestinian state will have Islam as the dominant aspect of its governing system, despite Western wishful thinking to the contrary.

Every few years, like clockwork an American administration comes along that thinks it can solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while politicians and pundits annually march through the halls of the AIPAC national meeting talking about a two-state solution with security for Israel. Their motivations are genuine, but they can’t seem to learn the lessons of previous failures. This is especially important now, as US President Donald Trump seems bent on solving this heretofore- intractable conflict.

To many Americans, Jews and Arabs are simply fighting over territory, so the logical answer is to simply divide the land. This has been the strategy for over 100 years. But this approach ignores the fact that this dispute, like so many others in the Middle East, is primarily a war of Islamic religious supremacy.
The path to peace is not one a cartographer can delineate. We need to understand the ideological reasons why simply dividing the land has received consistently negative Palestinian responses despite offers of 100% of the territory, with land swaps. Until that understanding takes hold in the Western diplomatic mind, negotiations will continue to fail, promises will continue to be broken and violence will continue to follow.

As Anshel Pfeffer wrote in The Guardian a few years back, “Accepting that the Israel-Palestine conflict is also a bitter religious war runs counter to the international community’s preferred solutions… which is a central reason that none of these solutions have worked.”

America for decades has refused to recognize the obvious: in the Muslim and Arab world decisions are not based on Western democratic standards.

There are no secular Arab states. In the Arab world there is no separation of church and state. The last secular Muslim state, Turkey, has become Islamized over the past 14 years.

A future Palestinian state will have Islam as the dominant aspect of its governing system, despite Western wishful thinking to the contrary.

Hamas is an Islamist regime that bases its desire to destroy Israel on Islamic texts and the Muslim Brotherhood interpretation of a worldwide caliphate.

But is today’s Palestinian Authority really so secular compared to Hamas, as the UN, EU and the US State Department claim? If you examine statements by PA political and religious leaders, and from its state-sponsored television, the reality is quite different.

To counter Hamas’ popularity, the PA has Islamized the conflict over the past 20 years. Secular PA President Mahmoud Abbas speaks of jihad and Jews overtaking al-Aksa Mosque, with the aim of motivating and enrage Palestinians, deflecting attention from the failings and corruption of the PA .

In 1979 the Iranian revolution showed both Sunnis and Shi’ites that Islamism, not secular Muslim nationalism, is the winning formula. Over time, the corruption of the secular PLO /PA /Fatah and their failure to end the “occupation” of Muslim lands all combined to transform secular Palestinian society toward Islamist nationalism.

According to Palestinian Media Watch, the PA preaches “Ribat, an uncompromising Islamic obligation… to liberate land said to be Islamic.

Israel is considered to be Islamic land that must be liberated for Allah… The tragic conclusion is that the Palestinian Authority has adopted and is teaching its people the messages of radical Islam.”

President Abbas appointed Sheikh Muhammad Hussein as mufti, the most senior religious leader in the PA.

Hussein said, “The land of Palestine is Wakf. It must not be relinquished nor must any part of it be sold… It is the duty of the leaders of the [Islamic] nation and its peoples to liberate Palestine and Jerusalem.”

Bewilderingly, the Trump administration may also be approaching the Israeli-Palestinian conflict emphasizing the territorial aspects while sidelining the primary Islamic root cause of the conflict.

When speaking to the West, the Palestinians have perfected the art of doublespeak, telling Americans that if only Israel returns the stolen land over the “67 border” all will be well, as the conflict is just about territory.

Trump refers to “a great real-estate deal” between Israel and the Palestinians.

But you cannot have an “ultimate deal” if you don’t factor in the primary Islamic roots of the conflict which animate Palestinian Arab choices.

Both the PA and Hamas’ lack of acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state and denial of Zionism as a legitimate national movement are based on Islamic beliefs. Hamas states this clearly. But the West closes its eyes to the Islamist nature of the PA , PLO and Fatah, claiming they are strictly secular movements.

The PA ’s children’s TV programs teach that Jews are “Allah’s enemies – sons of pigs,” or “Oh, you who murdered Allah’s pious prophets,” or “as long as my heart is my Koran and my city… [Jerusalem] is the eternal capital of Palestine.”

If you are really serious about resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for the sake of the parties involved, and for the security and interests of America and its allies you must acknowledge that Palestinian Arab decisions are judged through the lens of Islamic law, history and tradition.

The author is the founder and director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political and Information Network. He regularly briefs members of Congress and think tanks on the Middle East.

Cognitive Bias and UNSC Resolution 2334

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post)

Israeli Amos Tversky and his colleague Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman are famous for their research regarding systematic human cognitive bias. Cognitive bias often leads people to decisions that, when fully understood, are irrational by their own standards.

In essence, one creates a reality not based upon objectivity, but influenced by emotions, leading to irrational judgments.

US President Barack Obama, his adviser Ben Rhodes, National Security Adviser Susan Rice and Secretary of State John Kerry suffer from a postcolonial cognitive bias. Their reality is that Israeli settlements are the primary cause of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Nothing can disabuse them of this distorted reality, and every event in the region is seen through this biased filter.

Ignoring the facts of Israeli offers for two states over the past 69 years, or a Netanyahu settlement freeze in 2009, allows them to blame Israel for their own repeated diplomatic failures, while ignoring a PLO Charter that still calls for the end of Israel. “The partitioning of Palestine… the establishment of Israel are illegal and null and void, regardless of the loss of time,” it says.

The administration is locked in a paradigm where it is axiomatic that Palestinians are helpless victims, not to be held accountable for their words, their actions and what they preach to their children.

Make no mistake about it: UNSC Resolution 2334 is not tough love to move the peace process forward. It is a diplomatic war to delegitimize all of Israel through boycotts, sanctions and the International Criminal Court.

According to the Israel Group, “By the end of 2016, the United Nations… will have adopted 20 resolutions against the State of Israel and four resolutions against all other countries combined.” It is an antisemitic double standard plain and simple, and it is not going away.

Four years ago during the Chuck Hagel nomination, I told an audience that I was not worried about his alleged lack of sympathy for Israel as defense secretary, but was more concerned about the damage Senator John Kerry could do as secretary of state. I was booed by a pro-Israel audience. Years later I learned firsthand that the relationship between Hagel and the Israeli Defense Ministry had been excellent, and today you know what damage Kerry’s cognitive bias has done to Israel.

UNSC Resolution 2334 is non-binding, but can still cause terrible damage to Israel’s reputation and its ability to negotiate on an even footing with the Palestinians.

The best way to respond is for a bipartisan Congress to work with the new administration and go on the offensive. We must return to the days when Israel was a less partisan issue. This will not be easy, as a growing segment of the Democratic Party shares the president’s animus toward Israel, and wants the world to think of Israel as it used to think of South Africa.

What does going on the offensive mean? It is a strategy to legislate unappetizing consequences for those who join in the lynching of America’s ally.

Here are some suggestions: 1. The Lawfare Project recommends “adopt[ing] legislation that would impose sanctions on European government[ s] and private entities that engage in BDS…

[and] reaffirm the letter from President George W. Bush to Israeli Prime Minister Sharon that recognized that major settlement blocs will remain part of Israel under any peace treaty.”

2. Congress should reaffirm UNSC Resolution 242, that says Israel was never supposed to return to the indefensible 1949 armistice line.

3. Since the first consequence of 2334 might be Israel being brought before the International Criminal Court, ICC donors must be quietly convinced to threaten to withdraw funding if Israel is brought before this court.

NATO allies and Japan, who don’t want to get off on the wrong foot with the new administration, need to be pressured by the Trump administration, as they know he can ask them to start paying their fair share of defense costs.

4. Cut the US funding to the UN in half. America should work with the UN only on humanitarian issues.

New legislation must be written, as existing laws and treaty requirements enshrine much of American financial support for the UN.

5. Withdraw participation and funding for the Human Rights Council and UNESCO. UNESCO perpetuates the falsehood that there is no Jewish association to the Temple Mount, and the Human Rights Council is simply an anti-Israel advocacy organization, ignoring the world’s human rights abuses.

6. Create a coalition of willing democracies in place of the UN on security issues. Today’s United Nations is overwhelmingly non-democratic and anti-American.

7. End funding of UNWRA unless the definition of Palestinian refugees is changed to the UN High Commission of Refugees definition. This would immediately decrease the number of Palestinian refugees from five million to 30,000, and end a major impediment to resolution of the conflict.

8. Demand that the 750,000 Jewish refugees and their descendants ethnically cleansed from Arab lands receive the same compensation as Palestinian descendants.

The real problem may be that Congress and the new administration may be so overwhelmed with domestic legislation and getting their cabinet nominees approved that responding to 2334 may be put on the back burner.

Pro-Israel organizations must keep this issue on the radar of Congress and President Donald Trump, because Palestinian advocate J Street will be fighting with everything it has to encourage legislators like Keith Ellison to support 2334.

The author is the director of MEPIN™. He regularly briefs members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, and journalists on issues related to the Middle East.