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Return to Sender

A foolish letter from ‘wise men’ on the Middle East

Jun 27, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 39 • By ELLIOTT ABRAMS
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Left to their own devices, it is the vast disparity of power between the two parties rather than international law and fairness that will continue to prevail. The experience of these past two years has surely not suggested any other possible outcome.

So, the problem is that Israel is blocking progress. The Palestinians, who since January 2009 have refused to come to the negotiating table, are exempted from any criticism.

The Israelis now face what they “perceive to be a global movement that seeks their country’s delegitimization.” They perceive wrongly, the letter argues:

But it is not the State of Israel within its 1967 borders that is being challenged. It is Israel’s occupation, the relentless enlargement of its settlements, its dispossession of the Palestinian people in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, and the humanitarian disaster caused by its blockade of Gaza that are the target of international anger and condemnation.

Again, it is Israel and Israel alone that is to blame for the failure to reach peace. And the terminology here is emotive: relentless, dispossession, disaster. The argument is odd. This “relentless enlargement” did not prevent Ehud Olmert from offering more land to the Palestinians in 2009 than Ehud Barak offered in 2000. Gaza has a border with Egypt that not only the Mubarak regime but the new Egyptian government as well patrols carefully and does not allow to be opened fully, yet only Israel is blamed for conditions in Gaza. Moreover, the notion that “international anger and condemnation” are caused by the settlements and the Gaza situation is a bizarre one coming from the signers, who are old enough to remember the wars of 1948, 1956, and 1967 before there was one single settlement—and to recall the U.N.’s “Zionism is Racism” resolution in 1975, which received 72 votes in the General Assembly.

Given this analysis that Israel is to blame for -everything, the proposed framework is logical. There are six points.

(1) “The United States will oppose any effort to challenge or undermine the legitimacy of the State of Israel within internationally recognized borders,” which suggests that we will not oppose undermining Israel today or tomorrow, when it has no such borders. 

(2) “The United States will work for the establishment of a sovereign and viable Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, subject only to agreed, minor and equal land swaps to take into account areas adjoining the former Green Line heavily populated by Israelis .  .  .” President Obama’s suggestion of using the 1967 lines as a base was not enough, and the United States should further undermine Israel’s negotiating position by demanding that any swaps be “minor” and that any settlement not right on the Green Line, such as Ariel (population 18,000), be abandoned. 

(3) Any solution to the refugee problem cannot flood Israel with Arabs and destroy its character as a Jewish state, so that “proposals for unlimited entry of Palestinian refugees into the State of Israel will be opposed by the United States.” But this formulation of course suggests that proposals for “limited entry” would not be opposed, meaning that an Israeli policy of refusing any such entry is likely to be viewed as obstructionist—yet another Israeli obstacle to peace. 

(4) As part of a peace agreement, “the United States will support the presence of a U.S.-led multinational force to oversee security provisions and border crossings.” It is a surprise to see this proposal for yet another overseas military commitment at a time when there is so much pressure for withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan and Iraq and cuts in the defense budget. And given the nature of the terrorist threat to Israel, how an effective multinational force could be organized is mysterious. In an analogous situation, the international force in Lebanon has failed completely to restrain or disarm Hezbollah. 

(5) Jerusalem will be divided between Israel and Palestine and “each side” will control its own holy places. Among many other problems, what this means for the Christian holy places and the entire Armenian Quarter is not specified.

(6) “The United States will encourage the reconciliation of Fatah and Hamas on terms compatible with these principles and UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338.” So there is no precise call for Hamas to adhere to the Quartet Principles, requiring it to abandon terrorism, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and adhere to previous agreements. Instead, the United States will move from treating Hamas as a terrorist group, which it is a crime to support, to “encouraging” Fatah to reconcile with it. 

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