If there’s one thing the recent war with Hamas made clear, it’s that Israel’s strategy for dealing with the Gaza Strip, known as “mowing the grass,” may be approaching its expiration date. And that will leave the Jewish state with only one feasible alternative—reoccupying part or all of Gaza.
Mowing the grass means that every few years, when Hamas starts a new round of violence, Israel takes military action to degrade its capabilities enough to gain another few years of quiet. Like grass on a lawn, terror inevitably grows back, and must be cut down again; yet just as mowing a lawn nonetheless serves a purpose, so too does destroying terrorist infrastructure. With the exception of the 2014 war, which included a sizable ground component, these operations generally have been short, were conducted almost exclusively from the air, and produced few Israeli casualties.
The obvious drawback to this strategy is that it buys only temporary quiet; after a few years to recover, Hamas once again rains missiles on Israel. That’s something reoccupation would prevent; it bears repeating that while Hamas has fired over 20,000 rockets at Israel from unoccupied Gaza over the last sixteen years, not one missile has ever been fired from the Israeli-controlled West Bank.
Nevertheless, the strategy’s benefits have so far outweighed this drawback.
First, reoccupying Gaza would entail far higher Israeli casualties. The 2014 war, which involved only a limited ground operation in a small section of Gaza, resulted in 74 Israeli fatalities—more than double the number in all of Israel’s other Gaza operations combined. Reoccupation would require a far more extensive ground operation, and therefore many more casualties. It would also require Israeli soldiers to remain in Gaza, likely resulting in additional deaths over the years.
Second, reoccupation would saddle Israel with the burden of managing Gaza. Though the Palestinian Authority runs civilian affairs in the West Bank, it probably wouldn’t agree to do the same in Gaza even if Israel wanted it to (which it might not), since it would fear being seen as illegitimate by its own people if it arrived on the backs of Israeli tanks.
Third, the international repercussions of reoccupation would, at least initially, be far more severe than those of a limited war in response to Hamas missile attacks.
Finally, Hamas’s continued control of Gaza has an important diplomatic benefit: it reduces both international and domestic Israeli pressure for dangerous concessions to the Palestinians in the West Bank. Not only do the Palestinians’ two rival governments make it obvious that no diplomatic agreement would bind all of them, but Hamas’s incessant violence makes it all too clear what Israel would risk by far-reaching withdrawals in the West Bank.
Nevertheless, mowing the grass has one serious flaw: Israel has consistently failed to prevent Hamas from rearming. On the contrary, after every round, Hamas has managed to acquire an even larger and more lethal arsenal than it had before. Nor is there any way for Israel to prevent this, given Hamas’s ruthless appropriation of basic humanitarian goods for its own purposes—from the cement intended for housing that it seizes to build cross-border tunnels to the water pipes it digs up to make into rockets. Consequently, the costs of each successive round keep growing.
During the latest round, for instance, Hamas fired 4,360 missiles over eleven days—almost the same as the 4,594 it fired over 50 days in 2014. In other words, it fired 396 rockets per day this time around, more than four times the 91 per day it fired in 2014. And more rockets mean more Israeli casualties. The thirteen people killed this time was more than double the total in the last air-only operation, in 2012, even though Israel has both upgraded and expanded its Iron Dome anti-missile system since then.
Moreover, while in previous rounds residents of the south bore the brunt of the rocket attacks, this time much of Israel’s economic heartland—the greater-Tel Aviv region—also came under heavy fire. Aside from disrupting the lives of many more Israelis, this shift has obvious economic implications. For instance: for the first time, Hamas forced Israel briefly to close its main international airport, Ben-Gurion, and then to divert incoming flights to Eilat for several days after Ben-Gurion reopened. Though international airlines have suspended flights to Israel before, this is the first time Israel itself has deemed Ben-Gurion at risk.
Finally, being under missile fire every few years produces an ongoing erosion in Israelis’ quality of life, mental health, and sense of security. This will only worsen as the barrages grow larger and more lethal and affect more of the country.
None of these consequences are severe enough to justify dumping mowing the grass immediately. But the increase in rocket fire from one operation to the next means the strategy’s benefits will diminish over time. During the first Gaza operation in 2008-09, which involved a limited ground incursion, Hamas fired 852 rockets, or 37 a day. Thirteen years later, in a conflict that lasted half as long and involved no ground forces, Hamas fired more than five times as many rockets in total and more than ten times as many per day.
Unless this trend miraculously reverses, at some point the pain is going to become high enough that Israel will be forced to abandon this strategy. And the only other potentially viable strategy is reoccupation.
Deterrence is impossible, because not only has Hamas proven utterly indifferent to the suffering recurrent fighting inflicts on its own people, but shooting rockets at Israel appears to be quite popular among Palestinians despite the heavy price they pay. (In contrast, a sizable portion of the Lebanese population vocally objects to Hizballah starting wars with Israel that result in massive destruction.)
Nor can Israel pin its hopes on the PA to end the violence, even if Palestinian elections were held, Hamas lost, and it consented to a peaceful transfer of power in Gaza—none of which is likely. Not only is the PA incapable of either disarming Hamas or preventing it from attacking Israel, given Hamas’s much greater military might, but it never showed any desire to do so even back when it had the power, since Palestinians largely view their armed militias as sacred, an obvious corollary of the fact that attacking Israel is popular. Instead, like Hizballah, Hamas would simply become an armed militia independent of the official government, but with even fewer restraints from popular opinion.
Finally, a diplomatic solution is obviously impossible with a group whose goal remains for Israel “to come to an end just like it began,” as its deputy political leader, Moussa Abu Marzouk, said this May.
But what about reoccupation’s costs? The price in terms of Israeli casualties is irrelevant, as is the financial price, for the simple reason that Israel won’t view this as a feasible alternative until the price of not reoccupying Gaza is worse, just as it refrained from invading PA-controlled parts of the West Bank until the second intifada’s high Israeli death toll made a major military incursion the lesser evil. Moreover, reoccupation has the significant advantage that, over time, Israel should be able to suppress the rocket fire almost completely, just as retaking the West Bank enabled it to suppress the second intifada’s suicide bombings.
And while the diplomatic costs of reoccupation would initially be severe, it’s far from clear that the long-term costs would be worse than the current policy. For the last fifteen years, all major upsurges in both anti-Israel sentiment and anti-Semitism worldwide have been sparked by Israel’s military operations, not its ongoing control of the West Bank (see, for instance, America’s 80-percent spike in anti-Semitic attacks during May’s fighting). That’s because every Gaza operation provides a steady stream of photographs of dead Palestinians to inflame tempers overseas. In contrast, the Palestinian death toll in the West Bank remains low, since Israel’s ongoing control allows it to suffice with policing operations rather than military ones.
The same holds for the lawfare assault on Israel. Aside from the case involving its settlement policy, all the investigations the International Criminal Court is now conducting against Israel stem from its responses to violence in Gaza, namely, the 2014 war and the “March of Return” protests in 2018-19. Cases filed against Israel in other countries’ courts under universal-jurisdiction laws have similarly revolved around specific military operations rather than Israel’s ongoing control of the West Bank.
Israel can also reduce the costs of reoccupation by starting to prepare for this possibility well in advance. That includes training its troops thoroughly so an incursion can be conducted with minimal Israeli casualties, as well as laying the diplomatic groundwork.
If possible, Israel should also choose the timing of the operation, since the diplomatic costs will be significantly lower under a friendly U.S. administration. In particular, with the Democratic party’s younger members increasingly turning away from Israel, the difficulties of conducting any military operation under a Democratic administration will almost certainly grow over time. But since Hamas is capable of making the same calculation, it might well force Israel’s hand. It’s no accident, for instance, that Hamas started the latest war just months after Joe Biden replaced Donald Trump in the White House (though Biden has ultimately proved more supportive of Israel than many expected).
Finally, Israel must weigh the pros and cons of partial versus full reoccupation. Partial reoccupation, coupled with threats that further attacks would result in additional parts of Gaza being retaken, might reduce Israeli casualties and mitigate some of the diplomatic consequences. It might also create deterrence by putting Hamas at risk of losing something it actually cares about: land. Additionally, it would preserve the advantages of the Hamas-PA split, since Hamas would retain control of some territory. And though it wouldn’t eliminate the rocket fire completely, it would significantly reduce it, since most launches take place near the border to maximize the rockets’ range.
But it’s also possible that the diplomatic fallout would be the same regardless of how much territory was reoccupied. In that case, Israel might be better off taking its diplomatic lumps all at once rather than risking the need to reoccupy more territory later on.
Most Israelis don’t want to reoccupy Gaza at all. But if current trends continue, they may someday have no choice. Therefore, Israel must be prepared when that day comes.
Originally published in Mosaic on June 21, 2021
March 16 was the deadline for filing briefs on whether the International Criminal Court should recognize Palestine as a state. But important though that question is, the ICC prosecutor’s decision to open a criminal investigation against Israel poses a much bigger problem: Contrary to the court’s stated mission of trying to reduce the harm caused by war, it may well result in even higher casualties and more extensive property damage.
Like all Western countries, Israel makes great efforts to uphold customary laws of war, including by trying to minimize civilian casualties. As a group of high-ranking Western military experts wrote in a report on the Hamas-Israel war of 2014, Israel “met and in some respects exceeded the highest standards we set for our own nations’ militaries.” In fact, Israel has historically caused fewer civilian casualties and less property damage than other Western armies.
Many Israelis actually resent this, arguing that the restrictions imposed on the army’s use of force put Israel’s own soldiers and civilians at greater risk. And the Israel Defense Forces’ vehement denials can’t necessarily be taken at face value since it would hardly admit to putting Israelis at risk. Yet even assuming these denials are truthful, the fact that many Israelis believe otherwise means that the army is under constant pressure to be less stringent about using force.
Until now, however, it has had a strong counter-argument: These restrictions aren’t so onerous as to make effective military action impossible, and obeying them keeps our soldiers and politicians out of international legal trouble. Consequently, it’s worth the effort.
But now, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has declared that all the IDF’s efforts were worthless: In her view, it committed prima facie war crimes both during the 2014 war and in subsequent military operations in the Gaza Strip. In other words, meeting or even exceeding the West’s “highest standards” is no longer enough to keep you out of legal trouble.
The court’s supporters have a facile response to this: Israel must simply meet even higher standards, and then it will be fine. But in reality, as previous ICC decisions have made clear, the court considers virtually any civilian casualties unacceptable.
That’s precisely why its pretrial chamber of judges has twice demanded that Bensouda reconsider her decision not to prosecute Israel over its 2010 raid on a flotilla to Gaza. The soldiers were enforcing a blockade that even the United Nations deemed legal, and as Bensouda noted in her decision to dismiss the case, they opened fire solely in self-defense after nine of them were seriously wounded when passengers aboard one ship attacked them with knives, chains, wooden clubs, iron rods and slingshots. But the pretrial chamber dismissed this context as completely irrelevant, insisting that the resultant 10 deaths were a criminal massacre.
Nor is the ICC alone. Zero civilian casualties is also the standard increasingly promulgated by other self-appointed custodians of the laws of war. The International Committee of the Red Cross, for instance, has declared that attacking a “populated village” is forbidden under any circumstances, even if the enemy is hiding there.
Bensouda fought the pretrial chamber over the flotilla case for years because do otherwise would be to abdicate her own prosecutorial independence and grant the chamber the right to dictate her decisions. But it’s hardly surprising that she preferred to avoid another exhausting battle with the chamber over Israel. It was much easier to simply adopt its “no civilian casualties ever” standard and prosecute Israel for its Gaza operations.
Yet zero or near-zero civilian casualties are an impossible standard when, for instance, Palestinians routinely launch rockets from populated areas at Israeli civilians, or bring babies and grandmothers to violent protests where other “demonstrators” are throwing bombs and Molotov cocktails at soldiers in an effort to breach the border. The only way any country could avoid civilian casualties in such situations would be to refrain from military action at all—or in other words, to let the enemy breach its border and attack its own soldiers and civilians while doing nothing to try to stop it. Indeed, near-zero civilian casualties isn’t a standard any military in any conflict has ever been able to meet.
Thus by saying that even compliance with the highest Western standards isn’t enough to protect Israel from prosecution, the ICC has essentially said there’s no point in even trying to uphold the laws of war, because as the ICC interprets them, they are incompatible with the most basic requirements of self-defense. Unless Israel is willing to sit with folded hands while Palestinian terrorists attack it—which it will never do—it has no hope of escaping the ICC’s clutches. And if so, why bother adhering to stringent restrictions that expose its own soldiers and civilians to greater risk?
Moreover, as I’ve explained before, activist courts always seek to obtain widely applicable precedents by going after “easy” targets first, and for the ICC, Israel is obviously an easier target than, say, America or France. Thus assuming the court upholds Bensouda’s position on Gaza—which, given its proven anti-Israel bias, it’s certain to do—this precedent could and would be used against every other Western country that engages in military operations since other Western armies use the same tactics and the same precautions that Israel does. This could lead other Western militaries to conclude that efforts to abide by the laws of war have become pointless.
In short, by going after Israel despite its adherence to the West’s “highest standards,” the ICC could end up reversing more than a century of efforts to reduce the collateral damage of military action. That would lead to even higher civilian casualties, the antithesis of its purpose.
All law is based on two fundamental principles: that compliance is possible without leaving yourself or your country vulnerable to destruction; and that compliance protects you from legal trouble. If those two criteria aren’t met, nobody would have any reason to obey the law.
The ICC’s decision to prosecute Israel eviscerates both those principles. And as such, it’s liable to destroy the very international law it was created to uphold.
This article was originally syndicated by JNS.org (www.jns.org) on March 18, 2020. © 2020 JNS.org
The U.N. anti-Israel blacklist asserts that the most basic essentials—food, water, transportation, communication—raise “particular human rights concerns.” But if every human activity is a “human rights concern,” then nothing is.
If you want to understand just how outrageous the U.N. blacklist of businesses operating in Israeli “settlements” really is, forget for a moment about its anti-Israel bias and its warping of international law, important though these issues are. Instead, simply evaluate it on its own terms, as a compilation of companies engaged in “activities that raised particular human rights concerns.”
So what horrendous activities do these 112 companies engage in? Well, there are several supermarket chains, which sell groceries to both Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank, Golan Heights and eastern Jerusalem. There are several fuel companies, which operate gas stations where both Israelis and Palestinians fill up their cars.
There are several bus and rail companies, which provide public transportation used by Israelis and Palestinians alike. There are phone companies (cell and landline) that provide general communications services. There are banks, which provide basic banking services. There’s a water company, which provides potable drinking water and sewage solutions.
There are also several food and clothing manufacturers, like General Mills, Angel Bakeries and Delta Galil, whose crime seems to consist of nothing but the fact that their cereals, bread and underwear can be found on supermarket shelves in the West Bank, Golan Heights and eastern Jerusalem.
In short, almost all the companies on the blacklist simply provide the most fundamental human necessities—food, water, transportation, communication. Some of these are defined by the United Nations itself as inalienable rights: Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone” has a right to “food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services”; there’s no asterisk saying “except for settlers.” Others, like transportation and communication, aren’t considered rights, but they are considered positive goods in any other context.
In contrast, the United Nations couldn’t find a single company engaged in “captivity of the Palestinian financial and economic markets” or “practices that disadvantage Palestinian enterprises, including through restrictions on movement, administrative and legal constraints”—something that might actually raise human-rights concerns. And only three were involved in providing “surveillance and identification equipment for settlements, the wall and checkpoints directly linked with settlements,” which at least sounds sinister if you don’t realize that such equipment is merely intended to prevent terrorists from slaughtering children in their beds (see the Fogel family, Hallel Ariel and many others).
To realize how absurd this list is, try a simple thought experiment. Syrian and Russian soldiers have been slaughtering civilians in Syria on an almost daily basis for nine years now; the death toll is more than half a million and counting. But does anyone think the supermarkets that sell these soldiers food or the water company that supplies their bases with running water are engaged in “activities that raised particular human rights concerns”? Of course not; we believe that even the worst murderers are entitled to food, water and clothing. That’s precisely why all countries provide such basics to criminals in jail.
Human-rights violations used to refer to grave crimes like murder, rape and ethnic cleansing. But now, along comes the U.N. Human Rights Council and says that actually, even the most essential human activities—food, water, transportation, communication—raise “particular human rights concerns.” This turns the very idea of “human rights concerns” into a bad joke: If every human activity is a “human rights concern,” then nothing is.
But the absurdity doesn’t end there. In a press statement accompanying the blacklist, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights wrote, “While the settlements as such are regarded as illegal under international law, this report does not provide a legal characterization of the activities in question, or of business enterprises’ involvement in them.” Or in plain English, the activities in question aren’t illegal, nor are businesses violating international law by engaging them (since I’m analyzing the document strictly on its own terms, I’ll ignore its mischaracterization of the settlements themselves as illegal).
Hitherto, human-rights violations have been illegal under both international law and the legal codes of all Western countries (think murder, torture or rape). But it’s impossible to criminalize every ordinary human activity. That’s precisely why, as legal scholar Eugene Kontorovich has noted, international law doesn’t actually prohibit doing business in occupied territory—a position repeatedly upheld by European courts.
But now along comes the United Nations and says that actually, many things can be perfectly legal despite raising “particular human rights concerns.” So go ahead and violate human rights to your heart’s content.
There has been a lot of concern among Israel and its supporters that the blacklist will lead to boycotts and sanctions on the included companies. That’s one reason for the wall-to-wall condemnation it has elicited in Israel (the other being its patently discriminatory targeting of Israel; somehow, the United Nations hasn’t bothered publishing blacklists of companies operating in occupied northern Cyprus, occupied Western Sahara or any other occupied territory). Even the most left-wing of Israel’s Jewish parties, the Labor-Gesher-Meretz joint ticket, assailed the list’s publication unequivocally (to the dismay of Israel’s radical leftists).
Yet precisely because most of the targeted companies are basic service providers, the economic impact will likely be small. Most of these companies neither export and nor attract much foreign investment. And since their businesses depend almost exclusively on selling or providing services to Israelis (and Palestinians), the only way to boycott them would be for the boycotters to actually move to Israel.
Rather, the real danger comes from the way this blacklist cheapens the very idea of human rights. According to the U.N. Human Rights Council, there is effectively no difference between mass murder and selling groceries; both raise “particular human rights concerns.” That’s a standard that no minimally moral human being could take seriously. It turns “human rights concerns” into a laughingstock, and thereby undermines respect for all human rights, even the genuine ones.
And, as always, the biggest losers will be all the people worldwide suffering murder, torture, rape and other genuine abuses. For their cries will be drowned out by the din of the U.N.’s lofty crusade against supermarkets and gas stations.
This article was originally syndicated by JNS.org (www.jns.org) on February 19, 2020. © 2020 JNS.org
Ever since the Trump administration published its Mideast peace plan, critics have vociferously claimed that it “violates U.N. resolutions” and “challenges many of the internationally agreed parameters” guiding peacemaking since 1967. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, this is the first plan that actually relates seriously to the document every plan cites as the basis for those parameters: U.N. Security Council Resolution 242.
The resolution was adopted in November 1967, five months after Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights, eastern Jerusalem and Sinai Peninsula in the Six-Day War. But contrary to popular belief, it was carefully crafted to let Israel keep some of this territory by demanding a withdrawal only from “territories occupied in the recent conflict,” rather than “the territories” or “all the territories.”
As America’s then U.N. ambassador, Arthur Goldberg, later said, the omitted words “were not accidental … the resolution speaks of withdrawal from occupied territories without defining the extent of withdrawal.” Lord Caradon, the British ambassador to the United Nations who drafted the resolution, explained, “It would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of June 4, 1967, because those positions were undesirable and artificial.”
The reason was that, in the resolution’s own words, a “just and lasting peace” would require “secure and recognized boundaries” for all states in the region. But the 1967 lines (aka the 1949 armistice lines) did not and could not provide secure boundaries for Israel. As Goldberg explained, the resolution called for “less than a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces” precisely because “Israel’s prior frontiers had proved to be notably insecure.” And since Israel had captured these territories in a defensive rather than offensive war, the drafters considered such territorial changes fully compatible with the resolution’s preamble “emphasizing the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war.”
But then, having successfully defeated the Arab/Soviet demand that Israel be required to cede “all the territories,” America abandoned its hard-won achievement just two years later, when it proposed the Rogers Plan. That plan called for an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines with only minor adjustments (since nobody back then envisioned a Palestinian state, the West Bank would have returned to Jordan, even though Jordan had illegally occupied it in 1948).
This formula made a mockery of Resolution 242 because it failed to provide Israel with “secure boundaries.” Yet almost every subsequent proposal retained the idea of the 1967 lines with minor adjustments, even as all of them continued paying lip service to 242.
Now, for the first time, a plan has attempted to take that resolution seriously and provide Israel with defensible borders. That’s why it assigns the Jordan Valley to Israel, reflecting the long-standing Israeli consensus that this territory is crucial to defend the country against threats from the east (in this regard, the name “Jordan Valley” is misleading because what makes the area critical for defense is its high ground—the eastern slopes of the Judean Mountains and Samarian Hills).
Even Israel’s mainstream left has long deemed the valley essential, aside from a brief flirtation with Oslo-era delusions of a New Middle East. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who signed the Oslo Accords in 1993, said in his final speech to the Knesset in 1995 that Israel’s “security border … will be located in the Jordan Valley, in the broadest meaning of that term.” And today, both the center-right government and the main center-left opposition party agree that Israel must retain the valley. Parties seeking to cede it constitute a mere 20 percent of the Knesset (and just 10 percent of Jewish MKs).
There is similar consensus around the need for the belt of territory near the Green Line where most settlements lie, since this provides a territorial buffer for Israel’s major population centers. And a united Jerusalem under Israeli rule is essential because dividing it would leave Israel’s capital vulnerable to nonstop shelling from the city’s eastern half: For evidence, see Jerusalem’s experience when the city was divided from 1948 to 1967, or the experience of communities along the Gaza border today. Again, even Rabin’s final speech envisioned a “united Jerusalem … under Israeli sovereignty.”
The plan’s limited version of Palestinian sovereignty derives from the need for defensible borders as well, since as the past quarter-century has shown, Palestinian military control over territory means kissing Israeli security goodbye. The Palestinian Authority was able to wage the Second Intifada—which killed more than 1,100 Israelis, 78 percent of them civilians, including through suicide bombings in major Israeli cities—because the Oslo Accords barred the Israel Defense Forces from entering P.A. territory. Only after the IDF reasserted control over those areas did the terror wane. Similarly, the IDF’s absence from Gaza is what has allowed Palestinians to fire more than 20,000 rockets at Israel from that territory, even as not one rocket has ever been launched from the West Bank.
Having learned this lesson, Trump’s plan assigns security control of the West Bank solely to Israel. And again, this used to be an Israeli consensus before Oslo fever took hold; even Rabin, in his final speech, envisioned a Palestinian “entity which is less than a state.”
One could obviously quibble with certain details of the plan; for instance, the idea of leaving some settlements as enclaves in Palestinian territory sounds like a security nightmare. One could even legitimately wonder, given the experience of the last 25 years, whether any kind of Palestinian state is compatible with Israel’s security.
Nevertheless, Trump’s plan is the first serious attempt to give Israel what Resolution 242 promised more than 50 years ago—borders that are not only recognized, but secure. As such, far from “violating U.N. resolutions,” it’s actually the first plan that doesn’t violate them.
This provides Israel and its allies with a golden opportunity to remind the world that contrary to what is widely believed today, U.N. resolutions and “internationally agreed parameters” originally promised Israel defensible borders. Thus all the plans that broke this promise are the ones that ought to be deemed illegitimate—not the one plan that finally seeks to keep it.
This article was originally syndicated by JNS.org (www.jns.org) on February 5, 2020. © 2020 JNS.org
If you want to understand the true obstacle to Mideast peace, look no further than the Jordanian parliament’s unanimous approval last week of a bill to ban natural-gas imports from Israel, just days after the gas began arriving.
Energy-poor Jordan needs a stable, affordable fuel supply, which the Israeli deal provides. When it was signed in 2016, the Jordanian government said it could save the country $500 million a year—almost 4 percent of Jordan’s 2019 budget and more than half its projected deficit for that year (the actual deficit was apparently higher). In short, the deal would let the kingdom redirect significant amounts of money to some of its other crying needs.
But that doesn’t interest Jordanian lawmakers. What they care about is that this is “the gas of the enemy,” to quote protesters against the deal.
They also don’t care that Jordan and Israel signed a peace treaty 25 years ago. As last week’s vote made clear, every single Jordanian lawmaker still views Israel as an enemy with whom trade is anathema, even if Jordan itself would benefit greatly. That stance is wildly popular: Almost all Jordanians have an unfavorable view of Jews and similar views of the Jewish state.
Israel’s egregious efforts to accommodate Jordan’s anti-Israel sensibilities didn’t help, either. The gas comes from a field developed by an Israeli company, Delek, in partnership with an American one, Noble Energy. But to enable the deal to move forward, the partnership acceded to the Jordanian power company’s demand that no Israeli entity be party to the contract. Officially, therefore, the contract isn’t with Israel, but with Noble’s American marketing subsidiary.
The deal will most likely go ahead despite parliament’s objections because though King Abdullah is happy to let his lawmakers spout anti-Israel rhetoric, he rarely lets them interfere with anything that he considers an important Jordanian interest. And for now, despite the country’s growing unrest, Abdullah’s grip still seems firm.
But regardless of what happens to the gas deal, the vote shines a spotlight on two errors that have consistently undermined Western peacemaking efforts.
The first is underestimating the depth of Arab hatred for Israel, and therefore failing to grasp that this is the principal obstacle to peace. Westerners tend to assume that everyone the world over basically wants the same things—peace and prosperity—and therefore, all sides should be happy to make compromises for peace. But in reality, as the Jordanian vote shows, neither peace nor prosperity is a prime motivator for many people in this part of the world, whereas hatred is a very powerful motivator.
Thus when Jordanian lawmakers had to choose between a deal that would boost Jordan’s economy and a chance to publicly display their hatred of Israel, between a deal that would bolster the peace treaty and legislation that would undermine it, they unhesitatingly chose the latter. And Palestinians have repeatedly done the same.
A corollary of this, incidentally, is that the Western belief in an economic “peace dividend” is pure fantasy. Peace treaties can’t provide a significant economic boost when one signatory largely refuses to do business with the other; consequently, neither the Israeli-Jordanian nor the Israeli-Egyptian treaty has produced major economic benefits for any of the countries involved. A 2018 study by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change found that Israel’s trade with the Gulf States—with which it has no official relations—exceeds its trade with Egypt and Jordan combined.
This doesn’t mean that economic ties are useless; they undoubtedly play a positive role. Jordan has derived benefits from its peace with Israel, including the tens of millions of cubic meters of water a year that Israel is treaty-bound to provide, as well as a vital route for trade with the West (after the Syrian civil war made Jordan’s former route through Syria impassible, goods started going through Haifa Port instead). These benefits presumably contribute to Abdullah’s reluctance to capitulate to parliament’s periodic demands to scrap the treaty. But when material interests collide with Arab hatred of Jews and the Jewish state, the latter often wins.
The second major Western fallacy is that peace obviates the need for defensible borders. Granted, the Jordanian and Egyptian borders are both currently peaceful; Israel’s security cooperation with both countries is close; and both these facts will likely remain true as long as the current Jordanian and Egyptian rulers hold power. But as the Arab Spring made clear, no Mideast autocrat’s reign comes with a long-term guarantee. And given the enormous public hostility to Israel in both Jordan and Egypt, there’s also no guarantee that a new government wouldn’t scrap the treaty.
Although the treaty with Egypt did survive the Muslim Brotherhood’s brief time in power, it’s far from clear that would have remained true had President Mohammed Morsi not been ousted after a mere year in office, long before he had time to implement most of his plans. And it’s even less certain that the Jordanian peace would survive Abdullah’s fall, judging by last week’s parliamentary vote and many similar votes in the past. In that scenario, Israel’s longest border could become a hostile one overnight.
The unabated hostility to Israel among most of its neighbors, coupled with the uncertain future of any agreement signed with a dictator, means that Israel can’t afford to assume any treaty is permanent. It must be prepared to defend itself if a new Arab government scraps the treaty. Indeed, both the Jordanian and the Egyptian treaties were drafted with that in mind, and that’s also why even Israel’s main center-left party insists on retaining the Jordan Valley in any deal with the Palestinians. Yet Westerner peacemakers routinely dismiss the need for territorial depth and favorable topography, insisting that “international forces” (who will run if trouble erupts) and unspecified “technological means” provide sufficient protection.
The Jordanian vote is a reminder that hatred is strong and peace is fragile. If would-be peacemakers don’t start confronting this hatred rather than pretending it doesn’t exist, long-term prospects for peace are dim. And in the meantime, any treaty will have to include defensible borders.
This article was originally syndicated by JNS.org (www.jns.org) on January 22, 2020. © 2020 JNS.org
Even among people who recognize that Israeli-Palestinian peace is currently impossible, a growing number think that Israel must nevertheless quit the West Bank. Israel has a right to defend itself, their argument goes, but not by controlling another people for decades. Instead, it should withdraw to the “internationally recognized border” and protect itself from there, like other countries do.
Forget for a moment that the “internationally recognized border” is an arrant fiction. Forget as well that Israel remains in the West Bank precisely because defending itself from the 1949 armistice lines (the abovementioned fictional border) hasn’t worked very well in either the West Bank—from which Israel partially withdrew in the 1990s before returning the following decade—or the Gaza Strip.
That still leaves another uncomfortable fact: As long as genuine peace remains impossible, Israeli control of the West Bank, despite the undeniable hardships it causes Palestinians, remains the least bad alternative for the Palestinians themselves. As evidence, just compare the Israeli-controlled West Bank to Gaza, which has been free of both settlers and soldiers since August 2005. By almost any parameter, life in the former is far better.
Take, for instance, casualties. According to B’Tselem’s statistics, Israeli security forces killed 5,706 Palestinians in Gaza from September 2005 through August 2019. That’s almost eight times the 756 killed by Israeli security personnel and settlers combined in the West Bank during this period (no Gazans were killed by settlers since there are no settlers there).
Nor is this surprising. Israel’s control of the West Bank means that suspected terrorists can often be arrested rather than killed, though shootouts (with attendant collateral damage) do occur. But in Gaza, where Israel has no troops, it can’t arrest terrorists. Thus the only way to fight terror is through military action, which naturally produces many more casualties among both combatants and civilians.
Seemingly more surprising is that the number of Palestinians killed by other Palestinians is also much higher in Gaza. According to B’Tselem, there have been 520 such deaths in Gaza since September 2005, more than 20 times the number in the West Bank (25). But this isn’t surprising either because the same terrorists who kill Israelis often turn on Palestinians from rival organizations. Thus Israel’s arrest of terrorists in the West Bank has the side effect of reducing internecine Palestinian violence there.
No less dramatic is the economic difference between the territories. The first-quarter unemployment rate in Gaza was 46 percent, almost triple the West Bank’s rate of 16 percent. One contributing factor is that while one-sixth of employed West Bankers work in Israel or the settlements, almost no Gazans do. Moreover, Gaza’s median daily wage was just 42 shekels ($12), less than half the West Bank median of 100 shekels ($28) and less than a fifth of the median earned by Palestinians in Israel and the settlements at 250 shekels ($71.50). Thus it’s no surprise that fully three-quarters of Gazans wish Israel would provide them with more jobs.
These two factors, combined with fewer wars and greater access to the Israeli market, have also helped boost the West Bank’s per capita gross domestic product to three times Gaza’s ($1,025 versus $343 in the second quarter). And, of course, Gaza has astronomically higher poverty rates: In 2017, the last year for which the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics published poverty data, Gaza’s poverty rate of 53 percent was more than triple the West Bank’s 14 percent.
But while Israel is a major cause of these differences, it isn’t the only one. So would its departure really turn the West Bank into another Gaza? Unfortunately, the answer is yes—for many of the same reasons that Gaza looks like it does today.
First, the most likely scenario is that Hamas would take over the West Bank just as it took over Gaza. That’s the Israeli defense establishment’s assessment, and it’s also Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s assessment, which is precisely why he has continued security cooperation with Israel despite its unpopularity among the Palestinian public. Ever since Hamas ousted him from Gaza in a one-week civil war in 2007, Abbas has recognized both that the Islamist organization is the greatest threat to his rule and that the Israel Defense Forces are his main protection against it.
Yet even if Hamas didn’t take power, an Israeli pullout would almost certainly produce a significant upsurge of terror from the West Bank. First, as noted, the IDF does most of the counterterrorism work, and there’s no evidence that P.A. forces would be capable of suppressing Hamas without Israel’s help.
Second, while Abbas does fight Hamas and Islamic Jihad, he has shown little interest in fighting non-Islamist terrorists, including elements of his own Fatah party and smaller groups like the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Moreover, many of his likely successors in Fatah are even more supportive of terror than the 83-year-old Abbas (who both funds and incites it). Thus without the IDF, terror from non-Islamist groups would also rise.
Israel would obviously treat escalating terror from the West Bank no differently than it treats terror from Gaza. That means periodic military operations, with all the attendant casualties. It also means restrictions on dual-use imports, exports to Israel, Palestinians working in Israel, use of Israeli ports and airports, etc., which would have the same devastating effect on the West Bank’s economy as they have had on Gaza.
Granted, a post-pullout West Bank could presumably develop greater economic ties with other countries. But its only other neighbor, Jordan, is a poor substitute for Israel, which currently buys 80 percent of the P.A.’s exports. With an economy one-ninth the size of Israel’s and an unemployment rate of 19 percent, Jordan simply lacks the capacity to absorb the quantity of Palestinian exports and workers that Israel does.
In short, an Israeli pullout from the West Bank under current conditions would lead to much higher Palestinian casualties and a devastated Palestinian economy, just as the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza did. As unsatisfying as the status quo is, it’s hard to see how turning the West Bank into a second Gaza would be an improvement.
This article was originally syndicated by JNS.org (www.jns.org) on November 13, 2019. © 2019 JNS.org
Zionism seems like a binary proposition: You’re either for or against the existence of a Jewish state. But a third option has become increasingly popular, one I would call conditional Zionism. It holds that a Jewish state has a right to exist, but only if it meets certain conditions.
This position is spreading rapidly among liberal American Jews. In an essay in Haaretz in August, for instance, Abe Silberstein argued that Israel must be coerced into creating a Palestinian state because otherwise, the only alternatives are perpetuating the status quo or a one-state solution—and any moral Jew would have to deem the latter “infinitely preferable,” even though it would probably end Jewish statehood. In other words, the Jewish state’s right to exist depends on satisfying Palestinian (and American Jewish) demands.
This position is also common among non-Jews. For instance, in a September essay for Mosaic on whether a Catholic equivalent to Protestant Zionism was possible, Gavin D’Costa concluded, “If the Israel-Palestinian dispute were to be resolved tomorrow, with the full agreement of both parties and with international support, I believe official Catholic Zionism would emerge quite quickly.” In other words, the Church might someday accept a Jewish state, but only if Israel satisfies Palestinian (and Western) demands.
Ostensibly, such positions could be dismissed as simple anti-Semitism based on Natan Sharansky’s famous 3D test (demonization, delegitimization and double standards). The relevant criterion here is double standards since no other country’s existence is deemed conditional on its behavior, even when said behavior is far worse than Israel’s. For instance, China has occupied Tibet for almost 70 years and currently holds a million Uighurs in detention camps, and many people want these policies stopped. But nobody says a Chinese state has no right to exist without such changes.
Nevertheless, dismissing conditional Zionism as anti-Semitic poses one obvious problem: Any rationale for a Jewish state, whether religious or secular, rests on the Jews’ claim to be a distinct people with a distinct religion, language and culture. And that very heritage deems the Jewish people’s right to remain in its land conditional on its moral behavior. This isn’t a minor detail; it’s a core element of Jewish theology.
It’s stated repeatedly in the Bible. It’s included in the Shema prayer, Judaism’s closest approximation to a credo, which observant Jews recite twice daily. It’s the reason given by the rabbis of the Talmud for both the first and second exiles (they attributed the first to murder, idolatry and forbidden sexual relations, and the second to baseless hatred). Indeed, it’s precisely because this is so fundamental that it still seems self-evident even to secular Jews who have abandoned almost every other vestige of Judaism, or a Catholic Church that has downgraded the Hebrew Bible in favor of the New Testament (the main reason Christian Zionism is a Protestant phenomenon is because Protestants give greater weight to the Hebrew Bible than Catholics do).
So does that mean conditional Zionists are right, and Israel’s right to exist depends on satisfying Palestinian demands? Not at all, because there’s a crucial distinction between modern conditional Zionism and the biblical version: Neither the Bible nor the talmudic Judaism it engendered ever insisted that Jewish morality requires the Jewish polity to commit suicide.
Indeed, another fundamental principle of Judaism is that following God’s laws leads to life, not death (see Deuteronomy 30:19 or Leviticus 18:5). Consequently, the Talmud allows almost any religious commandment (except murder, idolatry and forbidden sexual relations) to be violated to save a life. It also declares that if someone comes to kill you, “rise up and kill him first.”
For the same reason, national self-defense is considered one of the principal responsibilities of a Jewish leader, and possibly even a religious obligation. The Bible itself merely states that some wars are obligatory without defining which wars fall into this category. But one interpretation, adopted inter alia by the great medieval Jewish scholar Maimonides, says it includes wars of self-defense.
Obviously, this doesn’t mean anything goes. Even in wartime, the Bible sets limits on an army’s behavior—the original laws of war. But Jewish tradition utterly rejects the idea that morality requires national suicide. On the contrary, it views defending the Jewish commonwealth as a positive moral good.
So what does all this have to do with the Palestinians? It’s very simple: Even if you accept the (false) premise that ceding the West Bank would actually satisfy Palestinian demands, the fact remains that Israel isn’t there solely or even primarily because of the settlers, who have repeatedly proven incapable of preventing territorial concessions (see the Oslo Accords, the disengagement from Gaza, the far-reaching offers made by prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert). It’s there because, based on bitter experience, most Israelis see no way to leave without committing national suicide.
Withdrawing from parts of the West Bank under the Oslo Accords led to the lethal terror of the Second Intifada, which ended only when the Israeli army retook control of these areas. Withdrawing from Gaza resulted in 14 years (and counting) of almost nonstop rocket and mortar fire on southern Israel; a similar outcome would be far deadlier in the West Bank, which, unlike Gaza, is in easy range of Israel’s main population centers, economic hubs and international airport. Withdrawing from southern Lebanon in 2000 enabled Hezbollah, a terrorist organization, to acquire a missile arsenal greater than that of many national armies, aimed straight at Israel.
All this has convinced most Israelis that barring a radical and unforeseen change in Palestinian behavior, ceding the West Bank would be militarily suicidal. And since a one-state solution still looks demographically suicidal, that leaves some version of the status quo as the least bad option—not only for Israel, but even for the Palestinians, as I’ll explain in a subsequent column.
So is conditional Zionism anti-Semitic? That depends on the conditions. But nowadays, the key condition usually involves suicidal Israeli concessions to the Palestinians. Thus today’s conditional Zionists require one nation, of all the nations in the world, to destroy itself for another’s sake. And yes, that’s anti-Semitic.
This article was originally syndicated by JNS.org (www.jns.org) on October 30, 2019 © 2019 JNS.org
Hundreds of Palestinian refugees demonstrated outside the Canadian Embassy in Beirut on Sept. 5 to request asylum in Canada or the European Union, the second such protest in the last month. The most surprising aspect of these demonstrations is that they have been so long in coming. Only now, after more than 70 years, are Palestinians publicly protesting the fact that they alone, of all the world’s refugees, are denied the most basic of refugee rights—the right to seek resettlement in a safe third country.
All other refugees worldwide are handled by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, which resettles tens of thousands of refugees in third countries every year. But Palestinian refugees aren’t allowed to apply to UNHCR; they are handled by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, an agency created exclusively for them. And UNRWA hasn’t resettled a single refugee in its 70 years of existence.
The only option it offers the refugees and their descendants is eternal limbo: awaiting a “return” to Israel that will never happen. Thus it’s unsurprising that the protesters also assailed UNRWA for depriving them of “their most basic rights.”
Moreover, this refusal to grant Palestinians a right of resettlement enjoys the full support of so-called human-rights organizations and self-proclaimed advocates of human rights like the European Union. Thus it’s equally unsurprising that groups like Amnesty and Human Rights Watch completely ignored the demonstration.
Of course, one could legitimately argue (as I frequently have) that most Palestinians simply aren’t genuine refugees. Granted, those who demonstrated in Lebanon face discrimination due to their nationality: Not only are they denied citizenship, but as the Associated Press noted, they have “no access to public services, limited employment opportunities and no rights to ownership.”
But they’ve never faced the kind of threat that would drive them to flee. Most Palestinians in Lebanon—like most of those in the West Bank, Gaza and Jordan—were born there and have lived there all their lives. And the 1951 Refugee Convention explicitly defines a refugee only as someone who has fled his country due to “well-founded fear” of persecution or, if he’s stateless, is “outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of” such a fear. So it’s understandable that even Palestinians who manage to reach Western countries and apply for asylum there are usually rejected, unless they’re from war-torn Syria.
Yet no Western country actually makes the argument that Palestinians aren’t real refugees; they all accept UNRWA’s definition of refugeehood—an inherited status bequeathed to every new generation of Palestinians in perpetuity even if the “refugees” have citizenship in their country of residence, like most of those in Jordan, and even if they reside in what the United Nations itself has recognized as the Palestinian state, like all those living in the West Bank and Gaza. And as long as the West insists on defining Palestinians as refugees, it has an obligation to grant them the same rights as other refugees, including the right of resettlement.
Moreover, resettlement is what many of the refugees themselves want—and not just in Lebanon. Repeated polls show that more than 40 percent of Gazans want to emigrate (the figure hit 45 percent in one 2018 poll), as do around 20 percent of West Bankers. And many of these would-be émigrés are certainly refugees, given that more than 70 percent of Gazans and almost 30 percent of West Bankers are registered as refugees, and that refugees are generally among the worst-off members of Palestinian society. Both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas have deliberately kept them in squalid camps and denied them basic services to generate Western sympathy for the demand that they all be resettled in Israel.
So why has the West, with ardent support from “human rights” organizations, continued to deny Palestinian refugees a basic refugee right that they themselves want to exercise? The answer can be found in an astonishing conversation that journalist Yoav Sorek recounted in Mosaic back in 2014. He and a colleague asked an official from ECHO, the E.U.’s humanitarian aid agency, why it didn’t help Gazans who so desired to resettle in other countries. The official replied, “Because if they leave, it’d be like releasing Israel from its responsibility for the ‘nakba,’ ” the Palestinian term (meaning “catastrophe”) for the refugee crisis spawned by the Arabs’ war to prevent Israel’s establishment in 1948.
In other words, the West has kept Palestinian refugees in miserable limbo for 70 years and deprived them of their basic right to resettlement in order to hold a gun to Israel’s head: Either make enough political concessions to the Palestinians and/or Arab states that they’ll deign to grant citizenship to their own brethren, or risk being flooded by millions of “refugees” and their descendants, who will destroy the Jewish state demographically. Just like the Palestinian Authority, the West has been treating these Palestinians as political game pieces rather than human beings with needs, wants and rights of their own. And as the protests in Lebanon show, Palestinians are increasingly fed up with this role.
Any resettlement program would have to be led by an international agency like UNHCR. Though an Israeli official ludicrously asserted in August that Israel is actively promoting emigration from Gaza, in reality, this isn’t something Israel can do much about. As I’ve explained in more detail elsewhere, neither Palestinians nor other countries would feel comfortable cooperating with Israel as part of such an effort.
But what Israel and its supporters can and should do is wage a full-throated campaign to demand that the international community finally choose: Either admit that the Palestinians aren’t actually refugees or finally start treating them as real refugees. If the former, it should dismantle UNRWA and use the agency’s $1.2 billion budget to encourage the places where Palestinians now live to start providing them with citizenship and basic services. And if the latter, it should dismantle UNRWA, transfer responsibility for Palestinian refugees to UNHCR and finally grant them the basic right of resettlement.
After 70 years, it’s long past time to stop treating millions of Palestinians as nothing but perpetual pawns in a war to destroy Israel.
This article was originally syndicated by JNS.org (www.jns.org) on September 11, 2019. © 2019 JNS.org
Three seemingly unrelated incidents occurred last week, yet all share a common denominator: They exemplify the way anti-Israel politics has corrupted the concept of human rights.
Let’s start with best-selling British novelist Richard Zimler’s report that two British cultural organizations recently refused to host him for lectures about his new book, though he has lectured many times on previous books. “They asked me if you were Jewish, and the moment I said you were, they lost all interest,” he quoted his publicist as saying.
It’s not that these groups have anything against Jews per se. They simply feared that hosting a Jew would make them a target for anti-Israel protesters.
Zimler isn’t Israeli, has no relatives or investments in Israel and doesn’t write about Israel. His latest book is set in the Holy Land 2,000 years ago, but its storyline is Christian rather than Jewish (it’s called The Gospel According to Lazarus). So he wouldn’t seem an obvious target, given BDS apologists’ repeated claim that anti-Zionism isn’t anti-Semitic.
Unfortunately, much of the anti-Israel crowd hasn’t gotten that memo. See, for instance, the German courts which ruled that torching a German synagogue wasn’t a hate crime, but an understandable anti-Israel protest. Or the student organizations which demanded that a South African university expel all Jewish students to show its pro-Palestinian bona fides. Or the Norwegian attorney general who ruled that “F*** Jews” isn’t hate speech, but an expression of “dissatisfaction with [Israel’s] policies,” although the speaker never mentioned Israel. Or the dyke marches that banned Jews from holding Jewish pride flags because they remind some people of Israeli flags. And so forth.
So despite deploring the unnamed organizations’ cowardice, I can’t dismiss their fears as unfounded. And that’s the problem.
Human-rights groups and liberals worldwide rush to defend the “rights” of BDS activists; see, for instance, their opposition to anti-BDS legislation on the false grounds that it violates freedom of speech (it actually applies only to actions, not speech). Yet they’ve shown no interest in defending Jewish rights in most of the examples cited above. Evidently, Jewish rights are acceptable collateral damage in the sacred cause of anti-Zionism.
The second incident was the Palestinian Authority’s harassment of Palestinian businessmen who attended the U.S.-sponsored economic workshop in Bahrain on June 25-26. One was arrested, but eventually released under American pressure. Another escaped arrest by fleeing to the Israeli-controlled section of Hebron. And the P.A. raided the homes of several others, confiscating documents like credit cards and passports.
These roughly 15 businessmen traveled legally to Bahrain to participate in what one reporter termed the conference’s “real, unofficial” purpose—closing legal business deals, mainly with fellow Arabs. They explicitly said they represented only themselves, not the P.A, and refused to talk politics, saying only the P.A. was authorized to do that. In short, not only did they commit no crime, they made no attempt to undermine the P.A.’s political positions.
Indeed, the P.A. didn’t even try to pretend that any crime was committed. As one Palestinian security official told Haaretz, there was “no specific charge” against the arrested businessman; the arrest “was a warning. He must understand the implications of this sort of collaboration.”
In other words, this was pure political persecution, which is standard P.A. practice. Palestinian journalists, activists and businessmen have all been arrested for such “crimes” as saying P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas should resign.
Human-rights groups and liberals worldwide incessantly condemn Israeli violations of Palestinian rights (real or imaginary). They also frequently condemn Israel for utterly fictitious violations of Israeli rights. But innocent Palestinian businessmen arrested and harassed by the P.A. for doing legal business? You won’t hear a peep about that. Palestinian rights are evidently acceptable collateral damage in the sacred struggle against Israel.
The third incident was the estimated 100 fires that incendiary balloons flown from Gaza ignited in southern Israel. That’s an unusually high number for a single week, but incendiary devices from Gaza—courtesy of Hamas’s “balloon unit”—have been wreaking havoc for more than a year. In the six months ending in October 2018, such devices destroyed some 3,000 acres of forest and 4,000 acres of farmland. Since the winter rains ended, additional thousands of acres have been destroyed.
This is a war crime, according to both the Geneva Conventions and the treaty governing the International Criminal Court. Both define “extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly” as a war crime; the latter also lists causing “widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment which would be clearly excessive in relation to the concrete and direct overall military advantage anticipated.” Palestinian arson attacks do both, while serving no military purpose whatsoever.
The ICC is looking into numerous alleged Israeli crimes against the Palestinians and has even begged Palestinians to provide it with more complaints. Human-rights groups and liberals worldwide incessantly condemn these alleged Israeli crimes, including settlement construction, which, even if it were a genuine crime (it isn’t), is far less destructive than scorched-earth tactics (evacuated settlements could theoretically be given to the Palestinians under a peace deal). But I haven’t heard a peep about the destruction of large swaths of southern Israel, nor has the ICC considered probing it. Environmental devastation is evidently acceptable collateral damage in the sacred fight against Israel.
What all these cases show is that human rights have ceased being an objective standard applied equally to all. Instead, they’ve become a political tool to bash groups that liberals dislike. So Jewish rights matter when targeted by right-wing extremists (whom liberals loathe), but not when targeted by anti-Zionists. Palestinians’ rights matter when targeted by Israel, but not when targeted by the P.A. And Israeli rights never matter, except when violated by Israel.
This problem isn’t unique to the Israeli-Palestinian issue, of course. It’s just particularly blatant there.
Liberals and human-rights groups frequently complain that human rights are becoming devalued worldwide, and they’re right. But their own politicization of these rights is the chief culprit. And until this changes, contempt for human rights will only keep growing.
This article was originally syndicated by JNS.org (www.jns.org) on July 3, 2019. © 2019 JNS.org
The Palestinians’ refusal to attend a U.S.-sponsored “economic workshop” in Bahrain on June 25-26 has been widely treated as a reasonable response to the unlikelihood that U.S. President Donald Trump’s peace plan (whose economic section will be unveiled at the workshop) will satisfy their demands. But in fact, it’s merely further proof that the Palestinian leadership doesn’t actually want a state—or at least, not a viable one. Because even if Palestinian statehood isn’t imminent, economic development now would increase the viability of any future state.
This understanding is precisely what guided Israel’s leadership in both the pre-state years and the early years of statehood. The pre-state Jewish community was bitterly at odds with the ruling British over multiple violations of the promises contained in the 1917 Balfour Declaration, the 1920 San Remo Resolution and the 1922 British Mandate for Palestine. These included Britain’s serial diminishments of the territory allotted for a “Jewish national home” and its curtailment of Jewish immigration, notoriously culminating in a total denial of entry to Jews fleeing the Nazis.
Nevertheless, the pre-state leadership still welcomed and cooperated with British efforts to develop the country, knowing that this would benefit the Jewish state once it finally arose (despite Britain’s best efforts to thwart it). And four years after Israel’s establishment, in a far more controversial decision, the government even accepted Holocaust reparations from Germany to obtain money desperately needed for the new state’s development.
The Bahrain conference requires no such morally wrenching compromise from the Palestinian Authority; its declared aim is merely to drum up investment in the Palestinian economy, primarily from Arab states and the private sector. Thus if the P.A. actually wanted to lay the groundwork for a viable state, what it ought to be doing is attending the conference and discussing these proposals. To claim that this would somehow undermine its negotiating positions is fatuous since attendance wouldn’t preclude it from rejecting any proposals that had political strings attached.
Nor is this the first time the P.A.’s behavior has proven that a functional state—as opposed to the trappings of statehood—isn’t what it wants. The most blatant example is its handling of the refugee issue.
The international community has always asserted that Palestinian statehood is necessary in part to provide a solution for Palestinian refugees. Forget for a moment that under the U.N. definition used for everyone except Palestinians, most of the nearly 5.5 million Palestinian “refugees” wouldn’t actually qualify as such. The fact remains that roughly half those 5.5 million people have lived under Palestinian rule for 25 years now. Indeed, around 40 percent of all Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are registered as refugees.
Yet in 25 years, neither the P.A. nor Hamas (which seized control of Gaza in 2007) has moved even one of these people out of refugee camps. Nor has either Palestinian government ever accepted financial responsibility for them. In fact, one of the few things both rival governments agree on is that the international community, via donations to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), bears full responsibility for the refugees’ education, health care and welfare.
In other words, the Palestinian state-to-be, which has already been recognized as an actual state by more than two-thirds of the world, insists it has no responsibility whatsoever for a whopping 40 percent of its population. This, to put it mildly, is not how you behave if you seek to become a functioning state.
Another salient example is the ongoing crisis over taxes that Israel collects on the P.A.’s behalf and remits to it. Israel recently (and very belatedly) decided to deduct from this sum the amount of money the P.A. spends incentivizing anti-Israel terror by paying above-market salaries to jailed terrorists. In response, the P.A. has refused to accept any tax transfers at all from Israel.
Since the tax transfers fund more than half the P.A.’s budget, this decision put it on what even The New York Times admitted was “a kamikaze course.” Inter alia, the P.A. has slashed government employees’ salaries by 50 percent (an injury exacerbated by the recent news that its cabinet secretly gave its members a 67 percent raise two years ago) and stopped sending patients to Israeli hospitals for treatments unavailable in Palestinian ones.
In contrast, the Israeli deduction would at most have created only modest financial pain since it amounted to less than 5 percent of the P.A. budget. And in reality, it would have created no pain at all, since both the European Union (with some strings attached) and the Arab states (with no strings) offered to make up the shortfall. Yet the P.A. rejected both offers.
In other words, the P.A. could have received its revenues in full without even having to make any changes in its pay-for-slay program. Instead, it chose to devastate its own economy and society rather than accept any solution that didn’t require Israel to acquiesce in financial incentives for the murder of its own citizens. This, too, isn’t how you behave if you actually want to create a functioning state.
Of course, the clearest evidence of all that the Palestinian leadership doesn’t want a state is its continued rejection of every Israeli and international offer. A leadership that actually wants a state doesn’t keep rebuffing offers just because they fail to meet 100 percent of its demands. Here, too, Israel’s pre-state leadership provides an instructive contrast: Since it actually did want a state, it repeatedly said “yes” to offers far more objectionable than those the Palestinians have rejected.
The most astounding part of all this is that the rest of the world, despite insisting that it wants a “viable Palestinian state” (to quote official E.U. policy), keeps encouraging this Palestinian behavior—in this case, by openly condoning the P.A.’s refusal to go to Bahrain. Instead, the rest of the world should be telling the P.A. what Washington has: that it ought to seize any chance for economic development. Because without such development, there’s no chance of any future Palestinian state actually being viable. Instead, it would be just another failed state.
This article was originally syndicated by JNS.org (www.jns.org) on June 19, 2019. © 2019 JNS.org