Analysis from Israel

Peace Process

This omission isn’t unprecedented, but it is unusual; most U.S. presidents have included the Israeli-Palestinian issue in their annual UN addresses. And it seems especially surprising for a president who has repeatedly declared Israeli-Palestinian peace to be one of his major foreign policy goals.

Yet the omission is perfectly consistent with Trump’s approach to the peace process to date, which has differed markedly from that of all his predecessors in one crucial regard: He appears to be trying to apply serious pressure to the Palestinians rather than only to Israel.

Take, for instance, his administration’s consistent refusal to say that the goal of the peace process is a two-state solution. Since efforts to achieve a two-state solution have repeatedly failed for almost 25 years now, it makes obvious sense for anyone who’s serious about trying to solve the conflict to at least consider whether this is really the most workable option. But even if, as seems likely, the administration actually does believe in the two-state solution, refusing to publicly commit to it serves an important purpose.

That’s because insisting that the end goal be a Palestinian state is a major concession to the Palestinians—something that has unfortunately been forgotten over the last quarter century. After all, throughout Israel’s first 45 years of existence, there was almost wall-to-wall consensus among Israelis that a Palestinian state would endanger their country. Even the 1993 Oslo Accord included no mention of Palestinian statehood, and the man who signed it, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, asserted in his final address to the Knesset in 1995 that he envisioned a “Palestinian entity . . . which is less than a state.”

Yet to date, this significant concession to the Palestinians has never been accompanied by a corresponding Palestinian concession to Israel. Though the Palestinians insist on a Palestinian nation-state, they still refuse to accept a Jewish nation-state alongside it. Instead, they demand that millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees be allowed to relocate to Israel, turning it into a binational state.

Nor has this major concession to the Palestinians been accompanied by a corresponding international concession to Israel. The European Union, for instance, repeatedly makes very specific demands of Israel, insisting that it accept a Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines and Jerusalem as the capital of two states. But the EU has never demanded that the Palestinians accept a Jewish state or give up their idea of relocating millions of Palestinians to Israel. Instead, it merely calls for an unspecified “just, fair, agreed and realistic solution” to the Palestinian refugee problem, which the Palestinians–who view flooding Israel with millions of Palestinians as the only “just” solution–can easily interpret as support for their position.

In short, until Trump came along, the Palestinians won this major concession for free. Now, by refusing to declare a two-state solution as his goal, he has essentially told the Palestinians, for the first time in the history of the peace process, that every concession they previously pocketed is reversible unless and until they actually sign a deal. In other words, for the first time in the history of the peace process, he has told the Palestinians they have something to lose by intransigence. And if they want to reinstate America’s commitment to a Palestinian state, they will have to give something in exchange.

The same goes for Trump’s refusal even to mention the Palestinians in his UN speech. When former Secretary of State John Kerry repeatedly insisted that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the world’s most important foreign policy problem (a message routinely echoed by European diplomats), that gave the Palestinians tremendous leverage. Since they have always been the more intransigent side, the easiest path for any broker to follow is to simply support more and more Palestinian demands without requiring any substantive Palestinian concessions in return and then try to pressure Israel into agreeing. Thus, if world leaders are desperate to resolve the conflict, they will naturally tend to take that easy path in the hope of producing quick “achievements,” which is, in fact, what has happened over the last two decades. The result is that the Palestinians have concluded they can keep getting more simply by continuing to say no.

In his UN speech, Trump sent the opposite message: There are a lot of important foreign policy issues, like North Korea and Iran, and the Palestinian issue is so trivial by comparison that it doesn’t even merit a mention. In other words, though Trump would like to broker a peace deal, it isn’t necessary for America’s own interests. And therefore, it’s only worth investing time and effort in it if Palestinians and Israelis are both actually ready to deal, which means the Palestinians will have to be ready to finally make some concessions.

There are ample grounds for skepticism about whether Trump’s approach will work; based on the accumulated evidence of the last quarter century, I consider it far more likely that the Palestinians simply aren’t interested in signing a deal on any terms. Nevertheless, there is a plausible alternative theory. Perhaps Palestinians keep saying no simply because doing so has proven effective in securing more concessions. And if that’s the case, then reversing this perverse set of incentives by telling them they stand to lose from intransigence rather than gain by it could actually be effective.

Whether he succeeds or fails, Trump deserves credit for trying something new. Given the failure of his predecessors to achieve peace, only State Department bureaucrats could imagine that doing the same thing one more time would somehow produce different results.

Originally published in Commentary on September 25, 2017

In 2006, three Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem were elected to the Palestinian parliament on behalf of the Hamas-affiliated Change and Reform party, while a fourth was appointed to the Palestinian cabinet on behalf of that party. Israel responded by revoking their Israeli residency rights.

To most people, this would sound like a no-brainer. Many democracies view serving in a foreign government as grounds for revocation of citizenship because holding a policy-level position in one country’s government is considered to require a level of commitment to that country, which conflicts with one’s loyalty to the other country. Indeed, both America and Israel have such rules for their own citizens in policy-level positions; that’s why, for instance, when Michael Oren became ambassador to the U.S., he had to forfeit his American citizenship, despite the fact that America and Israel are close allies.

But these four Palestinians weren’t just serving in a foreign government; they were doing so on behalf of Hamas – a terrorist organization sworn to Israel’s destruction. This, as the Israeli government correctly argued in court, constituted a massive “breach of trust” toward Israel.

Yet the court, in a 6-3 ruling, decided otherwise. Although the Entry into Israel Law allows the government to revoke anyone’s residency rights “at its discretion,” it said the law shouldn’t be used to revoke their residency for “breach of trust.” Why? Because most East Jerusalem Palestinians were born in Israel and had lived there all their lives, so they deserve greater protection than migrants, who have previously lived elsewhere and whose roots in Israel are therefore shallower.

That East Jerusalem Palestinians merit greater protection than, say, labor migrants, is obviously true. Israel formally annexed East Jerusalem back in 1967 so, logically, most of them should be citizens rather than permanent residents. That they aren’t is due to a unique catch-22: Israel cannot unilaterally grant them citizenship without outraging the international community, which wants them to be citizens of a future Palestinian state.

Most East Jerusalem Palestinians are reluctant to exercise their right to apply for citizenship because doing so is viewed by other Palestinians as treason against the Palestinian cause. The result is an entire class of permanent residents who, as the court rightly said, deserve to be treated more like citizens than permanent residents in many respects.

But in this particular case, the court’s otherwise valid distinction is completely irrelevant. After all, the case wasn’t about ordinary East Jerusalem residents, who, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, could reasonably be assumed by the court to view Israel as their primary home. It was specifically about people who chose to serve in a foreign government on behalf of a terrorist organization, and who thereby declared that their allegiance to this foreign entity supersedes their allegiance to Israel.

If you can forfeit citizenship for serving in a foreign government, you can certainly forfeit permanent residency. After all, Hamas officials surely don’t deserve more rights than Israeli ones. Yet that’s exactly what the court gave them: Hamas officials can now retain dual nationality even though their other nationality is Israel’s bitter enemy, while Israeli officials cannot, even when their other nationality is Israel’s close ally.

Moreover, it’s eminently reasonable to expect people who choose to serve in a foreign government to move to that government’s jurisdiction, unless some unusual obstacle prevents them. In this case, no such obstacle existed, as evidenced by the fact that two of them did relocate to Ramallah after losing their Israeli residency (the other two were arrested by Israel on unrelated grounds).

Even the majority justices appeared to realize how irrelevant their argument actually was. In a truly stunning statement, Justice Uzi Vogelman, who wrote the main opinion, said, “Our interpretative decision didn’t focus on the petitioners’ case specifically, but on an interpretive question of general applicability to residents of East Jerusalem.” Quite how any court can decide a case without focusing on that case specifically is beyond me.

Ostensibly, the case at least has limited application. After all, how many East Jerusalem Palestinians are going to become Hamas legislators of cabinet members? But in reality, the implications are broad, because if even swearing allegiance to a foreign government on behalf of a terrorist organization committed to Israel’s destruction isn’t enough to make a Palestinian lose his Israeli residency and its attendant benefits, what on earth would be? Nothing I can think of. Thus, Hamas supporters in Jerusalem will now be emboldened to step up all kinds of activity on the organization’s behalf, secure in the knowledge that they need not fear expulsion from the country as a consequence.

The court’s judicial activism impedes the government’s ability to set policy in almost every walk of life, as I detailed in Mosaic last year, and several rulings over the past few months rightly outraged many members of Israel’s ruling parties. But last week’s ruling may have been a tipping point: In response, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and her Jewish Home party submitted legislation to curb the court’s excesses. Whether it will pass remains to be seen. But this outrageous ruling in defense of Hamas legislators amply shows why it should.

Originally published in Commentary on September 18, 2017

Review of ‘City on a Hilltop’ By Sara Yael Hirschhorn

Sara Yael Hirschhorn’s City on a Hilltop starts with two eminently reasonable premises. First: If you want to understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you must understand Israeli settlers, since they’re one of the players. Second: If you want to understand the settlers, you must move beyond the popular caricature of them as ultra-nationalist, ultra-religious fanatics, since most are neither.

Hirschhorn’s book is an attempt to do exactly that, which is all the more admirable given her own political views: She characterizes any Jewish presence beyond the 1949 armistice lines—including the large Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem, whose tens of thousands of residents she also labels “settlers” (in a footnote)—as an illegitimate colonialist occupation. Yet despite the obvious sincerity of her effort, her inability to rise above her own biases ends up undermining the final product.

Hirschhorn explores the settlement movement by focusing on one particular subset of it: American immigrants from what she terms “the 1967 generation.” This has the obvious advantage of making her subjects more recognizable to non-Israeli readers.

As she notes, these immigrants grew up in the same towns, attended the same colleges, followed the same career paths, marched for the same liberal causes, and even voted for the same party as their peers who remained in America; even today, when Republicans have replaced Democrats as the more pro-Israel party and are far more supportive of the settlements, only one of her interviewees self-identified as Republican. And while popular perception dictates that most settlers, and especially most American settlers, are Orthodox, most of the settlers in Hirschhorn’s focus group were non-Orthodox.

The only major difference between the two groups is that most of the settlers whom Hirschhorn looked at came from “strongly Jewish” backgrounds that were “highly atypical of Jewish-American households at the time.”

The downside of this narrow focus is that it makes American immigrants seem far more important to the settlement movement than they actually are. For instance, over half the book is devoted to in-depth descriptions of how American Jews co-founded three settlements. That may sound impressive, until you realize there are currently more than 120 settlements, the vast majority of which were founded by Israelis with no American help. Indeed, as the book itself makes clear, even those three settlements would probably never have arisen had the Americans not had Israeli partners, since the Israelis were the ones who knew how to work the government bureaucracy.

The same goes for Hirschhorn’s estimate that Americans make up 15 percent of the total settler population (about 60,000 out of 400,000), which she repeatedly cites as proof of their importance. The accuracy of that estimate is open to question; she admits that no “accurate and objective headcount” exists and that she herself is “neither a professional statistician nor a demographer.” But even if she’s right, that still means there are 340,000 non-American settlers. In other words, the settlement movement would be flourishing even if it didn’t include a single American.

Hirschhorn also hypes the role that Americans have played in vigilante terror, despite correctly acknowledging that most American settlers—and most settlers in general—shun such vigilantism. For instance, she spends seven pages on one American involved in the Jewish Underground (1980–87) without ever explicitly saying that the other 26 suspects were Israelis.

But the book’s far more serious problem is that readers emerge from it with no clear understanding of what drives the settlement movement. This isn’t surprising, since Hirschhorn admits in her conclusion that she herself has no such understanding: “After discussions with dozens of Jewish-American immigrants in the occupied territories, I still struggled to understand how they saw themselves and their role within the Israeli settlement enterprise.”

Consequently, she’s produced an entire book about settlers that virtually ignores the twin beliefs at the heart of their enterprise: Israel has a right to be in the territories, whether based on religious and historical ties, international law, or both, and Israel has a need to be there, whether for religious and historical reasons, security ones, or both.

This glaring omission seems to stem largely from her inability to take such beliefs seriously. In one noteworthy example, she writes, “While their religio-historical claims to the Gush Etzion area are highly contentious, many settler activists over the past fifty years have asserted Biblical ties to the region.” But what exactly is contentious about that assertion?

No serious person would deny that many significant events in the Bible took place in what is now called the West Bank, that Jews inhabited this area throughout the Second Temple period (which is precisely why the Romans called it Judea), and that they continued to live in certain parts of it thereafter. Hebron, for instance, had an almost continuous Jewish presence right up until Britain evacuated the Jews in 1936 in response to Arab rioting. One could argue that this doesn’t justify Jews living there today, but if you can’t acknowledge that this area is Judaism’s religious and historical heartland, and that many Jews consequently believe that giving it up would tear the heart out of the Jewish state, you can’t understand a major driver of the settlement movement.

Similarly, Hirschhorn pays scant attention to the security arguments for retaining the West Bank, and none at all to Israel’s strong claim to the area under international law.

Because she ignores these fundamental issues, she winds up focusing on secondary ones, like the immigrants’ enthusiasm for pioneering and their desire to set up model communities. But she never asks why they insisted on doing their pioneering beyond the 1949 armistice lines rather than within them, as other American immigrants of that generation did. (Kibbutz Gezer, for instance, was founded in 1974 by American immigrants who chose the site specifically because they didn’t want to live in what they considered occupied territory.) And few of her interviewees volunteer the kind of clear explanation Bobby Brown of Tekoa offers: Israel’s borders would be “determined by where people lived,” so settlements “protect the land for future generations.”

The result is that while most of her settlers don’t come off as fanatics, they often do come off as simpletons—people who became “colonialist occupiers” for no apparent reason, without ever really thinking about it.

All this is compounded by Hirschhorn’s frequent insertion of unsubstantiated slurs. For instance, she repeatedly accuses the settlements of Efrat and Tekoa of expropriating privately owned Palestinian land, an accusation she backs by citing exactly two cases. In the first one, Palestinian claimants threatened to go to court against Efrat, but Hirschhorn admits she has “not been able to locate” any record of suit actually being filed. In the other, a suit was filed against Tekoa, but it “did not go anywhere”—or to put it less euphemistically, the claimant lost. This isn’t because Israel’s Supreme Court hesitates to find in favor of Palestinian claims of illegal expropriation; it has done so many times. But most such cases involve unauthorized outposts. The vast majority of the legal settlements were careful not to build on private Palestinian land.

Another salient example is the allegation that Baruch Goldstein’s wife knew of his plan to massacre 29 Arabs in Hebron in 1994 and tried to warn the army. Hirschhorn treats this as credible: “Whether the message was received or acted on remains unknown.” Only in a footnote does she admit that the “authenticity” of this claim “remains unknown,” as it rests on a single Israeli newspaper report picked up by the New York Times. And she never mentions that it was rejected by a judicial inquiry commission that exhaustively investigated Goldstein’s crime.

Nevertheless, her book is unintentionally revealing about one neglected aspect of the settlement story: its frequent incompetence. For instance, even when the government supported building new settlements, as it did in all three of her case studies, construction began only after years of bureaucratic delays, which she reports in painstaking detail.

Even more astounding is the way many settlers deliberately sought to keep the settlements’ population low to preserve their own communal lifestyle, evidently not understanding that their permanence would depend on having enough residents to make evacuating them untenable. For instance, when the town of Efrat was being planned, Ha-Kibbutz Ha-Dati, the religious kibbutz movement that had founded three small kibbutzim nearby, wrote to the government that “under no circumstances and in no way do we agree to this proposal, whose actual implementation . . . would change the pastoral character of the entire region.” Today, with a population roughly four times that of those three kibbutzim combined, Efrat has helped to make the Gush Etzion region one of the settlement blocs Israel insists on keeping under any agreement with the Palestinians.

Hirschhorn deserves great credit for recognizing, unlike many of her peers on the left, that demonizing settlers is counterproductive, and for trying to do something about it. But much as I’d like to applaud her wholeheartedly, I’m unconvinced her book will do much to help anyone seeking a true understanding of the settlement movement.

 Originally published in Commentary on August 14, 2017

Ostensibly, winner Avi Gabbay and runner-up Amir Peretz couldn’t be more different. Peretz is a veteran hard-left activist, an early leader of the Peace Now movement, who was advocating Palestinian statehood back when most Israelis still considered the idea anathema. Gabbay is a moderate who once supported Benjamin Netanyahu’s center-right Likud party and, more recently, co-founded the centrist Kulanu party. Yet they sounded almost indistinguishable when answering five questions posed by Haaretz (in Hebrew) before Monday’s run-off (an abbreviated English version is here).

Asked about the idea of unilaterally withdrawing from parts of the West Bank, for instance, both men rejected it. “I don’t believe in unilateral withdrawal,” Gabbay said bluntly. Peretz was wordier, but still quite clear. “We won’t continue to settle the territories, but at the same time, we mustn’t forget the lessons of the unilateral withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza (and also from other conflict areas around the world),” he said.

What makes this surprising is that several Labor-affiliated former senior-defense-officials-turned-activists have been pushing unilateral withdrawal. Among them are former Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin, the man slated to be Labor’s defense minister had it won the last election, and former Shin Bet security service chief Ami Ayalon, a one-time Labor Knesset member. Thus one might expect the idea to appeal to rank-and-file members.

But Peretz and Gabbay thought otherwise. Israel’s unilateral pullout from Gaza in 2005 resulted in three wars and 16,000 rockets on Israel (compared to zero from the Israeli-controlled West Bank), while its unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 enabled Hezbollah to grow from a terrorist nuisance into a major strategic threat, whose arsenal of 150,000 rockets is larger than that of most national armies. Thus the candidates evidently concluded that even left-of-center Israelis no longer believe the activist “experts” who persist in denying that unilateral withdrawal endangers Israel’s security.

Moreover, both candidates promised to freeze settlement construction, but only outside the major settlement blocs. This is a sharp rejection of the line the Obama Administration spent eight years peddling—that construction anywhere beyond the 1949 armistice lines, even in areas everyone knows will remain Israeli under any agreement, is an obstacle to peace. It turns out even left-of-center Israelis consider it ludicrous for Israel to stop building in the settlement blocs and large Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem. They simply don’t buy the idea that construction in these areas, which will clearly remain Israeli, is a legitimate excuse for the Palestinians’ ongoing refusal to negotiate.

No less noteworthy was one glaring omission. Though both candidates promised immediate final-status negotiations with the Palestinians and deemed a peace deal essential, their only stated reason for this position was to keep Israel from becoming a binational state. Neither so much as mentioned the fear that Israel could face growing international isolation if it didn’t resolve the conflict. That claim has been a staple of left-wing advocacy for years. It was most famously expressed by former Labor chairman (and former prime minister) Ehud Barak who, in 2011, warned that Israel would face a “diplomatic tsunami” if the conflict continued.

This argument has been getting harder and harder to make in recent years, as Israel’s diplomatic reach has steadily expanded. But it would have sounded particularly fatuous coming just days after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s historic visit to Israel, which caused many who had previously parroted Barak’s warning to throw in the towel. Typical headlines from center-left commentators included “Where’s the diplomatic isolation?” and “Modi visit shows Israel can improve foreign ties even without a peace process.” Judging by the fact that neither Peretz nor Gabbay mentioned this argument, they evidently think even Labor Party members will no longer buy it.

As an aside, it’s far from clear that diplomatic ties would continue expanding under a Labor government, because center-left governments typically view the Palestinian issue as their top priority, and therefore devote much less time and energy to expanding ties with the rest of the world. In contrast, since Netanyahu’s government believes a Palestinian deal is currently unobtainable, it has invested enormous effort in expanding Israel’s other diplomatic relationships. And that effort matters. As Kenya’s UN ambassador said last week, it’s only recently that “the lights have gone on” in Israel and it has started engaging. Previously, he spent years asking Israeli officials, “Why are you not engaged? Where is Israel?” But the possibility that Labor might choose to focus on the Palestinians instead doesn’t change the fact that Israel clearly can expand its diplomacy even without a peace process.

Finally, Peretz and Gabbay both rejected the increasingly popular argument among left-wing activists that fully integrating Israeli Arabs requires inviting elected Arab parties into the governing coalition, no matter how extreme those parties are. Inter alia, they include one parliamentarian doing jail time for smuggling cell phones to imprisoned terrorists,  another who calls Arab policemen “traitors,” and a third who canceled a meeting with American Jewish leaders because he “cannot in good conscience” enter a building that houses a Zionist organization. Gabbay, typically blunt, said the Arab parties’ Joint List “includes anti-Zionist elements … so we can’t cooperate with this composition.” Peretz concurred: “Incidents that have occurred in the Joint List undoubtedly make it very hard to add them to any future coalition. Effectively, the difficulty is so great as to make this impossible.”

In short, both men upheld the traditional view that integration requires bolstering Arab moderates rather than bolstering radical politicians who support terrorists and/or want to abolish the Jewish state. Evidently, they believed any other position would repel Labor voters.

The bottom line is that, even among mainstream left-of-center voters, many ideas pushed by left-wing journalists and activists remain toxic. It’s a point worth remembering for all those foreigners who get much of their information from these very same sources.

Originally published in Commentary on July 14, 2017

Gaza’s worsening electricity crisis provides a textbook example of why many so-called human-rights organizations no longer deserve to be taken seriously. The crisis stems entirely from an internal dispute between the Palestinians’ two rival governments, and since it can’t be blamed on Israel, most major rights groups have ignored it, preferring to focus instead on such truly pressing issues as—this is not a joke—playing soccer in the settlements. But the exceptions to this rule are even worse: They’re the ones so untroubled by facts that they’ve actually found a way to blame Israel for a problem entirely of the Palestinians’ own making.

A brief recap: Back in April, Gaza ran out of fuel for its only power plant because neither the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority nor Gaza’s Hamas-run government—both of which have plenty of money to spend on fomenting anti-Israel terror—would agree to pay for it. The argument focuses specifically on a tax the PA imposed on the fuel, which Hamas won’t pay but the PA won’t lower. The fuel shortage slashed Gaza’s power supply to about four hours a day.

That same month, the PA announced it would stop paying for 40 percent of the electricity Israel sends Gaza via high-voltage wires, and Hamas naturally refused to take over the payments. Israel continued providing the power anyway for about six weeks, but this week, it finally decided to stop giving Hamas free electricity. That will reduce Gaza’s power supply to three hours a day or less.

The power shortage is creating a worse humanitarian crisis in Gaza than Israel’s partial blockade ever did, yet neither Amnesty nor Human Rights Watch—both of which issued countless statements about the blockade—has published a single press release about the electricity crisis. Astoundingly, however, HRW did find time to issue no fewer than three press statements in May blasting the international soccer association’s refusal to take action against Israel over six soccer teams in the settlements. Apparently, playing soccer in a settlement is a much more serious humanitarian problem than being without power 20 hours a day.

But the Israeli organization Gisha—the Legal Center for Freedom of Movement—adopted an even more dishonest tack in an op-ed published in Haaretz last week (before Israel decided to stop giving Gaza free electricity). Field worker Mohammed Azaizeh provided heart-rending descriptions of the problems Rantisi Children’s Hospital faces due to the power crisis, but was curiously reticent about the cause: He said only that the power plant stopped operating “due to a political conflict,” without ever identifying the parties to the conflict.

He also noted that Gaza’s hospitals are severely short of medicine and medical equipment, but again offered no explanation, not even the lame excuse of an unspecified “political conflict.” Yet in fact, the same political conflict is at fault: In May, the PA stopped paying for Gaza’s medicine, and Hamas refuses to do so itself, so Gaza’s medical stocks are rapidly being depleted.

Only toward the end did Azaizeh finger an actual villain:

Even transferring equipment from Israel that was bought in advance especially for Rantisi is a challenge: Four months have passed since the renovation of the oncology department, with the help of monetary assistance from an American foundation, and they’re still waiting here for essential parts for the air conditioning system. The entry of the parts and equipment into Gaza is being delayed because Israel decided to label them “dual-use” items.

Let’s ignore the fact that this particular lack is irrelevant to Rantisi’s woes, since a hospital Azaizeh described as lacking enough power to keep its lights on certainly doesn’t have enough to run its air conditioners, with or without parts. The key sentence is the clever segue between the paragraph about the lack of medical equipment and the one about the lack of air conditioning: Not only is medical equipment lacking, but “Even transferring equipment from Israel that was bought in advance especially for Rantisi is a challenge.”

Thus without actually saying so, Azaizeh managed to imply that the shortage of medical equipment also stems from Israeli restrictions. And from there, it’s an easy step to concluding that the unspecified “political conflict” behind the power crisis must also involve Israel. In reality, of course, Israel has never interfered with shipments of either fuel or medicine to Gaza, though it has barred dual-use items that aren’t humanitarian necessities.

A human-rights organization that actually cared about Gaza’s humanitarian crisis would name and shame the responsible parties—Fatah and Hamas—in an effort to pressure them to compromise, or at least make clear that the crisis stems from nonpayment and urge international donors to cover the shortfall. Yet Azaizeh’s op-ed makes no effort to address the causes of the crisis; its sole purpose is to smear Israel.

Nor is Gisha a negligible organization. Granted, it’s not a household name in America, but its reports are regularly quoted by the U.S. State Department, the European Union, the UN, and international rights organizations like Amnesty and HRW. Indeed, Europe considers it so valuable that European governments provide over half its funding; the UN and the New Israel Fund also chip in.

None of these self-appointed guardians of human rights are troubled by the fact that Gisha’s main interest is hurting Israel rather than helping Palestinians, since their interest is the same. That’s why HRW cares more about shutting down Israeli soccer teams in the settlements than it does about providing Gaza with reliable power, why Europe lavishes funding on organizations like Gisha, and why even the State Department’s human-rights bureau (not to be confused with the rest of the U.S. government) devoted more space in its annual report to Israeli “rights violations”(most of them either trivial matters or unsubstantiated slurs) than to the ongoing slaughters in places like Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya. That’s also why such organizations are becoming increasingly “isolated” in Israel, as the NIF’s president complained this week.

That so many “human-rights organizations” now devote themselves to propaganda rather than exposing real human-rights violations is a tragedy for the many victims worldwide who have consequently been left voiceless. But as long as it remains the case, there’s absolutely no justification for continuing to endow them with money, attention, and above all, credibility.

Originally published in Commentary on June 14, 2017

The 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War, which fell this week, has sparked much hand-wringing about why Israel still controls the West Bank half a century later. By sheer coincidence, Haaretz reporter Amir Tibon produced a scoop this week answering that question. It detailed the precise offer the Obama administration made to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the final stages of the peace talks it brokered, and how Abbas, once again, walked away without even deigning to respond.

In early 2014, as the end of the nine months of talks agreed to the previous July were drawing to a close, the administration began drafting a “framework agreement” that would serve as the basis for further talks. Tibon obtained two versions of the administration’s proposal.

The first, dating from February 2014, contained a relatively balanced mix of concessions to Israeli and Palestinian demands. For instance, it stipulated a border based on the 1967 lines, as Abbas demanded, but said Palestinian refugees and their descendants would have no “right of return” to Israel, as Israel demanded. It rejected a permanent Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley, thereby pleasing Abbas. It also pleased Israel by saying the talks must result in a Palestinian state alongside “Israel, the nation-state of the Jewish people.” It also left a few issues open: On Jerusalem, for instance, it merely restated both sides’ aspirations.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave verbal consent to the document. Then, on February 19, Secretary of State John Kerry presented it to Abbas, who went ballistic. His primary objection, U.S. officials told Tibon, was that the issue of Jerusalem was left open. Abbas wanted the U.S. to commit to giving him half the city.

So the Americans revised the document to accommodate more of Abbas’ demands. The new version, written in March, explicitly said East Jerusalem must become the Palestinian capital, thereby prejudging the outcome of one of the talks’ most sensitive issues. It also made several other concessions to the Palestinians, such as adding a statement asserting that the talks’ goal was “to end the occupation that began in 1967,” the implication being that the conflict isn’t one for which both sides share blame, but an evil unilaterally perpetrated by Israel against innocent Palestinians.

Similarly, whereas the February document said the border would be based on the 1967 lines with 1:1 land swaps that would “take into account subsequent developments” since 1967, this phrase was dropped in the March version. In other words, the February version said the border would be adjusted to accommodate the major settlement blocs, while the March version allowed Abbas to continue demanding that hundreds of thousands of Israelis be uprooted from their homes.

Thus, what started out as a relatively balanced document in February had morphed by March into one that clearly tilted toward the Palestinians. So how did Abbas respond to these concessions? He neither accepted the document nor rejected it; he “simply didn’t respond,” Tibon reported.

This, of course, is exactly what happened the last time Abbas received an offer complying with almost all his demands. In 2008, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered him 93 percent of the West Bank with 1:1 land swaps for the remainder, plus all of Gaza and most of East Jerusalem, with Muslim control over all the city’s holy sites, including the Western Wall (Olmert proposed governing the sites with a five-member committee comprising representatives of Palestine, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and America, thereby guaranteeing the Muslims an automatic majority). But Abbas never responded; he simply walked away. Only nine months later did he tell the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl that he rejected the offer because “the gaps were wide.” Perhaps he would have said the same of Obama’s offer had Diehl interviewed him again.

This is also what happened when Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and U.S. President Bill Clinton made a similar offer to Yasser Arafat in 2000-01. Arafat walked away without even making a counterproposal and then launched a lethal terrorist war against Israel, killing over 1,000 Israelis in the next four years.

And that’s without even mentioning all the previous examples, like the Arabs’ rejection of the UN partition plan in 1947, or their adoption of a policy of “no peace, no recognition and no negotiations” with Israel at the Khartoum summit three months after the Six-Day War.

In other words, there’s one very simple reason why Israel still controls the West Bank: The Palestinians have consistently refused repeated offers to give it to them.

But there’s an important supporting reason as well: Palestinians feel they can get away with serial rejectionism because the world always responds by blaming Israel, as the Obama Administration did.

Addressing the Senate in April 2014, for instance, Kerry famously declared that Israel’s announcement of new construction in Jerusalem had caused the talks to go “poof,” carefully neglecting to mention that by this point, the talks were dead anyway since Abbas had already rejected the administration’s best offer. The excuses administration officials gave Tibon were equally ridiculous. Abbas, they said, was “disappointed” that Netanyahu had delayed releasing some two dozen Palestinian prisoners—as if that were ample grounds for rejecting an offer of statehood. They also said Abbas wasn’t sure Obama could “deliver” Netanyahu. But Netanyahu said yes to the February proposal without being sure Obama could deliver Abbas – which it turns out he couldn’t; why was it unreasonable to expect Abbas to go out on a similar limb?

The problem isn’t just Palestinian rejectionism. It’s that the rest of the world actually encourages this rejectionism by ensuring that the diplomatic price is always paid by Israel, and never the Palestinians themselves. The Palestinians have quite reasonably concluded that they can play this game ad infinitum, until the world eventually pressures Israel to accept even those Palestinian demands that would entail committing national suicide, like the “right of return.”

If the Palestinians actually wanted peace, they’d do a deal regardless of how the rest of the world behaved. If the world behaved differently, the Palestinians might eventually conclude that a deal was in their interests. But as long as neither of these two conditions is met, there’s every reason to think that in another 50 years, we’ll be reading more hand-wringing articles about why Israel still controls the West Bank.

Originally published in Commentary on June 8, 2017

If you ask Palestinians in either Gaza or the West Bank who’s responsible for their suffering, most would probably say Israel. But what would they say if they were safely overseas and no longer needed to fear their own governments? That’s not a question reporters, diplomats, or nongovernmental organizations usually bother asking. We now have an answer to it, at least with regard to Palestinians who fled Gaza. They left not because of anything Israel did, but because of persecution by Gaza’s Hamas-run government

Their testimony was brought by Haaretz reporter Zvi Bar’el, who went to Greece in search of Syrian refugees but accidentally stumbled instead on Palestinians from Gaza–thousands of them, by their own count. One Gazan refugee estimated there were about 6,000 Palestinians from Gaza in Athens alone. The Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights says the real figure is probably higher.And that’s just those who have been able to leave. Many would like to but are stuck in Gaza because the border crossing to Egypt is open only a few days per month. Even when it’s open, only a few hundred people per day can leave. Osama, one of the Palestinians Bar’el interviewed, said that when he left Gaza (via a cross-border smuggling tunnel) over 25,000 people were on the waiting list to leave via the official border crossing.

And why have so many Gazans fled or tried to flee? The Palestinians Bar’el met had a uniform answer: Hamas. Not a single one of them even mentioned Israel in their responses.

“There’s a Palestinian doctor here who came with his wife and three children,” Osama told Bar’el. “Imagine, a doctor, a respectable person with a profession, has to flee Gaza only because he was suspected of disloyalty to Hamas.”

Ayman, who has been listening to the conversation in silence, joins in. “I’m a cartoonist, an artist, and I’ve had exhibitions in Gaza. Hamas didn’t like my cartoons and they forbade me to draw, and they also arrested me. After I spent time in a Hamas prison I decided to escape,” he says.

“They tied my hands and feet, they beat me, and after I was injured from the blows they transferred me to a hospital where I was for more than a month. In the meantime they also arrested my brother to get information out of him about me.”

Naji, another Gazan, showed Bar’el a deep scar on his leg that he said came from being tortured in a Hamas prison.

“One day I even tried to commit suicide. I slammed my head hard against a windowpane and put my neck up against the broken glass. But they pulled me back and I wasn’t successful,” he says, pointing to an ugly scar on his neck. “I’m telling you, Gaza is on the brink of civil war and no one knows what’s happening there. No one is interested.”

There are numerous UN agencies ostensibly devoted exclusively to helping the Palestinians, while human rights groups allocate disproportionate attention to this issue. In both cases, their only real interest in Palestinian suffering is finding some way to blame Israel for it. They couldn’t care less about protecting Palestinians from the abuses of their own government. That’s why they keep issuing reports accusing Israel of being the “key cause” of Palestinian suffering, as one UN agency put it this week, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Yet their blatant bias often obscures a larger problem that affects even well-meaning journalists, NGOs, diplomats and almost everyone else involved in telling the world about what’s happening in the West Bank and Gaza–a failure to understand the way fear affects what people say in nondemocratic societies. For Palestinians, blaming anyone other than Israel for their problems risks serious repercussions from either their own governments or vigilante groups affiliated with both governments. And that’s true not just in Hamas-run Gaza, as people like Ayman and Naji discovered to their sorrow, but also in the Fatah-run West Bank, where journalists, businessmen, and Palestinian security officers have all suffered arrest and financial sanctions for daring to criticize the Palestinian Authority or its president, Mahmoud Abbas. Blaming Israel is always the safest solution, even in cases where it’s patently untrue.

Responsible journalists, NGOs, and diplomats would take this fear factor into account and try to dig a little deeper to try to get at the truth. They would also recognize that the very fact that Israel is the one party no Palestinian fears to criticize is in itself a potent refutation of Palestinian claims that Israel is an oppressive regime. People who truly live under an oppressive regime are generally afraid to go on record criticizing it.

Instead, these opinion shapers take everything they hear from Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza at face value and parrot it uncritically. That does nothing to better the Palestinians’ lot, but a great deal to bolster the Palestinians’ own repressive governments by absolving them of all scrutiny and pressure to reform.

The testimony of these Gazan refugees in Greece provides a rare opportunity to hear what Palestinians say when they’re out of reach of their own repressive governments and can speak freely. It thereby offers a glimpse at the true source of much Palestinian suffering – and a rebuke to all the journalists, diplomats, and NGOs who have collaborated with both Palestinian governments to hide this truth from the world.

Originally published in Commentary on June 2, 2017 as “Gaza on the Brink”

Donald Trump and the mainstream press may act like enemies on many issues, but they are the closest of allies when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Trump spouts fantasies about making Israeli-Palestinian peace, and Western media dutifully fails to report any news that might disrupt these fantasies, such as what the Palestinians’ two rival governments are actually doing to their own people right now.

If journalists were doing their jobs, they would ask Trump and his advisors one simple question: How exactly do you expect the Palestinians to make peace with Israel when both Palestinian governments have chosen to deprive their people of basic necessities–including electricity and medical care—to support anti-Israel terror?

Earlier this month, for instance, an Arab hospital in Jerusalem that mainly treats Palestinians announced it would no longer accept patients from either the West Bank or Gaza because the Palestinian Authority owes it so much money that it can no longer afford to buy medicines. The hospital, Augusta Victoria, said it urgently needs 23 million shekels ($6.4 million) to replenish its stocks. The PA’s unpaid debts to it total 150 million ($42 million).

Medicines are in similarly short supply in Gaza because, about two weeks ago, the Fatah-run PA stopped paying for them. Normally, the PA sends a shipment of medicines to Gaza every two months. But the last shipment arrived more than three months ago, and supplies of many drugs have been exhausted. Gaza’s Hamas-run government refuses to act in Fatah’s stead.

Both sides have some legitimate grounds for demanding that the other pay. Hamas bears responsibility because it is Gaza’s de facto ruler, but the PA is the one that gets billions of dollars a year in foreign aid to fund humanitarian needs in both the West Bank and Gaza. Meanwhile, however, both are refusing to compromise, and Gaza residents are paying the price.

Gaza has also been suffering severe power shortages for over a month because neither the PA nor Hamas is willing to pay for fuel to run the local power plant. Or, to be more precise, Hamas isn’t willing to pay the hefty tax the PA imposes, while the PA isn’t willing to lower the tax. Residents are consequently down to just four to six hours of power per day, which is not only inconvenient but life-threatening. During the last such crisis, in January, three Gazan babies died in the space of just two days due to the power outages.

The January crisis ended when Turkey and Qatar agreed to finance the fuel temporarily. But their aid has run out, and neither country has offered to renew it. The situation is now so bad that even the UN, which usually finds a way to blame Israel for everything, accused the ongoing Hamas-PA spat of having “significantly aggravated” Gaza’s woes.

Moreover, the only reason Gaza has enough power for even a few hours a day is that Israel has begun quietly picking up the tab for its other main power source, the electricity brought in on high-voltage wires from Israel. Until recently, the PA paid for that electricity, but last month, it announced it would no longer do so–and Hamas, needless to say, refuses to pick up the slack.

What about the West Bank? It is still getting uninterrupted power only because Israel agreed last year to forgive $130 million of the massive $530 million debt that Palestinian power companies there owe the Israel Electric Corporation. In other words, just like in Gaza, the Israeli taxpayer got stuck with the bill, because Israel cares more about Palestinians’ electricity needs than either the PA or Hamas does.

If all this were happening because both governments were simply broke, it would be understandable. But in fact, both seem to have plenty of money for their top priority: incentivizing or directly funding anti-Israel terror.

The PA, for instance, spent $129 million last year paying above-market salaries to convicted terrorists sitting in Israeli jails, and another $175 million a year in stipends for families of terrorists killed while trying to attack Israelis. In other words, its entire debt to Augusta Victoria comes to less than 15 percent of what it spends on anti-Israel terrorists every year, while the “unpayable” portion of its debt to the IEC amounted to just over 40 percent of what it spends on those terrorists every year. So it’s not that it can’t afford to pay for medical care or electricity for its people; it simply considers paying terrorists higher priority.

As for Hamas, it collects tax on every single item that enters Gaza, giving it revenue of hundreds of millions of dollars a year. The last annual budget it published, for 2014, came to $530 million. But of this, it spends an estimated $100 million a year on building its capacity to attack Israel, including smuggling in rockets, making its own rockets and digging cross-border attack tunnels. By comparison, even with the PA’s tax, fuel for its power plant costs about 50 million shekels ($14 million) a month. In other words, its annual investment in anti-Israel terror would cover more than seven months’ worth of fuel for Gaza, at least providing time to find a more permanent solution, but it considers preparations to attack Israel higher priority.

If any Palestinian government ever prioritizes its own people’s welfare over anti-Israel terror, it might be possible to talk about peace. But as long as killing Israelis is the top priority for both Hamas and Fatah, the idea that either Palestinian party would ever sign a peace agreement with Israel is fatuous.

Originally published in Commentary on May 22, 2017

On any other day, the Wall Street Journal’s report on Tuesday would have been a major bombshell. Instead, it was unjustly overshadowed by the news that Donald Trump had shared sensitive third-party intelligence (apparently provided by Israel) with Russia. Granted, the intelligence story reveals something important about the U.S. president. But the WSJ story revealed something important about long-term trends in the Middle East–and for once, it’s unabashedly good news. Major Arab states have grown tired of having their relationship with Israel held hostage to the Palestinian problem, and they’re actually seeking to do something about it.

The Journal reported that the Gulf States are discussing a proposal to normalize certain types of commercial relations with Israel in exchange for Israeli gestures toward the Palestinians (the report is behind a paywall, but the Times of Israel helpfully provided a detailed account of what the WSJ article said). Two countries, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have already told both America and Israel that they’re willing to adopt it, the Journal added.

But the real bombshell–actually, several bombshells–lay in the proposal’s details: In exchange for Israel freezing settlement construction in “certain areas” of the West Bank and relaxing its blockade of Gaza, the Arabs would establish direct telecommunication links with Israel, let Israeli aircraft overfly their countries, lift certain trade restrictions and perhaps grant visas to Israeli athletes and businessmen. All these details are significant even in the likely event that the proposal goes nowhere.

First, they show that Arab leaders–unlike Trump–understand that Israeli-Palestinian peace is nowhere on the horizon. They didn’t merely say so to the Journal; it’s clear from the proposal itself. All it asks of Israel are gestures that would leave the status quo essentially unchanged, not concessions on any final-status issue. Granted, many of these same Arab leaders have told Trump that solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict should be a high priority, but that merely proves the old truism that what Arab leaders say to their Western counterparts shouldn’t be taken at face value.

Second, and more importantly, Arab leaders are no longer willing to give the Palestinians (or Syria) a veto over their relations with Israel. The last time Arab states proposed normalization with Israel (in the Saudi-sponsored Arab Peace Initiative of 2002), they conditioned it on Israel signing final-status agreements with both the Palestinians and Syria and withdrawing completely to the 1949 armistice lines (also known, wrongly, as the pre-1967 border). Even eight years ago, when President Barack Obama urged Arab states to make gestures toward Israel in exchange for an Israeli settlement freeze, they unanimously refused, saying steps toward normalization were impossible until an Israeli-Palestinian final-status deal was signed. Now, they’re seriously discussing partial normalization even without a final-status deal.

Third, unlike the Palestinians, Arab states have abandoned the fantasy of an Israeli retreat to the 1949 armistice lines. Their decision to demand a settlement freeze only in “certain areas” of the West Bank clearly implies that they see no reason for a freeze in other areas. They would remain Israeli under any final-status deal. This, incidentally, is something the Obama Administration never grasped. It treated construction in major settlement blocs or Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem as identical to construction in isolated outposts.

Fourth, after decades of spearheading boycotts of Israel, Arab states are now keen to do business with it. That’s clear from the fact that, aside from visas for athletes, all the Arab gestures under consideration are aimed at facilitating business. As a senior Arab official involved in discussions of the proposal told the Journal, “We no longer see Israel as an enemy, but a potential opportunity.”

In one sense, this is no surprise. In February, Bloomberg reported that Israeli high-tech firms were already doing booming business with the Gulf States via pass-through companies. What is surprising, however, is that then, just three months ago, the “experts” Bloomberg consulted were still insisting that open trade between Israel and the Gulf would be impossible without Israeli-Palestinian peace. Now, leading Arab countries are proposing open business ties without a peace deal.

Thus, even though the proposal doesn’t include formal diplomatic ties, it’s a huge step forward over any previous Arab offer.

Admittedly, it might well go nowhere at this stage. First, Saudi Arabia and the UAE won’t do it alone, and it’s not yet clear whether a critical mass of other Arab states will join them. Indeed, the WSJ report makes that less likely, since it will give opponents of normalization a chance to mobilize public opinion against the idea.

Second, it’s not clear what the Arabs states will ultimately demand in exchange. By the time they finish negotiating among themselves, the proposal may be significantly worse, just as the Arab Peace Initiative adopted by the Arab League in 2002 was significantly worse than the initial Saudi proposal (for instance, the Arab League version included language which Arabs interpret as requiring Israel to absorb millions of Palestinian refugees).

Finally, even if this doesn’t happen, the demands as stated could be unacceptable to Israel, depending on how the Arabs interpret them. For instance, Israel has long been willing to take some steps to help Gaza, but it would not agree to end the blockade entirely, as that would enable Hamas to import masses of lethal weaponry. Similarly, while Israel could agree to freeze construction in isolated settlements, it couldn’t accept a public freeze on construction in Jerusalem, its capital, which Arabs consider part of the West Bank.

Nevertheless, the very fact that this proposal is being openly discussed shows that Arab-Israeli relations are thawing at a faster pace than anyone would have predicted a few years ago. The credit for that goes primarily to changing geopolitical circumstances, but secondarily to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He has worked hard and successfully to expand Israel’s foreign relations precisely because he never accepted the “expert” consensus that this was impossible without progress toward Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Just last summer, Israeli pundits from across the political spectrum were united in asserting that normalization with the Arab states would require an Israeli-Palestinian deal. At the time, I termed this assertion “sheer folly,” given how fast things were already changing; today, it looks even more ridiculous. And that’s good news not just for Israel, but for the entire Middle East.

Originally published in Commentary on May 17, 2017

Today is Israel’s Memorial Day, which is always marked by the release of official statistics on the number of Israelis killed in wars and terror attacks. If the Trump Administration is serious about wanting to revive an Israeli-Palestinian peace process, reviewing those statistics would be a good place to start. What those numbers show is that Israel’s annual death toll from terrorism has more than doubled since it signed its first “peace agreement” with the Palestinians. And that simple fact sheds light on both why the process has consistently failed and what would be necessary to reverse this pattern of failure.

According to the official statistics, more than 3,100 Israelis have been killed in terror attacks since Israel’s establishment in 1948. The press releases don’t offer any breakdown of this statistic, but more detailed information is available on the Foreign Ministry’s website. Those numbers (located here for 1949-99 and here since 2000) show that terrorists killed 1,176 Israelis from 1949 through 1992, a period of 44 years. But since 1994, they’ve killed another 1,538 people–a significantly larger number of victims in a period just over half as long. (My tally omits the 45 deaths from 1993 because I don’t know whether they occurred before or after the Oslo Accord was signed on September 13, 1993, as well as 379 deaths from 1948, most of which took place either prior to or during the War of Independence.)

In other words, prior to the Oslo Accords, the number of terrorist deaths averaged 27 people per year. But in the post-Oslo period, terrorist deaths have averaged 66 people per year–almost two and a half times as many. And the real increase is slightly higher, because the ministry’s figures don’t include 75 soldiers killed in two wars in Gaza in 2009 and 2014, although they, too, are attributable to the Oslo Accords. Pre-Oslo, Israel didn’t fight wars with the Palestinians, because the Palestinians controlled no territory from which to launch a war.

Needless to say, this isn’t what a “peace process” is supposed to look like. Peace deals are supposed to produce peace, not to double the number of casualties. Moreover, these casualty figures show that the Palestinians have blatantly violated the one promise they made Israel in both the original Oslo Accord and every subsequent accord–an end to Palestinian terror.

In exchange for that promise, Israel made numerous tangible concessions to the Palestinians: It handed over land (to date, all of Gaza plus about 40 percent of the West Bank), released some 15,000 Palestinian terrorists from Israeli jails (not including the additional prisoners released to ransom Israelis later kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists), provided a revenue stream (about $130 million a month worth of taxes that Israel collects on the Palestinian Authority’s behalf) and solicited other countries to provide the PA with economic and diplomatic support. But the Palestinians failed to deliver the one quid pro quo they were supposed to provide in exchange: an end to terrorism. Instead, terrorism doubled. Is it any wonder that a sizable majority of Israelis have lost faith in the peace process?

No less significant, however, is why this happened. Oslo didn’t just fail to prevent Palestinian terror. By providing the Palestinians with several key attributes of sovereignty, it actually enabled it. One of the most significant concessions was the control of territory, where terrorists could arm themselves, train, and organize attacks with impunity. That’s precisely why terror in the West Bank surged dramatically in the first decade after Oslo but began falling again after the Israel Defense Forces reasserted security control over the area in 2002. It’s also why terror from Gaza rose sharply after Israel withdrew all its troops from that territory in 2005.

A corollary of this territorial control is financial control: Both the PA in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza have independent revenue streams from taxation in the territories they govern, on top of the generous donations both receive from various foreign governments. And both have used this revenue to incentivize and/or directly fund terror. The PA, for instance, incentivizes terror by spending millions of dollars a year on paying above-market salaries to convicted terrorists in Israeli jails. The more murderous the attack, the higher the salary. And Hamas spends millions of dollars building rockets and tunnels with which to attack Israel, even as it claims it doesn’t have money to pay for fuel for Gaza’s power plant, with the result that Gaza residents are down to fewer than eight hours a day of electricity.

Another corollary–one that is no less important–is control of the education system and media. Both the PA and Hamas use their schools and media outlets to indoctrinate their children to believe that Israelis are evil people with no connection to the land and no rights to a state. To quote the textbook monitoring organization Impact-SE, Palestinian textbooks promote the “demonization of Israel and Jews, including the characterization of Israel as an evil entity that should be annihilated.” These messages are then reinforced, as Palestinian Media Watch has demonstrated, by “educational” programs on official Palestinian television stations that demonize Jews as “monkeys and pigs,” “enemies of Allah,” the “most evil of creations,” and so forth. Such indoctrination obviously encourages anti-Israel terror.

Thus, absent a real change in the way both Palestinian governments educate their children, spend their budgets and otherwise utilize their governmental powers, any further Israeli territorial cessions would lead to nothing but more bloodshed. Consequently, any “peace process” worth the name must focus on producing such changes, rather than sticking to the old, failed pattern of simply demanding ever more Israeli concessions.

Granted, extorting more Israeli concessions takes a lot less time than changing Palestinian attitudes. But the former has yet to produce anything but more names on the annual Memorial Day rolls. The latter might have a chance of someday producing genuine peace.

Originally published in Commentary on May 1, 2017

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On Jerusalem, Trump shows that the emperor had no clothes

After President Donald Trump announced in December that he was moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, a friend lamented that the move would have less impact than it should because Trump was so widely disdained both in America and overseas. Yet since then, I’ve heard more foreign acknowledgments of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital than I can ever remember before.

So far, only one other country is definitely moving its embassy—Guatemala, whose Jerusalem embassy is slated to open two days after America’s does. But at least four other countries—two in Latin America and two in Europe—are actively discussing an embassy move. And even if none actually happens, the very fact that this issue is now openly being debated in regions of the globe where Israel has faced considerable hostility in recent years is a remarkable change.

In both the European Union and most of Latin America, official policy has long been that eastern Jerusalem should be the capital of Palestine, while western Jerusalem should be . . . well, nothing. Few countries in either region have ever said that any part of Jerusalem should be Israel’s capital; in fact, some still explicitly declare the city a corpus separatum. In other words, they think Palestinians should get the eastern half while the western half should be an international city.

But now, a decades-old taboo has been broken. Suddenly, several other countries are where America was 20 years ago, with different branches of government actively arguing over Jerusalem’s status.

On April 12, the Honduras National Congress voted to move its embassy to Jerusalem by a sizable majority (59-33), though the decision hasn’t yet been approved by the executive branch. Later that month, Paraguay’s president said he’d like to move his country’s embassy before leaving office in mid-August, though buy-in from the rest of the political system is uncertain.

On April 19, Israeli Independence Day, Romania broke an even more significant psychological barrier by becoming the first European country to announce plans to move its embassy. The president of Romania’s Chamber of Deputies told a Romanian television station that the decision had been made the previous evening. Whether it will actually happen remains unclear; the country’s president opposes the move, and the cabinet hasn’t yet approved it. But the prime minister has formally asked the cabinet to do so.

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