21 March '16..
Many in the pro-Israel community are upset about Donald Trump’s vow to be neutral between Israel and the Palestinians in future Middle East peace negotiations. Trump’s speech tonight at the AIPAC conference will be closely scrutinized to see if he walks those comments back or how exactly he chooses to navigate that issue even as many of those in attendance are just as if not more upset about his dog whistling comments about race and prejudice as well as his encouragement of violence at his rallies. But those AIPAC attendees wanting to know what a genuinely even-handed speech about Israel and the Palestinians sounded like didn’t have to wait until Trump appears on Monday night. Vice President Joe Biden spoke on Sunday and delivered a textbook definition of even-handed diplomacy when he placed equal blame for the failure to make progress toward peace on both Israelis and Palestinians.
That isn’t the way some Jewish supporters of the Obama administration will characterize Biden’s remarks. They will point to Biden’s extravagant vows of an “unyielding” commitment to Israel’s safety and security, his touting of the military aid the Jewish state has received from the administration, and his criticism of the Palestinian Authority for refusing to condemn terrorism, including the attack in Jaffa during his recent visit to the country in which a U.S. army vet was slain by a terrorist.
But while Biden sought to celebrate all that the Obama administration had done for the Jewish state and to justify the Iran nuclear deal, the real message of his speech was no different from the stand for which Trump has been correctly blasted by friends of Israel. When it comes to the standoff over peace, even amid Biden’s folksy and emotional appeals — a message honed over the course of the last four decades as he wooed pro-Israel voters and donors — was an unmistakable charge that the Jewish state is as much to blame for the lack of peace as the Palestinians.
According to Biden, “actions on either side undermine trust only take us further away from the path of peace.” He correctly labeled the efforts by Israel’s foes to isolate it in the international community, as well as Palestinian terrorism, as examples of how the other side undermines peace. But he treated Israeli settlement building as morally equivalent to terror and the “apartheid state” slurs. He demanded that Israel provide a “little show-me” to demonstrate its goodwill and desire for peace.
To liberal American ears, such even-handed assessments of the peace process sound fair. But, like Biden’s attempts to defend the Iran nuclear deal as a boost to Israel’s security rather than a game-changing event that makes the region much more dangerous, the administration’s “plague on both your houses” approach to the peace process is tone-deaf to the reality on the ground. Even worse, despite his misty-eyed rhetoric about how much Israel means to him, even handed diplomacy not only doesn’t serve the cause of peace, it also helps incite more violence.
The administration’s rhetoric about settlements isn’t new. But those who think that Israel is gobbling up land that might, in theory, be part of a Palestinian state are just wrong. The “new settlements” that Biden decries are for the most part just new buildings in places that Israelis have lived in for decades. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of such homes are in Jerusalem and the settlement blocs largely adjacent to the 1967 lines that even President Obama has tacitly acknowledged would have to stay inside Israel in the event of a peace settlement. Moreover, Israel has repeatedly demonstrated its willingness to withdraw from much of the West Bank — just as it did from all of Gaza in 2005 — in exchange for peace. Even the government of Prime Minister Netanyahu, with whom Obama has feuded for more than seven years, made such an offer. His predecessors offered even more, including a share of Jerusalem. But every time, the Palestinian Authority has refused statehood and peace because to do so would oblige them to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. And no Palestinian leader, including the supposedly moderate Mahmoud Abbas, is willing to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.
Biden is correct when he says both sides don’t believe in peace right now, but there is a difference between their stands. Having already taken risks for peace that blew up in their faces in the form of terrorist wars of attrition and having seen what happens any time their country withdraws all soldiers and settlements as it did in Gaza, Israelis say they aren’t willing to further endanger themselves without any sign the Palestinians have had a change of heart. A clear majority would give up the West Bank and compromise on settlements if only the Palestinians were ready to end the conflict.
The Palestinians also are unenthusiastic about peace talks but for a completely different reason. Every survey of Palestinian public opinion shows that it’s not just the leaders of Fatah and Hamas that oppose peace. So long as the vast majority of ordinary Palestinians view any compromise that involves Israel not being destroyed to be unacceptable, they believe there is nothing to talk about. The latest “stabbing intifada” isn’t about settlements. It’s rooted in religious intolerance — fed by Abbas’s lies about the Temple Mount — and sheer bloodlust that posits all Jews are fair game for terror whether they are in a remote hilltop settlement in the West Bank or in Tel Aviv. To the Palestinians, every Jewish village, town, and city — even those inside the 1967 lines — are “illegal settlements,” every Jew in the country a “settler” and every Palestinian who tries to murder a Jew is a “martyr” and “hero.”
For more than seven years, the Obama administration has tested its belief that pressure on Israel and more daylight between the U.S. and its ally would entice the Palestinians to negotiate seriously. But no matter how much Obama, Biden, Hillary Clinton, and John Kerry have tried to tilt the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians, they have not moved an inch toward peace. Even now, the administration continues to sound the same themes, even as they undermine Israeli security with an Iran nuclear deal that has destabilized the region and, ironically, brought moderate Arab nations closer to Israel as they cope with a hostile Washington. But they still refuse to acknowledge that their mistakes have convinced the Palestinians they have nothing to lose by engaging in terror. By refusing to hold Abbas and the PA accountable for the terror, they’ve fomented — though Biden chided Abbas about terror, the administration hasn’t cut aid or acted to punish the PA for its role in the violence — the U.S. has effectively subsidized it.
That’s why friends of Israel don’t have to wait until Donald Trump becomes president to know what an even-handed stance toward Israel looks like. It’s a policy that strengthens terror and makes the already remote chances of peace even more unlikely. With respect to the Middle East, the U.S. needs a president who is prepared to learn from Obama’s errors. Unfortunately, it looks as though both Hillary Clinton and Trump seem prepared to repeat them. If Israelis worry about having to pay the same price in blood for such folly in the coming years that they’ve paid under Obama, who can blame them?
Updates throughout the day at http://calevbenyefuneh.
blogspot.com. If you enjoy "Love of the Land", please be a subscriber. Just put your email address in the "Subscribe" box on the upper right-hand corner of the page.Twitter updates at LoveoftheLand as well as our Love of the Land page at Facebook which has additional pieces of interest besides that which is posted on the blog. Also check-out This Ongoing War by Frimet and Arnold Roth. An excellent blog, very important work as well as a big vote to follow our good friend Kay Wilson on Twitter.