March 21, 2010

So Israel Wants Peace? Really?

In his latest column for the Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer again shows himself to be little more than a mouthpiece for the Israeli government. In response to Hilary Clinton’s recent demand that Israel “show in word and in deed its seriousness about peace” (Krauthammer’s paraphrase), he writes:

Israelis have been looking for peace—literally dying for peace—since 1947, when they accepted the U.N. partition of Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state. (The Arabs refused and declared war. They lost.)

Israel made peace offers in 1967, in 1978, and in the 1993 Oslo peace accords that Yasser Arafat tore up seven years later to launch a terror war that killed a thousand Israelis. Why, Clinton’s own husband testifies to the remarkable courage and vision of the peace offer made in his presence by Ehud Barak (now Netanyahu’s defense minister) at the 2000 Camp David talks. Arafat rejected it. In 2008, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered equally generous terms to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. Refused again.

In these long and bloody 63 years, the Palestinians have not once accepted an Israeli offer of permanent peace, or ever countered with anything short of terms that would destroy Israel…

Under Obama, Netanyahu agreed to commit his center-right coalition to acceptance of a Palestinian state; took down dozens of anti-terror roadblocks and checkpoints to ease life for the Palestinians; assisted West Bank economic development to the point where its GDP is growing at an astounding 7 percent a year; and agreed to the West Bank construction moratorium, a concession that Secretary Clinton herself called “unprecedented.”

Just replace Krauthammer’s references to “Netanyahu” with first-person pronouns, and you’d have something that could have easily come from the mouth of the prime minister. Poor, besieged Israel, a lamb among wolves. Israel, which has been desperately seeking peace with its Arab neighbors for over sixty years now. Poor, poor Israel.

Of course, no serious historian could read this tripe without rolling his eyes. It’s true that the 1947 UN Partition Plan was accepted by Jewish leaders and rejected by Arab leaders, but we need to remember the context here. When the modern Zionist movement began in 1881, there were just a handful of Jews living in what was to become Mandate Palestine, 13,000 Jews compared to 457,000 Arabs. In 1947, after sixty years of steady Jewish immigration, there were still only about half as many Jews as Arabs, 650,000 to 1.2-1.3 million (Benny Morris, Righteous Victims).

So when the Truman administration pushed through the 1947 Partition Plan (among other means, by threatening to cut off financial aid to Greece and threatening to impose a rubber embargo on Liberia), Zionist leaders were ecstatic. For, although Jews made up half the population of Palestine, the UN Plan granted them approximately 55% of the land. Not surprisingly, Palestinians found the plan completely unacceptable. One-third of them would now be forced to live under Jewish rule.

Since then, Israel has gradually taken control of more and more Palestinian territory. After the 1947 and 1948 wars, Israel controlled 78% of Mandate Palestine. After the 1967 War, it controlled 100%.

Now it’s true that Israel did not start the 1947 and 1948 wars. The first war was started by local Palestinian guerillas, the second by neighboring Arab nations. But after achieving victory, it seemed clear that, contrary to Krauthammer’s claims, Israel was far more interested in expanding its borders than making peace with its enemies. As Israeli historian Avi Shlaim notes, “The files of the Israeli Foreign Ministry…burst at the seams with evidence of Arab peace feelers and Arab readiness to negotiate with Israel from September 1948 on.” Shlaim describes how Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, though undoubtedly desiring peace, “knew that for formal peace agreements Israel would have to pay by yielding territory to its neighbors and by agreeing to the return of a substantial number of Palestinian refugees, and he did not consider this a price worth paying” (The Iron Wall).

As can be evidenced by various internal documents, Ben-Gurion and many other early Israeli leaders intended to ultimately possess all of what they deemed to be Biblical Israel. For instance, Ben-Gurion wrote in a 1938 letter, “[I am] satisfied with part of the country, but on the basis of the assumption that after we build up a strong force following the establishment of the state—we will abolish the partition of the country and we will expand to the whole Land of Israel.”

After starting and then quickly defeating its enemies in the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel began building settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. Its purpose behind these settlements has always been clear, to create “facts on the ground” that would enable it to permanently expand its borders.

Although Krauthammer speaks of Israel’s repeated peace overtures, Israel has never made a peace offer that complies with international law. While international law prohibits nations from acquiring territory through force and from transferring their own populations into occupied territories, at Camp David even Ehud Barak, with his “remarkable courage and vision,” only offered to return 91% of the West Bank and to withdraw from 63% of Israeli settlements. Shlomo Ben-Ami, who served as Israel’s foreign minister at the time, later stated that had he been a Palestinian he too would have rejected the offer. (And I’ve said nothing about Israel’s refusal to allow the Palestinian refugees to return to their homes; I hope to write about this issue sometime in the near future.)

As far as Netanyahu’s “acceptance of a Palestinian state” goes, the truth is that he has never offered something that could reasonably be considered a “state.” As he stated in his speech at Bar-Ilan University last June, “The territory controlled by the Palestinians will be demilitarized, namely without an army, without control of its airspace and with effective security measures to prevent weapons smuggling.” Elsewhere, Netanyahu has made it clear that he has no intention of relinquishing East Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley, and presumably other parts of the West Bank.

I find it hard to believe that Krauthammer is unaware of these facts. Though I generally disagree with him, I’ll be the first to admit that he’s an intelligent, well-informed individual. But for reasons which perhaps only he knows, he has decided against writing honest analysis and has instead decided to parrot the same propaganda that can be heard from the Israeli right. I imagine he realizes that, if most Americans knew the actual historical record, they would be less likely to continue looking the other way as their politicians persist in giving billions of dollars to Israel every year and turning a blind eye to even its most egregious sins.

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