Israeli leaders today are preoccupied with being seen as “anti-Bibi”.and have no need for pessimism. Or realism, it seems. So let us offer the cynicism. Op-ed.
By Meir Jolovitz, INN
Paul Harvey, for four decades an icon of American broadcasting history, was often referred to as the most listened to voice in radio history. For two generations this conservative storyteller brought us the news, and established a repository of witty observations that defined his expressive and always eloquent style. Among his frequently quoted quips was this gem: “If there is a 50-50 chance that something can go wrong, then 9 times out of ten it will.”
Perspicacious observers of Israeli political affairs would concur with Harvey’s wisecrack and readily recall how often that has been the case; in fact, as often as every time one finds reason to be optimistic about finding some détente with an adversary still dedicated to your demise.
Modern Israeli diplomatic history – as it has engaged the fraudulent Palestinian Arab issue – is rich, and cursed, with examples of how a false optimism created more problems than it ever thought might be solved. Israel’s willingness to accede (read: capitulate) to a bogus argument that the conflict between two people is indeed territorial has done nothing more than perpetuate the falsehood that there really does exist a “Palestinian issue.” And every time Israeli leaders claim they are willing to negotiate the proper place to draw those lines, providing the Jewish State with safe and secure borders, they delegitimize their own claims to lines anywhere.
And yet, the irresponsible folly continues.
With Israel’s own foreign ministry arguing for years that the post-1967 territories were “disputed”, the Palestinians have never referred to them as anything other than “occupied.” More on that later.
Only veteran observers of Middle East affairs remember the days, yesteryear, when they argued over the semantics and intent of UN Resolution 242, and later 338. The truth seemed inconsequential then, and it is forgotten today. While Israel was arguing that the defensive nature of that war gave the Jewish State a legitimate claim that the captured lands (certainly strategic parts) could be retained, its enemies were not even ready to concede that the pre-war lands were legitimate.
It was not the Palestinian Arabs who have changed. It is the Israelis. And each concession that is endemic to that change reinforces the Muslim resolve.
On September 12, the news wires reported three concurrent and overlapping comments made by the three leading figures of Israel’s foreign policy: Naftali Bennett, Yair Lapid, and Benny Gantz. Each in its own right goes beyond some inane optimistic miscalculation. It exposes instead, that the Israelis are certainly less committed to their own principles than the Arabs are to theirs. Or worse – that the Israelis keep reinterpreting their principles, du jour.
First, Bennett, serving as a veritable place-holder as prime minister until succeeded by Lapid in August 2023, offered us this: Despite past promises to the contrary, he announced that Israel is considering reauthorizing the controversial Qatari cash transfers to Gaza. The reason: Because, we are told, Israeli security officials determined that Hamas is inclined to escalate tensions on the border if the monies are not soon transferred.
Second, and in kind, Israeli Foreign Minister Lapid called for a rehabilitation of Gaza in exchange for a suspension of terror attacks directed at Israel. In a plan that he called “economy-for-security”, Lapid suggested the Jewish State offer to compensate its genocidal adversaries, offering as well, the construction of an artificial island that would serve as a massive port, and also the construction of a “transportation link” across Israeli territory that would then connect Gaza with the Palestinian Authority in Judea and Samaria.
Footnote: A quick reminder to those who might have just awakened from a coma the past few months: this comes on the heels of a mini-war that Hamas had launched against the Jewish State in May, when the 4360 rockets rained down, sending a significant segment of Israel’s citizens to eleven nights in bomb shelters.
And finally, the third, Defense Minister Benny Gantz. In an interview with Foreign Policy, Gantz announced that Israel would be willing to accept a return to a United States-negotiated nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic of Iran, indicating a strategic shift in Israeli policy. There was an even greater need for concern. Gantz, according to reliable sources, only three weeks before had promised PA President Mahmoud Abbas that he would work cooperatively to facilitate the establishment of a 2-State Solution.
All three architects of a new Israeli foreign policy have spoken repeatedly of a trust placed with the same Joe Biden Administration which has spoken of a rapprochement with the Palestinian Authority – and, no less, with Hamas. All three – like children playing with a new toy they have been given. A toy that they quite readily abuse. And all three, in order to further separate themselves from the Likud-led government of the past dozen years – which they are quick to criticize and often condemn – have expressed an optimism as they tether Israel’s future to Biden, Kamala Harris, Antony Blinken, Jake Sullivan, Robert Malley, Hady Amr, John Kerry, Samantha Power, Maher Bitar, and Susan Rice.
For those new to the politics of foreign affairs, simply Google “Israel’s enemies in the American government.” If you land on the right site, you’ll find these same names.
Oh yes, add one more. Mahmoud Abbas, who is viewed by that aforementioned list of foreign policy ‘experts’ as Israel’s peace partner in any negotiations. He, as head of the PA, will be the one getting what Israel will be expected to give.
One doesn’t have to read the tea leaves. Israel’s left-leaning coalition government has decided to demonstrate that it is willing to put aside history, politics, and yes, the truth, if it finds favor with the rest of the world. And the Arabs have noticed.
For the present Israeli government, there is no need for pessimism. Or realism, it seems. So let us offer the cynicism.
The inability or unwillingness to look at this the generations-old conflict and the subsequent decades-old failed peace process through the long lens and draw the obvious conclusions will have long-lasting catastrophic repercussions. Israeli leaders today are preoccupied with being seen as the “anti-Bibi”. Particularly in Washington and in Europe. Sure, at the UN as well.
Because there is so much that needs to be unpacked in examining the latest version of a “New Middle East”, let us focus on one very elementary misunderstanding of the conflict. When fully understood – a relatively logical ask of anyone with a brain and a pulse – it renders the discussion of all the other secondary or tertiary issues as almost meaningless. Moot.
Especially with the “so-called” supporters of Israel, among whom, too few are paying attention.
Despite the optimism that is inherent to the belief that a territorial compromise can solve the divide between Arabs and Jews, Israel’s enemies keep reminding us that they are indeed – enemies. They speak it loudly enough. And we continue not to listen, nor hear.
November 29. It was the date, in 1947, when the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 181, the Partition Plan that was to solve the dispute between Arabs and Jews in Mandated Palestine. What followed in the subsequent decades is a history known to all.
On September 24, 2021 – while speaking virtually to the UN General Assembly – Mahmoud Abbas, indicated that the Palestinians Arabs, if denied their right to claim all post-June 4, 1967 “occupied” territories, were now ready to affirm the territorial boundaries as per the 1947 resolution. Yes, 1947! Pictured behind Abbas as he spoke, delivering an ultimatum to Israel, were a series of four large maps. The first, was labeled “Historic Palestine” (which never existed) but without that area of Transjordan that was already truncated – the 77% of the original British Mandate given to the Arabs a quarter century before the partition plan. It was pictured sequentially beside three others, graphically depicting stages of Israeli “expansion”. 1947. 1967. And finally 2020. All, in English. Nothing hidden here. But no one was looking.
The problem is transparent, and still, it is ignored.
It is all about “occupation”. And the optimism of morons with the inability to understand that.
Supporters of Israel are quick to remind us that Israel has offered the Palestinian Arabs almost all of the “occupied” territories, through several peace initiatives. Each overture was met by Arab rejectionism (beginning even in the weeks following the Six Day War). Most notably, Israel’s vanquished adversaries have said no to Benjamin Netanyahu in 1998, Ehud Barak in 2000, Ehud Olmert in 2008. And to Netanyahu again in 2014 in negotiations that never really materialized.
And Israeli spokesmen scratch their heads in bewilderment, unable to fathom why, when offered 96 percent of the occupied territories, the Arabs say no.
Actually, it is rather easy to understand – unless one fears that it might shatter the false optimism upon which you build your hopes. “Occupied” lands for proponents of Israel is very different from the Arab understanding of occupied lands. The former naively believe that it refers to the post-1967 acquisition of territory. The Arabs, as affirmed quite frequently throughout Palestinian press releases, and through its social media, argue otherwise. For them it is 1949. And, as Abbas now hints – 1947.
Intellectual integrity allows no interpretation of Arab rejectionism other than the obvious, so we look at the numbers. They expose the myth that most so willingly choose to embrace.
The Arabs have an entirely different perspective of what was “occupied.” For them, all of Israel is occupied. Not only the acquisition in 1967, but in 1948. Everything. Israel proper, and later, the territories of Judea and Samaria (including Jerusalem), Gaza, and the Golan Heights. Today, most political pundits and virtually all so-called experts (they are clearly not) speak of the ‘West Bank’ and East Jerusalem – as “occupied”. Count on one hand those who think those territories are actually liberated. While there is a large minority who argue that it is open to the debate of international jurists, the vast majority agree with the same Palestinian ‘people’ who were themselves manufactured in the 1960s. It is “occupation.” The details seemed extraneous.
Lost in the background noise, one can indeed find the case being made explaining the real core of the Arab war against Israel, and the Jews. It is the refusal on the part of the Muslim world to accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish State. Period. Not because anything Israel has done, or failed to do – but because Israel exists.
With that as the premise, the conclusion is axiomatic. The most pivotal point of all is this, and it’s about the math: Israel proper within the pre-1967 Green Lines measures 8522 square miles. Judea and Samaria – post-Six Day War lands taken in 1967, total 2183 square miles. Gaza, small enough to be designated as a Strip, comes in at only 141 square miles. Therefore, Israel and its advocates suggest that the “occupied territories” register at 2,183 square miles. Of course, the Arabs have a completely different understanding. Their calculators offer a different number: 10,705, and if you include the Golan Heights (because it has been annexed as part of Israel) the figure totals 11,149 square miles.
For those lost in translation, it is simple: the Arabs view Israel’s very existence as occupation.
Like the two blind men examining the elephant – one grabbing the tail and the other the trunk – they offer different interpretations of the beast. So too the Israelis and the Palestinian Arabs.
For Mahmoud Abbas and the Arabs, those same territories (the 96%) offered so “generously” by Israeli negotiators were seen as only 19% of what the Arabs see as “occupied” – an appreciable insult indeed. Speaking to the UN less than two weeks ago, that fourth map hanging behind Abbas had it at 12%. It is this difference in perspective that explains, quite simply, why peace is not only improbable, but impossible. But it does not explain the irrational optimism of those who run the show and believe that Israeli concessions will somehow soften their murderers’ ultimate intention.
The gap is unbridgeable. We’ve arrived at a dead-end cul-de-sac.
And meanwhile, Bennett is searching for creative ways to get monies to Gaza, Lapid is offering to establish an “economy-for-security” plan, and Gantz is doubling-down on the US reengaging the Islamic Republic of Iran – while Israel’s “so-called” friends support a 2-State Delusion, ignoring the fact that the Palestinian Arabs don’t really recognize one of those two.
There is indeed a truism to the maxim “if there is a 50-50 chance that something can go wrong, then 9 times out of ten it will.” What then might one expect if the actual chance was pretty much zero to begin with? Truth be told, perhaps Paul Harvey might have been overly optimistic.
Meir Jolovitz is a past national executive director of the Zionist Organization of America, and formerly associated with the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies.