PRINCETON, NJ-Michael Curtis
The New York Times is at it again in its continuing presentation of inaccurate statements and misleading assertions concerning the State of Israel. First was the headline in an article of September 10, 2013 that “The 1967 border is a source of strain in the Israeli-Palestinian Talks.” Then on September 15 it published an unusually tendentious article, “Two-State Illusion: the idea of a state for Palestinians and one for Israelis is a fantasy that blinds us and impedes progress.”
The first statement was false since there are no borders; the second was an absurd argument that has no relevance to the present situation. Both are implicitly critical of Israel and unhelpful to any genuine effort to reach a peacesettlement between Israel and the Palestinians in particular and the Arab world in general. Both are grounded in a pessimistic view of relationships between the parties in the Middle East. And both ignore the fact that pessimism is not an option for solution of political problems.
Of course, the difficulties in the search for peace and the possible creation of a Palestinian state willing to live in peace with the State of Israel are evident. The three attempts at negotiations since 2000 have failed. That failure has been due not to Israeli unwillingness to enter into negotiations. It must be admitted that Israeli leaders are divided on the nature of negotiations, about a Palestinian state, and whether it would constitute a threat to the security of Israel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu certainly faces dissent both from some members of his own party and from Naftali Bennett and his Jewish Home party, part of the present government coalition. But more important, Netanyahu at this point appears to have become less ideological and more of a strategic hawk, concerned about territorial compromises only if they threaten the security of Israel.
In his speech at Bar-Ilan University in June 2009, Netanyahu unequivocally appealed to “our Palestinian neighbors and to the leadership of the Palestinian Authority” to begin peace negotiations immediately without prior conditions. He similarly appealed to the leaders of the Arab countries to talk about and to make peace. He now has as his envoy Yitzhak Molcho, who was a crucial player in two agreements, the 1997 Hebron agreement, and the 1998 Wye River Memorandum.
The failure to negotiate is due to three other factors. The first is the appreciation that the well-known differences between the parties, on Jerusalem, refugees, boundaries, and security issues, offer no easy solution. The second issue is the division and the poisoned atmosphere between the Palestinians, between Fatah and Hamas, the terrorist organization dedicated to the elimination of Israel.
Most important is the third factor, the continuing refusal of any Palestinian group to enter into genuine negotiations or without preconditions regarding issues that are to be negotiated. This is a matter both of bad faith and of breakage of the commitment made twenty years ago in the Oslo Accords, which created the Palestinian Authority in an interim agreement that was to last five years after which final status talks would begin.
This bad faith and unwillingness to enter into any agreement continues. Nabil Shaath, the Palestinian official for international affairs, said in September 2013 that the Palestinians had only agreed to participate in possible peace talks organized by Secretary of State John Kerry because they had been pressured by the United States, Europe, Russia, and the rest of the Arab world. This unwillingness persisted in spite of the fact that Israel agreed to release a considerable number of long-serving Palestinian prisoners.
Critics of the existence of the State of Israel, such as the authors of the New York Times columns, may posit that a two-state solution is a fantasy. But it cannot be repeated too often, and writers of those columns by now ought to be conscious of it, that the root of the conflict between Israel and its neighbors has always been and remains the refusal to recognize the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own located in their homeland.
The conflict will only end when that recognition occurs, and the destruction of Israel is no longer a major objective. The Palestinians, however, have not only avoided negotiations, but also threaten legal and well as military action against Israel, appeal to the amorphous “international community” for support, and continue to accentuate its narrative of victimhood.
The acceptance by part of that community of the validity of this narrative has been accompanied by increasing pressure for the boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel. Most recently the European Union has taken negative steps in this direction. In December 2012 it decided that any future trade agreements with Israel would state that they would not apply to any area beyond the pre-1967 lines. In July 2013, it said that it would issue guidelines that awards and grants would not be given to Israelis located beyond those lines.
It was also preparing guidelines fallowing its member states to choose to label products produced in the Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Not surprisingly, Hanan Ashrawi, well-known spokesperson of the executive committee of the PLO, perversely declared this was a very positive step. In contrast John Kerry on September 8, 2013 called for these guidelines to be suspended.
Two things are pertinent in this regard, the issues of the settlements and the pre-1967 lines. The first is that disregarding one’s views on the desirability or even the legality of the Israeli settlements, they do not constitute an obstacle to peace. This was clearly shown in 2009 when there was no response by any Palestinians to the Israeli gesture to forego, on a temporary basis, construction of settlements in the West Bank.
Related to this is the issue of the pre-1967 lines, The NYT, like the Palestinians and so many others, speak of these as “1967 borders.” The Palestinians contend that negotiations must start from those areas, and that a two-state solution must be based on those lines. However, the reality is that those lines are artificial, the result of where the conflicted armies happened to stop at the moment of cease-fire. Only final status agreements will decide on borders of the disputed territories.
The idea of a two-state solution may have disappeared between 1949 and 1967 when Jordan occupied and indeed annexed the West Bank, and Egypt rule the Gaza Strip. The Arab League is not alone in arguing that it should now be the subject of discussion. Only the contributors to the NYT who impede progress on the subject seem to think otherwise.
Michael Curtis is distinguished professor emeritus of political science at Rutgers University and has taught at several other institutions, including Yale University and Cornell University. He has written and edited more than fifteen books in the fields of comparative politics, political theory, and Middle East affairs. Michael is a contributor for Gatestone Institute, The American Thinker & Senior Writer for the Balfour Post.
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