Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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The Cost of the “Peace Process”

by Elliott Abrams
February 13, 2014


The goal of Secretary of State Kerry’s energetic diplomacy with the Israelis and Palestinians is the two-state solution, which means the establishment of an independent, sovereign Palestine living at peace with its neighbor Israel.

Or is it? What’s missing in that sentence is the word “democratic.” Do we care? Once upon a time, the United States worked hard to give Yasser Arafat, a terrorist and thief, a state to rule. That policy was changed in the George W. Bush administration, when we began to care not only about the borders of the new Palestine but was within those borders. Bush said he would not support establishment of a Palestinian state if that state would just be another dictatorship, another kleptocracy, another home for terrorism.

Today we appear to be back in the Arafat period–without Arafat to be sure, but with the same lack of concern about events in the real Palestine.

Consider the new January, 2014 report of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights. Some highlights:

Cases of torture and ill treatment during detention continued. Furthermore, it increased in the centers of the Preventive Security Agency in the West Bank. ICHR received 56 complaints of torture and ill treatment, 36 of which occurred in the Gaza Strip and 19 in the West Bank.

ICHR received complaints of violations of the right to appropriate legal procedures during detention in breach of guarantees to a fair trial, which are enshrined in the basic law.

Some official security and civil authorities still refrain from implementing courts’ decisions or procrastinate their implementation. ICHR received 8 complaints in this regard in addition to 16 other previous decisions. Furthermore, one of the inmates remained in prison despite completing his sentence.

ICHR received complaints concerning expropriation of citizens’ property by security agencies in the West Bank without judicial order.

ICHR received a number of complaints of violations concerning the right to freedom of expression, press, peaceful assembly and academic freedoms. It also received a number of complaints concerning assaults on persons, public and private properties.

There are plenty of other reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists noted that “Despite the immense differences between the Israeli government, Fatah, and Hamas, they shared a common trait in 2013: a consistent and troublesome record of silencing journalists who reported dissenting perspectives….Local human rights organizations reported that the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank also obstructed coverage of protests, especially those in support of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.”

Human Rights Watch, which is notably unsympathetic to Israel, reported that

In the West Bank, Palestinian Authority (PA) security services beat peaceful demonstrators, and arbitrarily detained and harassed scores of journalists. Credible allegations of torture committed by the PA’s security services persisted.

One could go on. For example, it is widely believed that corruption in the Palestinian Authority has exploded since the departure of former prime minister Salam Fayyad, who fought it. Reports on PA corruption are numerous: see this one, for example, or the Sunday Times of London story in October reporting that “billions of euros in European aid to the Palestinians may have been misspent, squandered or lost to corruption, according to a damning report by the European Court of Auditors, the Luxembourg-based watchdog.”

So, the question again arises: do we care, or are we indifferent to what goes on within the borders Secretary Kerry is trying to negotiate? Has the United States reverted to the position we had in the 1990s, when Yasser Arafat visited the White House 13 times and our policy goal was to hand him a state, no questions asked? How can it possibly contribute to the building of a decent, peaceful, democratic Palestine for the United States to appear–or worse yet, to be–indifferent to the actual conduct of the Palestinian Authority?

Secretary Kerry and other U.S. officials have spoken often about the negotiations and their goals, but I do not recall any honest discussion of the problem of growing corruption and lawlessness in the Palestinian Authority. State Department spokesmen issue statement after statement about Israeli settlement activity, seemingly whenever one brick is laid atop another, yet ignore these serious issues. What kind of Palestine is it that the United States is seeking to create?



Post a Comment 11 Comments

  • Posted by Jassem Othman

    “Bush said he would not support establishment of a Palestinian state if that state would just be another dictatorship, another kleptocracy, another home for terrorism.”

    Because President George W. Bush absolutely rejects those leaders who do not want to recognize that “confronting terror should be a essential strategic priorities.” He just made the right decisions against the leaders of madness and their followers of the terror masters.

  • Posted by Adam

    One thing that has changed though is that PA-Israel security cooperation is at an all-time high. The coordination of intelligence and security operations is the main reason why Hamas has not managed more of a challenge towards the PA in the West Bank. If/when the cooperation ends, there is not much stopping Hamas from running the corrupt PA/Fatah out of town. Just like they did in Gaza. In light of this, it is difficult to support the creation of a Palestinian state/Israeli withdrawal under current circumstances.

  • Posted by Shrley

    Adam (see previous comment) AND Netanyahu are right! How can the PA be trusted? Have we heard one word about recognizing Israel?? I’m sure that President Obama & Secy of State Kerry are well aware of the pitfalls of an unprotected Israel, and, even if put into words, how can words be trusted?? Surely, an agreement and/or a so-called “settlement” would be a wonderful thing, and it would give American Jewry the biggest thrill to have had it happen under President Obama’s watch, but, at what cost? I’m an “old Jewish lady”, and, though my words have been said over & over again, they can’t be repeated too often.

  • Posted by EMT

    I did some research. The question about the cost of the negotiations initiated by Kerry or by the Obama Administration is erroneous, because there is no legal base for the premises Kerry wants to use. Many presidents have tried before, but in the absence of legal and historical facts that would justify the claim of the Palestinians, the whole effort is a waste of taxpayers’ funds. Please see the transcript below. If Mr. Obama wants to offer a territory to the Palestinians he might as well send them all green cards.

    The Truth about the West Bank
    Often in the news we hear the terms, “occupied territories”, “67 borders,” and “illegal settlements,” and the story we usually hear sound very simple.
    During the six-day war, Israel captured the West Bank from the Palestinians, refused the United Nations demand to retreat and illegally built settlements.
    But is this really the case?
    Let’s try to understand the situation a little bit better.
    We start with a simple, but extremely important question, “From whom did the Israelis capture the West Bank? From the Palestinians?” No. In 1967 there was no Arab nation or state by the name of Palestine. Actually, was there ever?
    Israel took over the West Bank from Jordan, in an act of self-defense, after Jordan joined a war launched by Egypt and Syria, to destroy Israel. By the way, destroying countries is rather illegal. The United nations, back in 1967 rejected repeated Arab and Soviet attempts to declare Israel as the aggressor. Security Council Resolution 242 did not demand a unilateral Israeli withdrawal, rather the United Nations called for negotiating a solutionwhich would leave Israel with secure and recognized boundaries, in effect – defensible borders.
    But, wait a second, what was Jordan doing in the West Bank in the first place? What was its legal justification? Well Jordan had the . . ., you know what, it had no legal justification; Jordan simply occupied it during its previous attempt to destroy the newly established State of Israel in 1948, changing the commonly accepted name of Judean & Samaria to the “West Bank”. But this did not really convince anybody, and almost no one recognized the legality of Jordan’s occupation, not even any of the other Arab states. So if Jordan had no legal claim to the land, and Palestine did not exist, whose territory is it?
    Let’s go a little further back in time. Don’t worry, not to the days of the Bible, only about 100 years. Until 1917, the Ottoman Empire occupied the whole region. After losing World War I, the Ottomans relinquished their 500-year control to the Allied Forces, which decided to divide the old empire into countries. Britain’s Foreign Minister Lord Balfour recognized the Jewish people’s historical right to their homeland. A small area, equivalent to about half of one percent of the Middle East, was designated for this purpose. Britain received a mandate from the League of Nations to promote the establishment of a Jewish homeland, but wait a second! Do you realize what happened? The original Jewish homeland included not only the West Bank, but also the East Bank of the Jordan River. I guess you could not say that the Jewish people have not accepted some painful compromises, already. Anyway, the League of Nations’ recognition of a Jewish homeland, which included the West Bank, was reaffirmed by the United Nations after the end of the 2nd World War.
    With the British Mandate’s ending, United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 recommended the establishment of two states, one Jewish and one Arab. The Jews accepted it and went on to create the State of Israel, while the Arabs refused the compromise and launched a war to destroy the newly established Jewish state. Resolution 181, which was only a recommendation in the first place, remained with no legal standing. At the end of the war, a ceasefire line was formed, where the Israeli and Arab forces stopped fighting. At the insistence of Arab leaders, this line was defined as having no legal significance. So, although this line is commonly referred to as the 1967 border, it is not from 1967, and it was never an international border. This is why, a more exact, legal definition for the West Bank, according to international law is really the same as in so many other areas, where there are or were territorial disputes, but which are not defined as “occupied”. For example, Zubarah, Thumbs Island, the Western Sahara, Abu Musa Island, Kashmir, and many others. They are not considered “occupied”, but rather “disputed territories”.
    So, let’s return for a moment to our illustration and examine the complete chain of events. Israel’s presence in the West Bank is the result of a war of self defense. The West Bank should not be considered occupied, because there was no previous legal sovereignty in the area, and therefore, the real definition should be “disputed territory”. The 1947 partition plan has no current legal standing, while Israel’s claim to the land was clearly recognized by the international community during the 20th century. That is why, the presence and construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank should not be considered illegal. These are not just my own opinions; they are based on conclusions made by world renowned jurists, like Prof. Eugene Rostow, Arthur Goldberg, and Stephen Schwebel, who was Head of the International Court of Justice.
    So, what’s the solution for the dispute over the West Bank? Unfortunately there is no solution, but the only way a solution will ever be reached is if we base our negotiations on legal and historical facts. So please, let’s stop using the terms “Occupied territories” and “67 borders”. They are simply not politically correct.

  • Posted by ah


    Apparently you have missed the last 20-odd years of history. We have heard plenty from the PA about recognizing Israel, because they recognized Israel decades ago.

    EMT – you continue to live in a fictitious “International law” fairy tale land that somehow ignores the legal rulings and policies of judges, scholars and politicians from around the world (Jews and Gentiles alike) who very clearly have a much better understanding than you do, based on the quality of information you are copying and pasting into this discussion.

  • Posted by jeffo

    Didn’the PA choose to have prisoners released instead of settlement freeze? If so, maybe someone should tell the boycott movement. Also, how about recognizing Israel as a state (and the entire Arab league not just the PA) not necessarily as a Jewish one (see roger Cohen’s nice piece on this).

  • Posted by EMT

    Shirley, I’m with you. Those who are against Israel distort the truth and will always find excuses. I hope that neither Obama nor Kerry will push Israel to the extreme. Netanyahu is right. Freeing criminals at the request of Obama and Kerry is an outrage. But take a look at what they are doing to the US. It’s a shame. Israel is the only democratic and stable country in the Middle East. Don’t listen to those who tell us otherwise.

  • Posted by Sheila Novitz

    It seems very simple to my perhaps very simple mind: President Obama and Senator Kerry are, in these final years of their Democratic term, very busy trying to create their own legacies – and really, very little else matters to them. Especially Jews. They do not care about the nature of what will be inside the “Palestinian” state; they do not care about Israel living next door to terrorists who have sworn to destroy every last Jew in the Middle East. Because – as the Polish citizens so memorably said whilst they were stoning Kielce Jews to death (AFTER World War II) – we are “only Jews.” That the inherent terror of Islam will ultimately affect the West just as much as it now affects the ME and North and Central Africa is of not the slightest concern to Obama and Kerry. They, personally, will no longer be in power, and – like most citizens of the USA – they do not internalize the fact that it WILL spread to them just as it is now spreading to Europe, Australia and New Zealand. So, with no-else caring about whom the Jewish people have to contend with on a daily basis, we will go it alone – as usual. While the terrorists spread lies about us to the world, and the world enjoys believing them.
    What’s new?

  • Posted by EMT

    Thank you, Sheila, Shirley, and Jassem. I see that you understand my language. I have witnessed, before and during the WWII that Europe was in deep slumber – France with Marechal Petin and Britain with Chamberlin. Today, the difference is, US with Obama and Kerry and the European Union with their usual dream, want to rule the world, while they cannot even rule themselves. They forgot their misery. The Arabs do not know what they are doing. They have been influenced by the US.

  • Posted by db

    ah, except they have not really recognised Israel as a separate sovereign state. They have sort of ummm’ed and ahhh’ed enough to let people, who are desperate to see them as wanting peace, to say see if you squint hard enough then you can see something like that.

    Same with all this nonsense about issues recognising Israel as a sovereign Jewish state. Everyone knows why this is important. Israel wants to know that once it hands over the land that is it. End of conflict, no more demands. In particular, it doesn’t want to suddenly be the destination for the “refugees” that Arabs are keeping in camps.

  • Posted by ah


    I disagree. They’ve been fairly upfront about recognizing Israel as a separate sovereign state. Their actions over the last decade or so have supported this – whether through cooperation on security issues, policing issues or resource issues.

    Regarding Israel as a “Jewish” state, they have not and should not do so in my opinion. This was simply a new demand made by Netanyahu to scuttle any peace talks. Israel previously never cared about it. Doing so for the Palestinians would be sheer stupidity, as it would be intentionally erasing the identity of Israeli Arabs. Recognition of a “Jewish” identity for the state is not needed, a normal peace agreement would take care of all the details you mentioned (refugees, land, etc.)

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