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.

Print Print Cite Cite
Style: MLA APA Chicago Close


Standing Firm –To Blame Israel

by Elliott Abrams
April 11, 2014


Several well-known members of America’s foreign policy establishment have just published an open letter to Secretary of State Kerry, entitled “Stand Firm, John Kerry.” And firm they are, in blaming Israel for every problem in the peace negotiations.

Criticism of Israel and of the policies of the Netanyahu government is certainly fair, whether from the left or the right. But the criticisms adduced here are not. Why not?

The authors’ (Zbigniew Brzezinki, Carla Hills, Lee Hamilton, Thomas Pickering, Frank Carlucci, and Henry Siegman) first point is that the “enlargement” of Israeli settlements is the central problem in getting to peace. They propose stopping all negotiations until settlement “enlargement” ends. One problem with this approach is that it is the Palestinians, after all, who want to change the current situation, end the occupation, and get a sovereign state, so halting all diplomatic activity would seem to punish the party the authors’ wish to help. But there’s a deeper problem: there is no “enlargement” of Israeli settlements. There is population growth, especially in the major blocs that Israeli will obviously keep in any final agreement. But enlargement, which logically means physical expansion, is not the problem and is rare in the West Bank settlements. The authors don’t seem to know this.

Their second point deals with “Palestinian incitement,” a term long used by American officials to describe anti-Semitic statements and actions that glorify terror and terrorists—naming schools and parks after them for example. But the authors’ say nothing about this; they do not mention Palestinian anti-Semitism or the glorification of terror. They say instead that Israel sees “various Palestinian claims to all of historic Palestine constitute incitement.” This is plain wrong. Here’s what Palestinian “incitement” means, as described by David Pollock of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy:

In a particularly striking case, at the end of 2012, the Fatah Facebook page posted an image of Dalal Mughrabi, a female terrorist who participated in the deadliest attack in Israel’s history — the killing of 37 civilians in the 1978 Coastal Road Massacre. The image was posted with the declaration: ‘On this day in 1959 Martyr (Shahida) Dalal Mughrabi was born, hero of the ‘Martyr Kamal Adwan’ mission, bride of Jaffa and the gentle energizing force of Fatah.’

Another theme of recent official Palestinian incitement is the demonisation of Israelis and Jews, often as animals. For example, on 9 January 2012 PA television broadcast a speech by a Palestinian Imam, in the presence of the PA Minister of Religious Affairs, referring to the Jews as ‘apes and pigs’ and repeating the gharqad hadith, a traditional Muslim text about Muslims killing Jews hiding behind trees and rocks, because ‘Judgment Day will not come before you fight the Jews.’

The authors should know this kind of incitement happens constantly, and should demand that it end.

Then comes a paragraph about Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish State, as to which the authors are a bit ambiguous. They conclude that “Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, provided it grants full and equal rights to its non-Jewish citizens, would not negate the Palestinian national narrative.” They should have acknowledged that Israel does grant full and equal rights to non-Jewish citizens. There is no other country in the region with a substantial Christian population from which those Christian citizens are not fleeing, and that might have been noted. And Muslims in Israel vote in fully free elections; where else in the region does that truly happen?

Then comes a paragraph on “Israeli security,” which is devoted to condemning “Illegal West Bank land grabs”—as if Israel had no security problems at all. With respect to the Jordan Valley, they bemoan the impression that the United States takes Israeli security concerns there seriously. They do not acknowledge something every serious expert knows: that the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan also has grave concerns about security in the Jordan Valley and does not (repeat, not) want to see a quick withdrawal of Israeli forces from that long border. Security in the West Bank is a serious issue, but the open letter does not discuss the problem in a serious way.

The authors conclude that “the terms for a peace accord advanced by Netanyahu’s government, whether regarding territory, borders, security, resources, refugees or the location of the Palestinian state’s capital, require compromises of Palestinian territory and sovereignty on the Palestinian side of the June 6, 1967, line. They do not reflect any Israeli compromises….” This is remarkable. It’s obvious that tens of thousands, perhaps one hundred thousand or more, Israeli settlers would have to be uprooted in any peace deal remotely like the ones proposed by Israel at Camp David in 2000 and after Annapolis in 2008. The authors do not mention those proposals—nor the fact that the PLO rejected them. Nor the massive uprooting of citizens that Israel would have to undertake.

After his dozen trips to Israel as secretary of state, John Kerry can be presumed to know better than the authors of this open letter what’s going on in the “peace process.” Let’s hope he does “stand firm” against an analysis that blames one side exclusively for the failure to make peace, and ignores the history and complexities of the negotiations.


Post a Comment 48 Comments

  • Posted by ah

    Wow, you sure wasted a lot of time citing a few random disconnected facts and then arguing that this “proves” Israel is a strategic asset. Somehow you managed to ignore all the downsides, while not actually proving anything, especially considering how few troops and equipment we actually have stationed in Israel, and how many we have stationed in the surrounding Arab countries.

    I do not disagree that from time to time being friends with Israel has some benefits; however, I would argue that Israel gets a much much much better end of the bargain and in the process hurts our credibility and ties our hands more than it assists us as a “strategic asset”. Our interests can be fully served from our multitude of bases in the region and with our global military-technological system around the world.

    Having to defend every invasion/settlement/bombing of civilians that Israel makes on the world political scene because they are allegedly a strategic asset is exactly what hurts the US.

  • Posted by correcto

    Truth be told, the settlement problem is really a non-issue. Fpr
    under any negotiated agreement, settlements in Palestinian territory would simply be part of Palestine.
    And why can’t Jews live in this country; will Palestine be “Judenrien” cleared of Jews, as in Nazi Germany, while millions of Arabs live in Israel and have full rights?
    It just shows the world’s anti-Semitic attitude towards the entire peace process.
    Poor Israel.

Post a Comment

CFR seeks to foster civil and informed discussion of foreign policy issues. Opinions expressed on CFR blogs are solely those of the author or commenter, not of CFR, which takes no institutional positions. All comments must abide by CFR's guidelines and will be moderated prior to posting.

* Required