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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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 Dan

    Aren’t the “authors” of that letter the usual gang of idiots spawned by the Jimmy Carter administration? You don’t think they’ve gotten any smarter since those days, do you Mr. Abrams?

  • Posted by Gaza2010

    Israel is a terrorist state.

  • Posted by Neville Craig

    ‘Israel does grant full and equal rights to non-Jewish citizens’.
    That is a travesty of the truth and is easily written by people living at a distance, in leafy US home comfort. Israel is a theocracy.

    Importantly, as discussed in eg U McGahern’s ‘Palestinian Christians in Israel’ (Routledge, 2011) & D Jadallah’s ‘Colonialist Construction in the Urban Space of Jerusalem (MEJ, Winter 2014), there are means to discriminatory practices: Government-issued identity cards are colour-coded according to ‘ethnic identity’. Where do the 500k Russian faux-Jews fit into that? Skirting of the issues is in keeping with this asymmetrical power.

    For the OT the latter concludes: ‘Israeli authorities rely on a lack of legal formality in order to disguise sovereignty. Israel has not formally annexed the territories it has occupied since 1967 mainly because to do so would cause a dramatic demographic shift that would threaten its proclaimed democracy’. (US-type)

  • Posted by Lily

    A nice example of mirror-imaging.
    You are best advised to keep such profound thoughts to yourself in future.

  • Posted by Lily

    Re the ‘enlargement’ of settlements, the authors know the truth all too well — but they have an anti-Israel axe to grind. Hence they dissemble.

    The top palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat concurred with the veracity of an aerial photograph provided by the EU — showing that settlements have been built on approximately 1.1% of the west bank.

    If Erekat knows, is it credible that Brzezinki et al don’t? Pickering, for example, has been attempting to mainstream hamas for years. He’ll sign up to anything to further his aims.

  • Posted by Lily

    Anyone who overlooks the vile incitement is revealing his own feelings: perhaps Brzezinki et al approve.

  • Posted by Lily

    Instead of pushing headlong into another episode of futile peace-processing, Kerry should have privately interviewed the top palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, and quizzed him about what he meant by this quote:

    According to Erekat, in 2008 Ehud Olmert offered palestinians 100% of their demands. As Erekat admitted to the Jordanian daily Al-Dustour: “At Camp David they offered 90%, and [recently] they offered 100%. So why should we hurry…” http://www.memri.org/report/en/0/0/0/0/0/0/3413.htm

    It is time that this quote is addressed, by politicians and commentators alike — spelling out precisely why palestinians “see no need to hurry”.

  • Posted by ah

    The best part of Lily’s links is that they simply confirm that Israel is not serious about peace. A corrupt PM offers land in the final death peels of his administration, which is then promptly ignored by his predecessor.

    The other link only confirms that Lily cannot read, because it does not say that Olmert offered Palestinians 100% of their demands. I would also suggest Lily that you look at a map of Israel and Palestine and understand that offering 70/80/90/100% of equivalent land, is not the same as offering 100% of the West Bank, as the portions which Israel intends to hold on to are on prime land – whether agricultural, water, resource, or transport-based.

  • Posted by ah

    As for Abrams, he is missing the forest to focus on the usual “they incite against Jews” trope, while of course ignoring the massive incitement taking place by Israeli Jews against Palestinians.

    Neville Craig – fully agree, this line stated time and time again has been proven ridiculous and false time and time again. Good catch on pointing it out.

    As for mentioning “Israeli security”, there is no reason for these authors to do so, as everyone knows this has been and always will be Israel’s excuse for opposing any real peace process.

  • Posted by Mark

    Israel is not a theocracy. The percentage of Jews who are religious is less than 20%, probably lower than many states in the US. Anybody who has spent any time in Israel knows quite how secular Israel is. It is true that religious authorities have more influence than is warranted but this irritates most Israelis. With regard to incitement against Arabs, I have never seen this on Israeli television or the israeli press. Of course there are individual bigots and fanatics, but I see no evidence that this is government-sponsored.

  • Posted by richard

    re ah presumably not as in eureka

    when lily said 100% that quite clearly means and includes a land exchange of similar quality.that would still leave the palestinians with 100% of the land.

    israel has also offered to cede israeli palestinian villages to the palestinian authority,but because life is so good in israel the palestinians stay with the jews.they know what is good for them

  • Posted by richard

    neville craig re travesty of the truth

    1 the highest achieving group in israel are the palestinian christians.
    2 re colour coded israel is at war.a few years ago they were bombed in buses and cafes.they do not have the luxury of being able to avoid keeping an eye on the enemy
    3 re faux jews.conversion has now been made easier and we now fewer “faux jews”

  • Posted by richard

    neville craig you may remember that the usa is very careful in letting middle east peoples into the country.presumably america is looking to defend itself and therefore discriminates against the middle east.

  • Posted by richard

    since when did it become a crime to have religious faith?
    as for rule by the religious there are now no religious parties in
    government.they have been thrown out.the nationalist parties do not push religion on the state.

  • Posted by richard

    ah on corruption

    does ah mean like spiro agnew?
    and has the usa had no other cases of corruption in its history?

    let him who is without sin cast the first stone.look it up.

  • Posted by richard

    re israeli security

    it would be militarily stupid for israel to give up the high ground that overlook the coastal plain where 70% of israelis live.and where its economic power is concentrated.

    i have no doubt that most israelis would give up everything for peace.but peace is not on offer unless like ah or neville craig you live in “leafy usa” and so can afford to ignore the dangers in israel.

    why should you care you have no skin in the game

  • Posted by richard

    zbigniew brezinski was never a lover of zion
    i recall he advised the usa to shoot down israeli planes overflying iraq on the way to iran.
    his body language and demeanour when mentioning israel is all too clear

  • Posted by Elihu

    The PA honored the unrepentant murderer Dalal Mughrabi this year, as well… http://palwatch.org/main.aspx?fi=680&fld_id=680&doc_id=10947

    The ‘blame Israel’ crowd refuses to see the horror that awaits them if they actually achieve their goals.


    Something wicked this way comes.

  • Posted by Danny Black

    neville craig, you are lying. There is no colour coding according to ethnicity. The colour coding is according to whether they are Israeli citizens or not. Palestinians in the West bank are not Israeli citizens, Arab Israelis are. Therefore Arab Israelis have exactly the same colour ID cards as other Israelis. In fact, they are identical in every single way. This is yet another one of those lies like the “Jewish only”/”settler only” roads which don’t exist

    ah, glad to see we are slowly making progress. Previously you were claiming there was no offer from Olmert

  • Posted by Danny Black

    Mark, one should thank Neville for claiming Israel is a theocracy. It demonstrates that he is so ignorant that his opinion is worthless.

  • Posted by richard

    zbig has had a chip on his shoulder since the helicopters in iran debacle.he was responsible for the planning and pushed carter into the disaster.

    he was never trusted again and never gained office again.the dogs bark and the caravans etc

  • Posted by ah


    See my original point, 100% of the land is not 100% of the demands. Offering to trade the least productive land lacking aquifers cut off by Israeli-only roads and not including East Jerusalem is not “100% of the demands” as specified by Lily, nor is it “100% of the land” as you argue.”

    Also, are you denying Olmert was corrupt? It seems you need to catch up on your reading. But you are simply using the usual pro-Israel argumentation tactic of “You can’t criticize Israel unless you criticize every other human rights abuser in the world”.

    As for “no skin in the game”, I wish indeed that were the case. Unfortunately the US exports 1000s of settlers each year, provides $3 Bn a year in grants and loans, provides endless weapons and diplomatic support as well as billions more funneled through charities. We have WAY too much in the game, and every time Israel invades one of its neighbors, kills an innocent Palestinian family, builds or expands a settlement, completes a section of the “Security” Wall or any other myriad of human rights abuses, those of us with no “skin the game” get blamed for supporting the alleged “beacon of democracy in the Middle East”.

    And then, somehow, despite all this, the Israelis tell us to butt out and mind our own business and take every chance they get to humiliate the US President, take sides on a presidential candidate and influence the political process (legally, I agree) through lobbying and money.

    @Danny Black – I agree there was something of an offer on the table, I just don’t think it was every offered in seriousness by Olmert, just as I don’t believe Netanyahu has any desire to solve the situation diplomatically.

  • Posted by neville craig

    Taking up points raised above about my comments.
    Many Palestinian Christians are indeed very high achieving – and I use to manage some from a regional business base in Amman – one talked of the ousting of his mothers family from a Jaffa villa. Unfortunately the many able Palestinian ‘Arabs’ with high level science degrees that I known have had to live elsewhere.

    In living in various countries in the E Med region over 25 years, recently Cyprus, I have observed the consequences of Israel’s Theocratic Rules: the unusual commercial flight schedules, the weddings and football matches held in neighbouring countries,
    Russian ‘Jews’ who triangulate between Israel, Moscow/Kiev, and offshore Cyprus, absenting on high days like Passover…

  • Posted by LW

    Danny Black makes a good example of exposing misinformation, that Israeli issued ID cards are based on religion. Lies ares more interesting than the truth. Lies are fashioned to grab your attention. They make good pull-quotes, and get cut and pasted. Suddenly the lie appears in the search engines and rises to the top. The truth tellers have to show statistics, documents and maps expending great energy to demonstrate the truth. But the lies persist.

  • Posted by charlie materne

    A few facts that diplomats don’t seem to know:

    Fact 1) For 4000 years Jews have believed that God gave them the right and obligation to build and live in homes from the Jordan River to the sea.

    Fact 2) for 1400 years Moslems have believed that Allah gave them the right and the obligation to kill Jews and other infidels.

    Fact 3) Both sides actually believe the teachings of their religions.
    Until someone figures out a way to get past these facts, there will not be Peace in the region.

  • Posted by richard


    1 read my post.i wrote trading land of equal quality.that must be agreed by both sides.what is your objection?
    2 where did i deny that olmert is corrupt?i pointed out some obvious retorts such as those without sin etc
    3 american jews who emigrate to israel do so of their own volition.
    again you wish to make israel take risks because you have no skin in the game.that is quite true.
    4 does three billion dollars a year give you the right to force israel to take risks with its future.america spent a trillion dollars in iraq and did not force iraq to follow american advise.iraq is now an iranian satrapy

  • Posted by richard

    ah “killing innocent palestinians”

    your words show your deep animosity.

    israel has never started the violence.it has always replied to violence.what interest would israel have in killing the innocent?
    israeli parents have no interest in sending their young to war.do you think otherwise?

  • Posted by richard

    neville craig do you mislead on purpose?

    20% of the technion the israel institute of technology is made up of palestinian students and include a large number of palestinian christians.

    20% is the same proportion of palestinians in israel.

    that you choose to stir up trouble seems rather obvious.

  • Posted by richard

    neville craig
    “in living in various countries in the E Med region over 25 years, recently Cyprus, I have observed the consequences of Israel’s Theocratic Rules: the unusual commercial flight schedules, the weddings and football matches held in neighbouring countries,
    Russian ‘Jews’ who triangulate between Israel, Moscow/Kiev, and offshore Cyprus, absenting on high days like Passover!

    there is no theocratic rule in israel.the religious are no longer in government.

    as regards the rest if that is all you accuse israel of then you are wasting our time.your dislike of the nation has become an obsession.drink a glass of cold water and take a deep breath.

  • Posted by richard

    to ah again

    anyone at all interested in geopolitics would quickly see that israel is a valued and strategic asset for the usa.

    europe has disarmed as robert gates famously reminded us.israel spends a larger proportion of its gdp on arms then the usa.

    the largest american corporations have offices in israel seeking to use israeli talent.intel alone spends more then three billion dollars in israel.

    warren buffet spent 4 billions buying an israeli machine tool company.

    american purchases of israeli tech companies far exceeds the three billion dollars you are in love with.

  • Posted by Danny Black

    LW, the statement that cards are issued based on religion is wholly false. Simply untrue and the fact you seem to believe that they are shows you don’t know what you are talking about

  • Posted by Danny Black

    charlie materne, none of those “facts” are true. Also most Israelis are not religious.

    neville craig, when lying best to stop or talk to people who know less than you. The fact is that in Israel, non-religious weddings performed abroad are accepted as if the couples were married in Israel. If you think this is theocracy then you need to buy a dictionary

  • Posted by ah

    Ahhhhh Richard, you have gotten on my favorite topic here. Since it is so obvious to you, please do elaborate on how “israel is a valued and strategic asset for the usa.”

    I guarantee this will be good.

  • Posted by ah

    As for this statement

    “israel has never started the violence.it has always replied to violence.what interest would israel have in killing the innocent?
    israeli parents have no interest in sending their young to war.do you think otherwise?”

    It truly does show that you live in a Tel Aviv bubble and know nothing of what goes on around. Man, read a history book by any Israeli historian of the last 40 years and you will see that everything about that statement is false.

  • Posted by richard

    israel is a strategic asset

    glad it is your favourite topic

    1 the usa has a number of aircraft carriers in the region each with 5000 men and women,each with 60 fighter aircraft.
    2 the money spent to keep these vessels in the region is huge.
    3 what is left unsaid is that america has a valuable piece on the chessboard.the presence of 450 front line fighter aircraft in israel manned by the world’s most capable pilots.they are a short flight away from the gulf.

  • Posted by richard

    re ah

    israel using american weapons fought three major wars and decimated soviet arms.at the time a huge psychological blow for the soviets and their allies.
    soviet arms and technology lost a great deal of credibility

    when the ussr tried to salvage their reputation by sending their fighter jets to take on israel the israelis promptly shot down five of the soviet fighter jets.august 1970.

    the soviets were the biggest foe of the west and they received a bloody nose from israel

  • Posted by richard

    re ah

    few would argue that the israeli intelligence services are among the best.the usa receives vast amounts of this intelligence for nothing.

    witness the frequent presence of senior american military figures in israel.

  • Posted by richard

    re ah

    1970 again.american ally jordan was invaded by syria.the usa was involved in vietnam and had no force large enough to present a reasonable threat to the syrians.
    president nixon asked israel to stop the syrian invasion.mordechai hod the iaf chief sent two quartets of mirage aircraft to fly over the syrians.the latter got the message and promptly headed back home.nixon thanked israel.

  • Posted by richard

    and ah the french received large orders for the mirage as a result of the 1967 war.just as israeli use of f16s and f15s have added to the lustre of these fighter aircraft.

    and israel has the ace of aces with the highest number of jets shot down,giora epstein.17 planes downed.

    now do you see why the israeli aircraft and pilots are of value to its ally the usa

  • Posted by richard

    a bit of history ah

    when kruschev made a “secret speech” to the 20th congress of the cpsu february 24th and 25th in the soviet union blaming stalin for monstrous crimes the usa was delighted to receive the full contents of kruschev’s outpourings from israel.the cia chief at the time made a trip to israel to thank the them

    “By the afternoon of April 13, 1956, the Shin Bet in Israel received the photographs. Israeli intelligence and United States intelligence had previously secretly agreed to cooperate on security matters. James Jesus Angleton was the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) head of counterintelligence and in charge of the clandestine liaison with Israeli intelligence. The photographs were delivered to him. On April 17, 1956, the photographs reached the CIA chief Allen Dulles, who quickly informed U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower. After determining that the speech was authentic, the CIA leaked the speech to The New York Times in early June.[9]”

  • Posted by richard

    ah that is just a snippet of the goodies the usa received and continues to receive to this day from israel
    i say a snippet but in fact the cia was vastly impressed.quite rightly

  • Posted by richard

    and ah the mig jet israel purlioned from iraq

    this aircraft was sent to the usa for american pilots to fly against and test.no mean feat.the knowledge gained helped american pilots in vietnam

    “Mivtza Yahalom) was an operation undertaken by the Mossad. Its goal was the acquisition of a Soviet-built Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21, the most advanced Soviet fighter plane at that time. The operation began in mid-1963 and ended on August 16, 1966, when an Iraqi Air Force MiG-21, flown by a defector, landed at an air base in Israel. Israel and the United States were able to study the design of the plane.”

    “In May 1967 director of CIA Richard Helms said that Israel had proven that it had made good use of the aircraft, when on April 7, 1967, during aerial battles over the Golan Heights, the Israeli Air Force brought down 6 Syrian MiG-21s without losing any of its Dassault Mirage IIIs.[2]

    In January 1968, Israel loaned the MiG to the United States, which evaluated the jet under the Have Doughnut program. The transfer helped pave the way for the Israeli acquisition of the F-4 Phantom, which the Americans had been reluctant to sell to Israel.[2][6][3][4]”

  • Posted by richard

    that ah is also known as the american israeli strategic alliance

    more to come

  • Posted by richard

    ah a tale of two destroyed middle east nuke sites

    1 the iraqi nuke site destroyed by israel in operation opera.
    the 7th of june 1981.the israelis flew 1600 kilometres to make the hit.years later dick cheney thanked the iaf commander david ivry and gave him a signed picture of the iraqi nuke site,
    stating “with thanks”
    reagan’s reaction at the time was “boys will be boys”

    2 the syrian site destroyed by israel

    operation orchard was an Israeli airstrike on a nuclear reactor[4] in the Deir ez-Zor region[5] of Syria carried out just after midnight (local time) on September 6, 2007. The White House and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) later confirmed that American intelligence had also indicated the site was a nuclear facility with a military purpose,

    bush thanked israel for the strike on syria.

    a strategic alliance i think ah

  • Posted by richard

    ah you did say this the american israeli strategic alliance was your favourite topic.i have plenty more.do you want more?

  • Posted by richard

    ah blames israel for the violence in the region,the man advises me to read a history book

    what can one say?

    “eyes they have but they can not see.ears they have but they can not hear”

    that ah is you to a perfection

  • 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.

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