+61 3 9272 5644

Credit: Jerusalem Post

Latest News in Israel – 31st January

IDF fires on Palestinians throwing pipe bombs near Jenin; one reportedly killed

The army shot and killed a Palestinian after clashes broke out during an overnight raid in the Jenin refugee camp on Sunday, according to Palestinian medical officials.

According to the IDF, Palestinians threw pipe bombs and stones at soldiers, who responded by firing toward the main instigators.

No soldiers were wounded.

Muhammad Mahmoud Abu Khalifa, 16, was killed and five others were wounded in camp, according to the official Palestinian Authority news outlet Wafa.

Khalifa and the wounded were taken to the Martyr Khalil Suleiman Hospital, but Khalifa could not be moved until after the Israeli forces left the camp, Palestinian sources told Wafa.

“Violent clashes broke out with the occupation forces that raided the camp in the early morning and fired live bullets, sound bombs [stun grenades], and tear gas at citizens’ houses, leading to the martyrdom of the Abu Khalifa… and the wounding of five others,” they said.

Fatah and the “national and Islamic forces” expressed their sorrow at the death of Abu Khalifa and announced a complete commercial strike.

Last week, five members of Abu Khalifa’s extended family, suspected of being Hamas members, were taken into custody during an IDF arrest raid in the same camp. Violent clashes also broke out, and a soldier was wounded by an explosive device thrown at the troops.

A funeral procession was held for Abu Khalifa on Sunday.  (Jerusalem Post)

Palestinians slam UN chief’s remarks on Jewish ties to Temple Mount

Palestinian officials criticized United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Sunday for saying that a Jewish temple existed atop the Temple Mount.

“[Gueterres] ignored UNESCO’s decision that considered the Al-Aksa Mosque of pure Islamic heritage,” Adnan al-Husseini, Palestinian Authority Jerusalem Affairs minister told Xinhua, a Chinese news outlet, clarifying that the UN secretary-general “violated all legal, diplomatic and humanitarian customs and overstepped his role as secretary general…and must issue an apology to the Palestinian people.”

Speaking to Israel Radio on Friday, Guterres reportedly said that it is “completely clear that the Temple that the Romans destroyed in Jerusalem was a Jewish temple.”

The new UN chief added that there is “no doubt” that Jerusalem is holy to all three of the major monotheistic religions. He also said, according to Israel Radio, that he had no intention of pushing for a peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, though he believes in the two-state solution and would assist in that goal if asked.

Ahmad Majdalani, a Palestine Liberation Organization Executive Committee member, said that the statements “undermine the trustworthiness of the UN as a body that should support occupied peoples.”

“It appears that the secretary general of the United Nations lacks culture and knowledge in his specialization,” Majdalani, who also serves as an adviser to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, told Xinhua, calling on the UN secretary-general to clarify his position “that gives a green light to the occupation to undertake more measures against Jerusalem.”

Fayez Abu Eitah, the secretary-general of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, said that Gueterres’s statements are unacceptable politically and morally.

“[The statements] are a direct attack on the Palestinian people’s right in the holy city, bias[ed] in favor of the site of occupation, and akin to granting legitimacy to Israel’s illegal presence in Jerusalem.”

Moreover, the Palestinian representative to UNESCO Munir Anstas said that the statements do not give Israel any legal authority over the site, adding that it is holy and for all three Semitic religions.

In October, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee approved a resolution that ignored Jewish ties to the Temple Mount.  (Jerusalem Post)

2014 Gazan war criticisms are mostly political spin

A subcommittee of the State Control Committee of the Knesset will decide today whether to publish the State Comptroller’s Report on the decision making processes before and during 2014’s Operation Protective Edge.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that he has no objections to the report’s publication, increasing the likelihood that the committee will order it published within two weeks.

Some parts of the report, however, have already been leaked, including the quote that then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon said to then-economy minister Naftali Bennett, “You will not manage the army for me,” to which Bennett replied: “I will, if you don’t report the truth.” Or the quote from OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, who was head of Military Intelligence during the Gazan war, that, “There are dozens of indications that Hamas does not want a confrontation.”

These quotes and many others, which were published last week in Yediot Aharonot, are nothing more than a smoke screen, a political spin from ministers and MKs who are trying to improve their ratings.

The truth of the report is much more complicated, and the reality of the war even more so.

The report consists of four chapters, the second of which, titled “The Cabinet’s Decision- Making Process in Regard to the Gaza Strip Prior to Operation Protective Edge and at its Beginning,” was presented to the State Control subcommittee. It is considered the most “political” of the four, and is therefore getting the most attention.

The first of these chapters, on the preparedness (rather the lack of it) of the home front, was published last month. It received little attention, even though it is, perhaps, the most important of the four because of the possible extent of its influence on Israeli lives. The third and the four chapters, titled “Intelligence, Operations and Technology” and “Legal Aspects,” respectively, are both expected to be published at a later date.

Those who have seen the second chapter claim that it is very “significant” because it highlights multiple mistakes by Netanyahu and Ya’alon, who allegedly did not share the tunnel threat with the security cabinet and did not properly prepare the country for the threat, together with then-chief of staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz. The report also criticizes Kochavi and his subordinate at the time, Brig.-Gen Itai Baron, then-head of the Military Intelligence research division.

Even though the IDF knew since mid-2013 about the tunnel threat, the report says, the cabinet was not told of the scope and significance of the threat.

The report echoes public criticisms at the height of the war by some of the cabinet ministers, led by Bennett, then-finance minister Yair Lapid and then-foreign minister Avigdor Liberman, and rejects the positions of Netanyahu and Ya’alon.

Two-and-a-half years have since passed and the political map has shifted, as have political alliances. Bennett, now minister of education and leader of the right-wing Bayit Yehudi, has an interest in goading and belittling Netanyahu, who has been turned into a “lame duck” by the investigations into his alleged corruption.

And Bennett’s former “brother,” Lapid, who is now in the opposition and sees himself as a prime ministerial candidate, also has a political interest in attacking Netanyahu, as does Ya’alon, who left his defense post and the Knesset but still sees himself as a contender to replace Netanyahu as leader of the Likud.

Conversely, Liberman is now the defense minister and no longer has an interest in taunting Netanyahu because doing so would strengthen Bennett in their covert battle for the leadership of the Right, in the event that Netanyahu is forced to resign.

In an atmosphere of political spin, it is difficult to seriously examine the real issues. For example, was the war really negligently managed, or did Netanyahu and Ya’alon actually display responsibility and caution?

Indeed, they understood, as did the IDF chief and his generals, that hasty action – being “galloping horses,” as Bennett urged at the time – would cause many deaths.

They also knew that the IDF could conquer the Gaza Strip and topple Hamas rule, but what would happen after that? A renewal of the occupation of Gaza? Was there really a strategic alternative to how the 50-day war was managed?

The reality regarding the tunnels is also complex. In November 2013, eight months before the war, I reported that the IDF knew that Hamas had built at least 30 attack tunnels. After the war, the IDF confirmed that 31 tunnels were unveiled and destroyed. If I knew, surely the cabinet ministers did as well.

It’s true that the IDF, Netanyahu and Ya’alon were slow in their response to develop measures and technologies to expose the tunnels and did not prepare the troops to effectively deal with them. But it’s not an easy task. Even today, despite the financial and scientific resources invested in this field, no effective solution against the tunnels has been found.

All in all, despite the flaws and the state comptroller’s findings, the war was reasonably conducted.

And there is another truth that must be admitted: Neither Hamas nor its tunnels serve as a strategic and existential threat to Israel’s military power. At the most, they are tactical nuisances.  (Jerusalem Post)

Netanyahu: Strong ties with China, India thanks to ‘diplomacy of technology

The “diplomacy of technology” has allowed Israel to expand its relations in the world from only having ties with the US and Europe a few decades ago to robust relations now with numerous countries around the world, including China and India, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday.

Netanyahu’s comments came at the weekly cabinet meeting, where the ministers were briefed by senior Foreign Ministry officials on the status of Israel’s relations with both China and India to mark 25 years to the establishment of the ties with those countries, which took place in January 1992.

Netanyahu said Israel’s substantial trade with these two countries, and their investments in Israel, is based on leveraging Israel’s technological advantage. “This is what makes us a significant player in the international arena, despite our size,” he said.

Netanyahu received strong validation to his oft-repeated comments of Israel’s strong stature in the world from the respected, conservative bimonthly magazine The American Interest last week, when it ranked Israel as No. 8 in its list of 2017’s eight most powerful countries in the world.

The magazine, which focuses on foreign policy, military affairs and economics, placed Iran one notch higher on the list, at No. 7.

The US topped the list, followed by China and Japan in a tie for second, and Russia, Germany and India rounding out the group.

Netanyahu told the cabinet that Israel’s technological capabilities have given it leverage in its relations with China and India, and other powers in the world. The premier said it is important to understand that, with the exception of Israel’s alliance with the US, most alliances in the world are interest-based, and what Israel can offer other countries are the “conceptual abilities” of its population.

“If we cannot continue to be innovative we will lose our advantage,” he said. “And in order to be innovative we must have a free market. If we close this market we will destroy and kill Israel’s goose that lays golden eggs.”

And these are not only economic “golden eggs,” he said, but strategic ones as well.

As such, the prime minister continued, it is essential to “continue our work against over-regulation and preserve the market and our hi-tech sector.”

Hagai Shagrir, director of the Foreign Ministry’s Northeast Asia Pacific department, told the ministers that trade between Israel and China currently stands at $11 billion, with $3b. of that being exports.

He said China is very keen on doing business with Israel, and that one-third of investment in Israel’s hi-tech industry comes from China and Hong Kong. Netanyahu said during the discussion that Israel’s $3b. in exports to China is low, considering the size of that country’s market. Making greater headway into the Chinese market is a strategic interest for Israel’s economy, he asserted.

The two countries are currently negotiating a free trade agreement, something that is expected to significantly increase trade.

When Israel and China established ties 25 years ago, annual trade between them was $50 million.

Similarly, when Israel and India established ties, annual trade was some $200m., as opposed to $4b. today. Mark Sofer, the Foreign Ministry’s deputy director-general for Asia and the Pacific, said it is vital for Israel to take advantage of the “window of opportunity” that exists today both with India and China.

“These are very important countries, and their desire to cooperate with Israel is great,” he said.  (Jerusalem Post)

Netanyahu: Trump is right to build a wall, it worked for Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday night lauded United States President Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall along the US-Mexican border.

President Trump is right,” Netanyahu tweeted in a message that displayed an Israeli and an American flag.

“I built a wall along Israel’s southern border. It stopped all illegal immigration. Great success. Great idea,” he added. (Israeli-Egypt border fence)

Former US Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro also took to twitter on Saturday night to comment on Trump US-Mexico wall plan. He placed Netanyahu’s tweet within the larger context of the relationship between the two leaders, who are scheduled to meet in Washington next month.

“PM Netanyahu’s top aide’s [sic] told me a key goal in Trump’s era was keeping bipartisan support for Israel. Now this?” Shapiro tweeted.

“Israel’s challenges with Sinai border not similar to US border. Their solution (a fence, not a wall) works for them, would not for us,” Shapiro wrote.

“Hard to explain this intervention on a hotly debated issue in domestic US politics. Unless this endorsement is Trump’s demand of Netanyahu for something Netanyahu wants, the quid pro quo. But for what? Canceling the Iran deal? Moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem? Supporting building in settlement blocs?”

“To me, it looks like Trump is already squeezing Netanyahu hard. ‘The Art of the Deal,'” Shapiro added.

Yesh Atid Party head MK Yair Lapid attacked Netanyahu on Twitter, accusing him of straining Israeli-Mexican ties but coming out in support of a project that Mexico has vehemently opposed.

“Netanyahu made a serious mistake,” Lapid said. “With his tweet in support of Trump’s wall, he is crudely stepping into a conflict that is tearing apart American society,” he said.

“It’s a needless declaration of war on Mexico and Hispanics,” said Lapid. The statement was also a form of divorce form the Democratic party, to which a majority of American Jews belong.

“His opinion on the wall is not important. Don’t we have enough problems of our own?” Lapid said.

Later in the evening, Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon sent out his own tweet about Netanyahu’s statement.

“[Netanyahu] referred to our specific security experience which we are willing to share. We do not express a position on US-Mexico relations.”

On Thursday, in an interview with Fox News, Trump pointed to Israel as an example of a country where the construction of a wall had successfully stopped refugees and migrants from illegally crossing the border.

“People want protection,” Trump said. “And a wall protects. All you have to do is ask Israel. They were having a total disaster coming across and, and they had a wall. It’s 99.9 percent stoppage,” Trump said.

Earlier this month, the Defense Ministry said in a report that it had completed raising the height of the electronic “smart” fence along part of the border with Egypt to stop infiltration into the country by migrants. Construction of the original barrier, equipped with information collection centers and warning systems and known as the Hourglass Project, was completed in 2014 at a height of five meters along 242 kilometers, from the Gaza Strip to Eilat on the Red Sea.

The government built the fence in the hope that it would stop illegal migration, drug and weapons trafficking and terrorist infiltrations.

According to the Defense Ministry, the fence has already slashed the number of illegal African migrants arriving in Israel, with only 213 breaching the barrier in 2015. But the number of successful infiltrations prompted authorities to raise the height from 5 meters to 8 meters along a 17-kilometer stretch, the ministry said.

The raising of the fence, along with additional detection devices, “significantly curbed the flow of illegal infiltration into Israel, with only 11 successful attempts to cross the fence throughout 2016,” it said.

Trump’s promise of erecting a barrier along the US-Mexico border was a campaign cornerstone throughout the 2016 election, vowing to make America’s southern neighbor pay for its construction. Initial cost evaluations for the proposed project have been estimated between 12 and 15 billions dollars, according to Reuters.

The issue, however, has caused a quick souring of relations between the new administration and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, who cancelled a meeting between the two leaders earlier in the week. Mexico has consistently said it will refuse to pay for the structure.  (Jerusalem Post)

Global Credit Ratings Agency Moody’s Lauds Israel’s Economic Policy

A new report by international credit ratings agency Moody’s praised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon for the economic policies they have been leading in the Jewish state.

Moody’s had affirmed Israel’s A1 credit rating last September, assessing the country’s economic outlook as stable. In the new report, issued Thursday, Moody’s economists examined data on Israel’s debt-to-gross domestic product (GDP) ratio, figures that were released last week by Kahlon and outgoing Finance Ministry Accountant General Michal Abadi-Boiangiu. The ratio reached an all-time low of 62.1 percent in 2016, an accumulated 9-percentage-point drop from Israel’s debt-to-GDP ratio in 2009, amounting to around 100 billion shekels (more than $26 billion).

According to the Moody’s report, Israel is one of the only countries in the world whose debt-to-GDP ratio has dropped since the 2009 global financial crisis. The report also stressed that security incidences have historically had a marginally low influence on the Israeli economy, state budget and government deficit.   (the Agemeiner/JNS)

From Obama to Trump

by Ron Weiser   ZFA

What a difference a month makes.

By now I am not sure if anyone even remembers UN Security Council Resolution 2334 passed on the 23rd of December when the US chose not to exercise its veto.

President Obama is gone. Although he strongly supported Israel in the security and intelligence areas, his stated intention to allow daylight between the US and Israel in the diplomatic sphere and his single minded and unbalanced focus on “settlements” ultimately undermined Israel’s security to a degree.

Whatever will be the view of Obama’s domestic policies, it is highly probable that in the foreign policy arena he will largely be regarded as possibly well meaning but naïve and the ultimate cause of terrible international problems and major loss of life, by creating vacuums which have variously been filled by Russia, Iran and China in different parts of the globe.

What remains to be seen is whether Obama’s policy of the refusal to exercise US power will differ from President Trump’s “America First” policy which at first glance looks isolationist but comes in tandem with a stated policy to destroy radical Islamic terrorism.

Before dealing with that, we could reflect on how things have changed since 2334.

What may appear to have been an initial over reaction by Prime Minister Netanyahu, turned out to be a clarion call to Israel’s supporters around the world.

First to step up, and how lucky and proud Australia and Australian Jews can be, were Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull with multiple statements of support for Israel over a variety of subjects ranging from 2334 to the ridiculous so called Paris Middle East peace summit organised by what is one of the most unpopular French Presidents of all time and attended by neither Israel or the Palestinians.

However even Julie Bishop cautioned against “unilateral steps” when Israel announced a very modest building approval of apartments almost exclusively in Jerusalem and/or the established blocks.

Then followed the British who finally found their voice, and once doing so, were very strong, leading to the Israeli press to refer to a new dynamic of “Anglo support” by way of the USA, Britain and Australia.

In early January a terrorist truck driver murdered Israeli soldiers in Jerusalem. Usually, to our consternation and dismay, only Israel refers to such events as terrorism.

However, the new UN Secretary General and former Prime Minister of Portugal, Antonio Guterres, who took over the UN post at the beginning of January, made a remarkable statement.

Without hesitation he condemned:

“the terrorist attack by a Palestinian assailant” and then went further stating “All those responsible for such acts must be brought to justice, condemned and disavowed.”

This represents a dramatic change of tone by a UN leader. Both in the declaration of this as a terrorist event and on the matter of incitement.

And what about such demonstrations of support in response to the truck murders, also unprecedented, as the blanketing of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin with a giant Israeli flag? Think on the symbolism of that!

So now with President Trump, will the seemingly better diplomatic environment that developed since 2334 continue?

In the first instance we should say a resounding yes, at least as far as relations with the USA is concerned.

Trump’s has reiterated assurances that there would be no daylight between Israel and the USA under his Presidency.

Clearly and repeatedly we have heard that he will move the US Embassy to Jerusalem. Previous presidents such as Clinton and George W Bush had also promised to do so, but it seems as if Trump sounds likely to be more serious about this.

Although on Thursday in a major interview on Fox’s Hannity, Trump himself said on that topic:

“I don’t want to talk about it yet. It’s too early”

If he does move the embassy, that would be a very big positive long overdue step and could lead to other countries doing so as well. If he does not after all that hype, you can forget any other country doing so for the foreseeable future.

The real question is what the other polices related to Israel will be and who of Trump’s advisers and close circle will influence him the most when it comes to Israel.

One of the biggest problems that Israel continually faced with Obama came from the wrong sided advice he was given by a few prominent US Jews. Whoever has the President’s ear and what they believe and say, is critical.

In July 2009 at a meeting with the most senior US Jewish leaders, Obama spoke on the matter of “settlements”, which aside from the issue of Iran was the most contentious between himself and Netanyahu.

The Jewish leadership were shocked to see Obama grab the arm of his then chief of staff Rahm Emanuel (now mayor of Chicago) and say:

“Don’t think that we don’t understand the nuances of the settlement issues. We do. We understand there is a profound political edge to Israeli politics. But Rahm understands the politics there and he explains them to me.”

In other words, no need to discuss “settlements” with Israel, no need to get real information, no need to verify if building actually takes place and where, but to just rely on the very partisan views of one of his closest advisers, who happens to be Jewish.

By the way, there are lessons here for Jewish leadership around the world about how much daylight they allow between themselves and Israel. And what prominence is given to non representative minority voices.

Aside from Trump speaking strongly on the embassy move and in declarations on the importance of Israel as one of the USA’s closest allies – again, big positives in themselves – we have little idea of what he thinks about the broader Middle East Policies.

Back to the “war on radical Islamic terrorism”. This depends on the who and the how.

Defeating ISIS by strengthening the far larger danger, Iran, is not a win.

That’s just replacing Sunni radical Islamic terror with Shiite radical Islamic terror.

Iran’s brand of Shiite Islamic terrorism is being exported all over the Middle East and beyond.

So if Trump sees the US as defeating ISIS, that’s one thing, but if he simply hands this over to Russia and its unholy alliance with Iran that means bringing Iran right to Israel’s borders by controlling Syria and via its proxy Hezbollah, also to large parts of Lebanon.

Rather interestingly, on Jerusalem and the Two State for Two People mantra, we have on the one hand Trump’s son-in-law and the newly appointed US ambassador to Israel David Friedman and on the other a consistent message from Trump’s nominees to key positions.

During the confirmation hearings Trump nominee for Secretary of Defense, James Mattis said:

“the United States should continue treating Tel Aviv as Israel’s capital” and then emphasised that “the capital of Israel is Tel Aviv because that’s where all the government people are.”

Seriously??

Mattis also said that two states was the only way forward.

It should be remembered that in 2013 Mattis warned against settlement growth and said that:

“Israel was in danger of becoming an apartheid state as a result.”

Trump nominee for Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson said:

“The two-state solution has to be a shared aspiration of all of us. It’s the State Department’s role to try and create an environment that brings parties together that want to find a way forward. I can tell you that under the conditions today, it’s extremely challenging to do that, but that has to be the aspirational goal.”

Trump’s nominee for UN Ambassador, Nikki Hayley, whilst strongly committing to protect Israel at the UN, also said that she:

“had not heard that there would be any changes from the Trump administration on settlements or two states.”

So we will have to wait and see just how interested and involved Trump himself will be on Israel and who will have his ear, before we leap to conclusions on future policy.

A Truth-Telling Strategy to Advance Israeli-Palestinian Peace

By Dr. Max Singer,           Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies  (BESA)

https://besacenter.org/perspectives-papers/truth-telling-strategy-advance-israeli-palestinian-peace/

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The US is usually thought to be biased in favor of Israel, even after its recent acceptance of UNSC Resolution 2334. But for many years, the US has been a big part of the reason why the diplomatic world accepts a false narrative of the Arab-Israeli conflict that harms Israel and makes it harder to achieve peace. Washington should move to a truth-telling strategy to dismantle the structure of false views that slander Israel and stand in the way of peace.

The widely accepted false narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is built on the following premises:

  • Israel stole and now occupies Palestinian territory;
  • there are millions of “Palestinian refugees” who have a “right of return” to Israel;
  • Israel and the Palestinians have equal or comparable claims to Jerusalem;
  • the Palestinian community and its leadership are ready to accept a two-state solution that will end Palestinian efforts to eliminate the Jewish state.

The US has consistently either supported or been unwilling to contradict these premises.

Palestinian leaders have an additional false view on which they insist when they speak in Arabic, and which they often proclaim to international audiences. This view is that the Jewish people did not, in fact, live in and rule parts of Palestine, including Jerusalem, for hundreds of years long before the beginning of Islam. While this false claim is not generally accepted diplomatically, UNESCO recently endorsed the fiction that the ancient Jewish temples were not built on the Temple Mount – a site UNESCO calls “al-Aqsa Mosque/al-Haram al-Sharif” (Noble Sanctuary).

This Palestinian false history is not challenged by the US or by any other democracy. Had the US utilized an active strategy of telling the truth, the Palestinians would not have been able to continue to use their false picture to resist peace.

Rejecting false premises does not mean rejecting a peace agreement based on a two-state solution. The truth is compatible with a variety of ideas about what should be done in the future. Those who support a two-state solution can also support a strategy of telling the truth, as can those who doubt the feasibility of a two-state solution.

US policy has always been to ignore, and sometimes even to support, the falsity of these diplomatically accepted narratives in order to avoid contradicting the Palestinians and arousing the wrath of the Arab and Muslim nations. This longstanding American willingness to put reality aside to try to encourage negotiations has been unsuccessful thus far, and has become increasingly harmful.

For many years, US policy was to appear “even-handed” even at the expense of truth – that is, to be superficially even-handed between the arsonist and the firefighter, the terrorist and the victim of terror. Washington should switch to an even-handed policy of supporting truth, whether it comes from Palestinians or from Israelis: a policy of rejecting falsehood from both sides.

Of course, many statements are partly true and partly false, and often there are good reasons for different opinions about what is true. But there would be a great improvement in the diplomatic environment if the US took the lead in rejecting the most important and clearly false elements of diplomatic consensus.

A truth-telling strategy does not mean being absurd by always insisting on truth. The realities of human nature, and of politics and international relations, require substantial room for untruth. The US government cannot and should not act like an innocent who expects everyone to always tell the truth, and who views not doing so as evil.

The False Claim That There Is Such a Thing as “Palestinian Territory”

The biggest falsehood the US needs to expose is that there exists “Palestinian territory” that Israel refuses to “give back” because of its expansionist ambitions and purported security needs. It is controversial, rather than a falsehood, to say that justice and peace require Israel to turn over to a Palestinian state essentially all the land it seized in its defensive war in 1967. But there is a big difference between the controversial statement that the West Bank should become Palestinian territory as part of a peace agreement and the false statement that these areas are now, or ever were in the past, Palestinian territory.

The distinction between saying that the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) is Palestinian territory and saying that it should become Palestinian territory is important for both the past and the future. For the past, the statement that the West Bank is Palestinian means that Israel stole land that was not Jewish and should “give it back.” For the future, the distinction determines whether Israeli proposals to provide land for a Palestinian state are returning stolen property or are offers to give up disputed land to which it has serious claims, in order to make a healthy peace with its neighbor. From the Palestinian point of view, it differentiates between an immoral submission to a thief who has more power and a wise compromise with neighbors who have overlapping claims of right.

A US truth-telling strategy would not ignore Palestinian assertions about “Palestinian land,” but would point out that the land in question is disputed. It is not Palestinian territory – despite US acceptance of a UNSC resolution that refers to it as such – because there is no Palestinian territory and never has been. Palestinians have never ruled or been sovereign over any land. This is an indisputable fact, not a question of policy or interpretation.

The West Bank is disputed territory: it is territory for which Israel has historic and legal claims based on League of Nations resolutions endorsed by the US government in the 1920s and confirmed in Article 80 of the UN Charter. The most recent sovereigns before the West Bank came into dispute were the British Mandate from the League of

Nations to promote a Jewish national home (1922-48) and the Ottoman Empire (1517-1917).

Individual Palestinians certainly own much land in the disputed area, just as they own land in Israel, in the US, and elsewhere. But ownership of land by individual Palestinians does not make it Palestinian territory, either in Nablus or in New York.

Palestinian national rights to the land do not come from international law, but from a principle that has become widely accepted over the last century: that the people who live in an area should govern it. But this principle is not automatic and self-executing. Implementing it presents difficulties that require exceptions (or else east Boston would have become part of Ireland). Who the majority is in an area depends on how the borders are drawn. For example, Israelis are the great majority of the population of Area C in the

West Bank – a Jewish majority that was not created by removing Arabs.

The Falsehoods about “Palestinian Refugees”

The second most important part of a new truth-telling strategy would be to expose how the Arabs have abused what they call the “Palestinian refugees” in order to maintain them as a weapon for destroying Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

The politely accepted story in diplomatic circles is that there are nearly 5 million “Palestinian refugees” from 1948, more than a million still living in UNRWA “refugee camps” because Israel refuses to let them return home despite the “right of return” granted them by the UN General Assembly.

The reality is that only some 50,000 of the “Palestinian refugees” are refugees as the world defines the term. The others are descendants of refugees who have died. The Palestinian leadership and the Arab states have prevented these descendants, who never lived in Israel, from settling and living normal lives in any Arab state (except Jordan).

Furthermore, UNGA Resolution 194 did not, in fact or in law, grant the right of return to all refugees, and would have had no authority to do so even if it had tried.

It is widely recognized in private that the Arab insistence on the “right of return” does not come from concern over the wellbeing of the “refugees,” who have not been given any choice about their unfortunate status. The miseries imposed on them for three generations are the result of the Arab world’s decision to prevent their resettlement in the hope that someday, Israel will be forced to take in so many “refugees” that it cannot continue to be both Jewish and democratic.

The false diplomatic story with which the US has been playing along for generations is that the Arab position on the “right of return” is a plausible negotiating position that might prevail in the final stage of peace talks. The issue should not yet be addressed, so the thinking goes, because it is so hard to resolve. The truth, which is widely understood in the diplomatic community although no country will admit it publicly, is that the “refugees” do not have any real legal “right of return,” and Israel cannot allow them to move to its territory if it is to survive. It is well understood that the “right of return” is a weapon to destroy Israel, not a normal negotiating demand that can be compromised.

A truth-telling strategy would declare that peace depends on finally settling the “refugees,” and that it is needless cruelty to keep them in refugee camps and without normal citizens’ rights any longer.

The US should start the process of closing down UNRWA, the UN agency that has made it possible to conceal the truth about Palestinian “refugees.” And it should be made clear to the Palestinians that they will never get international support for the notion of forcing Israel to take in millions of Palestinians.

It should be noted that the Israeli government has favored continued support for UNRWA. This is one of a number of instances where the government of Israel has chosen to appease international opinion rather than use the truth to defy it. It is time for Israel too to move away from such appeasement, which has not worked.

The more sophisticated diplomatic discussion of how peace might be negotiated asserts that the “refugee” issue does not prevent peace, because the Palestinian leadership already understands that no more than a token fraction of refugees will ever be allowed to move to Israel. The “refugees” will have to be satisfied with apologies and compensation – a premise widely acknowledged but never uttered out loud.

Diplomats around the world, particularly in the US, privately understand that Israel cannot and should never be forced to take in millions of “Palestinian refugees.” But no one says so officially, or tells that to the Palestinians. A truth-telling strategy would hold that it is time to say openly what everyone knows to be true.

Telling the truth that there is no “right of return” leaves open the question of compensation for Palestinian refugees from Israel and for Jewish refugees from the Arab countries. This does not have to be an obstacle to peace. It is indisputable that the creation of Israel led to at least as many Jewish refugees from Arab countries as Palestinian refugees from Israel. And the Jewish refugees, who were all resettled without international help (mostly in Israel), were forced to leave behind more assets than did the Palestinian refugees.

False “Even-Handedness” About Jerusalem

A much less important, but highly symbolic, piece of American truth-telling will be moving the US embassy in Israel to the country’s capital, Jerusalem. The US can further increase its truth-telling by allowing the passports of American citizens born in Jerusalem to record the fact that they were born in Israel. At present, Washington is unwilling to allow this truth to appear in American passports.

Because the US has been willing to ignore these truths for so long, there will be great Arab resistance to their being stated in public. The fiercer their protests, the more the Arabs will demonstrate the cost of having avoided truth-telling for so long. In the long run, a recognition that the US has a commitment to the truth will reduce the harm done by violent protests. Conversely, a policy of avoiding the truth in deference to threatened violence will lead to more such violence – or to US subservience to the rioters.

Jerusalem is a good example of the biased “even-handedness” that has long characterized the US stance. Official statements always refer to Jerusalem as sacred to both sides – sometimes adding that it is sacred to Christians as well – and typically imply that a fair solution will require equal treatment for Israel and the Palestinians on Jerusalem. But in reality, there is very little symmetry between the Israeli and Palestinian connections to Jerusalem.

The al-Aqsa Mosque, which is located in Jerusalem, has significance for the religion of Islam (although its origins are controversial) – but it is in no way central. The city of Jerusalem is not mentioned even once in the Koran, nor in regular Muslim prayers. On the other hand, Jerusalem is a central feature of the Jewish religion and of daily Jewish prayer and identity. The climax of every Jewish wedding ceremony is when the groom breaks a glass to symbolize the exile from Jerusalem and repeats a quotation from Psalm 137: “If I forget you, o Jerusalem, let my right hand wither.”

Jewish and Muslim performance in ruling Jerusalem since 1948 has also been very different. Under Israeli rule over Jerusalem (West Jerusalem for 19 years and the entire city for 50 years), there has been freedom of religion and protection of the holy sites of all religions. During the 19 years of Jordanian rule over East Jerusalem, Jews were not allowed entry even to the Jewish Quarter, and Jewish religious sites were destroyed.

The religion of Islam takes no notice of Jerusalem as a city. Muslims have expressed interest in Jerusalem only when it was ruled by non-Muslims. For over a thousand years of Muslim rule over Jerusalem, it was never made into the capital of any part of the Muslim empire, not even the local district. From 1948 to 1967, when it was ruled by Jordan, Jerusalem was treated as inferior to Amman. By contrast, the city of Jerusalem has always been a major concern of the Jewish religion and of Jewish identity, including throughout the nearly 2,000 years during which it was in the hands of others. Israel cannot survive as a Jewish state without Jerusalem as its capital.

Israeli and Palestinian interests in the future of Jerusalem are not at all symmetrical. Israel needs Jerusalem to continue to be a vibrant working city. The Palestinians, by contrast, would make an important gain in their effort to destroy Israel if they achieved new arrangements for Jerusalem that allowed its health as a city to be undermined by violent conflict.

To follow an even-handed truth-telling strategy about Jerusalem, the US should state that a fair disposition of the city will acknowledge it as the capital of Israel, protect the religious concerns of all religions, and assure that the city’s health will not be jeopardized by internal conflict. The Palestinian interest in having Jerusalem as the capital of a new Palestinian state should be satisfied in a way that is consistent with these three values.

The False Assertion that the Palestinians are Ready to Make Peace with Israel

A US truth-telling strategy would also address the question of whether the Palestinian community and leadership are in fact willing to make peace with Israel. While there cannot be any indisputable truth about such a hypothetical and complex question, there is evidence that can be examined in order to respectfully try to understand the point of view of the Palestinians.

A search for truth would ask why the Palestinian leadership (both intellectual and political) takes such pains to falsely deny the ancient Jewish presence in the land. It must be unpleasant and difficult for informed Palestinians to tell such obvious falsehoods that there never was a Jewish Temple in Jerusalem (from which Christ could chase the money-changers), or that Jews did not rule the land for centuries before most of them were exiled by the Romans 2,000 years ago. This denial of history is not part of the religion of Islam; it is a recent Palestinian invention. Older Muslim sources explain that the Dome of the Rock was built on the Temple Mount because it was the site of the Jewish Temple. One of the traditional Arab names for the Mount is Bayt al-Maqdis (The Temple).

One plausible explanation why the Palestinian leadership is so insistent on such an extreme denial of reality is that if the Palestinian people knew the truth, they might be more willing to accept Israel on part of the land. This suggests that it might be constructive for the US to remind the Palestinians that according to Islamic tradition, the Temple Mount was built by Jews as the site of the Jewish Temple. A public airing of the fact that there is no doubt that there were ancient Jewish kingdoms in the land a thousand years before Islam might increase the readiness of the Palestinian people to make peace with the Jewish people, who share their connection to the holy land.

Persistent US truth-telling would so undermine the Palestinian leadership’s efforts to deny basic historical truths that they would not be able to continue without embarrassing themselves before their own people. It would show the Palestinians that the US, and presumably other democracies, are not prepared to accept blatant falsehoods as justification to force Israel to accept a Palestinian victory. This would undermine one of the major Palestinian reasons for thinking they might still be able to destroy Israel: their hope that it is not too late to remove Israel from the land completely. That Palestinian hope is the fundamental obstacle to peace.

When Did the Palestinians Have an Internal Dispute about Making Peace with Israel?

If we are to gain a truthful answer to the question whether the Palestinians are now willing to make peace with Israel, we must also ask the following question: If the Palestinian leadership and public are now willing to make peace with Israel, when did they change? And what was the political process that produced the change?

Since before the establishment of Israel, despite the deep desire of many Palestinians for peace, the Palestinian community and its leadership were determined not to accept a Jewish state on any terms and were committed to struggle to destroy it until it was removed from land that had once been Muslim-ruled. Whatever some Palestinians might have thought or said in private or in English, any suggestion of a basis for accepting Israel or of allowing the “refugees” to be settled outside Israel was taboo in Arabic public discourse for many years.

This is a statement of fact, not an accusation. It could be disproved if one could point to Arabic public statements to the effect that it is necessary to end the struggle to destroy Israel, or that a major share of the “refugees” might not be allowed to enter Israel. There is no evidence of such statements. Nor can one find many Palestinian political voices who say such things in Arabic in public. The Palestinian political discourse is available translated into in English on MEMRI.

Before there can be any major change in Palestinian policy, there will have to be a sharp public debate among Palestinians. Certainly there would be strong voices initially rejecting any willingness to give up the war to destroy Israel or to settle the “refugees” outside of Israel. This debate would be visible in public channels, and it would be possible to see which side was eventually forced to retreat.

There has been no such debate. Palestinian discourse still maintains the taboo against suggesting it is necessary or desirable to give up the war against Israel on any terms. Nor is it acceptable to discuss the possibility of some “refugees” not being allowed to move to Israel.

A truth-telling US strategy would not continue to assume that peace can be negotiated with the Palestinians if Israel makes appropriate concessions. Truth-telling is consistent with urging negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, but not from the position that the success of those negotiations will depend on what Israel does. A truth-telling strategy would recognize that agreement on peace can only happen after Palestinians have public debates about “refugees” and about accepting Israel.

Why the US Should Move Toward a Truth-Telling Strategy

A large edifice built on falsehood has come to define the diplomatic and policy environment of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This structure of unreality has failed to produce useful results. Perhaps, therefore, the new US president, who campaigned on making significant changes to US policy, should adopt a new strategy of truth-telling, which might lead to better results.

International pressure is one of the main weapons with which the Palestinians hope to destroy Israel. They will not give up that goal until it has become clear that there is no way it can succeed. Demonstrating that the world will no longer pretend to believe Palestinian falsehoods might lead more Palestinians to see that they have no chance of eliminating Israel. They might then seek the benefits of peace.

Furthermore, forcing Palestinians to acknowledge Israel’s historical and moral claim to the land would provide them with an honorable basis for compromise with Israel. If Israel were a stranger to the land, simply a colonial power taking Arab land by force, as the Palestinians falsely argue, it would be cowardly for them to yield.

When the American and European democracies accept Palestinian falsehoods, it creates a disincentive for the Palestinians and their supporters to face the realities of their situation. But these realities have to be the basis of any resolution of the conflict. A truth-telling strategy would offer a sound long-term foundation on which peace can eventually be built.

Why Israel Should Move Toward a Truth-Telling Strategy

Even with a new administration that has promised to break with the policies of the past, there may not be much chance that the US will depart radically from its policies of the last 50 years. But whether Washington alters past positions or not, Israel should advocate a truth-telling strategy for the US and the other democracies and pursue that strategy itself.

Israel is now imprisoned by an internationally accepted structure of falsehoods. It is tactically wiser for Israel to argue for truth-telling than to continue to appease the international consensus, for example by explaining why settlements are not the obstacle to peace, or that Israeli security requires that Israel occupy what people think of as “Palestinian land.”

Israel needs to go on the diplomatic offensive. Framing its position as an effort to get recognition for the truth is more likely to get its story heard than simply making demands and claims. And criticisms of the Palestinians that Israel needs to make to change the diplomatic consensus will be more effective if they are made as part of a broader strategy of urging democracies to face the truths about the conflict.

It is politically difficult for the US or other countries to take positions that are more “pro-Israel” than the positions of the Israeli government. If Israel would like other states to move toward more truth-telling about the conflict, it needs to stop holding back from presenting its own case out of fear that criticism of the Palestinians and assertions of Israeli rightful claims would seem to conflict with negotiations for peace.

It is notable that the US is thought to be biased in favor of Israel even though it does not stand for the truths essential to Israel’s position. Despite its longstanding alliance with Israel, the US under many presidents has allowed Israel to be forced to operate according to the international structure of falsehood that now dominates Israel’s diplomatic position. This policy should be replaced by a truth-telling strategy.

Briefly, some of the main truths that the US has been denying or ignoring, and that a truth-telling strategy should make prominent in the international discussion, are:

  • Although there are good reasons why there should eventually be “Palestinian territory,” there is not now, and never has been, any such thing. No territory was “taken from” the Palestinians; nor can any territory be “given back” to them. They have always lived in territory ruled by others.
  • West Jerusalem is located in Israel and is the capital of Israel. The Palestinian and Israeli connections to Jerusalem are neither equal nor symmetrical. Jerusalem is demonstrably more important to Israel than it is to the Palestinians.
  • The Jewish people lived in and ruled most of the area of Israel in ancient times. Israelis did not come to the land as European colonialists; they came as a people returning to its homeland. Israel’s rule over the land is not based only on its military strength; it has historical, legal, and moral claims.
  • The Jewish international legal right to settle in the land from the Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea was established by the League of Nations’ Mandate in 1922, in recognition of the Jewish People’s millenarian attachment to the Land of Israel. It is not based on Jewish suffering in the Holocaust.
  • The claim of a “right of return” for Palestinian “refugees” is not a humanitarian effort to provide help or justice to those unfortunate individuals, who are not truly refugees. It is an Arab weapon intended to destroy Israel via demographic subversion. And it is not a valid legal claim. Peace between Israel and the Palestinians requires resettling the “refugees” outside of Israel and ending UNRWA’s mandate. (While this truth is not indisputable, it is the understanding held by independent and informed people, most of whom do not publicly say what they personally believe.)
  • It is not an established truth that the Palestinian leadership and community have decided to give up the goal of destroying Israel and are ready to make a peace that accepts Israel if Israel makes appropriate concessions. The evidence for and against this generally accepted assumption needs to be examined. Much of it indicates that the Palestinian community is not willing to make peace with Israel on any terms.

The US should be more genuinely even-handed between Israel and the Palestinians than it has been in the past. It could advance the cause of peace by telling the truth. It is not even-handed for the US to let one side’s systematic falsehoods dominate the diplomatic discussion, when a truth-telling strategy could make the policy debate more realistic and improve the long-term prospects for peace.

Dr. Max Singer, a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, is co-founder of the Washington-based Hudson Institute.