Despite enormous concessions by Israel, bordering on the unbelievable, agreement on ending the Palestinian Arab-Israeli portion of the more general Arab-Israeli conflict (of which it is both a part and a consequence) is further away than ever before. Among the reasons: the Palestinian Arabs still refuse to make any real compromises and Palestinian Arab society has been increasingly radicalized since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority.
While the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the leadership of the Palestinian Arabs, starting with Yasser Arafat and now resting with the so-called "moderate" Mahmoud Abbas, the role of the United States has not been helpful. While the U.S. has tried to play the role of an "honest broker" and anti-Israel activists frequently argue that the American government cannot be an honest broker because it is too close to Israel, the reality is that successive American administrations have put virtually no pressure on the Arabs to compromise while constantly pressuring Israel to make unreasonable concessions and "good-will gestures."
These actions by the United States only reinforce the intransigence of the Arabs and their refusal to make peace with Israel, regardless of the terms. This, of course, is the heart of the conflict and the reason it continues.
The United States has also repeatedly backtracked on commitments to Israel, including commitments made in order to get Israel to make one-sided, unreciprocated concessions to the Palestinian Arabs. Recall, for example, the way the Obama administration pressured Israel into a ten-month construction freeze with assurances it would be reciprocated by good-will gestures by the Palestinian Arabs along with various Arab states. No such gestures were ever made, but the United States continues to pressure Israel to strangle the Jewish communities in the disputed territories and even in Jerusalem.
These mistakes have been made both by presidents who were friendly to Israel, such as Reagan, Clinton and the younger Bush, and presidents who were/are not very friendly to Israel, such as Carter, the elder Bush and Obama.
It's instructive to look back at some of the "highlights" since the start of the failed Oslo process.
The start of the Oslo process was a time of hope, but it was unintentionally subverted at the very beginning by President Clinton and then fatally damaged by the aftermath of Camp David.
To put things in context: In the beginning, the United States supported United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. In reality, it no longer acts in support of those resolutions. The United States joined Israel in opposing the establishment of another Palestinian Arab state in the disputed territories. It supported the continued free access to united Jerusalem. (This is still the official policy of the United States, enshrined in the law calling for the relocation of the American embassy to Israel's capital, but the administration today acts contrary to that law.)
The original understandings between Israel and the PLO called for the PLO to amend its charter, removing the portions calling for the destruction of Israel, before any documents were actually signed. President Clinton, in his eagerness to get the process going, pressured Israel to participate in the famous signing ceremony on the White House lawn before the PLC charter was amended, with assurances the charter would be amended shortly thereafter.
Two decades later, the charter has yet to be amended.
This has set the pattern. America pressures Israel to make concessions and gestures, with assurances that they will be reciprocated by the Palestinian Arabs. It shouldn't be surprising that the Arabs have always tried to weasel out of their commitments. With America generally looking the other way, unfortunately they generally have reneged.
At the famous Camp David talks in 2000, the ground rules included the provision that nothing was agreed upon until everything was agreed upon.
In the context of that provision and in the hope of inducing the Palestinian Arabs to finally make peace, Israel proposed making enormous, indeed unprecedented and bizarre concessions, crossing numerous red lines. It considered a division of Jerusalem; it considered giving the Palestinian Arabs sovereignty over Judaism's holiest site, the Temple Mount; it considered giving the Palestinian Arabs roughly 95 percent of the disputed territory; it considered forcibly removing all Jews from the areas to be given to the Arabs . It even considered the absurd proposition of "swapping" some land within Israel proper in exchange for keeping some of the disputed territory - as if the disputed territory was the property of the Palestinian Arabs.
Arafat, of course, rejected peace and launched his so-called "Al Aksa intifada," murdering thousands of innocent Israeli civilians in bus bombings and other suicide attacks.
However, despite the American guidelines that nothing was agreed upon unless everything was agreed upon, since then the United States has used all the proposed Israeli concessions as a baseline, effectively rewarding the Palestinian Arabs for their refusal to make peace. This has poisoned the "peace process" ever since.
At that time, the United States still officially opposed the establishment of another Palestinian Arab state. That changed in 2002, when in the midst of the Arabs' brutal terror offensive, President Bush announced his support of "two states for two peoples." (This, of course, really meant three states for two peoples, since the Palestinian Arabs already had a state in Jordan, comprising nearly four-fifths of mandatory Palestine.) The real strategic mistake here was this action amounted to an enormous reward for terrorism. Especially so soon after 9/11, it sent precisely the wrong message to terrorists around the world: it demonstrated, loudly and clearly, that terrorism pays!
This flawed policy change was tied in with another, the famous "Road Map for Peace," which was officially launched in conjunction with the "Quartet" in 2003.
This document was deeply flawed. Typically, it called for additional, unfair concessions by Israel, such as a freeze of construction in "settlements" - even in areas everyone knows will be retained by Israel under any conceivable agreement (if one considers the Palestinian Arabs ever agreeing to peace as conceivable) - and allowing the opening of illegal Palestinian Authority offices in Jerusalem, while not calling on the Palestinian Arabs to do anything they had not already agreed to several times over, such as abandoning incitement and terror.
The Road Map did have one saving grace. For the first time, the United States put forth a policy which was step-by-step, where the process would not proceed to the next step until both sides - not just Israel - had adhered to its commitments of the previous step.
Unfortunately, but typically, when the Palestinian Arabs completely ignored their commitments in the very first phase - primarily the ending of incitement and terrorism - the Bush administration rewarded them in 2007 by jumping right past the first two phases and organizing the Annapolis conference to jump start final status negotiations.
In the meantime, in 2005 the Israeli government under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had decided to completely leave Gaza. It even evacuated Jewish communities which were adjacent to Israel proper and which were on land which had been owned by Jews at the time of the War of Independence, when Gaza was occupied by Egypt and the Jews thrown out of their homes.
In the context of the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, President Bush wrote a letter to Prime Minister Sharon acknowledging something obvious, that negotiations over any border between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs would have to recognize demographic realities, particularly the existence of significant, primarily Jewish cities in areas beyond the temporary armistice lines in effect between 1948 and 1967.
It was also supposedly understood by all that once Israel completely left Gaza there was not even a scintilla of justification for any attacks on Israelis from Gaza and that Israel would not be inhibited in defending its people from terror attacks launched from Gaza.
The Bush letter and the understandings made the withdrawal from Gaza and the ethnic cleansing of the Jewish communities there less unpalatable.
Unfortunately, the terror attacks from Gaza not only didn't cease when Gaza was free of any Israeli control, but they increased. And whenever Israel did anything to defend its civilian population, the world condemned Israel and even the United States invariably called on Israel to act with "restraint."
The coup de grace came when President Obama entered the White House and declared the United States would not be bound by the Bush letter of understanding!
But President Obama didn't stop there. He also figuratively tore up the armistice agreements between Israel and its Arab neighbors along with Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 when he called for borders between Israel and a future Palestinian Arab state to be based on the temporary armistice lines with agreed upon "land swaps."
The armistice agreements specified the armistice lines were not to have any political significance; in other words, they were specifically not to be used as a basis for negotiating permanent borders. Thus President Obama was declaring his support of violating those agreements.
The Security Council resolutions called for withdrawals from land captured by Israel in 1967 and the negotiation of secure and recognized borders. The armistice lines, described as "Auschwitz borders" by the dovish Abba Eban, obviously could never be the basis for secure borders. Hence, in calling for borders based on the armistice lines, President Obama is also calling for the violation of Security Council resolutions 242 and 338.
These actions by successive American presidents have a negative impact well beyond the Arab-Israeli conflict. Indeed, they probably harm the United States, the Western world and even the Palestinian Arabs more than they harm Israel.
Although they have made Arab-Israeli peace even less likely and pushed it further into the future, Israel has learned to cope with a lack of its most fervent wish. It has shown the ability to defend itself against each new wave of Arab terror and still thrive.
The rest of the world is not so fortunate.
American policy has sent out the message that terror and intransigence work. It has changed from opposing another, separate Palestinian Arab state to strongly supporting it, while ignoring the desire for independence of numerous other national groups, groups which have not repeatedly turned down the opportunity for independence and have not resorted to terrorism the way the Palestinian Arabs have.
American policy changes have also sent the message that America's word is not its bond, that America can no longer be trusted. Unless this message is reversed, this has the potential for catastrophic consequences in the future.
These policies of appeasing Arab terror and intransigence have perhaps hurt the Palestinian Arabs most of all. They have made it easier for the Palestinian Arabs to continue their fruitless, genocidal quest to destroy Israel rather than, however reluctantly, choosing peace and enabling their children to live normal lives rather than being indoctrinated in the glorification of suicide bombing and martyrdom.
What Should the American Administration Do?
In general, it? needs to start applying most of its pressure to the intransigent party, the Palestinian Arabs. The Israelis have several times offered the Arabs far more than any reasonable settlement calls for. Rather than reacting to Arab rejection by pressuring Israel to make more concessions, the American government should make it clear that the previous offers are off the table and the longer the Arabs reject peace the less support they'll get.
Rather than pressuring Israel to not build, even in communities which everyone knows will remain with Israel, the American government should be encouraging Israeli construction and telling Mahmoud Abbas that he's wasting time and his future state is shrinking.
The American administration should make it clear "land swaps" are off the table and the side need to come up with a reasonable partition of the disputed territory.
President Obama should repeat what he said the night he clinched the Democratic nomination for president, that Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel and he should finally implement the long-stalled Embassy Relocation Act and start building America's embassy to Israel in that nation's capital.
The American mediation role reminds one of Zeno’s Paradox. In Zeno’s Paradox, one argues it is impossible for anyone to leave a room, since before one leaves the room one first must get halfway to the door. But after one gets halfway to the door, one must still first get half of the remaining distance to the door, and so on. The, obviously faulty conclusion, is that one can never get all the way to the door.
America always seems to look at the positions of the Palestinian Arabs and the Israelis and urges the parties to meet halfway. The Israelis try to meet halfway, but the Arabs never budge. By now, the Israelis have moved almost all the way to where the Palestinian Arabs started, but rather than moving towards the Israelis the Palestinian Arabs, if anything, have moved backwards.
In general, rather than reacting to Arab intransigence by trying to appease it, America should start over and begin paying attention to what would be a fair solution. It needs to be an honest broker and encourage peacemaking rather than peace-blocking.