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If those on the "Left" want negotiations, why aren't they also leading the calls on Israel to use every tool possible to root out the terrorists and dismantle the terrorist infrastructure that supports them?
We've all heard the arguments of the religious and political right-wing on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Filled with finalities and absolutes, they categorically rule out options, deny possibilities, and imply that believing otherwise is na‹ve, foolish, and irresponsible. They argue that pro-Israel can mean only one thing: endorsing their hard-line views.
Americans for Peace Now rejects this approach. We know that pro-Israel does not mean blindly supporting policies that are irrational, reckless, and counter-productive. Pro-Israel means supporting policies that are consistent with Israel's interests and promote its survival as a Jewish, democratic state - policies such as making peace with Egypt and Jordan, and pursuing peace with Syria and the Palestinians. And we know that ill-conceived extremist schemes - like filling the West Bank and Gaza with settlements - have cost (and continue to cost) Israel dearly.
You've heard the arguments of the religious and political right-wing, and so have we. They've had their say. Now, we'll have ours.
Land for Peace: A Good Deal or Too High a Price
THEY SAY: Israel is a tiny country - smaller than many U.S. states - with little strategic depth. Asking Israel to give up land to the Arabs is the same as asking Israel to sacrifice its security.
WE SAY: The argument that Israel needs to hold onto land in order to ensure its security is past its sell-by date. While in the past Israeli strategists saw a need to hold onto territory in order to provide the country with strategic depth, modern technology has changed this equation. Moreover, holding onto land has clear security liabilities for Israel, giving terrorists a convenient pretext and the veneer of rationality when they attack Israel. It also burdens the Israeli military, forcing it to police and manage a large, densely-populated territory.
This is not to say that Israel should just hand over land to the Palestinians (or Syria, or Lebanon) and hope for the best. Rather, Israel must negotiate peace agreements that include security arrangements that are consistent with Israel's vital security needs. This is exactly what Israel did in its agreements with Egypt and Jordan. Achieving a peace agreement will not be easy, requiring a combination of political will, courage, and leadership (on all sides, including from the United States). But it is not just a dream - past Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and Israeli-Syrian negotiations have already narrowed the gaps between the sides regarding such arrangements. Land and security arrangements, while certainly complicated, are clearly within reach.
THEY SAY: Israel was the victim, not the aggressor, in 1967. If the Arabs had not attacked Israel, then Israel would not have had to fight for its survival, in the process taking over the land the Arabs now demand. It is absurd to argue that Israel, as the victim of Arab aggression, should now be forced to give back land in order to buy "peace" with its enemies.
WE SAY: The argument that Israel should not have to give up land for peace misses the point: Israel must trade land for peace to serve its own interests: in order to survive as a Jewish, democratic state. Today, 11 million people live between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River; Jews comprise about half that number, and Israeli experts predict that by the year 2020, Arabs will outnumber Jews by 20%. In this reality, if Israel continues to rule over the West Bank, it can continue to be a Jewish state only by continuing to disenfranchise the Palestinians. But this is not a realistic option, both because it conflicts with Jewish values and because the international community will not tolerate a long-term situation in which such a large population - eventually the majority of the population of the area - is disenfranchised. While we all find comparisons to Apartheid-era South Africa distasteful and inappropriate, there is no doubt that such comparisons will increase if things continue as they are.
There is another significant difference between the Middle East of 1967 and today's Middle East. Following the Six-Day War, the Arab League - a coalition of all Arab states - passed a resolution which articulated that there would be "no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it." These "three no's of Khartoum" revealed the Arab world to be united in dogmatic rhetoric and enmity to Israel. There are real indications that in the forty years since that resolution the Arab world has become much more pragmatic in its approach to Israel. In 2002 the Arab League unanimously adopted a peace initiative based on a two-state solution and which subjected the Palestinian "right of return" to Israeli consent. The Arab League has since re-affirmed its proposal. The Israeli government has welcomed this peace initiative, which is one important indication of the deep change that the Arab world has undergone. It would be foolhardy to ignore these changes.
Withdrawal from Gaza - A Smart Move or a Strategic Blunder?
THEY SAY: In 2005, Israel gave Gaza to the Palestinians. Israel gave up every inch of the land, uprooting thousands of settlers from their homes and fields and relinquishing strategically vital territory like the Philadelphi Corridor. Rather than getting peace in return for this concession, Israel got more terror: Hamas control of Gaza, Qassams raining down on southern Israel, and the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit. The Gaza experience proves that "land for peace" doesn't work.
WE SAY: The withdrawal from Gaza was, obviously, a difficult experience with a very painful - and still unfolding - aftermath. In looking at the withdrawal, however, the real issue is not whether withdrawal from Gaza was a mistake. The real issue is whether the way Israel withdrew was the right one. And the answer is: no.
Even before the "disengagement" from Gaza took place, Peace Now warned that a unilateral withdrawal could not be a substitute for a negotiated agreement that included post-withdrawal arrangements and coordination mechanisms. Peace Now also warned that by refusing to negotiate (or to at least effectively coordinate) the withdrawal with the newly elected Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas - whose election platform centered on re-starting peace negotiations - Israel would undermine his credibility and deliver a public relations coup to Hamas.
But then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was adamantly opposed to a negotiated withdrawal - and this, mind you, was before Hamas took control of Gaza. While we are not at all happy to say "we told you so," the fact is that today Israel is forced to grapple with precisely the unintended consequences of which we warned in 2005.
Settlements - Why shouldn't Israelis/Jews live in the West Bank?
THEY SAY: Arabs live in Israel, so why can't Jews live in the West Bank? To accept this is to enforce a double-standard that demands tolerance from Israelis but accepts Arab anti-Semitism.
WE SAY: The most important issue to consider when looking at the future of settlements is the question of whether their presence benefits or hinders Israeli security and the viability of the peace process. The West Bank is not sovereign Israeli territory. The settlers who live there today live on land that was taken unilaterally, often without regard to private ownership by Palestinians (a fact that Israel today acknowledges). The settlers' presence places a heavy burden on the IDF, and a heavy economic, moral, and political burden on all Israelis.
Setting aside the issue of whether or not the settlements are legal - an issue for lawyers and judges to determine - what we are dealing with here is a political question that is broader and in many ways more important. If there is ever going to be peace with the Palestinians, it will require the establishment of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state. Keeping settlements at the cost of a negotiated two-state solution would be a Pyrrhic victory for Israel.
The fact is that, based on past Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, many (if not most) West Bank settlers will be able to remain where they are under a future peace agreement, as part of a land-swap agreement. Today, settlements make such an arrangement complicated but not impossible; if settlements continue to expand and proliferate, they will further complicate negotiations and the end result may be worse for Israel.
THEY SAY: Those calling for the removal of settlers are arguing for an openly anti-Semitic policy of ethnic cleansing. It is a policy that is not unlike Hitler's call for German territory to be "Judenrein" (empty of Jews).
WE SAY: The idea that Jews, because they are Jews, may not live in a given place is abhorrent. But appealing to the trauma that Jews experienced at the hands of the Nazis in discussing the issue of settlements is inflammatory and misleading. Calling for Israeli settlers to leave or be removed from the West Bank has nothing in common with the genocidal policies of the Nazis. It also has nothing to do with the question of whether Jews, as Jews, can live in a future Palestinian state.
It should be recalled that there were no Israelis living in the West Bank in June 1967. The Israelis who have since settled there have walked into a political trap, with the active encouragement of their government - Labor as well as Likud.
Certainly there was a small Jewish presence in the West Bank prior to 1948, but demanding a "right of return" to Jewish property in the West Bank opens a very dangerous question about the legitimacy of Palestinian claims to a "right of return" to property they owned in Israel before 1948. Following this argument to its logical conclusion would mean closing the door to the viability of Israel as a Jewish, democratic state. Why would Israelis, and American Jews, want to go down this path?
Biblical Claims to the land: How can Israel be expected to leave Hebron?
THEY SAY: Hebron was the first capital of the Jewish state under King David, and it is the site of the tomb of the patriarchs and matriarchs of the Jewish people - Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah. Hebron cannot be given to the Arabs because, fundamentally, it belongs to the Jews.
WE SAY: The Jewish connection to Hebron and the Cave of the Patriarchs is profound and undeniable, as is the Jewish connection to numerous biblical sites in the West Bank. In many ways Hebron is the cradle of our religion and our history. It is also true that Jews lived in Hebron from antiquity until recent history. However, even if one accepts the premise that because of this connection Israelis have the right to live in Hebron (indeed, anywhere in the historic land of Israel), it does not necessarily follow that this "right" should be exercised.
If there is ever going to be peace with the Palestinians, it will require the establishment of a viable, contiguous Palestinian state. Keeping the settlements in Hebron at the cost of a negotiated two-state solution - one which guarantees the continued existence and viability of the Jewish state of Israel - would be a Pyrrhic victory for Israel.
THEY SAY: Jews were in Hebron for 3000 years. Jews left the city only after they were forced out by Arab terror, in the form of the 1929 massacre, which left 69 Jews dead and many more wounded. After the massacre the Arabs stole the properties left behind when the Jews fled for their lives. The Jewish return to Hebron after 1967 is nothing more than justice - the re-claiming of Jewish property and the re-establishment of the Jewish community, despite continued Arab terror and hatred.
WE SAY: One would do well to be careful demanding a Jewish "right of return" to Hebron and other parts of the West Bank, given Palestinians who fled from Israel also claim a "right of return" to the lands they left.
But even for those who support a Jewish presence in Hebron, the question then becomes: what kind of presence? Among the reasons the Hebron settlers are so reviled is that their behavior has often been violent and arrogant in the extreme, destroying property, hounding and harassing Palestinian residents, abusing IDF soldiers sent to protect them, and loudly demonstrating their presence in every way imaginable. And as we remember the horrific violence used against the Jewish community of Hebron in 1929, we should not forget that Hebron was also the site of one of the worst acts of Jewish terrorism, when in 1994 Baruch Goldstein murdered 29 Muslim worshippers while they were at prayer in the mosque at the Tomb of the Patriarchs.
Protecting the security and way of life of 600 Jewish settlers who have chosen to make their homes in the heart of a city of 160,000 Palestinians would be a heavy burden on the IDF even if the city were not a focal point of violence and hatred. In the current context, achieving this mission has come at the cost of the most basic rights of the Palestinians of the city: Palestinian residents of Hebron have been placed under curfew for months at a time, they are prohibited from accessing parts of the city (even on foot), their businesses have been shut down, and key traffic arteries have been closed to them entirely. Indeed, in the wake of the Goldstein massacre, the Palestinian population of the city center has nearly disappeared; apart from the settlers, who enjoy unfettered movement throughout the city, the downtown and old city of Hebron are a ghost town of empty streets and shuttered shops, daubed with the settlers' anti-Palestinian graffiti.
In contrast, when Abraham came to Hebron, he showed a great deal of respect to the people of Hebron, bowing his head to the people and offering a fair sum to purchase the Cave of the Patriarchs. It is a pity that contemporary Jews living in Hebron have not followed his example and sought to live in peace with their neighbors. A city with 160,000 residents cannot be held by force indefinitely. Even former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recognized this fact when he ceded control over most of Hebron to the Palestinian Authority.
Biblical Claims to the Land: How Can Israel Give Up Even an Inch of Jerusalem?
THEY SAY: Jerusalem is the heart and soul of the Jewish people. Israel cannot give up any of this holy city to the Arabs, especially in light of history, where under Arab regimes Jews were denied access to our most important holy sites, and our holy sites were abused and damaged.
WE SAY: Jerusalem has throughout history been the focal point of our collective yearning and our collective identity as Jews. The Jewish return to the Old City and its holy sites after 1967 was the fulfillment of this yearning. No one can deny or undermine the Jewish connection to Jerusalem. Jerusalem is and will forever be the capital of Israel.
At the same time, to assert that Israel should be forbidden from negotiating over Jerusalem is tantamount to calling for Israel to live forever by the sword, since a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is impossible without addressing the very real issues that surround Jerusalem. The price for keeping every inch of Jerusalem will be the loss of the opportunity for a two-state solution that will guarantee Israel's security and viability as a Jewish, democratic state. This is too high a price for Israel to pay, especially when other reasonable options exist such as a shared Jerusalem that serves as a capital for two states.
THEY SAY: Jerusalem is the eternal, undivided capital of Israel. It cannot ever again be divided.
WE SAY: Contemporary Jerusalem is an "undivided" city only in slogans. On the ground, it is a visibly divided city. It is a city where one-third of the population is Palestinian, in addition to large Palestinian urban areas lying just beyond the municipal border. It is a city where the patterns of life reflect two distinct populations - Israelis and Palestinians - living separate and rarely overlapping existences. It is a city that has deep political, historical, economic, and cultural significance to Palestinians, and deep religious meaning not only for Jews, but also for Christians and Muslims everywhere.
Moreover, it is a city whose boundaries have no historical or religious meaning: many have forgotten that after 1967, Israel annexed large areas of land, including a number of Arab towns and villages. There is nothing sacred about these borders, either to Israel or to Jews. Most of the proposed solutions for Jerusalem's future would put these Arab neighborhoods under Palestinian control, while Jewish neighborhoods would remain under Israeli control. These arrangements would make Israel's capital a more Jewish city and would allow Israel to shed the burden of ruling over Palestinians who live in what Israel today calls Jerusalem. It is misleading to suggest that such proposals would limit Jewish access to our holy sites.
THEY SAY: Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and only Israel. It cannot also be the capital of another state. Seeking recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state will undermine Israel's claim to the city.
WE SAY: The emergence of a Palestinian capital in Arab areas of and adjacent to Jerusalem does not undermine Israel's claim to Jerusalem as its capital. Rather, it could clear the way - at long last - for international recognition of Jewish Jerusalem as Israel's eternal capital. For the sake of Israel's security and stability, a formula must be found to share Jerusalem between Israelis and Palestinians, and between Jews, Muslims, and Christians. Pragmatic, creative solutions exist to satisfy competing claims to Jerusalem and its holy sites; what is needed is the leadership, courage, and goodwill to explore them.
THEY SAY: Jerusalem belongs not just to Israel but to the entire Jewish people. Israel cannot negotiate the future of Jerusalem without the approval of Jews everywhere.
WE SAY: Symbolically and metaphysically, Jews throughout the world feel ownership over Jerusalem, the subject of yearning for generations of Diaspora Jews. This reality cannot be changed. But the physical Jerusalem is under Israeli rule and the democratically elected government of Israel is sovereign and empowered to negotiate over the future of the city. Jews who are not Israeli citizens are free to advise, cajole, support or protest, but the final decision belongs to Israelis and their elected officials.
THEY SAY: Arab claims to Jerusalem as flimsy. The Quran does not even mention the city, and in any case, Muslims have Mecca and Medina, while Jews only have Jerusalem. And in contrast to the Arab governments, which denied Jews access to the city and damaged our holy sites, Israel has been respectful of Christian and Muslim sites and has permitted access to them. Therefore, Jews have a more valid legitimate right to Jerusalem than either Muslim of Christian Arabs.
WE SAY: Jerusalem is the third holiest place to Islam. Muslims, not Jews or Christians, determine what is holy to them, and Muslims have believed in the city's sanctity for many generations, long before it became the geographic focal point of the Arab-Israeli conflict. While we should not forget the desecration and destruction of Jewish holy sites under Jordanian rule before 1967, we should seek policies that offer a better future to Jerusalem, not policies that focus on settling the scores of past quarrels. Peaceful coexistence in the city of peace will be achieved only when all sides recognize and respect the legitimacy of each other's religious beliefs and traditions.
Refugees and the Palestinian Right of Return: An irreconcilable difference?
THEY SAY: The Palestinian demand for the "right of return" is nothing more than a veiled call for the destruction of Israel. The fact that Palestinian leaders and negotiators, including from the so-called "moderate" parties, will not drop this demand proves that the Palestinians don't really want peace and a two-state solution, but really want a one-state solution - Palestine, located on all the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
WE SAY: It is clear that any solution to the Palestinian refugee issue will have to be found within the borders of a future Palestinian state, rather than inside Israel. Indeed, while refusal to relinquish the principle of a "right of return" is the prerogative of the Palestinians, demands that the principle be implemented inside Israel are tantamount to a demand that Israel cease to exist as a Jewish state. Successive peace initiatives - including the Clinton parameters, the Geneva Initiative, and the Arab League Initiative - all make clear that a solution to the issue must be found that is acceptable to both sides - respecting both the sensitivities of the Palestinian refugees and Israel's sovereign right to determine who may live within its borders. This is the right approach, and it is guided by moral, political, and strategical concerns.
The wars of 1948 and 1967 gave birth to a population of Palestinian refugees - men, women, and children who lost their land, homes and livelihoods in the land which is now Israel. The resulting refugee issue today remains at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Morally, a resolution of this human tragedy must be one of the most important goals of the peace process.
Politically and strategically, any effort to resolve the conflict without addressing the needs and grievances of these refugees will almost certainly fail, sowing even deeper frustration and creating fertile ground for the growth of future violence. The issue has wider impacts, effecting the stability of countries of the region that are home to the refugee populations (including those who have made peace with Israel) and providing a powerful point around which extremists rally support. Allowing the refugee issue to fester is a dangerous approach.
THEY SAY: The Palestinian refugee issue gets a lot of attention, but an ever bigger issue - that of Jewish refugees from Arab countries - gets largely ignored. This is unjust. These Jews are victims who lost their homes, businesses, and properties as a result of Arab policies linked to the creation of Israel. Indeed, these Jews lost far more property than the Palestinians, and may be more numerous than the Palestinian refugees. Justice requires that any Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement address not only the issue of Palestinian refugees, but also that of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and their claims.
WE SAY: Clearly, Jewish refugees from Arab countries - Jews who fled or were evicted from their homes as Israel came into existence and thereafter - have legitimate claims against these countries, and there is no question that they have a right to seek redress. However, resolution of such claims is not an Israeli-Palestinian issue. Rather, it is a bilateral issue between Israel (or France, or the U.S., or whatever country these Jews now live in) and the countries these Jews fled. Israel's ability to negotiate peace cannot be allowed to be held hostage to the resolution of these claims.
The Heart of the Matter: Didn't G-d Give Israel to the Jewish People?
THEY SAY: The Torah explicitly says that G-d gave Israel to the Jewish people. It is our birthright. The birth of the modern state of Israel in 1948 is the fulfillment of this right. No other national or religious claims are relevant. Those who ask Jews to give up an inch of our G-d-given trust, in the na‹ve hope of achieving "peace" with our enemies, fail to appreciate this birthright and the obligations it entails.
WE SAY: First, while some Jews today believe that the miracle of Israel's establishment represents the dawn of a Messianic age, the traditional Jewish perspective would be wary of conflating Israeli control over territory with any Biblical commandment. After all, the State of Israel is a secular creation and its policies do not have any direct bearing on our responsibilities towards the Divine. Rather, Israeli policies vis-…-vis the West Bank and Gaza should be determined on the basis of what makes Israel and its citizens more secure as a Jewish and democratic state.
Second, the claim that our theological truth is superior to the truths or traditions of others has no place in the real world of political discourse or international relations. It is an invitation not to peace but to perpetual conflict. In this instance, we would be wise to remember the commandment conveyed by the Prophet Jeremiah after the destruction of the First Temple: "And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away... for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace." (Jeremiah 29:7) We are, of course, entitled to believe that ours is, indeed, the supreme truth - but for the sake of the peace of the city, we are forbidden from proclaiming that superiority in the public spaces, where we, and all the others, must behave as if ours is just one of a number of truths. Otherwise, the result is chaos and death.
Will removing West Bank settlements and outposts satisfy the Arabs and bring peace?
THEY SAY: Removing settlements and outposts from the West Bank will not satisfy the Arabs and bring peace. The Arabs regard even Tel Aviv as "occupied territory" and aspire to "liberate" all of Palestine.
WE SAY: Most Palestinians recognize that Israel is here to stay. Most also accept the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem as the only real option available to the Palestinians to fulfill their national aspirations. Most accept that an agreement to create a viable Palestinian state would mean the end of territorial claims against Israel. For years, public opinion surveys among the Palestinians have consistently found this to be the case.
Certainly, there is a minority of Palestinians who don't accept a two-state solution. And even Palestinians who accept the two-state solution are not necessarily happy about it. But there is no reason they should be: Peace requires the Palestinians to sacrifice their dream of returning to land that they or their ancestors left sixty years ago.
Likewise, some Israelis and diaspora Jews dream of a Greater Israel that includes all of the West Bank and even land beyond. This minority clings to its dangerous desire, irrespective of how unattainable its dream is.
At the same time, many Israelis who support the two-state solution do so reluctantly. And for good reason: Just as peace requires Palestinians to give up the dream of returning to Jaffa, so must Israel give up the dream of holding on to Shechem (Nablus) and Hevron (Hebron), the cradle of Jewish civilization. The hope for a better future requires both sides to relinquish the realization of some of their historic dreams.
The fact remains that the vast majority of both Israelis and Palestinians want peace and accept the two-state solution. Rejectionists, on either side, must not be permitted to stand in the way of this goal. Israelis have an interest in ending the conflict with the Palestinians, and they also have a strong interest in ending the occupation of the West Bank, which drains Israeli resources, erodes the state's international standing and threatens its Jewish and democratic nature.
In practical terms, Israeli national security policy must be grounded in a sober assessment of current and potential threats. And so, even if Israelis were convinced that all Palestinians were prepared to embrace Israel, any peace agreement would still include comprehensive security arrangements to ensure that - no matter what might happen among the Palestinians or in the region - Israel's security would be protected.
The question is not whether Palestinians will give up the dream of "liberating" all of Palestine. The question is whether the existence of a rejectionist minority, potentially willing to use violence against Israel to pursue their "liberation" dream, means that peace is not possible. The answer, clearly, is no. A successful peace agreement will include two mutually reinforcing components: First, meaningful incentives to further buttress the notion, among most Palestinians, that peace is better than the reckless pursuit of unattainable dreams; and second, a strong security component to effectively deter and fend off any threats from rejectionists.
How is the dismantling of some checkpoints and roadblocks in Israel's interest and not just opening the door for more terrorism?
THEY SAY: The Left demands that checkpoints and roadblocks be dismantled. This is irresponsible. Checkpoints are not about punishing the Palestinians but about saving Israeli lives. It is Palestinian terrorism that makes the checkpoints necessary. When terrorism stops, checkpoints can come down. Until then, removing them now only opens the door for more terrorism.
WE SAY: Nobody is asking Israel to remove every checkpoint and roadblock, or to allow free movement between the West Bank and Israel. What Israel is being asked to do is remove the many roadblocks that are no longer vital to Israeli security, and in the process further Israel's long-term goals.
Lifting some of the hundreds of manned and unmanned, temporary and permanent checkpoints on the roads of the West Bank - as well as removing dirt and stone barricades that block the entrances to dozens of Palestinian towns and villages - could dramatically transform the West Bank economy. It could also dramatically energize Palestinians to rebuild and heal their society and to support the peace process with Israel - all key Israeli interests. And it can be done without compromising Israeli security.
Since the start of the 2nd Intifada, Israel has put up more than 500 roadblocks in the West Bank. Many were set up in order to disrupt Palestinian mobility, in the hope of stopping suicide bombers from traveling into Israel. Others were established to block Palestinian access to roads used mainly by Israelis.
Even assuming that every checkpoint was originally justified, many of Israel's top security experts are calling for a major re-evaluation of the roadblock policy. For example, does Israel still need hundreds of roadblocks inside the West Bank to stop suicide bombers from entering Israel? Israel has nearly completed a massive security barrier sealing Israel (and Israeli settlement blocs) almost hermetically from the West Bank. In 2007, not one suicide bombing originating in the West Bank was carried out in Israel.
Some will argue that the roadblocks should remain, adding an additional layer of protection for Israel against terrorists. But the roadblocks come at a huge price: They cripple the Palestinian economy, destroy the fabric of life for every Palestinian, and in the process, alienate Palestinians who are not involved in terrorism and broaden the circle of enmity and hostility toward Israel.
Rehabilitating the Palestinian economy and improving the quality of life in the West Bank is recognized by Israel as a prerequisite for advancing the current Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. It is necessary for strengthening Palestinian moderates such as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and weakening support for terrorists. It is therefore a key Israeli national security interest.
How can Peace Now support negotations with Syria when most Israelis adamantly oppose ceding the Golan Heights?
THEY SAY: Polls show that most Israelis object to ceding the entire Golan Heights to Syria, even in return for a full peace accord. Peace Now supports negotiations with Syria, knowing that the return of the entire Golan Heights is a core Syrian demand. How can Peace Now support something that most Israelis adamantly oppose?
WE SAY: Peace on Israel's northern border is one of Israel's primary national security interests, which warrants paying the territorial price on the Golan Heights. One of the clear lessons of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war remains that in the absence of a peace treaty, it is only a matter of time before war breaks out.
It is true that Israelis are very attached to the Golan Heights and are reluctant, or even strongly opposed, to relinquishing them to Syria. This does not mean that a peace agreement that exchanges the Golan for real security for Israel would not be embraced by Israelis. The same polls that show Israelis unwilling to cede the Golan show that Israelis support the negotiations with Syria. It is also worth recalling that many Israelis initially opposed the Camp David Accords and opposed paying the price for peace with Egypt - the complete return of the Sinai Peninsula. Today, few if any Israelis would argue that Israel should have kept the Sinai and rejected peace with Egypt, or that Israel would somehow be in a better position if it had done so.
It is also worth noting that Israeli popular support for a peace deal with Syria fluctuates. It is influenced by the perceived credibility of Syria's leader - and that of Israel's leaders. It is also impacted by other bilateral and regional variables. In the past, there have been times when Israelis were more supportive of fully withdrawing from the Golan Heights. Israelis appear to be more reluctant to pay the full price for peace with Syria when they do not trust their current leadership to make a good deal, and they don't trust Syria's President Bashar Assad to deliver a full, reliable peace.
There is a good reason to believe, however, that Israelis will change their attitude once a credible deal is on the table. And there is good reason to believe - based on what is publicly known about past negotiations - that any deal would be structured to address Israeli concerns. When Israelis and Syrians unofficially negotiated a possible peace agreement between 2004 and 2006, they agreed on a lengthy phased Israeli withdrawal (over the course of five years or more), on demilitarizing the Golan Heights as the territory is gradually returned to Syrian sovereignty, and on establishing a park in most of the territory, for use by both Israelis and Syrians.
When Israeli leaders are serious about making peace with Syria, they will begin to make the case for it publicly. When they do, they are likely to point out that savvy Israeli diplomacy, with the help of Israel's allies, could reap the fruits of an Israeli-Syrian peace deal much beyond the Israel-Syria border.
- An Israeli-Syrian deal is likely to open the door for an Israeli-Lebanese deal that would weaken Hezbollah and contribute to security and stability on Israel's northern border.
- Israeli-Syrian peace could be leveraged toward comprehensive peace between Israel and the Arab world, in the context of the Arab League's peace initiative, which offers full peace between Israel and all 22 members of the Arab League in return for an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders.
- An Israeli deal with Syria is almost certain to drive a wedge between Damascus and Teheran, weakening Iran's influence in the region and making it easier for the U.S. and its allies worldwide to confront Iran.
Why does the "Left" seem to believe that the UN can play a constructive role in resolving the Israeli-Arab conflict?
THEY SAY: The UN is stacked against Israel. From the "Zionism is racism" resolution to the seemingly unending gratuitous criticism of Israel, to the numerous UN bodies dedicated to Palestinian rights, it is clear that at best the UN is NOT an honest broker in this conflict and at worst the UN is anti-Israel. Why, then, does the Left seem to believe that the UN can play a constructive role in resolving the Israeli-Arab conflict?
WE SAY: There is little doubt that the UN General Assembly and the organization's Security Council have in fact been less than fair toward Israel. While recent years have seen an improvement in the way Israel is treated within the international organization, it is still unfairly judged by the UN, as publicly pointed out by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.
The UN's bias, however, does not mean that Israel has no use for the international organization. The Talmud teaches us of Rabbi Meir, who "found a pomegranate; he ate the fruit and threw away the peel. This is to teach us to differentiate between the main thing and things of secondary importance." (Tractate Hagiga, 15b).
Israel is a pragmatic state. In its dealings with the UN, it typically attempts to focus on what is of primary importance: its national security interests. Although it obviously resents the UN's bias, Israel recognizes that it can effectively harness the UN to its security interests. Israel has done so numerous times, not without success:
- In Sinai, the UN's Emergency Forces that initially observed the implementation of the 1979 Israel-Egypt peace agreement, set the stage for the US-led Multinational Force and Observers (MFO).
- In Lebanon, Israel and the US worked closely with the UN Security Council to reach a ceasefire ending the 2006 Second Lebanon War. Resolution 1701, adopted on August 11 2006, called for disarmament of Hezbollah, for withdrawal of Israel from Lebanon, for the deployment of the Lebanese Army in South Lebanon and for enhancing the presence of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). Israeli leaders have since said more than once that Resolution 1701 was a major achievement and that UNIFIL's enhanced presence was a success.
- On its border with Syria, Israel has enjoyed the close cooperation of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) since 1974, following the Yom Kippur war. This border has since been quiet .
While APN has never rushed to invite the UN to play a role in resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, the UN can play a vital role as one component of Israel's peace and security strategy, whether by adopting resolutions that Israel supports or by providing the framework for peacekeeping troops to enforce its resolutions.
How can you seriously argue that Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), who has clearly not sworn off violence against Israel, is a partner for Israel?
THEY SAY: How can you say that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is a "partner" for peace? He may sound good when he talks to left-wing Americans, but he shows his true colors when he talks to other Arabs: Earlier this year he told the Jordanian daily "al-Dustur" that he was currently opposed to armed struggle against Israel, but that "maybe in the future things will be different." How can you seriously argue that this man, who has clearly not sworn off violence against Israel, is a partner for Israel?
WE SAY: As people who care about Israel, we are interested in what Abbas says, but we are much more interested in what he does. And what he is doing is actively fighting terrorism in the West Bank, in cooperation with Israel's security establishment. He is deploying Palestinian police forces to fight militants and to confiscate illegal weapons. He is trying to revive the West Bank's economy, and is negotiating the terms of a final settlement peace agreement with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Together with his prime minister, Salam Fayyad, Abbas is fighting anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incitement in the Palestinian public arena, including in West Bank mosques. Abbas and Fayyad are working with U.S. military envoys to train Palestinian security forces, some of which have already been deployed in West Bank towns, fulfilling both counter-terrorism and law-enforcement tasks.
Abbas has indeed said things that we don't like. But it would be na‹ve to expect Abbas to only make statements that resonate positively in Israeli ears, just as it would be na‹ve to expect all of what Israeli leaders say to resonate positively with Palestinians. Abbas is not a Zionist and should not be expected to be one -- he is a Palestinian nationalist and speaks the language of Palestinian nationalism. However, most of what Abbas says - both in English and in Arabic, both to non-Palestinians and to the Palestinian public - clearly indicates a solid commitment to peace with Israel. This one unfortunate newspaper quote, which came in the context of pressure from the Jordanian journalists for Abbas to acknowledge the success of Hamas in forcing Israel to make concessions, is the exception that proves the rule. Unfortunately, it is an exception that has been enthusiastically seized by people hoping to discredit Abbas and undermine the negotiating process.
Israel, for the sake of its own interests, needs to negotiate an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and realize the two-state solution. Unfortunately, after decades of occupation, intifada, and the political dominance of Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian political arena suffers from a dearth of committed, moderate leaders who can serve as credible partners with whom Israel can conclude such a negotiation. Abbas is undoubtedly one such leader. He was overwhelmingly elected as the Palestinian president in free and fair elections - elections in which Abbas ran on a platform of achieving a negotiated peace with Israel. He has consistently and repeatedly committed himself, in word and deed, to achieving a negotiated peace agreement with Israel.
Whether Abbas is strong enough to make peace remains unclear. What is clear is that Israel has a strong interest in empowering him. We think that both Israel and the international community could and should be doing much more to empower Abbas. It's not too late to empower Abbas and build support for his pragmatic policies.
Wouldn't disbanding UNRWA end the perpetuation of the refugee problem and open the door for resettling these Palestinians immediately in the host countries?
THEY SAY: If you really care about peace and about the Palestinian people, why aren't you demanding that UNRWA - which has been accused of supporting terrorists - be disbanded?Wouldn't that end the perpetuation of the refugee problem and open the door for resettling these Palestinians immediately in the host countries?
WE SAY: The issue of Palestinian refugees has been recognized by all parties - including Israel - as an integral part of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and one of the key "final status issues" that must be resolved through negotiations. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is the UN body charged with providing humanitarian support for Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon until the issue is resolved.
UNRWA plays a vital role as a source of stability and humanitarian assistance - food, medical care, education - to a population in severe stress. In the West Bank and Gaza, it is UNRWA that in effect absolves Israel of responsibilty for the day-to-day humanitarian needs of this population. The continued effective operations of UNRWA - until such time as a permanent and mutually acceptable solution for the Palestinian refugees can be achieved - is vital to both American and Israeli security interests. It provides some degree of stability for the population and helps to stave off a humanitarian disaster that would be blamed on Israel. In fact, when American Jewish organizations in the past considered a campaign campaign to dismantle UNRWA ,Israeli diplomats worked to disuade them from doing so.
Despite the fact that Israel has recognized the Palestinian refugee problem as an issue to be resolved in final status negotiations, some people continue to argue that the problem simply doesn't exist. They argue that the real problem is the UN and UNRWA, and that the issue can be easily resolved by the UN if it ends its "special treatment" of Palestinians. They demand that UNRWA be dissolved and replaced by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which should then resolve the Palestinian refugee problem using the same solutions it uses for refugees everywhere else in the world.
This view is simplistic and misguided. After a half century of limbo, the Palestinian refugee situation remains an explosive political issue. Efforts to use technical or bureaucratic means to bypass a mutually-acceptable negotiated solution as part of a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement are doomed to fail and may well exacerbate the conflict.
Moreover, the uniquely political nature of the Palestinian refugee problem means that none of the options available under UNHCR would work. Typically, UNHCR seeks to return refugees to their original homes. With respect to Palestinian refugees, whose original homes, for the most part, are inside Israel, this is an option that would be unacceptable to Israel. UNHCR's second option is to settle refugees permanently in their current country of residence. This option is opposed, with varying degrees of vehemence, both by the Palestinian refugees and by the countries hosting the largest numbers of them - Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan - each of which have their own domestic political calculations in mind. For example, the already precarious sectarian balance in Lebanon makes the naturalization of a large number of Palestinians (who are predominantly Sunni Muslims) completely unacceptable to most Lebanese. UNHCR's third option is to settle refugees in a third country. However, third countries cannot be forced to accept Palestinian refugees, and outside of the scope of a broader political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is unlikely that all or even most Palestinians would willingly leave, or that third countries would welcome them. For its part, UNHCR does not have the authority to impose any of these options - it can neither force refugees to go anywhere, nor can it force any country to accept them.
Clearly, the U.S. must demand accountability and oversight of UNRWA, to ensure that U.S. funding is used effectively, to ensure that the agency is taking all possible steps to keep assistance out of the hands of terrorists and to ensure that UNRWA facilities are not exploited by terrorists.
The bottom line is that efforts to do away with UNRWA are inconsistent with the interests of both the U.S. and Israel. That's why we oppose them.
How can the West Bank and Gaza be characterized as "occupied" when they never belonged to any other sovereign nation and Israel gained control of them as an outcome of a war forced on them?
THEY SAY: Why does the Left insist on referring to "Occupied Territories?" Judea and Samaria (or as the Left would say, the West Bank and Gaza) cannot be "occupied" because they never belonged to any other sovereign nation. Israel gained control of these areas as an outcome of a war that was forced on Israel by the Arabs. And now the Arabs have the temerity to blame Israel for not handing them back to the people who attacked it. This is ridiculous. Israel has every right to hold onto this land; if someone disagrees with that, then this makes the status of these areas "disputed."
WE SAY: We often hear people argue that the West Bank and Gaza are not technically occupied territories. This argument is frequently articulated by people who support Israel holding on to these areas permanently and who support Israeli settlement in these areas. They support this, despite the fact that Israel itself has never annexed or otherwise extended sovereignty to most of the West Bank or any of the Gaza Strip. And they support this, despite the fact that holding on to these areas permanently undermines Israel's existence as a Jewish, democratic state. The debate over whether the West Bank and Gaza are "occupied" or "disputed" is thus not really one about legalisms or semantics, but about ideology.
The West Bank and Gaza are viewed by virtually all international legal experts as "occupied territory." Since 1967, legal experts, including in Israel, have been virtually unanimous in recognizing that this status applies to the West Bank and Gaza. The fact that their sovereign status was in limbo at the time that Israel took control over them is an artifact of the post-colonial era and, regardless, international law is clear: the acquisition of territory through military force is prohibited.
Indeed, even the Israeli Supreme Court has repeatedly used the term "belligerent occupation" to describe Israel's rule over the West Bank and Gaza. Israel's Supreme Court even ruled that the question of a previous sovereign claim to the West Bank and Gaza is irrelevant to whether the international laws relating to occupied territories should apply there. Rather, the proper question - according to Israel's highest court - is one of effective military control. In the words of the Supreme Court decision, "as long as the military force exercises control over the territory, the laws of war will apply to it." (see: HCJ 785/87, Afo v. Commander of IDF Forces in the West Bank). What matters, from this perspective, is the fact that the West Bank and Gaza were conquered by Israeli armed forces in a war (that the war was forced upon Israel, while true, is irrelevant) and has been controlled and governed by the Israel military since. That defines the fact that there is an Israeli occupation there. Who claimed the territories before they were occupied is immaterial. What is material is that before 1967, Israel did not claim the territories.
Even Ariel Sharon, one of the main architects of Israel's policy of placing settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, recognized this reality. On May 26, 2003, when he was Prime Minister of Israel, he bluntly told fellow Likud members, "You may not like the word, but what's happening is occupation [using the Hebrew word "kibush," which is only used to mean "occupation"]. Holding 3.5 million Palestinians under occupation is a bad thing for Israel, for the Palestinians and for the Israeli economy."
More importantly, the semantic debate regarding the "occupied" nature of the West Bank and Gaza is wholly immaterial when it comes to realpolitik. Whether one believes that these territories are legally occupied or not does not change the basic facts: Israel rules over a population of millions of Palestinians who are hostile to it. Demographic projections indicate that Jews will soon be a minority in the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, if they are not already. Whether you call the territories "occupied," "disputed" or even "liberated," one thing is clear: holding on to these areas is neither viable nor desirable if Israel is to survive as a secure, Jewish and democratic country. Israel's long-term security depends on its ability to negotiate its way out of the occupation toward a two-state solution.
If those on the "Left" want negotiations, why aren't they also leading the calls on Israel to use every tool possible to root out the terrorists and dismantle the terrorist infrastructure that supports them?
THEY SAY: The Left always wants negotiations, talks, and ceasefires, and criticizes Israel when it takes strong action against terrorists. If the Left is serious about talking to "moderate" Palestinians, why isn't it leading the calls on Israel to use every tool possible - like major military force, detentions and arrests, home demolitions, targeted killings, stronger economic pressure, and whatever else Israeli security strategists can come up with - to root out the terrorists and dismantle the terrorist infrastructure that supports them??
WE SAY: We support Israel's right to self-defense, including Israel's right to go after terrorists. At the same time, we know that Israel cannot ensure its security through military means alone. We also know that sometimes a military response, especially an ever-escalating military response, can be counterproductive. The best long-term strategy to deal with terrorism combines military tactics with a political process that provides hope that a negotiated end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is within reach.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is, at its heart, a political conflict. Palestinian terrorism against Israel is a horrendous byproduct of this conflict that cannot be countered simply by increasing the harshness of the Israeli response. Rather, it will be best brought to heel by more intensely pursuing peace, in tandem with smart counter-terrorism measures that capitalize on intelligence and cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, as well as other Arab stakeholders (like Egypt and Jordan). Indeed, it is no coincidence that the ONLY period in recent history when Palestinian terrorism against Israel ground to an almost total halt was during the mid-1990s, when Israel was engaged in an effort to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace, and was working closely with the PA both to promote the peace process and to fight terror.
It is tempting to believe that if the world (and the Left) would just keep quiet and let the IDF do its job, Israel could finish off Palestinian terrorism once and for all. Tempting, but foolish. The fact is, Israel has engaged in major military operations, targeted killings, home demolitions, arrests/detentions, deportations, and most recently, massive economic pressure in an effort to bring Palestinian violence against Israel to a halt. And the fact is, too, that these tools have been insufficient.
What Israel has learned, instead, is that even the most "successful" military operation or tactic is of only limited utility: Take, for example, the barrier that Israel constructed around Gaza in the early 1990s. This barrier was indeed successful in preventing suicide bombers from Gaza reaching Israel. Yet, as the political situation stagnated, the barrier proved to not be enough: Palestinian terrorists turned to rocket and mortar fire with which to target Israelis.
Moreover, the IDF cannot assassinate every Palestinian who engages in or one day may engage in the use of violence against Israel, nor can it "break" the Palestinian will through detentions, arrests, and home demolitions. Indeed, such operations and tactics arguably have the unintended consequence of sowing the seeds for future violence and support for violence against Israel - whether it is committed by friends and family members of those targeted by Israel, or family members of the innocent bystanders who suffer as "collateral damage" in an operation. It is precisely why, for example, Israel has largely abandoned its policy of home demolitions - an IDF panel of experts examined the policy in 2005 and concluded that demolishing homes of terrorists' families causes more harm than benefit to Israel's fight against terrorism.
The answer is for Israeli security forces to continue working to stop terrorists, weighing short-term advantages against long-term costs, and for Israel's political leaders to seriously pursue negotiations to resolve the conflict. This is not an easy path, but all the alternative paths are dead-ends.
The Israeli military in the West Bank protects Israel from another "Hamastan" like exists in Gaza. Withdrawal would put Israelis in jeopardy.
THEY SAY: The only thing preventing the West Bank from looking like Gaza is the presence of the Israeli military in these territories. Israeli control of the West Bank is actually the only way to protect Israel from another "Hamastan," on its east. An Israeli withdrawal under any circumstances would put Israelis in jeopardy. So why does APN constantly demand an end to the "occupation" and an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank?
WE SAY: This argument is based on flawed logic, both because it ignores the price that Israel is paying for its continued occupation of the West Bank and because it dismisses the viability of any other security arrangements.
Israel is paying dearly for maintaining military control of the West Bank. The toll is political, economic and moral. The perpetuation of military occupation has a negative impact on army morale and on the health of Israeli society. It leaves Israel unprepared to handle other security threats, as was exposed in the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war. It is vital that Israel seek to end the occupation of the West Bank as part of a diplomatic process that incorporates security arrangements to minimize potential threats to Israel.
In recent years, the Bush Administration has supported efforts to revamp the PA's security forces. Recent news reports indicate that this program is starting to show results, with PA forces effectively establishing law and order - and taking action against Hamas-allied bodies - in several Palestinian cities. Indeed, in early September 2008, senior IDF officers, quoted by Haaretz, expressed satisfaction with what was characterized as a "marked improvement" in the Palestinian Authority's efforts against West Bank militants.
Nevertheless, the Palestinian Authority and Fatah are undoubtedly weak, both in terms of political support and in terms of military capacity.
There are a number of reasons why Fatah is politically weak. These include a history of corruption and the failure of Fatah's leaders to meaningfully improve the lives of Palestinians through negotiations with Israel. After all, for twenty years Fatah has promoted itself as the party that seeks a two-state solution through negotiations.
Militarily, it bears mention that Israel has limited the Palestinian Authority's capacity to defend itself against Hamas' militia both by targeting PA assets for attack and by limiting the ability of the PA to receive weapons and equipment, as well as reinforcements.
Israel should pursue a strategy that employs genuine diplomacy and a smart military posture. APN is not calling for Israel to pick up and leave the West Bank unilaterally or overnight. Indeed, we were highly critical of the way the IDF left Gaza, and warned at the time that the unilateral withdrawal would play into the hands of Hamas.
An Israeli withdrawal should be part of a process of negotiations with the PA's leadership, negotiations that can provide credibility for moderate leaders, thereby strengthening them and enhancing their ability to govern after an Israeli withdrawal. In the interim before such a withdrawal, Israel also needs to reconsider policies that restrict Palestinian freedom of movement within the West Bank. The security benefits of separating Palestinian towns from each other is questionable, and it is clear that such policies hamper efforts to rebuild the Palestinian economy and create hardships which may fuel the radicalization of the population in the West Bank.
The status-quo in the West Bank is destructive. It poses a creeping existential threat to Israel. Ending the occupation in the context of a two-state solution must be the ultimate, overarching Israeli national security goal vis-…-vis the West Bank. Those who argue for a perpetual occupation due so at Israel's peril.
Why should Israel and the international community invest in supporting this Palestinian leadership when the Palestinians themselves are not doing their share?
THEY SAY: Claiming political impotence has become part of a strategy of the Palestinian leadership in order to evade accountability and responsibility. This is a ruse. Abbas and his cronies have the resources and ability to govern. What they lack is the willingness and determination to do so. Instead, they blame Israel and demand more and more political and security concessions, and they beg for more and more economic handouts. Why should Israel and the international community invest in supporting this Palestinian leadership and trying to create a Palestinian state when the Palestinians themselves are not doing their share?
WE SAY: This argument is wrong. It is also dangerous.
It is wrong because it ignores the significant steps that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, and others in the PA have taken to build the institutions necessary to govern under the current circumstances and to act as the infrastructure for a nascent state. These measures may not satisfy everyone, especially those inclined to believe that the PA is not serious. But they have been significant enough to prompt Israel and the United States to express satisfaction with the Palestinian Authority's financial reforms, structural reforms and security performance, particularly in northern West Bank towns such as Nablus and Jenin.
It is dangerous because most Israeli strategists agree today that a Palestinian state is an Israeli national security interest as much as it is a Palestinian interest. Israel wants to rid itself of the occupation and wants to live in peace with its Palestinian neighbors. If the moderate leadership of the Palestinians in the West Bank is struggling, Israel's interest is to support it and find ways to help empower it. Israel's own interests are promoted when it demonstrates to Palestinians that moderation and pragmatism pays, and that moderate leaders can deliver.
The best way to change hearts and minds of West Bank Palestinians is not through intensifying and perpetuating their sense of oppression and resentment but through showing them that pragmatism yields tangible results and real hope.
Museum Construction in West Jerusalem - Shrine to Tolerance or Message of Intolerance?
THEY SAY: A prominent American Jewish human rights organization, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, has received a green light from Israel's Supreme Court to build the Museum of Tolerance in West Jerusalem. Why is Americans for Peace Now siding with the Arabs against the project?
WE SAY: We oppose the construction of the museum on this site, the Mamilla cemetery, because - in the name of tolerance - it sends a message of utter intolerance. It sends a message of inconsideration and hubris to Arabs (and to many Jews) in Jerusalem and to the entire world.
We oppose building the project, at the suggested site, because if Muslims say that the construction of this monumental building on the ruins of an important historic Muslim cemetery is offensive to them, we believe them. We know how offended we would feel if someone wanted to build a huge building - a shrine to tolerance, of all things - on top of a Jewish cemetery in the Arab world, or anywhere else for that matter. And we know how offended we would feel if we were told that our protests against such construction was not genuine.
Certain facts are beyond dispute. The Wiesenthal Center acknowledges that the plot it acquired for the museum is part of a large historic Muslim cemetery dating back to the thirteenth century. Some of the tombstones are still visible. Others have been paved or built over. The cemetery was Jerusalem's main active Muslim cemetery until 1948. Many Jerusalemite dignitaries are buried there.
True, Israel's High Court ruled that the Wiesenthal Center had the legal right to build its museum at this location. The Court considered this case on its legal merits. We expect the Wiesenthal Center - a human rights organization concerned with morals and ethics and strongly supportive of Israel - to consider the moral, ethical and political consequences of carrying out this project.
Jerusalem is the focal point of the passions of Jews, Christians and Muslims world wide. Jewish control of the city carries responsibilities, foremost among them, showing respect for the sensitivities of all three religions. Failing to act with sensitivity in such matters can carry a heavy price. It should be recalled that the opening of a tunnel in Jerusalem's Old City a decade ago inflamed passions that led to unrest in which nearly 100 people died, including 17 Israeli soldiers. The second Intifada was sparked by Ariel Sharon's deliberately provocative visit to the Temple Mount. More recently, controversy linked to plans to expand the Mughrabi Gate ramp, leading from the Kotel to the Temple Mount, sparked a huge outcry and unrest.
Moreover, Jerusalem is not Las Vegas: what happens in Jerusalem does not stay there. Conflict over what many Muslims see as an attack on their holy sites might very well spill over to fuel political and religious regional tensions, with dangerous consequences for security and stability far beyond Israel, and for world Jewry.
From a more self-interested Jewish perspective, it is clear that implementation of this plan, at the current site, bodes ill for the future of Jewish historic and holy sites in the region and around the world. How could Jews demand that Arab or Muslim governments protect long-disused, but not forgotten Jewish sites in their countries, when we, diaspora Jews as well as Israeli Jews, summarily dismiss identical Muslim concerns?
And finally, there are consequences of the plan for Jerusalem. We, Jews who live in America and love to visit Jerusalem to admire its glory and to contribute to its grandeur, sometimes forget that there are people who live in that city, people who try to lead a normal, peaceful life there. And for the 460,000 Israeli Jews and 250,000 Palestinian Arabs who live in Jerusalem, a monument to tolerance built on the foundation of intolerance and disrespect is a recipe for disaster.
The Mamilla Cemetery - Sacred Site or Fabricated Excuse for Israel Haters?
THEY SAY: Arab opposition to this project is fake. Arabs never cared about the site until now, and now it is just an excuse for Israel haters - like the Islamic Movement of Israel, an organization that is anti-Zionist, which has contacts with militant Islamists worldwide, including with Hamas - to attack and try to embarrass Israel. By opposing the project, Americans for Peace Now is siding with anti-Semites, Israel haters, and terrorists.
WE SAY: Simply stated, Jews can no more decree what is or is not sacred - or offensive - to Muslims, than Muslims can decree what is sacred, or offensive, to Jews. Arguing that the site designated for the Museum of Tolerance is not sacred to Muslims does not change the fact that many Muslims, in Israel and beyond, believe it is. Defenders of the project self-servingly assert that Muslims adopted this position as part of a cynical plan to attack Israel. They can't prove that assertion and, which is tone-deaf to the realities of the situation.
Moreover, efforts to discredit Muslim attachment to the site are not convincing. The cemetery is well-known and was in active use from the thirteenth century until 1948, when, as a result of Israel's War of Independence, it was cut off from East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Muslims did not abandon the site; they were effectively separated from it. The absence of an outcry from Muslims in the 1960s and 1970s, when Israel began construction on parts of the cemetery, are not proof of Muslim indifference. More likely, it reflects the fact that from 1948-1966 most Arab citizens of Israel lived under virtual martial law, unable to travel freely or organize. One wonders how they would have managed to protest or launch legal action. And the then-physical division of Jerusalem meant that the Arab and Muslim world - including residents of East Jerusalem - would have had little idea what Israel was doing.
Finally, like it or not, what matters most in this case is perception. And the perception in much of the world is that Israeli and American Jews are acting together to demonstrate their scorn of Muslims and of Muslim heritage. In the end, the motivation of those opposing the plan is irrelevant. The relevant issues here are the national security interests of the State of Israel, the interests of the peace-seeking people who live in Jerusalem, and the security interest of world Jewry.
Even if the petitioners were motivated only by a malicious intent to embarrass the State of Israel, insisting on this project only plays into their hands. Israel and the Wiesenthal Center have the opportunity here take the high road and demonstrate that Jews, as responsible stewards of the Holy Land, are respectful of the religious sensitivities of others. To do so does not require canceling the project. All it requires is selecting an alternative site. The Wiesenthal Center's dogged refusal to even consider doing so only fuels the impression that this renowned defender of human rights and dignity has lost sight of the fact that while preaching tolerance is important, practicing it is far more critical.
APN should be supporting Israeli efforts to defeat Hamas, not putting pressure on Israel to establish self-defeating, short-lived ceasefires with it.
THEY SAY: Why is Americans for Peace Now pressing for another ceasefire, when the last ceasefire was used by Hamas, predictably, to shore up its forces and prepare for even steeper violence against Israel. Israel is fighting a war against an organization dedicated to wiping it off the map. Given this reality, APN should be supporting Israeli efforts to defeat Hamas, not putting pressure on Israel to establish self-defeating, short-lived ceasefires with it.
WE SAY: Over the past weeks, Israelis, Palestinians, and the world have once again witnessed the unfolding of a serious and dangerous military escalation between Israel and Hamas. APN and its Israeli sister organization, Peace Now, have repeatedly expressed solidarity with the residents of communities of southern Israel, who have been subject to the terror of incoming fire from the Gaza Strip.
The government of Israel has the right - indeed, the obligation - to take measures to bring these attacks to a halt, as well as to seek to free its captured soldier, Gilad Shalit. However, simply escalating the violence is not going to resolve the situation. Israel's military leaders know that while the IDF can achieve short-term tactical gains in Gaza, the Israeli military cannot destroy popular support for Hamas, stop all rockets from falling, or force the release of Gilad Shalit. Indeed, this escalation of violence risks playing into the hands of extremists, while increasing dangers to both soldiers and civilians, and risks getting Israel bogged down in an open-ended mission in Gaza. It also raises the specter of a two-front war, should Hizballah decide to renew conflict on Israel's northern border, with all the challenges to the IDF and danger to Israeli civilians that this would entail. Many would argue that this is precisely what Hamas wants. We would argue that these are yet additional important reasons to seek to avoid an escalation and move quickly to a ceasefire, recognizing the extreme difficulty Israel faces in achieving any sustainable ceasefire agreement, formal or informal, with an extremist, ideologically-motivated organization like Hamas.
The breakdown of the recent ceasefire does not prove that ceasefires are futile. Rather, it demonstrates the danger of treating a ceasefire as an end unto itself. As we have warned repeatedly in the past - indeed, every time we have called for a ceasefire - a ceasefire is useful and desirable only as a means to halt violence and chaos in the immediate term, creating the space to facilitate improvements in the humanitarian situation, stabilize the political situation, and get the process back on track to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Absent improvements in the humanitarian situation in Gaza and the re-emergence of a serious, productive political process, any ceasefire risks becoming merely an intermission to allow those attacking Israel to re-arm, re-trench, and enhance their military capability. Sadly, this is exactly the situation today.
Looking ahead, the only way out of the current crisis is to re-establish the ceasefire, but this time not as a short-term fix but rather as part of a serious, longer-term strategy to deal with the core issues at play in Gaza. In this way, and only in this way, it can allow the sides to avoid the re-emergence of violence in the longer term. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is, at its heart, a political conflict. Palestinian terrorism against Israel - including Hamas-fired rockets from Gaza - is a horrendous aspect of this conflict that cannot be brought to an end simply by increasing the harshness of the Israeli response.
Finally, the lessons of the 2006 Lebanon War should not be lost here. Any realistic, sustainable resolution to this crisis will require Israel and Hamas to engage, directly or indirectly, to achieve a ceasefire. The only questions then are: how many more Israelis and Palestinians will die or be wounded in the interim; how much less international sympathy Israel will have when the ceasefire is being negotiated; how much bigger will the disaster on the ground be, both in Israel and Gaza, once a ceasefire is achieved; and how much damage will have been done to the credibility and viability of the peace process and the Israeli and Palestinian peace camps? And perhaps most importantly, will a ceasefire this time be accompanied by both the kind of changes on the ground and the establishment of some sort of political process necessary for it to succeed?
Doesn't the continued violence from Gaza prove, clearly, that giving land to the Palestinians will not deliver any sort of peace for Israel?
THEY SAY: Israel is today again at war in Gaza. Doesn't the continued violence from Gaza prove, clearly, that Americans for Peace Now and others are wrong in arguing that giving land to the Palestinians will deliver any sort of peace for Israel?
WE SAY: The current violence in Gaza and southern Israel does not discredit the notion of exchanging land for peace. Rather, it further demonstrates the foolishness of the notion that Israel can substitute unilateral withdrawal - with conditions of that withdrawal dictated by Israel - for a withdrawal from territory negotiated with a legitimate Palestinian partner who agrees to the terms of the withdrawal and accepts its responsibility to uphold and maintain agreed-upon post-withdrawal arrangements and coordination mechanisms.
Even before the "disengagement" from Gaza took place, APN - which had long called for an end to Israeli settlements in Gaza - warned of the dangers of a unilateral withdrawal. We warned that by refusing to negotiate (or to at least effectively coordinate) the withdrawal with the newly elected Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas - whose election platform centered on re-starting peace negotiations - Israel would undermine his credibility and deliver a public relations coup to Hamas. We warned that under such circumstances, Hamas would likely gain more power and popularity in Gaza. But then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was adamantly opposed to negotiating the withdrawal with Abbas, and the result was seen clearly in the 2006 Palestinian elections that catapulted Hamas to power and set the stage for the current situation. Today Israel is forced to grapple with precisely the unintended consequences of which we warned in 2005.
More broadly speaking, exchanging land for peace - allowing the Palestinians to establish a state in the West Bank and Gaza - is vital if Israel is to survive as a Jewish, democratic state. Simply stated, today there are 11 million people living between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River; Jews comprise about half that number, and Israeli experts predict that by the year 2020, Arabs will outnumber Jews by 20%. In this reality, if Israel continues to control the West Bank and Gaza, it can continue to be a Jewish state only by continuing to disenfranchise the Palestinians. But this is not a realistic option, both because it conflicts with Jewish values and because the international community will not tolerate a long-term situation in which such a large population - eventually the majority of the population of the area - is disenfranchised. While we all find comparisons to Apartheid-era South Africa distasteful and inappropriate, there is no doubt that such comparisons will increase if things continue as they are.