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Ron Radosh

Futile Policy in the Middle East

February 3rd, 2009 - 6:28 pm

Writing yesterday in The Daily Beast, Leslie H. Gelb, a former New York Times columnist and former president of The Council on Foreign Relations, predicts that George Mitchell’s trip to the Middle East in his new position of envoy will be futile.

Mitchell will hear the Arab leaders demand that Israel make impossible concessions in advance of any peace talks and then perhaps there will be peace. But as Gelb acknowledges, “No sane leaders anywhere in the world would trust their security to the word of people who are publicly committed to their destruction and who have actually been trying to destroy them for half a century.”

In 1947 the United Nations voted to partition Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab one. When Israel was created on May 15,1948,  five Arab countries immediately went to war to prevent it from happening.  While Israel’s leaders were willing to accept a Palestinian state living in peace alongside them, the Arab nations’ goal  was to prevent Israel’s birth and to create a unitary Arab state with a Jewish minority living under their control. They were not interested in creating a Palestinian Arab state. As King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia told Franklin Roosevelt in 1945, Arabs and Jews could never cooperate, “neither in Palestine, nor in any other country.” Arabs would rather die, he told the President, than “yield their land to the Jews.”

But the Arab armies suffered a humiliating defeat.  After the State of Israel was created, one of the first crises it faced was trying to negotiate a peace.  At issue were boundaries and the Palestinian Arabs who had fled.  The Israelis were reluctant to allow more than a small number to return. In their eyes, the only reason there were refugees was because the Palestinian Arabs as well as the neighboring Arab countries had gone to war against their new State. Those who remained were welcome to stay, but the Israeli government worried that to allow all those who had fled to return would create a potential Fifth Column. David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister asked James McDonald, the U.S.’s first Ambassador to Israel, “How can we permit potential enemies to come back so long as Arab states openly threaten a new war of destruction?”   Calling his country “a small and weak” nation, Ben-Gurion told the Ambassador: “We can be crushed, but we will not commit suicide.”

The Israeli government took the position that Israel would discuss repatriation and compensation for the refugees only within the context of peace treaty negotiations.  But the Arab states insisted that Israel meet its repatriation and compensation demands before any negotiations took place and refused to engage in talks with Israel.  As a result, when the conflict ended with only the signing of armistice agreements between Israel and the Arab states, no provisions were made for the refugees.

Many decades have passed, and today Israel’s leaders are making the same argument: they will not voluntarily commit suicide, by listening to the advice of people like Jimmy Carter, Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, and scores of other self-proclaimed realists who never stop giving them such unwanted and self-defeating proposals. These policy advocates continually make the argument that Hamas has to be recognized and negotiated with, even though- like Ibn Saud in 1948- they too proclaim the illegitimacy of Israel as their starting point, and advocate destruction of the Jews as a religious mission of Islam. They too say Israel must start by dismantling settlements in advance of negotiations- pretending to ignore that to the Hamas leaders- all of Israel is a settlement, and that they will not rest until Tel Aviv, Haifa and the rest of Israel is no more.

That is why it is so refreshing to read the truths that Gelb presents. If the Europeans and Arabs are so upset about Israel not letting supplies into Gaza, he writes, “let them get serious about patrolling the tunnels” through which the Arabs have smuggled the rockets into Gaza.  And he notes that the Arab leaders have “committed far greater atrocities on Arab people than the Israelis ever committed upon the Palestinians,” atrocities totally overlooked and never condemned by these same protesting Arab leaders today.  No American president, he writes,   ”would or should do as Arab leaders wish.”

The problem that Gelb does not address, however, is made in Judea Pearl’s memorial article to his martyred son Daniel in today’s Wall Street Journal. “Somehow,” Pearl writes, “barbarism, often cloaked in the language of ‘resistance,’ has gained acceptance in the most elite circles of our society,” so that even words like “the war on terror,” which President Obama essentially indicated was now over, “cannot be uttered without fear of offense. Civilized society, so it seems, is so numbed by violence that it has lost its gift to be disgusted by evil.”

What so many have adopted, Pearl argues, is a “mentality of surrender,” one that ends up justifying terror itself as a form of resistance to Israeli aggression. He cites as the number one culprit none other than Jimmy Carter, a man whose understanding of reality is so dense it is hard to believe why he is given so much respectful attention. Carter thus told the Palestinian groups that they should end suicide bombing after “the ultimate goals of the Road-map for Peace are accepted by Israel.”

That, of course, is an option Israel cannot accept and will not even consider. That is why, after the round of new rocket attacks on Ashkelon by Hamas, Olmert’s government pledged an openly disproportionate response, and Presidential candidate Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to destroy Hamas if he is elected and to only deal with true Palestinian moderates.  Virtually a great majority of Israel’s citizens know evil when they see it,  and do not have the quandary of so many of our Western “statesmen.”  As Judea Pearl writes, the kind of Carter logic is now the dominant paradigm in rationalizing terror. Israel must first end the so-called occupation, and only then will the Palestinians cease their use of terror. And Pearl also calls attention to the role played in gaining sympathy for Hamas terrorists by our Arabist departments in American universities, whom he rightfully says “are currently being manipulated by terrorist sympathizers.”

When President Barack Obama gets his report from George Mitchell, he would be well advised to take into consideration the points of both Leslie Gelb and Judea Pearl.

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