The Real Obstacle to Middle East Peace? Let's Check the Record

In recent years the American and European media have been obsessed with the theme that “Jewish settlements in the West Bank are the obstacles to peace.”

President Obama has made this the focal point of his discussions with Israeli leaders, having invoked the “settlement” issue in his Cairo speech. In essence, he put the onus on Israel for the failure of the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. This poor excuse has also been used by Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the Palestinian Authority: “Netanyahu's government is a real problem and there is no common ground for negotiations.”

The mantra of “settlements” has been similarly repeated by large portions of the Western press, which is only comfortable with Palestinian victimhood and has been doing all it can to label Israel as the culprit.

At the second Camp David summit convened by President Clinton in July 2000, Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered Yasser Arafat a package most thought he could not refuse: 94 percent of the West Bank and Gaza, with the remaining 6 percent to be taken from Israel’s territory; giving East Jerusalem to the Palestinians; and incorporating some flexibility on refugees. Clinton enthusiastically backed the Israeli concessions and used all of his charm to point out to Arafat the unique opportunity being made available to the Palestinians.

Arafat declined. He refused to sign an agreement calling for the “end of conflict” between Israel and the Palestinians. He hastily departed Camp David and less than a month later launched the second intifada.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert picked up in September 2008 where Barak had left off: proposing to hand over 94 percent of the West Bank to the Palestinians, compensating for the remaining 6 percent in a land swap. Olmert also promised the Palestinians a land corridor that would connect the West Bank to Gaza. As part of the discussed plan, Israel (Olmert) offered to admit about 2,000 Palestinian refugees a year for 10 years and give the Palestinians control over Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem.

Mahmoud Abbas was supposed to respond to Olmert’s proposals within a few days. He never did.

In August 2005, Israel under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip -- destroying all the Jewish communities ("settlements") in Gush Katif (Gaza Strip) and causing 9,000 Jews to become homeless. Instead of signaling Palestinian satisfaction and accommodation with Israel, the Hamas leaders of Gaza considered the Israeli withdrawal a sign of weakness and launched an unprecedented number of rocket attacks on southern Israeli communities, placing towns like Sderot under perpetual fear and stress.

According to the provisions of the Oslo Accords, Israel was to withdraw from parts of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank; the Palestinian Authority would come into existence with control of its population. Following a five-year interim period during which the Palestinians would hold elections, the tough issues of Jerusalem, refugees, borders, settlements, etc., were to be negotiated. In addition, the signing ceremony at the White House on September 13, 1993, called for mutual recognition. The Oslo Accords placed responsibilities on the Palestinians to renounce terrorism and any other violence against Israel and Israelis and to put an end to all forms of incitement against Israel and Jews.

Israel fulfilled the provisions by immediately withdrawing from parts of Gaza and the West Bank. The Palestinians, led by Arafat, made a mockery out of the Oslo Accords. On a visit to South Africa following the Washington signing, Arafat called the Oslo Accords a “Trojan horse.” Within a year the suicide bombings had begun again. Arafat cleverly designated the role of “bad cop” to Hamas, thus giving the Islamist party a green light for terrorism. Almost immediately upon reaching Gaza, Arafat’s incitement against Israel began. He broke all of the provisions of the Oslo Accords, but neither Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin nor President Bill Clinton called him to task on it.