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.

Long before the Six Day War in 1967, beginning in the aftermath of Israel’s War of Independence in 1949, Israel called on the Arab world to make peace. Not only did the Arab world reject Israel’s pleas, but the Arab League imposed an economic boycott of Israel -- which is still in effect. Arab leaders and diplomats would walk out on any forum where Israelis participated. And in November 1967, in response to Israel’s call for peace and its willingness to negotiate the land it captured for a true peace, the Arab summit in Khartoum declared the famous "three nos": no to peace with Israel, no to negotiation with Israel, and no to recognition of Israel.

Arafat declined Barak and Clinton’s generous offer in July 2000 because he would not know what do in the context of peace. As a typical Arab dictator, he wouldn’t get involved in such “inglorious tasks” as providing housing for the refugees, creating a functioning and transparent economy, and dealing with opposition parties. Arafat enjoyed the glory of the revolutionary fighter and being the “rais” -- the boss. In the context of peace, Arafat and then Abbas demonstrated their apathy for the miserable conditions of most Palestinians. The tedious, day-to-day job of nation-building and addressing social and economic problems was not the line of work either Arafat or Abbas chose for themselves.

Arab dictatorships from Egypt to Syria do not strive for peace because they are not ready to tackle the problems that democratic governments must handle. These dictators seek absolute power over their people. Peace with Israel would mean that the single external scapegoat the Arab dictators have used since 1948 would be gone, and now they would have to deliver a better life for their people or be gone as well. Mubarak, Assad, Arafat, and Abbas are or were ready for that. Moreover, for Arafat and Abbas, the goal has not been to rule over a tiny state, but to destroy the Jewish state and reclaim it as Palestine.

To any honest observer untainted by anti-Semitic prejudice, a review of the facts makes it quite apparent which party in the Middle East conflict has made sacrifices for peace. Israel returned territory to Egypt for a cold non-belligerency -- hardly a peace. Israel ceded territory to Arafat and Abbas, receiving nothing in return except terror, violence, incitement, and hate. Israel has withdrawn from southern Lebanon, only to be attacked by Hezbollah’s rockets.

Israel is a thriving democracy with a developed economy and a vibrant society. In short, Israel is a success story. Conversely, the Palestinian Authority and the Arab countries are failed states -- civil and human rights do not exist, religious freedom exists only for Muslims, and economic transparency is a distant dream.

It is less than genuine for President Obama to declare that “Jewish settlements” are obstacles to peace, when Abbas would not even make a goodwill gesture of recognizing Israel as the Jewish state. The only obstacle to peace in the Middle East is the nature of Arab and Palestinian regimes. Only the installation of democracy, human rights, religious freedom, and economic transparency in the Arab (Palestinian) sphere can deliver a lasting peace, and Obama is clearly not pursuing such a goal.