The Napoleonic-era French diplomat Talleyrand famously offered a rather harsh assessment of the Bourbons after they regained power decades after the French Revolution that overthrew them: “They have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.” The same might be said for a coterie of American diplomats who, decades after the failure of the Oslo Accords peace process of the 1990s, have failed to learn the lessons of Oslo’s failure. Worse still, many Western news outlets repeat their claims — many of which have been disproven by both history and experience — as gospel truth.
In last Sunday’s edition of The Washington Post, Aaron David Miller and Daniel Kurtzer, both former U.S. State Department officials, lambasted the Trump administration’s recent announcement that it would not consider Israeli construction in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), or “settlements,” to be “illegal.” The decision, Miller and Kurtzer claim, has “compromised, if not killed” the possibility for any U.S.-brokered “peace deal” between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
They assert that the decision violates international law. However, the League of Nations Palestine Mandate, Article 6 (1922) encourages “close settlement by Jews on the land” west of the Jordan River. The U.N. Charter (1945), Chapter 12, Article 80 (“the Palestine article”) upheld the Mandate’s position, as did the San Remo Resolution (1920) and the Anglo-American Convention (1924), which either recognized or assumed the legality of Jewish settlement.
Miller and Kurtzer add: “The United States has known for decades how damaging settlement activity is in the search for peace — Palestinians cannot trade land for peace if they don’t possess the land.”
But the veteran diplomats have it backwards: U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, adopted shortly after Israel seized territories from Jordan, Egypt, and Syria in a 1967 war of self-defense, assumed “peace-for-land” negotiations; first the Arab side would commit to peace with Israel, then Israelis would withdraw from some of the land.
Miller and Kurtzer have misdiagnosed the problem at the root of the conflict. Palestinian-Arab leaders consider all of Israel to be a “settlement” — an “occupation.” And there’s a huge body of evidence to prove it.
Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) has documented how official Palestinian Authority (PA) media routinely refer to all of Israel as “occupied” and deny any Jewish connection to the land. The PA itself uses maps that depict all of Israel as “Palestine” and its leaders have asserted that Jews have no historical link to Jerusalem, a city whose historical and religious ties to Judaism predate the creation of Islam by thousands of years.
Indeed, “settlements” would be a moot point if the Palestinian leadership had accepted U.S. and Israeli offers for statehood in 2000 at Camp David, 2001 at Taba, and 2008 after the Annapolis Conference. Each of these proposals would have given Palestinian leaders a state and the overwhelming majority of the West Bank. Yet, the PA rejected each offer — without so much as a counteroffer. The 2008 Israeli offer, which provided for a Palestinian state with its capital in eastern Jerusalem, was the basis for U.S. attempts to restart negotiations in 2014 and 2016, both of which were also rejected by PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
The PA’s refusal to resolve outstanding issues in bilateral talks is a violation of the Oslo Accords, which created the PA and remains the basis for its legitimacy. But the PA also violates Oslo — which Miller and Kurtzer championed when in government — in more grotesque ways.
The PA has continued to pay salaries to those who carry out attacks against Jews — even increasing the amount by 11.8% in 2019 alone, as PMW noted in a July 4, 2019 Jerusalem Post report. As the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA) has detailed, the PA’s decision to pay terrorists and their families is enshrined in the PA’s own laws, passed in 2004 and amended in 2013, stipulating that convicted terrorists receive monthly “salaries.” Further, cash grants and priority civil service job placements are offered to those who carry out terror attacks.
Streets, sports teams, tournaments, and even schools are named after murderers of Jews. In but one example, in October 2015, the PA Ministry of Education announced that it would plant olive trees and place signs with the names of terrorists who have died murdering Israelis. One of these terrorists, Muhannad Shafeq Halabi, killed two Israelis and stabbed a two-year old child in an October 8, 2015 terror attack in Jerusalem. For his actions, Halabi was posthumously awarded an honorary law degree by the PA Bar Association.
This is par for the course for the Palestinian-Arab leadership. Yasser Arafat, Abbas’s predecessor, acted similarly. In a May 10, 1994 speech in South Africa — and in another one on August 21, 1995 at Al-Azhar University in Cairo — Arafat compared his decision to participate in the Oslo process to deceptions that the Prophet Muhammad engaged in against rival tribes. As he stated in a 1996 speech in Stockholm: “We plan to eliminate the State of Israel and establish a purely Palestinian state. We will make life unbearable for Jews by psychological warfare and population explosion. … We Palestinians will take over everything, including all of Jerusalem.”
If Miller and Kurtzer’s argument were true, Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 or from most of the West Bank in the 1990s would have enhanced peace. Instead, a genocidal terror group that calls for Israel’s destruction, Hamas, was emboldened, winning Gaza elections soon after Israel’s unilateral withdrawal. And as CAMERA analyst Steve Stotsky has documented, terror attacks increased after Oslo, as well.
Put simply: It is asinine to believe that Jewish home construction in Judea and Samaria is more “damaging” to peace than a faux “peace partner” honoring and celebrating those who stab Jewish babies. Palestinian-Arab terrorism, and indeed the 1964 creation of the PLO, predate the much-ballyhooed “1967 borders.”
Palestinian-Arab leaders have shown no interest in changing. And regrettably, the same can be said for some policymakers, journalists, and pundits who remain wedded to an idea long after its failure passed from opinion into the realm of fact.
The writer is a Senior Research Analyst for the Washington, D.C. office of CAMERA, the 65,000-member, Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis.