It would be obtuse to deny that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement that the US will no longer consider Israeli settlements on the West Bank “inconsistent with international law” is dramatic. This changes decades of American foreign policy. It changes the American approach to the Palestinians. It changes the American approach to the European Union, which last week declared that it will identify the provenance of any product from Israeli settlements on the West Bank. It changes the American reading of international law in a way that is bound to have ramifications for other aspects of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and perhaps beyond the conflict altogether. Perhaps it changes the position of the Trump administration in the American Jewish community.
But on a deeper level, it changes nothing. It does not affect the chances for Israeli-Palestinian peace one way or the other. Because settlements, even if we are to concede that they are obstacles to peace, and even if we are to concede that the new American position further alienates the Palestinians from the US, are not the main obstacle to peace, not even close.
Here is a great way to see the point. The Palestinians claim that Pompeo’s dramatic change of American policy further disqualifies the US as being a fair arbiter, an evenhanded mediator, in the Israel-Palestinian conflict. This is completely true — and utterly revelatory of the real problem.
As in: Who needs a mediator?
Where is it written that Palestinian leaders cannot speak directly with Israel and finalize peace?
Whence this subversive assumption that an Israeli and a Palestinian cannot sit down in the same room to negotiate peace?
All the way back to 1949, Ralph Bunche, the UN mediator of the Israel-Arab armistice agreement (ending Israel’s War of Independence), had to shuffle between separate rooms to conduct negotiations.
This is why there is no peace. Palestinians will not negotiate in the same room all by themselves. Will not recognize Israel.
Trump, supposedly, has a peace plan. Obama had a peace plan. W. Bush had a peace plan. Clinton really had a peace plan — he held Yasir Arafat’s hand for weeks at Camp David in 2000. What happened? Arafat walked away when he was given virtually everything he wanted — he just would not make peace. The details didn’t matter.
Oslo in 1993. Kissinger in 1975. Fill in all the dots: all the mediated negotiations all the way back to 1949 with the Arab residents of the West Bank and Gaza, as they were called in 1949; with the same people, the Palestinians, as they called themselves after 1967. Nothing has changed on the rock bottom level. They won’t validate Israel.
Settlements? There were no settlements in 1967. Made no difference. No Palestinian leaders spoke peace with Israel.
2019: Lots of settlements. Still makes no difference, other than in the details of a “two-state solution” that people keep conjuring, but which will never happen so long as every American step — for settlements, a la Trump; against settlements, a la Obama — is seen as the necessary piece to make peace happen. It’s not even close.
It is: Have Palestinians advanced a single step, in principle, since the hopscotch negotiations of Ralph Bunch in 1949?
Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel: Oh, did that set back peace! So said the Palestinian negotiators. Really? Then why did they turn down Obama? Why did they turn down Ehud Olmert in 2008? Why did they turn down Clinton in 2000? There was no American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital back then. But there was always an excuse. Now, it’s American policy on settlements that is the excuse.
Hamas’ charter, to this very day, states: the destruction of Israel. The Palestinian Authority’s demands now and since it came into existence in 1993 are always calculated, without variation, to include just one more item that Israel needs to concede. It doesn’t matter what Israel concedes. It is never enough. Because the basic issue is not what Israel does or does not concede. The basic issue is Israel’s right to exist in perpetuity. When and if Palestinians ever cross that Rubicon, all the rest will be worked out.
Copyright © 2019 by the Intermountain Jewish News