This will not be the first time – nor the last, I imagine – that I open an op-ed commentary with that seemingly straightforward and self-evident observation: Facts matter. Others have done so.
And yet, facts are always ignored. Sometimes, or often, purposely and purposefully. They are often superseded by myths.
If facts matter, and they ought to, it stands to reason that in any sincere evaluation of the peace process between Israel and the Arabs – an endeavor which has exhausted politicians, diplomats, academics, and taxi drivers for the past generation – that we debunk the myths. And the lies. It really doesn’t require any Sisyphean endeavor.
Also, it will not be the first time I find it appropriate to find a place in a commentary for that compelling comment by Eric Hoffer: “We lie the loudest when we lie to ourselves.” In the Middle East, that enterprise seems rather ubiquitous.
If facts matter, we need to stop pretending that peace is possible. In kind, in order to understand why the conflict is unresolvable (or unwinnable), we need to submit to reality. Peace between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs is not improbable, it is impossible. This is substantiated by exposing twin myths.
That collision ensures that the conflict will persist. Either at war, or with an absence of peace.
The first – advanced by proponents of Israel – is the fact that the Palestinian Arabs have several times been offered almost all of the “occupied” territories and chosen instead to remain rejectionists. The experts and cab drivers alike remind us that three different Israeli prime ministers offered the Palestinian Authority ninety-five, and then ninety-six percent of the “occupied” territories during negotiations. And the Arabs said “No”.
The second – virtually in defiance of historical reality – proponents of a strong and secure Israel have disingenuously advanced the theory that peace is indeed possible because there exists a peace partner. It is an illusion. Left unchecked it becomes a delusion. And ultimately, self-delusion.
There is probably no better example of the misstatement of facts than when defining the very nature of the conflict in the Middle East. Space does not allow here a full analysis, but suffice it to say, that we shall cut to the chase. For as long as Israel has been a state, the conflict with its neighbors has been deceitfully reduced to that propagandistic (value free) lexicon as the “Arab-Israeli conflict.” Somehow, and certainly not innocently nor justifiably, over the past few decades that has morphed into the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Unfortunately, because proponents of Israel allowed it. If facts really mattered – and they should where they are consequential – then there are only two legitimate ways to define this conflict: The Arab war against Israel, or, to be even more accurate: The Muslim war against the Jews. One can well understand why it never is.
The goal of Zionism, as the Jewish national liberation movement, was the establishment of a sovereign Jewish nation. Nothing more, but certainly nothing less. The goal of the Arabs – whether in the context of the broader Pan Arabism or the collateral and subordinate Arab Palestinian strategy – is not the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian nation, but rather the denial of the Jewish goal of possessing its own nation. It really is that simple.
That collision ensures that the conflict will persist. Either at war, or with an absence of peace. The two goals of the competing political ideologies are inextricably at odds. By nature, they are mutually exclusive.
Where facts are ignored, in their stead we allow the introduction of dishonest and distorted language which belies the truth. Deceitfully manipulated, it allows for the bastardization of those facts. When language is perverted, the narrative that follows is as well. As is the debate that ensues.
Yes, facts matter. But just as facts matter, language matters. No less.
British philosopher Owen Barfield rightly claimed that “the obvious is the hardest thing of all to point out to anyone who has genuinely lost sight of it.”
Ask any of many Middle East experts to explain the conflict, between Arab and Israeli, between Muslim and Jew. Almost invariably the response is the same: it’s complicated.
Unfailingly, they will take the simple and turn it into something complex. It’s the reason that they have made a career of their trade. To analyze, evaluate, interpret, expound and explain. As certain as the sunrise, they will not offer the simplest explanation of all. They will not proffer the straightforward answer that is the truth. The core of the problem in the Middle East is the Arab rejection of Israel; the Muslim refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish State. Period. Full stop. Everything else is background noise – the matter of details which keeps the experts employed.
Let’s examine the obvious. That which is assuredly ignored. Here we simplify the complex. We cannot solve the conflict in an op-ed piece, but we can certainly explain it. George Orwell long ago acknowledged our assertion: “Sometimes the first duty of intelligent men is the restatement of the obvious.”
More than seven decades after the Arabs rejected the establishment of the modern State of Israel, and more than five decades after the Palestinian issue was manufactured to explain that rejection, the conflict continues to be shrouded in myths.
There are two myths which continue to fuel a misunderstanding of the conflict in the Middle East, too-often erroneously portrayed as the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Neither myth serves Israel’s best interest. Yet, both are propagated by Israel and its defenders – not to Israel’s advantage – inadvertently and recklessly, albeit without the deleterious intent.
Israel has offered the Palestinian Arabs almost all of the “occupied” territories, through several peace initiatives – an overture met every time by Arab rejectionism.
Israel needs to admit something it already understands: that its reference to “occupied” lands is very different from the Arab understanding of occupied lands. The former, logically but naively refers to the post-1967 acquisition of territory while the Arabs refer to the 1948-49 ‘lines’. Intellectual integrity allows no other interpretation.
Let’s do the numbers. They expose the myth.
Israel, we are constantly reminded, has offered their vanquished adversaries almost all of the “occupied” territories. Most significantly by Benjamin Netanyahu in 1998. Ehud Barak in 2000. Ehud Olmert in 2008. And Netanyahu again in 2014. That is not strictly true.
Proponents of Israel make that statement while referring to the lands taken during the Six Day War in June 1967. The Arabs, however, have an entirely different perspective of what was “occupied.” For them, all of Israel is occupied. Not in 1967, but in 1948. Everything. Israel proper, and later, the territories as well.
Let’s do the math. Israel proper within the Green Lines (read: pre-June 4, 1967) measures 8522 square miles. Judea and Samaria (aka 'West Bank') – lands retaken in 1967, total 2183 square miles. Gaza, small enough to be previously designated as the Strip, comes in at only 141 square miles. (The other lands taken in 1967 – the Sinai and the Golan Heights are not relevant here). Therefore, the calculations offered by Israel and its advocates suggest that the “occupied territories” register at 2,183 square miles. Well, the Arabs have a completely different understanding. Their calculators offer a different number: 10,705, and if you include the Golan Heights (because it has been annexed into Israel) the figure registers at 11,149 square miles.
Like the two blind men examining the elephant from two different vantage points, one grabbing the tail and the other the trunk, they have different interpretations of the animal. So too the Israelis and the Palestinian Arabs.
For the Israelis, the aforementioned peace initiatives were overly generous in offering most of the occupied lands – almost 96%. So much so, that the opposition in Israel to these “peace” plans was based on the very vulnerable security lines that would define a truncated Israel – those proverbial “Auschwitz borders” as Abba Eban purportedly referred to them.
For the Arabs, those same territories offered so “generously” by Israeli negotiators were rather only 19% of what they see as “occupied” – an appreciable insult indeed. It is this difference in perspective that explains, quite simply, why peace is not only improbable, but impossible.
Hence, the unbridgeable gap.
Israel, bolstered by the most pro-Israel American president ever, is hopeful that present circumstances will allow Israel to take advantage of an historical moment and establish sovereignty over territories (30% today, and maybe more four years later) that might lead to borders replacing the long-disputed cease-fire lines; an action which its proponents allege will bring us closer to peace.
That latter point is the myth. The lie.
That argument has become almost commonplace among negotiators representing both the Israeli and American governments as well as other proponents of Trump’s “Peace to Prosperity.” Most notable – on June 28, 2020 Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that “applying Israeli law
to areas of Judea and Samaria that will remain part of Israel in any future peace deal will not set back the cause of peace, it will advance peace.”
No, it will not. That is propaganda. A marketing posture that seems to ignore Myth One. It’s like the Arab carpet merchant who tells you what you want to hear. If the Arabs were unwilling to accept 96% of the occupied lands – oops, correction: 19% – why would they accept even less? Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (aka Abu Mazen) addressed that concern on February 3, 2020 when he was quoted by Reuters as having stated that US President Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century” is not an opportunity for peace, as it gives the Palestinian people, which number 13 million (sic), only 11% of “Palestine”. His numbers might be slightly off, but his point is well understood.
It’s actually very simple. If you understand Myth One – and what’s not to understand? – then please don’t feign surprise when one proclaims Myth Two as nothing more that some quixotic hope. A lie.
Yes, we lie the loudest when we lie to ourselves.
Proponents of Israel have failed in making the argument that underscores a glaring misunderstanding of the way they characterize the Arab war against Israel. This failure can better explain the unbridgeable gap between Jews and Arabs, one that leaves the former utterly perplexed why the latter rejects every offer of peace, however generous the Israeli concessions continue to be. Countless are the times we have heard Israeli negotiators echo the sentiment of every Israeli prime minister who, while petitioning for peace, expresses their consternation:
“We don’t understand the Palestinian Arabs. We have offered them over ninety-five percent of the ‘occupied territories’ and the Arabs continue to say ‘NO’.” That’s because the Israeli negotiators, and the prime ministers they served, have been dishonest in making that claim. Despite the fact that they know the truth. That truth is, after all, quite obvious. And ignored. And today – well, it’s even worse. With the Trump Plan now offering 70%, it’s fair to assume the Arabs will continue to say no.
Ostensibly deliberate in this deceit – the Israelis know that the Arabs consider all of Israel to be occupied, and yet, continue to advance the lie that ‘occupation’ refers to Judea and Samaria (the 'West Bank') alone. By coyly offering this misleading interpretation of the truth, the Israelis discount the argument that the Arabs reject Israel’s right to exist, in toto, and as such, have actually done themselves a terrible disservice. Translation, in every language: Israel does not have a peace partner, who, if the proper buttons are pushed, will somehow come to recognize Israel’s right – de jure and not just de facto – to exist.
The lesson here: For as long as Israel pretends that a peace partner is out there, international pressures – from friend and foe alike – will be brought against her to make the additional, and never-ending, concessions necessary to placate these genocidal adversaries. It won’t help, and nor will it end.
Maybe Israel’s enemies can remind us of this truth. Here, they themselves offer two relevant opinions:
"Removing the Jews from the land they occupied in 1948 is an immutable principle because it appears in the Book of Allah."
"Palestinians will fight Israel for generation upon generation until victory, and will yet get to dance at the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem ... If Israel is not defeated in this generation, it will be in the next generation.”
We recall Aldous Huxley: “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” Yes, we lie the loudest when we lie to ourselves.
Those are the facts. Facts matter. So let’s stop pretending.
Meir Jolovitz is a past national executive director of the Zionist Organization of America, and formerly associated with the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies.