Serious Soul-Searching

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As the political earthquake continues to rock the Middle East, one standard complaint has been notably absent. We have heard nothing from the people on the Middle East and North Africa streets about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In fact, the Palestinians themselves have been relatively quiet throughout this period.

The words, “Israel,” “Zionism” and “Palestinian” have all been distinctly absent in televised interviews of people protesting in Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, Jordan, Oman, Bahrain and Libya. The millions of protesters on the street really couldn’t give a hoot whether or not there is an immediate solution to the Israeli-Palestinian question. They are concerned with their poor standard of living, lack of education and opportunities for advancement, nonexistent human rights and the rampant corruption and cronyism of the regimes.

Yet, the Middle East Quartet — the United States, Russia, European Union and United Nations — is determined to convene later this month to pursue an immediate solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It is very hard for me to understand the Quartet’s reasoning. We have one stable democracy in the Middle East, Israel, which is just nine miles wide at its narrowest waist, on one side of which is Hamas-controlled Gaza, with Fatah-controlled Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) on the other side. The Palestinian population on the West Bank has said little throughout this period of regional upheaval, possibly because Palestinians are enjoying greater prosperity than the average Arab in neighboring states.

We know that there is a very good possibility that the Egyptian people will elect an Islamist regime within six months, and that such a regime would seriously consider abrogating Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel. We also can expect that kind of regime to make the tunnels between Gaza and Egypt into unsupervised transit routes for smuggling weapons to Hamas.

When the people in the region don’t seem to be clamoring for an immediate solution to the Palestinian-Israeli situation, why does the international community seem to feel such a need to intervene? This is an extreme example of international cognitive dissonance. In other words, “don’t let the facts get in the way of my opinion.”

Many in the international community have a single-factor analysis of everything that ails the Middle East: the absence of a Palestinian state. In our Western arrogance, we refuse to listen to the sound of silence of the people of the region regarding this issue.

Even more frightening is the selective amnesia of many in the West for the extraordinarily painful risks for peace that Israel has taken and for how vulnerable those steps have made the Jewish state since the signing of the Oslo Accords.

Last Wednesday, President Obama met with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s account, said that his guests should speak to their “friends and colleagues in Israel” and tell them to “search their souls to see if they are interested in making peace.” He also stated that Israel has the responsibility to create the context for a peace process.

I well remember when some of Israel’s supporters on the left argued in 2005 that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s decision to withdraw from Gaza would prove to the world, once and for all, Israel’s seriousness about making peace, especially in the absence of a Palestinian peace partner.

The sacrifices and risks involved the loss of land, training the army not to feel the pain of uprooting fellow Jews from their homes, taking away the life’s work of many people who had devoted their lives to building up Gaza’s Jewish communities.  Jew was pitted against Jew. Soldiers from the army complained to me that they did not sign up for this to uproot Jews from their homes, yet they had to follow orders. This heart wrenching decision divided the Israeli nation in a way that was profoundly more difficult than one could ever imagine. Some Israelis from Gaza have yet to be resettled. The scars linger even to this day.

This painful sacrifice was rewarded with more than 10,000 Kassam rocket missiles launched from Gaza, terrorizing the people of nearby Sderot and kibbutzim and communities as far as Beer Sheva and Ashkelon, necessitating a difficult war in Gaza, beginning in December 2008, meant to stop those missiles once and for all.

The historical record clearly attests to Israel’s persistent efforts to take bold steps for peace. Israel has no apologies to make and no soul searching to conduct. Additional examples from just the past few years include Israel’s repeated offered to negotiate peace with the Palestinians, who have responded only with refusals.

Checkpoints keep Palestinian terrorists out of Israel, yet Israel has opted to remove hundreds of them to further encourage the Palestinians’ economic development in the West Bank. This step has been lauded by many international trade and political figures.

Prime Minister Netanyahu broke new ground by announcing in 2009 his support for the creation of a Palestinian state, and again by agreeing to a 10-month moratorium on new construction in Jewish settlements in the West Bank, then extended the moratorium by three months. Meanwhile, rather than take its own steps to create the context for peace, the Palestinian Authority continues its delegitimization campaign against Israel at the United Nations, in American stores and on college campuses. This nefarious campaign trumpets the obscene name, Israel Apartheid Week, and is going on this very week. Meanwhile, Israel does not seek to delegitimize the PA.

The Oslo Accords, beginning with the declaration of principles signed on the White House lawn 17½ years ago, obligates the Palestinians to cease incitement against Israel. Yet, Palestinian-published textbooks and television programs continue to demonize Jews, glorify terrorism, honor terrorists past and present and call for attacks on Jews.

Paving the intellectual and emotional landscape for one’s people is much more critical factor for an enduring peace than whether or not a nursery school or apartment building is being built somewhere.

Yet no one asks the Palestinians to do some “soul searching about whether or not their people are actually serious about peace.”

Israel has taken step after step, action after action, on behalf of peace. Israel believes in peace for its own sake. The Palestinians, meanwhile — through their governments in Gaza (Hamas) and the West Bank (PA) — must continually be invited to return to the table to negotiate, among other issues, a Palestinian state. Instead of negotiating, they seek to impose statehood unilaterally by lobbying for votes for a possible UN declaration in the fall.

Such a declaration would endanger the region’s only one stable democracy that already exists in the region when everyone in the international community is clamoring to see another stable democracy in the region established most of all Israel.

Yes, President Obama, you are correct. There is, indeed, some “serious soul searching that must be done”—but I do not think that it needs to be done by the government of Israel.

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About the Author

Sarah Stern
Sarah Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET).

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