Outgoing Secretary of State John Kerry placed the burden of peace squarely on Israel in his speech at the State Department on Thursday.
He acknowledged: “[T]his is not to say that the settlements are the whole or even the primary cause of this conflict. Of course they are not. Nor can you say that if the settlements were suddenly removed, you’d have peace.” Yet he urged the Israeli government to stop settlement growth — and did not distinguish between new settlements and growth in existing ones.
Israel already tried a “settlement freeze” in 2009. In an attempt to satisfy President Barack Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a ten-month moratorium on new home construction in West Bank settlements. Still, the Palestinians did not come to the negotiating table. Instead, Palestinians ratcheted up their demands and their efforts to use international pressure through the United Nations to isolate Israel and assert statehood without borders, a capital, or peace.
In Israel’s entire history, there is only one instance in which territorial compromise was rewarded with gains in peace. That was when Israel gave Egypt the entire Sinai peninsula in the Camp David Accords of 1978. The peace with Egypt has been “cold” at times, and diplomatic relations have often been rocky, but there has not been a war between Israel and Egypt for nearly four decades, and there is not likely to be. In fact, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has improved relations with Israel.
On every other occasion, Israel has suffered for its willingness to compromise, because the Palestinians and other Arab groups have taken advantage of Israeli concessions to launch new attacks and to make more ambitious, radical demands.
In 1993, for example, in the Oslo Peace Accords, Israel recognized a the Palestine Liberation Organization as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, and yielded self-rule to Palestinians in major population areas in the West Bank. Rather than use those gains to prepare for statehood and peace, Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat continued to encourage terror against Israel and to incite Palestinians to hate Jews. Eventually, he launched a second, bloody intifada.
In 2000, Israel withdrew unilaterally from its “Security Zone” in Lebanon, a strip of territory along the border that it held in order to discourage terror groups from attacking Israel, as they had frequently in the years before the first Lebanon War in 1982. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak pulled all Israeli forces out of Lebanon — and the Shiite terrorist group Hezbollah used the opportunity to place rockets all over the territory, especially in civilian areas. Hezbollah would later launch the Second Lebanon War, raining rockets on northern Israel. The Iranian-backed organization has been re-arming ever since.
In 2005, Israel pulled all of its soldiers and settlers out of the Gaza Strip, and dismantled several West Bank outposts, in the “disengagement,” a unilateral move that it hoped would lead to greater peace. Instead, it led to kidnappings and rocket and mortar attacks by Hamas on Israeli cities, which triggered several wars and led to Israel’s further international isolation.
The painful lesson that Israelis — including those in the “peace” camp — have learned is that compromise leads to war. Now, President Barack Obama has taught them a new lesson: namely, that they cannot trust the guarantees on which compromises are made. When Israel pulled out of Gaza, President George W. Bush acknowledged that some settlement blocs in the West Bank would remain in place in a peace deal. The recent UN Security Council resolution that Obama allowed to pass breaks that promise and implies even the Jewish presence in the Old City of Jerusalem is a “flagrant” violation of international law.
The burden must on the Palestinians, not the Israelis, to show they can compromise. Kerry followed the Palestinian narrative in suggesting that the West Bank — 22% of the area of Palestine under the British Mandate — was a kind of compromise. In reality, the only “compromises” the Palestinians have made are those they have been forced to accept — temporarily, in their view — after their wars against Israel have gone awry. Official Palestinian ideology still rejects the Jewish right to statehood.
Obama and Kerry’s latest moves to pressure and isolate Israel will only encourage Palestinians to continue to reject the peace process and to make maximalist demands. White House Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes claims that Obama had “tried everything” before turning to the UN Security Council to force Israel to compromise. But that is a lie. Obama never applied real pressure to the Palestinian Authority, and kept aid flowing to the Palestinians when Congress wanted it to stop. The administration claims that the UN Security Council resolution also criticized Palestinians — but it only condemned terror in the abstract. It did not blame the Palestinians, and gave them no reason to compromise. A new approach is long overdue.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. His new book, See No Evil: 19 Hard Truths the Left Can’t Handle, is available from Regnery through Amazon. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.