Republican Presidential candidate and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich made international headlines last week when he referred to “an invented Palestinian people.” He also made it clear that Hamas and Fatah both show “an enormous desire to destroy Israel.” Palestinian Authority (PA) officials immediately condemned the remarks with the always talkative Saeb Erakat claiming that they will “be the ammunitions and weapons of the Bin Ladens and the extremists for a long, long time.” Fellow GOP Presidential hopeful, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, another strong supporter of Israel, admitted that Gingrich was correct but that saying so was “incendiary.”
Romney was correct on both counts, but it is not at all clear that Gingrich’s incendiary words would burn up anything other than an already failed and misnomered peace process.
The last war between Israel and the Arab states was in 1973 after which the Arabs fundamentally changed their strategy. Tired of one humiliating defeat after another, they replaced military bravado with terrorist groups like Yassir Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). Not coincidentally, that was the same year Arabs began flexing their collective petro-power with an embargo that wrung landscape changing concessions from Europe. Not many years later, after introducing airline hijackings and other terrorist attacks to Europeans, Arafat and the “Palestinians” emerged as darlings of the soft left and those looking for a chance to recharge their anti-Semitism, which had gone out of style after World War II.
It worked. They found it more palatable to oppose an Israeli “occupation” of Palestinian land (Israel bad) than it did the previous Arab call to “drive the Jews into the sea” (Israel good). Its incarnation today is a peace process based on the assumption creating a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza will satisfy Arab demands. Unfortunately, that’s wrong and the Arabs have told them so time and again. The Palestine National Charter of 1964 specifically says that the entirety of British mandate “Palestine” is an “indivisible territorial unit,” and it rejects any notion of “sovereignty over the West Bank in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, on the Gaza Strip.” It did not call for Jordan and Egypt to relinquish these territories but did call for Israel’s destruction multiple times. Nowhere in that or any other Arab document does it say that a Palestinian state confined to those areas will end the conflict with Israel. Back to Gingrich, the charter does mention a “Palestinian Arab people” but defines it solely in terms of 1947 residency; it does not mention cultural or other characteristics of a “Palestinian people.” Yet, it waxes poetically numerous times about the cultural and spiritual “Arab nation,” and these residents of “Palestine” as a component.
The peace process has failed because it is based on a lie. Its western advocates either know that or their advocacy is based on a desperate and forlorn wish to rid themselves of the problem regardless of consequences to others. If they have any doubts about that, they should ask themselves if there was peace in the Middle East prior to 1967 when the so-called occupation began. While the other Republican candidates agreed with Gingrich’s assessment, it is otherwise politically incorrect to do so. Worse, maintaining the fiction actually harms chances for a settlement because its greatest goal is temporary appeasement, not at all unlike the 1938 Munich Agreement with Adolf Hitler. Based on the same misconception that the issue is territorial demands, it only delayed war and made it more deadly. As deadly as the Oslo agreements have been, continued adherence to this phony peace process is far more so.
In October 2011, I attended the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) National Board of Governors in Chicago. The dinner was followed by a panel on the Middle East that featured a number of credentialed and respected authorities. Audience questions followed their presentations. Many challenged the speakers to explain the lack of progress by the process to which they clung, following which I asked, “A peace process is only relevant if it leads to peace and not a mere cessation of hostilities….And I can tell you from first-hand experience that the signs do not point toward peace. Given the fact that by your own admission, you have been at this for a generation — and where has that brought us — and that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results, do you think it is time to scrap the very notion of a peace process and instead focus on pragmatic options that the parties can take that would qualify them at some point to engage in a real peace process?”
The panel uncomfortably avoided answering, a fact not lost on the other attendees (or at least one panel member) who loved the question. We can understand the panel’s reluctance to answer because the question forced a discussion that upsets the very notion of their commitment to a failed process and demands creative thought over knee-jerk, politically-driven ruts. But of all the people who expressed solidarity with my proposal not one had publicly questioned the assumption that a Palestinian state will bring peace. Newt Gingrich has now done that and in doing so has increased the potential for a realistic approach to the Middle East by rejecting the false and appeasing assumptions that drive current efforts. Whether he is the eventual nominee or not, it is up to us to keep it as part of the foreign policy discussion going forward and follow his challenge to “stop lying about the Middle East.”