While taking apart an argument made by Danny Ayalon may seem like shooting fish in a barrel, his op-ed in today’s LA Times contains so many inaccuracies or outright falsehoods, and there are enough people, both in the US and Israel, who will take this piece seriously, that it seems worth the time. Ayalon offered up a fine brew of classic myths and his own, odd version of reality, so let’s dig into it and see what the facts are.
Since the Oslo peace accords were signed in 1993, the Israeli position on the peace process has
constantly progressed and evolved. That has been best enunciated by the generous offers made by Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert in 2000 and 2008, respectively. Meeting nearly all of the Palestinian demands, these offers were rejected without further discussion or counteroffer.
Ayalon starts out with a classic. The so-called “generous offer” that Barak made was a take-it-or-leave-it offer that fell well short of minimal Palestinian demands and, while that particular story has been debunked many times, it still persists.
Olmert’s offer of 2008 seemed to improve on Barak’s, but it also seems not to have addressed the holy sites of Jerusalem or refugees, and whether it was a proposal to advance talks or, like Barak’s also a take-it-or-leave-it offer is unclear. The proposed borders maintained the essential problem that has dogged maps of two states for years—the Israeli insistence on keeping some far-flung settlements like Ma’ale Adumim and Ariel seriously compromises the territorial contiguity of the proposed state of Palestine.
The present Israeli government has accepted the principle of a two-states-for-two peoples solution. Israel has contributed to the improvement of the lives of Palestinian to the point where the West Bank’s economic growth is greater than almost anywhere in the world; it has removed more than two-thirds of all security checkpoints and initiated a unilateral moratorium on construction in the settlements.
Where does one even begin with this. The crux of the current crisis is the very fact that, while Benjamin Netanyahu said he accepts the two-state principle, Israel’s massive settlement expansion demonstrates that he does not.
Netanyahu does deserve a positive nod for the removal of numerous checkpoints in the West Bank, consistent with his strategy of “economic peace” in place of a political settlement.
But the “economic growth” has not been of the sustainable variety; it has largely been confined to Ramallah and is highly dependent on donations from outside. As to the “unilateral moratorium,” as has been well established, it excluded Jerusalem and even in the West Bank it was so full of loopholes that the impact on the ground was almost invisible.
Unfortunately, the Palestinian position during these 17 years has not moved one inch from its maximalist demands. Isn’t it time that the Palestinians are asked directly and openly if they are prepared to make any concessions? Are they prepared to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and the Jewish connection to the Western Wall and Temple Mount? Are they prepared to recognize that there are Jewish refugees in Arab states, and that Israel has very real security concerns?
The Palestinians haven’t backed off of maximalist demands? They don’t pay attention to Israel’s security concerns? See my article from earlier this week. The PLO has repeatedly recognized Israel’s right to exist; the demand to recognize it as a Jewish state is a red herring whose purpose is to make a demand no Palestinian leader could realistically comply with to impede any possibility of negotiations. It has the additional effect of pre-determining the final status issue of the Palestinian claim to the Right of Return.
Presuming that Ayalon meant to say that there are Jewish refugees from Arab states, this is a fraught question (at what point does someone who does not wish to return to their previous homeland become an expatriate rather than a refugee, how many Jews from Arab countries preferred to move to Israel, how many were urged to flee by Zionist agents, and other questions) that has nothing to do with the Palestinians. The “refugees” in question were not expelled or pushed to flee by the Palestinians in any case, but by people in Egypt, Iraq, Yemen and other Middle Eastern countries. The issue is raised to draw a fake parallel between Israeli citizens who come from Arab lands and Palestinian refugees. Both are real issues that need to be dealt with, but they are not connected.
While the world has unfortunately focused on settlement building, it has gone largely unnoticed that Palestinian leaders are retreating from previously accepted positions, especially the need for a two-states-for-two-peoples solution. I witnessed this firsthand when Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad refused to sign a meeting summary that included that terminology.
Here, Ayalon is simply repeating a lie that has already been established as false. When Ayalon first made this claim in regard to a meeting he accused Fayyad of “storming out of” (the differing accounts explaining why Fayyad would not sign the document in question), forcing the Norwegian Foreign Ministry to take the unprecedented step of calling Ayalon a liar, saying he was “distorting the facts.” The PA has been steadfast in its demand for a two-state solution—something Netanyahu’s Likud coalition has consistently refused to support.
The Palestinians also threaten to unilaterally declare their own state, and on a number of occasions, they have threatened violence against Israel. They have embarked on a political campaign to assault Israel’s legitimacy, abusing international forums, such as the United Nations, to try to create anti-Israel momentum.
Here, Ayalon leaves things intentionally vague, and satisfies himself by raising the “de-legitimization” boogeyman. More and more, this rant is wearing thin, as there is an increasing realization of the simple truth that it is the occupation, the expansion of settlements, the brutal treatment of non-violent Palestinian protesters, and the inhuman siege on Gaza are turning Israel into a pariah state, not any sort of marketing campaign.
And Ayalon must be held as the master of chutzpah in complaining about the Palestinians going to the United Nations. In fact, they’ve done remarkably little of this, and really should be doing more. Mahmoud Abbas played a key role in delaying and obstructing the Goldstone Report (an incident where Abbas nearly cost himself his political life in order to do Israel a rather misguided favor), the UN document which has aggravated Israel more than any UN action since the ill-advised and severely misguided “Zionism is racism” resolution thirty-five years ago.
But one has to ask if Ayalon also considered it an abuse of an international forum when the UN gave an international imprimatur to the creation of Israel in 1947.
Moreover, settlements are a red herring. According to previously signed agreements, settlements and borders are a final-status issue. The Palestinians turned them into a precondition for talks.
Here is a point that bears some scrutiny. The Oslo Accords, unfortunately, did not prohibit settlement expansion beyond vague language about not creating “facts on the ground.” International law, of course, does prohibit settlements, but that has been meaningless from day one.
But Ayalon is still being disingenuous again, though in this case, he is echoing more Israeli leaders, from across the political spectrum, than I can count. Settlements and borders are indeed final status issues, but the question of settlements has always been understood by everyone but Israel to refer to the disposition of existing settlements. George W. Bush’s Roadmap called for a full freeze on settlements expansion and, while Israel refused to accept this provision, neither did the US ever rescind it.
In fact, it was the US, not the Palestinians, that turned a settlement freeze into a precondition for talks, for a very simple reason—Obama recognized that Abbas had almost no political credibility left and if there was to be any Palestinian support for re-engaging with Israel, it could only come about if talks were held without the shadow of settlements creeping ever longer.
While the Palestinians and their supporters wail that the settlements are eating up more of the land they claim for their future state, the real figures suggest otherwise. Today, 43 years since Israel gained control of the West Bank, the built-up areas of the settlements constitute less than 1.7% of the total area.
Ayalon pulls another classic sleight of hand with this statement. While it’s true that physical structures cover only 1.7% of the West Bank, this map shows just how much is under Israeli control, a control which includes plans for massive settlement expansion. And that’s just what the Palestinians justifiably fear.
In fact, the municipal boundaries of the settlements (which, as far as Palestinians are concerned, cover land just as lost to them as that under a settler’s home) cover 6.8% of the West Bank. And the land reserves under the jurisdiction of the various “regional councils” in the West Bank which can always be used for further settlement expansion constitute an additional 35% of the land, meaning that 42% of the West Bank is under settlement control. It is far from the relatively small chunk of land Ayalon would have us believe is at issue.
Ayalon put so many myths and half-truths into his LA Times op-ed that it becomes a handy guide through Israeli hasbara. But I believe he and his cohorts in what is by far the most right-wing government Israel has ever had will only find it increasingly difficult to mislead the rest of the world into the illusion that this government is willing to make peace.
This radical government has changed the game. It’s no longer the “anti-Israel crowd” that is critical and that recognizes that Israel is willfully letting the chance at a two-state solution expire, if it hasn’t already. It is also supporters, long time believers in Israel who are recognizing this now. And a new generation of Jews is not going to be satisfied with thugs like Avigdor Lieberman and rejecters of peace like Netanyahu.
The myths are not going to provide the cover anymore. They’ve been exposed, and thanks to Danny Ayalon, we can even find a bunch of them all in one place.