For years, U.S. diplomats have nurtured serious misconceptions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Numerous false beliefs have led to disastrous policies and decisions, wasting time, taxpayer dollars and political capital.
Worst of all, they have preserved a state of war that has cost thousands of innocent lives over the decades.
The great tragedy is that all these U.S. diplomatic errors are based on an analysis that the objective conditions are right for peace—above all that the Arab Palestinians want peace and are capable of seizing it. As we shall quickly and sadly see, the conditions have never been—and are not today—right for peace.
In short, American policy has been dominated by wishful thinking instead of hard facts on the ground. No wonder it has failed.
First, the United States has for decades believed that money can buy peace. Unfortunately, our billions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians have failed to bring them either a state or peace.
One key reason: The United States has never demanded that the Palestinians take practical steps toward an independent state, or to create conditions for peace. U.S. money has instead gone to the leaders of the corrupt Palestinian Authority. It has not produced governing institutions—like honest courts, rule of law, elections—or a functioning economy.
Rather, the Palestinians have demonstrated consistent hostility toward Israel’s very existence. Even today they spend hundreds of millions of dollars of international aid on their “pay-for-slay” program—lifetime salaries to terrorists for killing innocent Israelis. They use this money also to create school books that promote hate of Jews and the glory of “martyrdom.”
In fact, continuing U.S. aid to the Palestinians without demanding they change their policies and rhetoric actually inhibits the peace process. Evidence shows that U.S. aid to the Palestinians encourages them to continue on the path of terrorism and rejection of the State of Israel.
A recent study conducted by Palestinian Media Watch indicates that casualties from Palestinian terrorism increases as a function of aid to the Palestinians. For example, between 2009 and 2017, the Obama administration provided the Palestinians $6.4 billion in aid. During that time, 140 people were killed in Palestinian terrorist attacks, an average of 17.5 per year.
These numbers fell dramatically, to 42 killed and an average of 10.5 casualties per year, when aid to the Palestinians was reduced to as little as $670 million under the Trump administration.
Now, casualty numbers have risen significantly as President Biden has restored aid to the Palestinians. While the Biden administration has given the PA a billion dollars, some 46 people have been killed in Palestinian terrorist attacks—for a higher yearly average of 23.
Second, U.S. policymakers falsely believe Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria (aka the West Bank) prevent a Palestinian state. American diplomats have often insisted that Israel cease development of these communities as part of peace negotiations, but doing so has never softened Palestinian positions.
Some U.S. politicians falsely characterize these communities as illegal under international law. In short, Israel is not occupying land that ever belonged to the Palestinians, nor was the land part of a recognized sovereign state. Israel recovered these territories by defeating Jordan’s aggression, ejecting it and signing a peace treaty. Israel’s presence in and control of these territories is fully legal.
The Americans also believe growth of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria prevents Palestinians from having a viable, independent state in the future. This opinion is contradicted by hard evidence.
The Palestinians never agreed to peace with Israel before there were communities in these territories, and though Israel has made at least three offers of this land in exchange for peace, the Palestinians have refused every one.
A final flaw in this assumption: Israel welcomes and lives in peace with two million Arab Israeli citizens. Why would it be impossible for the P.A. to accept 500,000 Jews in their midst?
The third U.S. policy misconception is that a “two-state solution” will solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, despite the fact that polls show majorities of both Israeli and Palestinian publics reject such a solution.
The charter of the Palestinian terror group, Hamas, which rules over Gaza, states their goals: To kill Jews and destroy Israel by violent means. Hamas unequivocally will not accept a Jewish state in the region.
The PA is little better. Its schoolbooks show maps with Israel erased, and they tell Palestinian children that all of Israel is their legitimate home, which will be returned to them. They are further taught that serving this cause through martyrdom is the highest calling.
But the fourth false notion—which trumps all others—is that the Palestinians actually want peace with the Jewish state. Rather, they have both articulated and proven with horrific deeds that their goal is the elimination of Israel, nothing less.
The Palestinian project is animated not by the burning desire for a state. No Palestinian statesman has ever proclaimed that, “I have a dream—a dream of an independent state living in harmony, prosperity and freedom with our Jewish neighbors.” Never.
Indeed, the Palestinians have not developed a culture of peace, but rather one of antisemitic hate and constant war. Their leaders have not developed a governing infrastructure or promoted democratic values, but rather run their territories as corrupt, iron-fisted dictatorships, dedicated to preserving their rule and lining their own pockets.
So long as U.S. policymakers nurture these profound misconceptions, their efforts are doomed. Indeed, they only prolong the misery of the Palestinian people and the need for Israel to maintain police, border guards, army—and a populace—on defensive alert 24 hours every day of their lives.
In short, American diplomats will only achieve Middle East peace once they exchange their naive ideology for hard, factual analysis.
If the United States really wants to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians, it needs to change its assumptions.
American aid to the Palestinians should be conditional on the Palestinians taking steps to promote peace with Israel. Washington also needs to stop demanding that Israel make concessions without reciprocity from the Palestinians. Finally, the United States needs to stop pushing the so-called two-state solution that neither Israelis nor Palestinians support.
James Sinkinson is president of Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which publishes educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.