WAPO’s bad advice for peace in the Middle East

Diplomats appear determined to refuse to learn from history.

Headquarters of “The Washington Post.” Credit: DCStockPhotography/Shutterstock.
Headquarters of “The Washington Post.” Credit: DCStockPhotography/Shutterstock.
Sean Durns
Sean Durns
Sean Durns is a senior research analyst for CAMERA, the 65,000-member, Boston-based Committee Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.

“Diplomacy,” Winston Churchill once remarked, “is the art of telling people to go to hell in such a way that they ask for directions.” Iin a Washington Post op-ed that ran on Nov. 29, two former U.S. diplomats told a key American ally—Israel—to do just that.

Aaron David Miller and Daniel Kurtzer spent decades serving the United States in key diplomatic roles, many of them relating to the Middle East and the Israel-Arab conflict. Recently, the two penned a Post op-ed entitled, “Biden should respond boldly to a radical Netanyahu government,” in which they call for the president of the United States to, among other things, place conditions on arms sales to Israel and interfere in the country’s domestic politics.

Yet the Post column is plagued by shoddy analysis and selective outrage.

Miller and Kurtzer claim that the incoming Netanyahu government is comprised of individuals with “anti-democratic values” that are “inimical” to the United States. Netanyahu, they argue, has “midwifed the most extreme government in the history” of the Jewish state. As proof, they cite deals that the future and former premier made with other individuals, and other political parties, to reach the necessary threshold to get a majority in Israel’s parliamentary system.

Netanyahu “cut a deal with convicted inciter of hatred and violence Itamar Ben Gvir and made him minister of national security, with far-reaching authority for the West Bank, Jerusalem and mixed Arab-Jewish cities in Israel proper.” And “Bezalel Smotrich, who has called for the expulsion of Arabs, is in line to run the finance ministry, with additional authority over the Civil Administration, which governs the West Bank.” Additionally, Avi Maoz, who “proudly espouses a fierce anti-LGBTQ agenda,” has been made a deputy in the prime minister’s office in charge of “Jewish identity.”

All of this, Miller and Kurtzer claim, is “unprecedented” and “threatens to put to rest the already-moribund two-state solution.”

The two diplomats proceed to veer into the speculative. The incoming coalition’s agenda could “be marked by increased settlement activity and land confiscation, violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians, terrorist attacks against Israelis, efforts to change the status quo by legitimizing Jewish prayer on the Noble Sanctuary/Temple Mount and loosened rules regarding the use of force against both Palestinians in the West Bank and Arab citizens of Israel.”

All of this is pure speculation on the part of Miller and Kurtzer. However, it is worth noting that they preemptively blame Israel for terrorist attacks against Israelis and are opposed to Jews, but not Muslims, praying at a Jewish holy site. This is curiously one-sided and, coming from two individuals who are expressing concerns about bigotry, darkly ironic.

The two also argue that the new coalition could lead to “violent confrontations between Israelis and Palestinians”—even “another serious round of fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, as occurred in May 2021.”

However, “violent confrontations” already occur between Israelis and Palestinians—the result, in part, of the ruling Palestinian Authority paying tax deductible salaries to murder and maim Jews. Oddly, Miller and Kurtzer don’t call for cutting or conditioning aid to the P.A., despite its reprehensible “pay to slay” policy.

As for the May 2021 war, that was launched by Iranian proxies at the behest their benefactor. As CAMERA has documented, Iran even admitted as much. Indeed, Iran, the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, is seeking to use its proxies to surround and destroy the Jewish state. Part of this plan includes taking over the P.A.-controlled areas of Judea and Samaria.

None of this is breaking news. It should lead those advocating for U.S. interests to want to ensure a leading democratic ally is strong and has American support. Instead, Miller and Kurtzer call for weakening the Jewish state because they don’t like the results of its democratic elections. Curiously, they don’t apply this standard to the Palestinian Authority, which not only incentivizes and celebrates terrorist attacks in school curricula and on official media, but hasn’t held elections since 2006. The P.A. is dependent on foreign aid.

As for the “moribund” two-state solution, both Miller and Kurtzer omit that the P.A. has rejected numerous U.S. and Israeli offers for a Palestinian state in exchange for peace with Israel, including in 2000 at Camp David, 2001 at Taba and 2008 after the Annapolis Conference. The latter offer included more than 93% of the disputed territories, land swaps for the remainder and a capital in eastern Jerusalem. P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas declined that proposal. He also rejected similar offers in 2014 and 2016—the latter brought by then-Vice President Joe Biden himself. Indeed, Palestinian leaders have been rejecting offers for statehood in exchange for peace with a Jewish state for eight decades, preferring war and terrorism instead. If the two-state solution is “moribund,” the culprit is clear—and one doesn’t need to be a former State Department envoy to figure out just who it is.

Miller and Kurtzer’s argument that the United States should restrict aid to Israel and refuse meetings with certain Israeli officials is hypocritical. Neither has penned op-eds calling for ending aid to the P.A. Neither had an issue with U.S. officials meeting with P.A. leaders, including former terrorists. The first head of the P.A., Yasser Arafat, was a terrorist with both American and Israeli blood on his hands. His successor, Abbas, reportedly helped finance terrorist attacks, was a Soviet agent and continues to dole out money to those who murder Jews and Americans like U.S. veteran Taylor Force.

Miller and Kurtzer, however, are fine with U.S. officials meeting with men like Arafat and Abbas. What can explain this hypocrisy? Perhaps the bigotry of low expectations. Miller and Kurtzer don’t expect better from Palestinian leaders and, unsurprisingly, there’s little to no improvement in the fiercely anti-democratic Palestinian political sphere. They claim that the “Palestinian Authority is unable to control violence and terror.” Infantilizing the P.A. and depriving Palestinians of independent agency and responsibility is hardly a path to peace—as Miller and Kurtzer themselves should know.

Indeed, in an op-ed that runs hundreds of words, they expend a single sentence calling for the U.S. to tell Palestinian leaders that they need to hold elections and “curb violence and terrorism.” Yet the Oslo Accords that created the P.A. (and which remain the basis for both its legitimacy and continued U.S. support) explicitly call for Palestinian leaders to reject terrorism. As CAMERA has documented, first Arafat and then Abbas broke that pledge. And yet the U.S. continued to support the P.A., long after its adherence to terrorism and rejectionism was made clear. Perhaps some reflection is in order.

Additionally, the claim that the incoming Israeli coalition will include elements with “extreme” views is also selective. The previous coalition included members of Ra’am, an Arab Islamist party whose views are, to use Miller and Kurtzer’s phrase, decidedly “anti-LGBTQ” and “anti-democratic.” Several Ra’am members have also made hateful remarks and praised terrorist attacks. Yet Miller, Kurtzer and, for that matter, The Washington Post’s editorial board, happily supported that coalition. Neither former diplomat called to condition aid on account of Ra’am’s inclusion. One could be forgiven for having the impression that their outrage is based less on principles and more on antagonism aimed at Netanyahu and Israel’s democratic process.

Perhaps most damningly, both Miller and Kurtzer call to hinder progress towards peace when it’s not on their terms. The two argue that “the Biden administration needs to inform the Abraham Accord countries—the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan—that their evident lack of interest in the plight of the Palestinians will undermine their relationship with Israel and damage their credibility in advancing other regional objectives with the United States.” This is truly astonishing.

By all accounts, the Abraham Accords constitute the most positive trend in the Middle East in decades. At great risk, several Arab and Muslim nations have pursued better relations with Israel. In some cases, the ties between these nations and the Jewish state are more expansive, including at the cultural level, than previous peace agreements between Egypt and Israel or Jordan and Israel. The Accords came about, in part, due to a commitment to discard old, failed attempts to bring peace to the region. Notably, one of the chief forces in bringing about the Abraham Accords was David Friedman, a U.S. ambassador to Israel whose nomination Miller and Kurtzer vocally opposed.

Seeking to punish and castigate countries that are pursuing peace with a chief non-NATO ally defies both common sense and good strategy. The Biden administration, like the Trump administration before it, is currently engaged in a global competition with China. Punishing key regional allies and offending potential new ones is bad strategy. One doesn’t need to be a Kissinger or a Metternich to grasp this fact.

It also reveals both Miller and Kurtzer to be poor students of history and the many lessons it offers policymakers.

For example, President Jimmy Carter nearly self-sabotaged what is perhaps his greatest foreign policy triumph: The Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt. In the 1970s, Egyptian leader Anwar al-Sadat sought Western support, hoping to move from the Soviet camp to that of the free world and the United States. To achieve this objective, he recognized that he would have to make peace with Israel. Arafat opposed Sadat’s initiative. And, incidentally, so did Carter, who initially misread what Sadat’s objectives were and kept inserting provisions about Palestinian nationalism that obstructed the negotiations and ran counter to what Sadat was hoping to achieve.

It has been said that “insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Whoever said it was no diplomat.

Sean Durns is a senior research analyst for the Washington, D.C. office of CAMERA.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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