For many years, standard U.S. policy has been to demand that Israel make various concessions to the Palestinian Arabs just before an American president arrives for a visit. It looks like the White House and the U.S. State Department are doing it again on the eve of President Joe Biden’s upcoming trip to the region.
There was a time, years ago, when this sort of pressure was largely conducted behind the scenes. But those days are long gone. Today, the pressure-Israel strategy is pretty straightforward; the key players now say the quiet parts out loud.
It begins with unnamed State Department officials telling sympathetic journalists that the president is hoping that Israel will make some gestures. The journalists, who tend to agree with the pressure-Israel approach, then write articles about how the administration believes some gestures are necessary “to move the peace process forward.”
Sympathetic pundits then write editorials and columns focusing on the kinds of concessions that Israel should make. Instead of even questioning whether or not such concessions should be made at all, they turn it into a discussion of the nature and extent of the Israeli concessions. And, thus, a new conventional wisdom is born.
This leaves Israel cornered. Israeli officials start to worry that if they don’t make concessions, then there will be all kinds of articles in the international news media about how “disappointed” the White House is and how Israel’s reluctance is “spoiling the atmosphere of the president’s upcoming trip.”
Pretty soon, the Israelis are coming up with lists of “gestures.” Terrorists are released from prison. Jewish construction projects are frozen. Illegal Arab workers are granted entry permits.
Sure enough, The Times of Israel last week reported that among the gestures Israeli Prime Minister Lapid is “expected” to be “considering” (read: “which the Biden administration is demanding”) include granting work permits to thousands of Palestinian Arabs who are residing illegally in Israel; allowing thousands more to enter Israel; something “related to the Palestinian economy,” which the media are not yet spelling out; halting the eviction of illegal Arab squatters near Ma’ale Adumim and in the Hebron hills; freezing Jewish housing construction in the territories; and legalizing some of the “more than 800” illegal Arab settlements in the Israeli-governed parts of Judea and Samaria.
None of this makes any sense.
The Oslo Accords placed no restrictions on Jewish housing construction. The Palestinian Authority signed those accords. The P.A. has no basis for demanding that Jews not build.
Likewise, Oslo doesn’t require Israel to be flooded with illegal Arab workers. This is a genuine security concern because there have been numerous instances in which illegal Arab workers committed terrorism against Israelis.
Pumping more Israeli or American money into the P.A. economy won’t advance peace. The United States has already given the P.A. more than $10 billion since 1994. Did that result in peace?
The fundamental reason that Israeli gestures won’t bring peace is because Israel isn’t obstructing peace. It’s the P.A. that has to prove, through its actions, that it desires peace because it’s the P.A. that refuses to make peace, refuses to negotiate, and shelters and sponsors terrorists.
That’s why it’s time for a new approach to the concept of pre-presidential gestures. It’s time for the P.A. leadership to be the ones who make the gestures because it’s the P.A. that has to persuade the Israelis that it really wants peace.
The kinds of gestures that would be meaningful would be things like stopping payments to terrorists, handing over to the United States the terrorists who murdered American citizens and honoring Israel’s dozens of requests for the extradition of terrorists for prosecution.
Some may say that expecting the P.A. to take those sorts of steps would be unrealistic. Fine. Then here’s what I propose that it do in advance of the president’s visit: Honor just one of Israel’s numerous extradition requests. Hand over to the United States just one of the dozens of terrorists who murdered Americans. Cancel the salary of just one imprisoned terrorist.
Just one. Is that too much to ask?
Stephen M. Flatow is an attorney and the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995. He is the author of “A Father’s Story: My Fight for Justice Against Iranian Terrorism.”