President-elect Donald J. Trump’s selection of David Friedman, a 57-year-old New York bankruptcy attorney, as US ambassador to Israel has triggered a torrent of vitriolic criticism. Friedman’s alleged sins include a lack of diplomatic experience, and having issued inflammatory statements about the right of Jews to establish communities in their ancestral homeland of Judea and Samaria and urging that parts of the area be annexed.
With regard to the absence of ambassadorial background, it should be noted that seven Nobel prizes have been awarded to a number of individuals with such experience for their contributions to this peace-making process: UN mediator Ralph Bunch in 1950; Canadian prime minister Lester Pearson in 1957; UN Secretary Dag Hammarskjold in 1961; Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin in 1978; the UN Peacekeeping Force in 1988; Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Yasser Arafat, Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres and Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1994; and former US president Jimmy Carter in 2002.
Yet despite being awarded this prestigious prize, these seasoned diplomats were unable to resolve the Israeli/Palestinian Arab conflict. Significantly, many of the attacks against Friedman’s lack of diplomatic expertise are levelled by “experts,” who have spent decades trying to resolve this dispute themselves. We would like to know what they consider to have be their successes. Oslo? Expulsion of Jews from Gaza?
Contemporary incarnations of the “peace process” continue to fail because the professional diplomats, who criticize Friedman, have an almost mystical belief in the power of diplomacy, supreme confidence in their own insights and negotiation skills bordering on hubris, and an unwillingness to accept that the Palestinian/Arab conflict is about Israel’s right to exist.
Arab refusal to acknowledge Israel’s “historic, eternal and inalienable right” to live in the land of Israel has been repeated by Arab leaders ad nauseam. PLO spokesman Bassam-Abu-Sharif and other leaders claim, “The struggle with the Zionist enemy is not a matter of borders, but touches on the very existence of the Zionist entity.”
Speaking for the Palestinian Arabs, Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) chief negotiator, openly rejects the idea of Israel being the Jewish state. “We will not agree to recognize Israel as a Jewish state,” he said. “There is no country in the world where religious and national identities are intertwined.”
Whether Israel retreats to her 1967 borders, those mandated by the UN in 1948 or the 1949 ceasefire lines, peace will not be achieved. As long as the Jewish State exists, the Arabs are determined to bring about her demise.
Unlike the Nazis, who disguised their intentions by subterfuge and manipulation of language, the Arabs are quite open about their desire to destroy the Jewish state. All one has to do is read their statements about Jews and Israel at websites of the Palestinian Media Watch and MEMRI.
By treating the Palestinian Arabs as victims instead of aggressors, these “experts” have played a key role in prolonging this dispute by enabling and rewarding Arab intransigence. This attitude validates Palestinian Arab leaders who believe that terrorism is the most effective means to ensure acknowledgment for themselves and their goals, and achieve their objectives.
Recommendations that Israel be pressured for endless concessions as “confidence-building measures” prove that there is little or no need for the Arabs to concede anything in return. Uzi Arad, who served as the National Security Advisor to the Prime Minister of Israel and the head of the Israeli National Security Council, said he could not “remember a single concession of the Palestinians since 1994.” (For a list of Israeli and Palestinian Arab concessions made from 1993-2014 see http://elderofziyon.blogspot.com/2014/05/israeli-vs-arab-concessions-for-peace.html.)
The idea that the existence of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria is an obstacle to peace is absurd. Before 1967 there were no Jews living in the area, yet the Arabs were relentless in their attempts to wipe the Jewish state off the map.
Novelist Hillel Halkin asks what would have happened if every Israeli government since 1967 had barred Jews from living in Judea and Samaria until a peace agreement had been signed. In the interim, he said, Israel would have held the land in escrow for the Palestinian Arabs until they ceased fighting, and then given them the land free of Jews.
Would this have accelerated peace negotiations or tempered the PLO’s determination to obliterate the Jewish state? This would simply have allowed the Arabs the opportunity to pursue their goal of destroying Israel. If the Palestinian Arabs succeeded, they would say “all to the better.” If not, they would respond “what did we lose?”
Furthermore, he adds, it is quite offensive to tell Jews they can live in London, Paris, Berlin, Madrid, New York, Moscow, Mexico City or Buenos Aires, yet are prohibited from living in Judea and Samaria—the areas in the land of Israel most linked to the Bible, Jewish memory and history.
Critics are equally incensed that Friedman wants to move the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people, since it would inflame the Arabs. Yet Friedman merely asked that the American government enforce the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, passed by the US Congress on October 23, 1995, which stipulated the American embassy be relocated to Jerusalem before May 31, 1999.
Perhaps Friedman’s most egregious heresy is to denounce the two-state solution which, his detractors claim, will doom any possibility of resolving this conflict. Inexplicably few people ask if the Arabs have ever accepted the idea of the two-state solution. The answer is never. If they deny Israel’s right to exist, how can they be interested in two states—one for Jews and one for Palestinian Arabs?
When the Peel Commission recommended partition in July 1937, the Arabs immediately repudiated the British plan. “When speaking of the Palestinian problem there are no moderates or radicals,” declared Filastin, a Jaffa-based Arab newspaper. “We have rejected the partition plan and will fight any idea or attempt to propose partition, as partition is a national disaster. No Arab who appreciates the national ‘stake’ will consent to negotiate partition.” This position has never changed.
David Friedman brings to his position a realistic understanding of the conflict, which has been missing for decades. Our prayers are with him as he assumes one of the most important and challenging tasks of his life.
By Alex Grobman, PhD
Alex Grobman, a Hebrew University-trained historian, is a consultant to the America-Israel Friendship League, a member of the Council of Scholars for Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) and a member of the Advisory Board of The Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET).