My Peace Agenda. A Response To Jonathan Freedland
For most of last week, the Guardian journalist Jonathan Freedland was cast as the erstwhile Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat in a role-play exercise, while Palestinians played Israelis .
Apparently, every time such exercises take place, it is the ‘Palestinians’ who seethe with righteous indignation as the underdog. The ‘Israelis’ suffered too, the negotiators recognise, but that was ‘in the past’.
How has the peace agenda come to be so seriously skewed? The victims of a genocidal project to destroy the Jews in the Middle East have been turned into aggressors, and Jewish suffering downplayed. Who around the negotiating table remembers that it was the Arabs were rejected the UN Partition Plan for Palestine, and launched a war of annihilation against Israel in 1948? Who remembers the Arab League secretary-general Azzam Pasha’s spine-chilling promise in 1947: ‘This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades’?
It was a good week, writes Freedland. He negotiated Israel back to the 1967 borders.That was the easy bit, Jonathan. Did the ‘Israeli ‘negotiators’ get the ‘Palestinians’ renounce their ‘right of return’ to Israel proper?
The ‘right of return’
This issue cannot not be brushed aside lightly as ‘rhetoric’. Not content with getting a Palestinian Arab state in the West Bank and Gaza, even the ‘moderates’ of the Fatah camp have refused to recognise Israel as a Jewish state. Most recently they again affirmed that their ‘right of return’ was non-negotiable. Thus Palestinians reserve the right to turn the Jewish state into a second state of Palestine, by overwhelming it with millions of returning refugees. The first act of such a Muslim majority-state would be to repeal Israel’s ‘Law of Return’ which entitles Jews ,wherever they may be, to automatic Israeli citizenship.
That’s why, in the real negotiating world, Benjamin Netanyahu is right to make Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state the quintessential issue. (The real Erekat has said flippantly that Israel can call itself what it likes - but does the Arab side accept Israel’s right to call itself what it likes?) If successive Israeli governments did not insist on this point in the past, it is because the Netanyahu has realised that the much vaunted ‘two-state solution’ leaves room for ambiguity.
To put it bluntly, Arabs need to become Zionists if there is to be peace. They need to accept that the Jews are an indigenous Middle Eastern people with a right to self-determination in their ancestral homeland.
The Palestinian negotiatiors at Freedland’s role-play hold ‘the moral high ground’: the Palestinian refugees are seen as the main victims of an Israeli injustice. But this is another serious distortion.
The Arab refugees are the unintended consequence of a war the Arabs failed to win against the nascent state of Israel in 1948. But it is forgotten that the Arab waged a second war, on their own defenceless Jewish citizens, a war they won easily. This war was not a mere backlash to Israel – it was inspired by totalitarian Arab nationalism and by the rise of Nazism. The Jewish refugees – now comprising half the Israeli population with their descendants – were successfully ‘ethnically cleansed’. Now it is the turn of other minorities.
The peace agenda espoused by Freedland and others misses the fact that the single largest group of refugees created by the Arab-Israeli conflict refugees was not Palestinian. Almost a million Jews were expelled, not just from Jerusalem and the West Bank, but Arab lands, and their pre-Islamic communities were destroyed. In terms of lost property, the Jews forfeited land four times greater than Israel itself. As a matter of law, the Jewish refugees too deserve justice. Recognition of their plight and compensation for seized assets many times greater than Palestinian losses must also be included on the peace agenda. Two sets of refugees exchanged places in the Middle East. The parties to peace must recognise that the exchange is irrevocable.
The peace agenda needs to include a humanitarian solution for Palestinian refugees in Arab countries and their four million descendants. They need to be granted full rights in their Arab host countries - including the right to become full citizens in their countries of birth, just as Jewish refugees were granted full rights in Israel and the West. The Palestinian refugee camps, terrorist breeding grounds, need to be drained. The agency perpetuating Palestinians refugee status from generation to generation, UNWRA, must be dismantled and Palestinians allowed to be absorbed in wider Arab society.
The peace process needs to address the very cause of the Jewish exodus – the same bigotry which drives the Arab and Muslim struggle against a Jewish sovereign state in the Middle East and marginalises minorites. The conflict is not just between Israel and Palestine; it is rooted in the Arab world’s cultural and religious prejudice against non-Muslims ; and with the rise of Islamism, it is between western values and Iranian-backed Jihad.
Freedland’s peacemaking simply does not address Jihad. Assume that Arab governments are willing to renounce anti-Jewish media- and mosque-driven incitement and violence. Assume they are willing to accept Israel as the state of the Jewish people: how do you deal with the spoilers intent on wrecking the peace? If Israel makes an agreement with the ‘moderates’ of the Palestinian Authority, what about Hamas? If peace with Hamas, what about Hezbollah? The history of the Middle East is littered with the corpses of moderates murdered by extremists. Make peace with one armed fanatic group, and another pops up elsewhere.
Only if democracy takes root in the Arab world can violent extremists be marginalised. Islamists have only become a powerful force because they control the mosques, the only conduit for popular political expression in failing or non-democratic states. To bring about a lasting peace, we need to adopt the Sharansky solution – incremental financial incentives to encourage liberal democracy, the establishment of civil society with real respect for civil and human rights, independent institutions and the rule of law.
If there is lesson for Israel from the Arab Spring, it is that peace deals with illegitimate dictators are at best tactical truces. Democracies do not need to distract their masses with an external bogeyman. Democracies do not go to war with one another.
Peace negotiators, real or make-believe, need to move on from the tired old cliches of the Oslo years. The issues are broader than conventional wisdom suggests. Would someone please tell Jonathan Freedland?
Lyn Julius is a co-founder of Harif, a UK Association of Jews from the Middle East and North Africa.(www.harif.org)