Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Netanyahu-Abbas Exchange That Explains Why There's No Peace, Who's Responsible, and What Obama Doesn't Understand

This article is published in PajamasMedia.

“We cannot negotiate with those who say, `What's mine is mine and what's yours is negotiable.’"   --President John Fitzgerald Kennedy

By Barry Rubin

You can read for yourselves Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the U.S. Congress. Both on regional issues and the Israel-Palestinian question he was quite clear. His speech was vastly superior to those by Obama not just because of the policy content but because he deals with regional realities that the president ignores or just gets completely wrong.

But what I want to talk about here is a remarkable juxtaposition that no one else seems to have noticed. If you understand this article, you can understand all of the problems of the Middle East. If you don't, please go mess up the lives of people elsewhere.

To set up this point I must first quote extensively from Netanyahu’s speech. He said:

“This is the land of our forefathers, the Land of Israel, to which Abraham brought the idea of one God, where David set out to confront Goliath, and where Isaiah saw a vision of eternal peace. No distortion of history can deny the four thousand year old bond, between the Jewish people and the Jewish land.

“But there is another truth: The Palestinians share this small land with us. We seek a peace in which they will be neither Israel’s subjects nor its citizens. They should enjoy a national life of dignity as a free, viable and independent people in their own state. They should enjoy a prosperous economy, where their creativity and initiative can flourish.”

So this is a classic Western—indeed a classic liberal Western—formulation. We have our rights but we also respect your rights. Let’s find a win-win situation that benefits everyone.

Netanyahu added:

“They [the Palestinians] were simply unwilling to end the conflict. And I regret to say this: They continue to educate their children to hate. They continue to name public squares after terrorists. And worst of all, they continue to perpetuate the fantasy that Israel will one day be flooded by the descendants of Palestinian refugees."

In a moment, watch Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas prove Netanyahu's first sentence to be true.

“My friends, this must come to an end. President Abbas must do what I have done. I stood before my people, and I told you it wasn’t easy for me, and I said… `I will accept a Palestinian state.' It is time for President Abbas to stand before his people and say… `I will accept a Jewish state.'"

Remember that challenge.

“Those six words will change history. They will make clear to the Palestinians that this conflict must come to an end. That they are not building a state to continue the conflict with Israel, but to end it. They will convince the people of Israel that they have a true partner for peace. With such a partner, the people of Israel will be prepared to make a far reaching compromise. I will be prepared to make a far reaching compromise.”

In other words, once the Palestinians really acknowledge—which they have not done—the Jewish connection to the land Israel will know they are a partner for peace and make more compromises.

Now, here’s the part nobody noticed. Abbas answered Netanyahu!

In a major speech for “Nakba Day,” that is the Palestinian day of mourning that Israel was ever created in the first place, Abbas said:

“We say to him [Netanyahu], when he claims - that they [Jews] have a historical right dating back to 3000 years [BC] - we say that the nation of Palestine upon the land of Canaan had a 7000 year history [BC]. This is the truth, which must be understood and we have to note it, in order to say: 'Netanyahu, you are incidental in history. We are the people of history. We are the owners of history.’"

Do you understand?

Netanyahu said: We have rights; you have rights. We recognize yours and when you recognize ours we can have peace. Your refusal to recognize our rights—to demand total victory for yourself (which means Israel’s disappearance)—makes peace impossible.

And what did Abbas (whose name cannot appear in the American media without the word “moderate” being attached to him) answer:

Well, we don’t recognize that you have any rights. All the rights belong to us! You are just a passing breeze that will become extinct and you are of no importance.

So that’s the bottom line. Even in the year 2011--as happened in the year 1948--even a relative moderate like Abbas simply cannot bring himself to say in Arabic: “Let’s share this land in a two-state solution.”

Ironically, Netanyahu is taking a liberal and flexible position while Abbas is taking a reactionary, imperialistic stance. Talk about accepting the “other!”

And yet not a single professor in any university class, not a single journalist or expert in the mass media will raise or even report that point. President Obama won’t pick up on it to chide the Palestinians. Nobody will start calling Netanyahu moderate and peace-seeking while saying that Abbas is extremist and peace-rejecting.

Nevertheless, what simpler and more graphic example could anyone want?

Now you know why peace is impossible. It isn’t because Israel won’t go back to the 1967 borders. It’s because the Palestinian leadership still believes and tells its people that Israel has no right to exist.

PS: Abbas's history is of course rubbish. There is no connection between ancient Canaanites--who don't go back anywhere near that far--and modern Arabs. Since the Canaanites weren't Muslims, Abbas is acting as a pure opportunist since no Arab nation accepts such pre-Islamic connections any way.

But I love that phrase he said, "We are the owners of history." In other words, we can make up any lie we want and to Hell with the consequences.

The Jewish Temple? Never existed in Jerusalem!

Did we miss a chance to have our own state in 1947? Never happened!

Is it crazy to go on fighting for decades hoping to destroy Israel rather than make acompromise peace now? No alternative. Israel doesn't want peace.

If you are so oppressed and suffering why aren't you in a hurry to negotiate with Israel and make a deal? No! First, they must give us what we want beforehand. We're in no hurry at all because what good is a deal if we have to give up the hope of total victory in the future!

Abbas has told us everything we need to know about who doesn't want peace. And here's the reality of the Palestinian Authority position (not to mention that of its partner, Hamas): If you can't have peace without accepting Israel's permanent existence then it is better not to have peace at all.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and a featured columnist at PajamasMedia His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is His PajamaMedia columns are mirrored and other articles available at

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