Israel: The Struggle for Peace Continues

Appointment of David Friedman as US Ambassador may signal radical change in American approach
December 19, 2016 Updated: December 21, 2016

Nobody ever lost money betting against peace in the Middle East.

Indeed, it seems as if the last time there was peace in the region was when King Solomon, backed by an Old Testament God, reigned over Israel and surrounding territory. Consequently, the cynic might predict Christ’s Second Coming would likely occur before there is peace more enduring than a reloading break between combatants.

Since its birth in 1948, Israel has been a political anomaly. Emerging through a combination of political/historical efforts to recreate a long sought “Homeland” for the Diaspora-scattered Jewish people and the guilt felt by Western countries following the catastrophe of the Holocaust, Israel has met relentless hostility from its regional neighbors.

They attempted to destroy it at inception and in subsequent vicious wars. The last of these, in 1973, resulted in a “cold peace” with Egypt, but it did nothing to alleviate the generation-long hostility by Palestinians and other Arab states.

In truth, the intensity of the hostility seems to have grown over the decades. There is not an Arab leader that would grant Israel an uncontested right to exist. The one, longstanding “peace” initiative from the Saudis would require Israel to accept return of all Muslim Palestinians that departed/fled the fighting surrounding the birth of Israel—a recipe for demographic reversal of Israel as a Jewish state.

Consequently, those seeking an enduring peace have been enduringly frustrated.

It is not for lack of trying, as for a generation some of the world’s most adroit diplomats have devised peace proposals and accommodation arrangements. And there has been some success, most obviously the 1978 Camp David accords sponsored by President Carter with Egyptian President Sadat and Israeli PM Begin resulting in the return of the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt. Sadat’s subsequent assassination, however, instructed Arab leaders of the perils of agreements with Israel.

No one was more vigorous in pursuit of peace than President Clinton; at one point, it seemed as if he met with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat more frequently than with any other leader, culminating in an extended session at Camp David in July 2000 with Arafat and Israeli PM Ehud Barak. Although both sides made unprecedented potential concessions (on the basis that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”), ultimately the effort failed. One concludes that, for whatever reason(s), Arafat was unable/unwilling to take the final steps.

In the intervening 16 years, the sides have moved further apart rather than closer. Arafat’s death in November 2004, effectively removed the Palestinian interlocutor from the equation. The division of Palestinians between the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza has further complicated, indeed, made practically impossible any peace agreement. It is not irrelevant that Hamas is a designated terrorist organization with which negotiations, let alone agreement, is fraught. There is no valid interlocutor with whom to negotiate.

But what they have lost in political effectiveness, the Palestinians have gained in public relations acclaim. They have created an “underdog” image—while sympathizers fail to recognize that the underdog can be as mean and vicious as the top dog.  

International attitudes have turned against Israel with efforts at “boycott, divestiture, and sanctions” to punish Israel for not making concessions to Palestinians. Some of these activists are honest, albeit deluded; others are driven more by anti-Semitism than realistic search for peace.

No nation is flawless, and Israelis effectively examine theirs. There is, however, no country in the region with any culture approaching Israel’s commitment to democracy, human rights, rule of law, free enterprise or the trappings of a sophisticated, 21st century society.

Driven by the “never again” genetic imprint, Israelis know they can only lose one war—while their Arab enemies can continue endless hostility—perhaps with nuclear weapons in the foreseeable future.

But there is a “new sheriff” in town with President-elect Donald Trump and his announced nomination of David Friedman as U.S. ambassador. Trump/Friedman imply radical change to the “going through the motions” current policy stalemate.

We may well move our embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. Long deferred, ostensibly awaiting final agreement on Jerusalem being a capital for both Israel and Palestine, most countries have kept embassies in Tel Aviv.

Nor is the “two state” (separate Israel and Palestine) solution necessarily sacrosanct. A “three state” arrangement with Jordan absorbing the West Bank and Egypt holding Gaza may be in play. Likewise, a “one state” arrangement with unimpeded citizenship throughout Israel/Gaza/West Bank is conceivable. Each has daunting challenges but “two states” may have run its course.

 David T. Jones is a retired U.S. State Department senior foreign service career officer who has published several hundred books, articles, columns, and reviews on U.S.–Canadian bilateral issues and general foreign policy. During a career that spanned over 30 years, he concentrated on politico-military issues, serving as adviser for two Army chiefs of staff. Among his books is “Alternative North Americas: What Canada and the United States Can Learn from Each Other.”


Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.