"What can you tell" an audience "that they haven't already heard" at yet "another conference on the Arab-Israeli conflict?" asked Middle East Policy Council (MEPC) Board Chairman Omar Kader at a recent Washington, DC, panel. About fifty attendees, who enjoyed coffee, juice, and pastries at the Phoenix Park Hotel, encountered typical anti-Israeli animus and sterile discussion of a "peace process" stillborn amidst abiding Palestinian hatred for Israel.
Former ambassador and Princeton University professor of Middle Eastern policy studies Daniel C. Kurtzer advocated an uninspiring "process that keeps the process going" for largely hopeless Israeli-Palestinian negotiations so that "situations on the ground" do not "fester." From his personally compiled twenty negotiating lessons, he offered dry tips, such as that confidence building measures "don't work in the abstract." He praised Secretary of State John Kerry's "brilliant diplomacy" and the 1991 Madrid Conference leading to the dead-end Oslo Accords, which he labeled a "critical breakthrough in the Middle East," further illustrating his disconnect from an all-too violent reality.
Among the conflict's "root causes," Kurtzer cited Israeli settlement-building in territories won in the 1967 war, which he described as "one of the most persistent negative issues in this conflict." He complained that "there has never been a serious U.S. effort to hold Israel accountable," but omitted any parallel accountability for Palestinians. He charged that, "we work against ourselves" by allowing American tax-exempt organizations to fund settlements.
Engaging in moral equivalency, Kurtzer claimed that the "pain . . . would actually be quite severe" from America "exacting consequences" on both "quite derelict" parties "for bad behavior," such as settlement building and Palestinian terrorism. He argued, for example, that America could emulate the European Union's exclusion of the 1967 territories from free trade agreements, but offered no sanctions for Palestinian "bad behavior." America should "position parameters . . . at the head of a funnel" that will "narrow over time" surrounding issues like the "territories occupied in 1967." In the interim, Kurtzer continued, America could recognize a Palestinian state, at least on paper. He failed to explain, however, how diplomatic recognition of the terrorist-dominated, chaotic Palestinian territories would aid peace.
Although Kurtzer paid lip service to the Israeli argument that settlement building "is not comparable to killing people," or Palestinian terrorism, he cavalierly described a resumption of iron and cement deliveries to the Gaza Strip as "good news." In reality, such supplies regularly build military, not civilian, infrastructure. In demanding that a "reconciliation process between two peoples is necessary," Kurtzer failed to acknowledge that Jewish self-defense is not the same as the Arabs' longstanding, often violent opposition to Israel's existence.
Matthew Duss, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, extended Kurtzer's negative portrayal of Israel. For example, he concurred with Kurtzer's view of settlements, citing anonymous statements by American officials calling it a key issue. Yet, he noted, many Israelis "believe . . . the status quo is sustainable" before asking:
Is the U.S. prepared to take steps to make reality less convenient for the Israelis . . . Why would anyone make hard choices if there is no cost?
Duss welcomed the recent accord between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the terrorist group Hamas because, he asserted, negotiations with Israel make "Palestinian unity . . . absolutely necessary." The totalitarian Hamas, meanwhile, has a "claim to political legitimacy" on the basis of elections won in 2006—their genocidal anti-Semitic charter's "offensiveness" notwithstanding. Like Kurtzer, Duss proposed that America assist the Palestinians in obtaining "nonviolent relief" in "international fora."
This anti-Israel rhetoric continued with Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the Jerusalem Fund, whose statement that peace would come "only when the Israeli state is alienated" by "international isolation"—a "service in pursuit of peace"—received applause. He charged that American "domestic politics" had aided what was "essentially" an American "client state" and had resulted in an Israeli "apartheid status quo . . . the fruit of American policy success." Munayyer claimed that America enabled Israel's "growing culture of impunity" under international law, as manifested in settlements, which he defined—in contrast to Kurtzer—as "very much a system of violence" and "wanton killing" in Gaza.
Although he also criticized settlements and Israeli military actions in Gaza, Brookings Institution analyst Natan B. Sachs conceded that the peace process is "extremely maligned" by Israelis because they have a "very strong perception" of the Palestinian rejection of Israel. Sachs also acknowledged the "revolving door" between Hamas violence and PA acquiescence. Many boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) supporters, he argued, seek not two states, but a "state and a half," which would result in a demography-altering Palestinian refugee "right of return" for Israel. Returning to the panel's overall tenor, Sachs identified "two troubling trends" in Israel: a "very strong rightward trend on security" and a perception that the "world is . . . against us." At least on the latter, he was correct.
The panelists' obsession with "settlements," many of which are now irrevocably Jewish cities in territories that are legally and historically claimed by Israel, ignores that Arab hostility has never resulted from territorial delineation. The panelists were concurrently unconcerned with Hamas and the PA's constant threats to Israel and outraged by Israeli defense efforts in Gaza. Such anti-Israeli bias and unrelenting, unvanquished hostility foredoom peace for the foreseeable future.
Andrew E. Harrod is a freelance researcher and writer who holds a PhD from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a JD from George Washington University Law School. He is a fellow with the Lawfare Project; follow him on twitter at @AEHarrod. He wrote this essay for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.