Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is known for the quip "If you can't solve a problem, enlarge it." Opponents of Israeli-Palestinian peace have their own spin on that quip, best summed up as, "If you don't want to solve a problem, pile on more problems." As a result, a valuable metric for gauging how seriously things are going in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts - or, at least, how worried anti-peace folks are getting that things are going seriously - has long been the extent to which opponents of peace are ginning up discredited, specious, or disingenuous arguments. And a look at current headlines indicates that opponents of peace are taking the Kerry peace effort very seriously, indeed.
Exhibit A: the frenzied focus on the Jordan Valley. The suggestion that Israeli security cannot be assured unless Israel retains long-term (or even permanent) control of the Jordan Valley is a populist political canard - a case recently made clear by Dov Weissglas, former top advisor to Ariel Sharon, and seconded by former Mossad chief Meir Dagan. Nevertheless, we've seen the Knesset bill to annex Jordan Valley, a high-profile visit by right-wing Israeli MKs and ministers to the area, just hours before Kerry's last visit, accompanied by de rigeur hardline pronouncements. Peace Now head Yariv Oppenheimer summed up what is truly at the core of these efforts and statements, writing in Haaretz, "It is not the security of Israel that interests Miri Regev, Gideon Sa'ar and their friends, it is the security of all the settlements that they are after. The right-wing knows very well that there will be no peace agreement without evacuating the Jordan Valley. The right-wing's use of the Jordan valley as a political card is a cunning, even demagoguing attempt to undermine an agreement."
Exhibit B: the reemergence of the pernicious exploitation of Holocaust imagery. Specifically, we've seen the re-introduction of the abhorrent term "Auschwitz borders (also here)" - code for the argument that a peace agreement based on the 1967 lines is tantamount to turning Israel into a Nazi death camp. As Yossi Alpher noted years ago, "'Auschwitz borders' was never an appropriate phrase because it denigrated the Holocaust; today it is meaningless." To understand just how meaningless, see our report, "Indefensible: Misrepresenting the borders issue to undermine Israeli-Palestinian peace."
Exhibit C: The comeback of the "populated land swaps" proposal. The idea is that Israel "trades" land inside the Green Line populated by one kind of Israeli citizen (Arab) in exchange for West Bank land populated by another kind of Israeli citizen (Jewish). This is one of the most anti-democratic, openly racist proposals (also illegal and "impractical and dangerous") to tarnish Israel's reputation in recent history. In effect, Avigdor Leiberman and his fellow travels are suggesting forcibly expelling and stripping the citizenship from Arab citizens in order to take care of Jewish settlers - in the process emptying the term "citizenship" of meaning. The proposal, if pursued, would gravely damage Israel's claims to being even a flawed democracy. Moreover, setting aside moral and ethical considerations, the plan offers little in terms of the benefits its promoters promise. It will not facilitate a peace agreement, because the Palestinians will not accept it and, even if they would, such swaps wouldn't provide enough land for Israel to avoid evacuating settlements. Likewise, it wouldn't "rid" Israel of enough Arab citizens to significantly impact the country's demographic balance.
Exhibit D: The renewed focus on the "recognition-plus" demand. This is the demand that the Palestinians not only recognize Israel, and recognize Israel's right to exist, but that they accept a formula dictated by Israel to the effect that Israel is recognized as "a Jewish state" or sometimes, "as the national homeland of the Jewish people." The New York Times reports that, "Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made such recognition the pillar of his public statements in recent weeks, calling it 'the real key to peace,' 'the minimal requirement' and 'an essential condition.' Israeli, American and Palestinian officials all say it has become a core issue in the negotiations that started last summer." Of course, as Israeli journalist Chemi Shalev points out, "Ben Gurion didn't recognize Israel as the nation state of the entire Jewish people." Likewise, as discussed here in detail, this demand was not historically part of peace talks and was not made of Egypt or Jordan. Moreover, it is an extremely problematic "ask" of the Palestinians, in effect demanding that they adopt an Israeli narrative that delegitimizes their own painful history and suffering, and that they sign off on the marginalization of the 20% of Israelis who are not, in fact, Jewish.
Exhibit E: the focus on Palestinian "incitement". Prime Minister Netanyahu seems to have decided that accusing the Palestinians of incitement is his strongest weapon to ward off Kerry's peace efforts. Speaking last week before his meeting with Secretary of Kerry, in an epic effort at misdirection, Prime Minister Netanyahu suggested that incitement was the single most important issue in the Israeli-Palestinian arena. "In the six months since the start of peace negotiations," he said, "the Palestinian Authority continues its unabated incitement against the state of Israel. This Palestinian Government incitement is rampant. You see it in the state-controlled media - the government-controlled media - in the schools, in textbooks [notwithstanding a U.S. report that says otherwise], in kindergartens. You see it at every part of Palestinian society. So instead of preparing Palestinians for peace, Palestinian leaders are teaching them to hate Israel. This is not the way to achieve peace. President Abbas must lead his people away from terror and incitement, towards reconciliation and peace."
These statements were the apparent kick-off for what the New York Times called "an intensifying campaign in which he, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others have emphasized what they call 'incitement" as a prime obstacle to peace.'" This focus on incitement has long been a favorite tactic of those seeking to undermine peace efforts. Earlier, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon - a longtime opponent of peace efforts and a strong supporter of the settlements - offered a simple response to Secretary of State Kerry's offer of unprecedented security guarantees to Israel: "When I'm told about the security answer in Judea and Samaria, and when they talk about satellites, drones and technologies, I say, 'guys, you're wrong.' The principal problem is education." As in, until Palestinians teach their children to stop worrying and love their Israeli occupiers, there's nothing to talk about.
As noted earlier this week in a scathing article by veteran Israeli commentator Nahum Barnea, this clamoring over Palestinian incitement ignores the very serious problem of Israeli incitement against the Palestinians, emanating from sources that include senior government officials and rabbis on the government's payroll. It also totally ignores the fact that, over the past 6 months, the current has overseen an historic spike in settlement activity in both the West Bank and East Jerusalem - with each announcement offering further evidence to the Palestinians that Netanyahu and his colleagues aren't remotely serious about peace. And it ignores the now regular "price tag" attacks that Israel, with all its military and security prowess, seems impotent to prevent or punish.
None of which is to imply that incitement isn't a real issue. To the contrary, it is an extremely serious issue that can neither be ignored nor dismissed. However, demanding the total elimination of incitement - however one defines it - as a precondition for a peace agreement is at best a misguided prescription that will guarantee that things get worse, not better. At worst, it is a thinly-veiled ploy to undermine any chances of peace - just like Exhibits A, B, C and D.