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August 17th, 2017

Reality Check

Mr. President: Too Much Balance Leads to Violence

Jonathan Tobin

By Jonathan Tobin

Published Oct. 19, 2015

Mr. President: Too Much Balance Leads to Violence

On Friday, President Obama once again demonstrated his tone-deaf approach to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

At a press conference, he spoke of the solution to the current tensions would come only when the leaders of both sides "tamp down rhetoric that may feed violence or anger or misunderstanding."

But, of course, the incitement to violence isn't coming from both sides. It's coming solely from a Palestinian leadership and official media that continues to spread lies about Israelis seeking to harm the mosques on the Temple Mount and treating those who seek to murder Jews as "our boys" that are being "executed" by Israeli forces. This was a week in which the administration had to dance around comments by Secretary of State John Kerry about settlements causing the violence and State Department spokesman John Kirby echoed Palestinian canards about Israel using "excessive force" against terrorists.

But while Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu spent the same week repeating that Israel had no intention of altering the status quo on the Temple Mount and insisting that he would meet Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas anywhere and anytime to resume peace negotiations, the Palestinians were doubling down on hate.

Here are a few, brief examples of the Palestinian answer to America's even-handed diplomacy:

In an address to the Palestinian people that many hoped Abbas would use to try to ease tensions, he did the opposite. Abbas repeated false charges about Israel's intentions on the Temple Mount geared to incite a new holy war and treated terrorists as martyrs.

Hamas, the group that runs the independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza, reacted to the violence by expressing disappointment at the low total of Jews killed during the recent terror surge. They urged that Palestinians resort to methods of murder that might produce more Jewish corpses such as using cars to plow into people standing in crowded intersections or bus stops.

Lest their be any doubt about the level of incitement, Palestine Media Watch shared a video from PA TV in which one of the Muslim imams at the al-Aqsa mosque that the Muslim world wishes to defend against mythical Jewish threats, preached sermon broadcast to the Palestinian people in which he said the Jews were destined to build a shrine to worship the devil and that at the end of time Muslims will exterminate all the Jews.

The day after an Arab mob attacked and attempted to burn down the Tomb of Joseph, a Jewish shrine in Nablus, a group of Jews who attempted to visit the desecrated synagogue at the site were attacked and beaten by Palestinian Authority police. The incident was yet another example of the Palestinians' lack of interest in safeguarding holy places while falsely claiming that Israel is violating their rights.

But perhaps the most startling example of the imbalance in the discussion about the current conflict came from the world of international diplomacy.

YNET reported that six Arab nations acting on behalf of the Palestinian Authority were about to submit a resolution to the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization for a vote to be held this coming week. The resolution would declare that Jerusalem's Western Wall and its Plaza should be declared part of the al-Aqsa mosque compound and placed under Muslim rule. It also demanded that Rachel's Tomb, an exclusively Jewish shrine outside of Bethlehem and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron shared by Jews and Arabs, should also be recognized as being Muslim sites. The resolution also condemned Israeli self-defense measures against terrorism and the Jewish presence in Jerusalem while not mentioning the wave of attacks against Jews. Needless to say, the resolution is expected to pass when the UNESCO council meets in Geneva.

Fair-minded people will shake their heads at the hate broadcast by the PA and Hamas's call for murder but say these statements don't represent the sentiments of most Palestinians. They will also scoff at the UNESCO resolution as a meaningless gesture. But those who ignore these items and concentrate instead on calls for both sides to be reasonable, as President Obama has done will be missing the point. The problem with the debate about the rights and wrongs of the Middle East conflict has always been that the two sides don't have the same goals.

Dating back even to the era before the state of Israel gained independence, the Zionists and their backers have shown themselves willing to compromise, accepting numerous proposals for partition that would allow both peoples to share the land. The Arabs unanimously refused to contemplate partition or two states for decades. Three times, the Palestinian Authority rejected an Israeli offer of peace and statehood that would have given them almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem. Netanyahu also demonstrated his willingness to withdraw from the West Bank. But even today, the supposed Palestinian moderates led by Abbas will not recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn.

On the question of holy places, when Jerusalem was reunited in 1967, Israel's government chose to allow Muslims to retain control of the Temple Mount even though it was the holiest place in Judaism. Netanyahu continues to affirm that decision and Israeli police strictly enforce regulations at the site that discriminate against Jews by forbidding them to pray there.

But what has Israel gained from these reasonable positions? Nothing. As our Evelyn Gordon noted last week, settlement freezes and the faithful maintenance of the status quo on the Temple Mount have not been met by reciprocal Palestinian gestures or even an acknowledgment from the Obama administration. To the contrary, more than two decades since the Oslo Accords, every act of compromise or even unilateral retreat by Israel — such as the complete withdrawal of every settler, settlement and soldier from Gaza in 2005 — has been met by just the opposite reaction. The more Israel treats its foes' rights as legitimate, the more the Palestinians and much of the world treats Israel as having no legitimate rights at all.

The obvious consequence of this state of affairs is more violence against Jews, as Palestinians see no downside to even the most outrageous behavior.

It isn't likely that Israelis will ever be willing to match the Palestinians when it comes to being unreasonable. Netanyahu won't, as some Jews not unreasonably suggest, answer the Palestinians demand for the Western Wall by granting Jews the right to pray on the Temple Mount.

Nor will those who preach hate against Arabs be given prime time spots on Israeli TV. But is it really too much to ask the American media and government to note these facts and draw appropriate conclusions?

The Palestinians have repeatedly demonstrated they don't want peace. In a sane world, the United States and the international community would ignore their demands until they underwent a sea change in their political culture that might allow for a chance of peace. One can only hope that President Obama's successor — whoever that might turn out to be — will opt for a saner approach to the Middle East.

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JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of Commentary magazine, in whose blog "Contentions" this first appeared.

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