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After a 34-year run, Gerry Adams is stepping down as leader of the Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein. In a world ablaze with seemingly intractable political conflagrations, his story offers a whisper of hope that even the fiercest fires of discord can eventually be subdued by the waters of peace.
I witnessed a small part of the Irish conflict myself when I visited the emerald island in the summer of 1984. It was the midst of “the Troubles,” and central Belfast exuded all the charm of a city under martial law. Policemen on patrol wore flak jackets. An armored personnel carrier idled at a major intersection waiting for the signal to change. Blown out shells of buildings sprouted weeds, and street signs shouted, DO NOT LEAVE CAR UNATTENDED.
“Which are the bad parts of town, the ones I should avoid?” I asked the owner of the bed-and-breakfast where I passed my first night in the capital city.
She dutifully pointed out the Shankill neighborhood on my map and cautioned me to steer clear of it. I thanked her and, with sophomoric self-confidence, proceeded there directly. As I worked my way into the district, I discovered disturbing signs of contention: school yards surrounded by 20-foot fences topped by razor-wire, churches pocked with scars from automatic-rifle fire, and the uneasy quiet of a battlefield waiting for the next barrage.
From what I learned about the conflict, it seemed that each side had sufficient justification to ensure that the violence would continue on and on without end.
900 YEARS OF DARKNESS
As early as 1171, English barons began seizing Irish lands for themselves. In 1541, Henry VIII of England declared himself King of Ireland, adding a poisonous strain of religious acrimony between Irish Catholics and British Anglicans.
By 1703, 90% of Irish land was owned by English lords, who enriched themselves while Irish peasants endured bitter poverty and, during the potato famine of 1845, starvation. Only in 1948, after generations of unrest, did the birth of the Irish Republic restore most of Ireland to the Irish.
However, the six northernmost counties voted to remain part of Great Britain. The majority of residents were the descendants of English lords, but they saw no reason to be stripped of their national identity because of the sins of their fathers. Meanwhile, the long-suffering Catholic minority seethed at having been denied the liberation of their countrymen to the south.
In 1968, a series of protest marches led to riots and the first use of guerrilla tactics by the Irish Republican Army. If they could not win freedom for Ireland through elections and negotiation, they would win it through terror.
Over the next three decades, 3,600 people lost their lives in violent clashes and bloody attacks, many of them orchestrated by Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA. And from 1983 forward, the face of Sinn Fein was Gerry Adams.
A TIME TO HEAL
Reviled by British leaders as either a terrorist front man or enabler, Mr. Adams struggled to navigate the treacherous straits between hardliners and advocates of negotiation. Some accused him of collaboration in murder, others of selling out his own people.
Whatever his faults or crimes, in 1998 Gerry Adams helped push through the Good Friday agreement, brokering the compromise that ended centuries of strife.
The greatest impediment to peace is often the will to make peace. Like it or not, we have to share our world with others who see the world differently, who have their own desires and dreams, who believe themselves justified in demands that contradict that strike us as anathema. As mutual hostility escalates, resolution seems increasingly impossible.
King Solomon warns: Do not say, “I will do to him as he has done to me and return upon others according to their own actions.”
When we demand what we believe we deserve, the frequent outcome is that we secure none of our demands. By giving up more than we want, we may end up with more than we ever believed we could get.
Once we recognize the advantage of peace over personal agenda, then the impossible becomes possible, and the ideal of peace has a chance to become reality.
Seemingly without end, political groups, government officials, and media outlets continue to blame Israel for unrest in the Mideast. At best, they lament the “cycle of violence,” suggesting that both sides are equally to blame.
With so many outlets providing platforms for misinformation, it’s no surprise how many people believe that Israel is at fault for denying the rights of the Palestinian people to live peacefully in the land that has been theirs since time immemorial.
However, as New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan used to say: “You’re entitled to your own opinions, but you’re not entitled to your own facts.”
So here are the facts.
Before 1920, even the concept of a Palestinian people did not exist. Arabs living in the region considered themselves part of greater Syria, until the French and British divided the region and ended hope of a single commonwealth. Only then, in a desperate attempt to create a national identity out of whole cloth, local Arabs proclaimed themselves Palestinians and begin lobbying for a country of their own.
And they got what they wanted. The next year, Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill divided the region into what are now Jordan and Israel. The Arabs received 76% of the land. The rest was reserved as a Jewish homeland.
But even that was not enough. In 1947, the United Nations divided the remaining territory roughly in half, leaving Israel with 13% of the original Mandate. The Jews accepted the compromise. The Arabs launched a war against the Jews.
Between 540,000 and 720,000 Arabs fled Israel, encouraged by leaders who promised that they would return to their homes after the Jews had been pushed into the sea. Over 70 years later, about 5 million Arab refugees remain, many in squalid camps, unsettled by their own people because of their value as a bargaining chip to demand repatriation or restitution that Israel cannot afford to give.
All the way back in October, 1949, Egyptian Foreign Minister Muhammad Salah A-Din told the Cairo journal Al-Masri that, “In demanding the return of the Palestinian refugees, the Arabs mean their return as masters, not slaves; or, to put it quite clearly — the intention is the termination of Israel.”
You can’t make peace with people who don’t want peace. On, 11 Dec 1948, the UN passed Resolution 194, frequently invoked by Arab leaders b/c it calls for repatriation of (or compensation for) all refugees (Article 11). Every Arab country voted against the resolution, which also guarantees access to holy sites (Article 7) and calls for commitment to peace.
Of course, no one ever mentions the 860,000 Jews who fled for safety from Arab lands at the same time, resettled by Israel without ever receiving restitution from the Arab countries that expropriated their homes and property.
We also don’t hear how, in 1949, Israel agreed to repatriate 100,000 Arabs as part of a peace negotiation; 35,000 were allowed to return, until repatriation was halted b/c of Arab refusal to make any compromises toward peace. In early 1950, the UN General Assembly established the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, with an annual budget of $54 million. Arab governments refused to cooperate. In 1959, only $7 million had been used while another $28 million lay available in a fund that was never used.
In fact, as early as 1960 King Hussein of Jordan admitted that “Arab leaders have approached the Palestine problem in an irresponsible manner… they have used the Palestine people for selfish political purposes. This is ridiculous and, I could say, even criminal.”
Khaled al-’Azm (Prime Minister of Syria 1948-49) wrote in his memoirs in 1973: “We have brought destruction upon a million Arab refugees, by calling upon them and pleading with them to leave their lands, their homes, their work and their business, and we have caused them to be barren and unemployed though each one of them had been working and qualified in a trade from which he could make a living.”
But the strategy of Arab leaders has always been to use the refugees as a pretext to reject peace in pursuit of their ultimate objective: genocide. Even after getting 87% of the mandatory territory in 1920 and 1947, they still rejected the UN partition, then tried to exterminate Israeli Jews in 1947, 1967, 1973, and have continued terror attacks until today.
By rejecting peace and inciting bloody uprisings, Arab leaders have condemned their own people to lives of poverty and violence. For years, families of suicide murderers were paid tens of thousands of dollars to encourage their “martyrdom.” Murders of Jews are celebrated and their perpetrators turned into heroes by naming streets and schools after them. Yasir Arafat, founder of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (which was established in 1964, three years before Israel had control of the West Bank region, Gaza, or the Golan Heights), embezzled billions of dollars that could have helped his own people.
There are many Palestinians who truly want peace, but any suspected of disloyalty to the power structure and the status quo are executed as sympathizers or collaborators, or else have their families threatened if they don’t “prove” themselves. And Palestinian children grow up in schools that teach hatred of and victimization by Israel, attend paramilitary camps that train them to kill Jews, and learn that the Holocaust is a myth fabricated by Jewish sympathizers in the Western World.
But facts don’t matter. Instead, again and again, Israel is smeared with the same slanderous refrain: occupation, oppression, expansion, apartheid. It doesn’t matter that Israeli Arabs enjoy greater prosperity, literacy, and life expectancy than the Arabs in the surrounding countries. Not to mention freedom. Just as it doesn’t matter that Israeli Arabs have been represented in every walk of life, including an Arab captain of the Tel Aviv football team, an Arab deputy speaker of Knesset, an Arab Supreme court justice, and an Arab Miss Israel.
It doesn’t matter that Hamas leaders used their new autonomy to launch missiles against Israeli civilians, while using their own people as human shields in order to win over public opinion. It doesn’t matter that Hamas embezzled millions in humanitarian aid to build sophisticated terror tunnels under the border to attack Israelis.
It also doesn’t matter that the IDF goes to lengths no other country in the world would ever consider to minimize the collateral damage to Arab civilians, dropping leaflets warning of impending attacks and placing its own soldiers in far greater danger than the rules of warfare require or that make sense from a military point of view.
Instead, the propaganda campaign against Israel goes on, even when the casualties are Palestinians themselves. Like when a Palestinian girl stabs a Palestinian man whom she mistakenly believed to be Israeli, the headlines scream Palestinian teenager killed by Israeli forces. And like the 900 workers losing their jobs because the BDS zealots managed to coerce Sodastream to relocate over the green line; it doesn’t matter if a few hundred more martyrs are reduced to poverty if the ideologues can score a PR victory against Israel.
The European community and the Obama administration have ignored these facts and evidence to embrace political correctness and moral equivalence, thereby enabling Palestinian violence against Israeli Jews and prolonging the suffering of Jews and Arabs alike.
No one could say it more clearly or simply than Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu: “If the Arabs put down their weapons today, there would be no more violence. If the Jews put down their weapons today, there would be no more Israel.”
Not only has Iran has repeatedly violated UN resolutions, but the administration and other governments may have worked to conceal those violations. Iran has declared its intent to destroy the United States — the Great Satan. The demands upon Iran are minimal, temporary, and unverifiable. Even before the ink is dry, Iran is violating the treaty with Maj. Gen. Ghasem Soleimani’s trip to Russia. Iran will only grow more brazen, because its leaders know that they will not be held accountable by a weak president and an international community in denial.
Senator, this deal is built on a fantasy. The lessons of Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement are written on the monuments to the martyrs of the Holocaust and World War II. The lessons of Jimmy Carter’s appeasement treaty are written on the nuclear arsenal of North Korea. Do we really want to risk the world’s future so that Barack Obama and John Kerry can claim a fictitious victory that is worse than useless?
You don’t have to be Thomas Jefferson to recognize that you can’t make peace with people who don’t want to make peace with you. Do you really want your name appended to the list of Obama loyalists who will choose politics over common sense?
After last week’s “historic” Obama-Kerry Compromise with Iran, it’s instructive to take a look back to see how little has changed. I published this op-ed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on 2 August 2002.
Henry Clay earned his reputation as “the great compromiser” when he forestalled the outbreak of the Civil War by ten years. Even so, one has to wonder whether even Mr. Clay’s genius for mediation could save the Mideast peace process from becoming a towering embarrassment to US foreign policy.
Compromise, according to Webster’s, is “a method of reaching agreement in a dispute, by which each side surrenders something that it wants.” This shouldn’t be hard to comprehend for anyone with a background in high school civics. What does remain incomprehensible is how otherwise reasonable people might seriously apply the term “compromise” to past peace proposals, and why anyone thinks it will be different the next time around.
Definitions notwithstanding, immediately after the Camp David negotiations in the summer of 2000 the New York Times observed that Yasir Arafat’s “willingness for more talks suggests room for compromise.”
The Times deserved credit for optimism and imagination, but won few points for objective editorial insight. Indeed, only a month earlier (on July 11 of that year), the Times reported that, “The Palestinians want a settlement based on United Nations Resolution 242,” implying that if not for Israeli intransigence, there would have been peace in the region long before.
Let’s see. Resolution 242 mandates 1) the “withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict,” and 2) the “termination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every State in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.”
For its part, Israel returned more than 90% of the Sinai to Egypt in 1981, and offered to give more than 90% of Judea and Samaria to the Palestinians under former Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Pretty good, for a compromise.
From the Palestinian side, however, it’s been hard to detect even a whiff of compliance. Rather, these are the ways the Palestinian Authority has terminated its claims and belligerency: all government and schoolbook maps, as well as children’s television programs, identify the whole of Israel as “Palestine;” teenagers at Palestinian “summer camps” train with automatic weapons to fight Israelis; Arafat has named squares and streets after Hamas suicide bombers; Israeli security has caught PA officials smuggling numerous weapons, including anti-tank weapons, into Israel. The list could easily fill this column.
Ehud Barak had been prepared to overlook all that. But then the Camp David talks broke down anyway, largely because of Palestinian insistence of absolute sovereignty over East Jerusalem. Yet Jerusalem has been the heart and soul of Israel for over 3000 years, the holiest site on earth according to Jewish tradition and the Old Testament. The Arab’s spiritual capital is Mecca, whereas Jerusalem is merely a religious and historical footnote, not mentioned by name even once in the Quran. What’s more, from 1948 to 1967, when Jordan controlled East Jerusalem, not one Arab ruler visited the city, except Jordon’s own King Hussein. Electricity and water services were neglected, and no government offices or cultural centers were set up there.
So what does the Palestinian Authority want? What it has always wanted: everything. The very concept of compromise appears utterly foreign to the thinking of Palestinian leaders, and is entirely absent from their behavior. It’s hard to see what the PA has ever thought it’s bringing to the negotiating table, except for the vague promise of controlling terrorism and the hazy commitment of conceding Israel’s right to exist, a right already granted by the United Nations over half a century ago.
In hindsight, it’s also hard to see what Ehud Barak hoped to accomplish by bargaining away so much for so little. According to Mideast analyst David Makovsky, Mr. Barak’s objective was “peace without illusions.” Peace between governments, the former Prime Minister believed, is the only possible goal presently within grasp; peace between peoples is generations away.
Mr. Barak assumed that once a treaty is signed, all of Israel’s Arab neighbors will abide by its conditions, gradually leading to normalization and the eventual cessation of the hateful rhetoric that foments Arab violence.
The trouble is, there’s no evidence it would work. Whatever the terms, any deal that produces even the coldest peace must rest on the foundation of compromise, a foundation that doesn’t exist. The indoctrination of children with hatred of Israel continues, even in Egypt, nearly three decades after it grudgingly traded political recognition for the return of its land.
Other Arab nations have refused to offer even this little olive branch; they have never demonstrated the slightest willingness to compromise. Neither Israel nor the United States should take another step forward until they do. Let us hope that the new U. S. president will learn from the errors of his failed namesake and not put his hope in false promises that have already led nowhere.
Jewish billionaires Sheldon Adelson and Haim Saban have organized the first meeting of its kind, bringing together 50 Israeli and pro-Jewish corporations to push back against anti-Israel boycotts (BDS).
The real tragedy is that their efforts are necessary. The superficiality that typifies the Western World is self-evident with even the most feeble efforts to scratch the patina of political correctness that turns perpetrators into victims and victims into provocateurs.
Shame on those who perpetuate the myth that Israel is the source of Arab suffering. Shame on those who provide the millions in aide that Gaza Arabs never see because their leaders spend it on high-tech tunnels for attacking Israeli civilians. Shame on those who caused hundreds of West Bank Arabs to lose their jobs by pressuring Soda Stream to move their production plant back across the “green line.” Shame on those who don’t hold the leaders of surrounding Arab nations accountable for ignoring the plight of Arab refugees for 60 years so they can vilify Israel for their own criminal negligence.
And shame on Jimmy Carter and his ilk who perpetuate the demonstrable lie that Israel is an apartheid state.
Would an apartheid state produce an Arab citizenry that has a higher standard of living, literacy, and longer life expectancy than that of the surrounding Arab nations? Would it have permitted a sitting Arab Supreme Court justice, Arab ministers, generals, ambassadors, and consulate-generals, an Arab Israeli national soccer team captain , and an Arab Miss Israel?
But ideologues never let facts get in the way of ideology. The successful western world must be held responsible for every evil in the world, even as radicals sacrifice their own lives to destroy the societies that allow well-meaning fools to enable the agents of their own self-destruction.
Here’s a beautiful spread from Cosmos Magazine on cooperation in nature. If natural enemies can make peace with one another for mutual advantage, shouldn’t human communities be able to recognize how much more we stand to gain by setting aside our petty differences… or even working through our substantive differences?
It’s largely a matter of will. We have to want to resolve our disagreements more than we want to be right. Some earlier thoughts on conflict resolution here.
Thanks to Rabbi Yaakov Feitman for his article in this week’s Mishpacha Magazine.