Think Tank Misleads C-SPAN Viewers About Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
JNS.org – In a recent event aired on the C-SPAN network, reaching potentially tens of millions of viewers, the prominent public policy think tank the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) ignored the elephant in the room when discussing prospects for peace between Israel and Palestinian Arabs — unacceptable, seemingly unalterable Palestinian demands coupled with unceasing anti-Israel, anti-Jewish incitement.
The nearly three-hour live broadcast (“Israeli-Palestinian Conflict”) on May 31 from Washington, DC’s Willard Hotel was a case of seemingly well-intentioned individuals aiming to discuss conditions for a two-state peace solution between Israelis and Palestinians. The audience in the hall consisted of no more than a few dozen invitees, all seemingly exhibiting groupthink, but a useful challenge did occur during the time for audience questions. As if it were the key factor, much of the discussion was devoted to the feasibility of creating workable security systems needed to reassure both the Israelis and the Palestinians.
The panelists consisted of CNAS’s Ilan Goldenberg (moderator); Michele Flournoy, director of CNAS’s Middle East Security Project; CNAS CEO and co-founder Amnon Reshef, a retired Israel Defense Forces major general; and John Allen, a retired United States Marine Corps four-star general currently affiliated with the Brookings Institution.
Washington insider Flournoy, former US under secretary of defense for policy, was the highest-ranking woman at the Pentagon.
The discussion failed to deal with key problems: Palestinian leaders rejected US and Israeli offers of two-state solutions in 2000, 2001, 2008, and spurned renewed talks on such an agreement proposed by Secretary of State John Kerry in 2014. The Palestinian Authority (West Bank ruler) insists on various conditions unlikely to be accepted by any Israeli government before peace negotiations can take place, including: Israel must accede to the demands that it accept Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state (evidently 22 Arab Muslim states is fine but one Jewish state is one too many) and a “right of return” (that does not exist in international law) for millions of Arabs (nearly all of whom have never lived in Israel).
The closest that the discussion came to dealing with fundamental issues springing from repeated Palestinian rejections of the two-state solution came at the outset of the discussion. Goldenberg, the moderator, said, “The work…in 2000 all the way through 2013…made it easier for negotiators to wrap their heads around what the solution might be.” If that meant it made recognition by mediators of Palestinian rejectionism unavoidable, then it was a start.
The discussion failed to touch on the demilitarization issue. Israelis, based on the painful lessons of a history of Arab aggression against the Jewish state starting in 1948, have insisted that any future Palestinian state must be demilitarized. Given large-scale arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip, even under partial Israeli blockade, and availability of arms on the West Bank, this seems unlikely. But it was not discussed by the CNAS panelists.
During the time for questions, this dilemma was posed by the audience: What if after a peace agreement is signed, political change occurs within the two parties to the conflict? Goldenberg restated the point: “On the Palestinian side, what happens if you end up with a Hamas government (whose Islamist charter commits it to the destruction of Israel and killing Jews) or on the Israeli side, what do you do if you end up with a government that is not happy with the situation?” Allen provided the response: “That is difficult—let’s just put it that way (the audience laughs).” Two hours into the program, the moderator commented following a lengthy Reshef monologue about security issues, “Well, thank you Amnon Reshef, about a future we believe is possible.” Indeed.
The discussion avoided dealing with Palestinian attitudes that could doom any peace process. Ignored was repeated opinion polling of Palestinian Arabs suggesting that pessimism is warranted. For example, a September 2015 poll showed that a majority of Palestinian Arabs favor elimination of Israel as a Jewish state and support violence against Israelis.
About two-thirds into the program, Reshef, in a head-scratcher, asserted, “One should take into consideration that during the last almost 50 years the Israeli public was brainwashed by all of the various [Israeli] governments in the necessity of the settlements in the West Bank in order to secure Israel and all of this stuff. So, we are going to face a very difficult challenge how to change the state of mind of the Israeli people.” Reshef’s obsessive focus on settlements notwithstanding, it’s unfortunate that the audience wasn’t informed that settlements comprise less than 6 percent of the disputed territory and that Israel, in the 2008 two-state offer it made—an offer that the Palestinian leadership rejected — put forth the notion of land swaps.
It’s difficult to put much, if any, credence in a lengthy discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship in which the only use of the word “brainwashed” (or its equivalent) comes in reference to the “Israeli public.” But Israel is a robust Western-style democracy, unlike the Palestinian Arab autocratic societies of the West Bank and Gaza. Belying Reshef’s false characterization of an Israeli populace brainwashed into supporting the “necessity of settlements,” opinion polling released in March 2016 shows a sharp difference of opinion that could be expected in such a vibrant, free society. Pew Research Center findings reported in the New York Times on March 9, 2016, found “substantial differences among Israeli Jews on crucial questions. Even among self-identified centrists, opinion was split three ways on the issue of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. Overall, a third believed the settlements hurt Israel’s security, a third thought they helped security, and the remainder said they made no difference.”
Indeed, it is the Palestinian Arabs who display signs of being a brainwashed people. There’s the incitement problem in the West Bank, led by the “moderate” Fatah movement — whose antisemitic, anti-Zionist indoctrination is difficult to distinguish from that of the terrorist Hamas regime in Gaza. The Palestinian Authority presides over a society influenced for decades by a steady stream of antisemitic, anti-Israel incitement from official and semiofficial sources. This violates Article 26 (2) of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as Israeli-Palestinian “peace process” agreements. On the other hand, there is nothing in mainstream Jewish society relating to Arabs (or any ethnic/religious/racial group) that is remotely analogous to the incitement found chronically in official Palestinian sources aimed at the destruction of Israel and Jews. Palestinian Arabs — and not surprisingly, their anti-Israel supporters elsewhere — have demanded a Jew-free apartheid in the West Bank, though 1.5 million Arabs live in Israel as citizens with equal rights. A panel discussion by experts that avoids this fundamental reality is of little use to viewers.
All in all, the CNAS/C-SPAN collaboration, rather than informing audiences about the key issues hindering Israeli-Palestinian peace prospects, has obscured these issues.
Myron Kaplan is a senior research analyst with CAMERA, the Boston-based 65,000-member Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. Any opinions expressed above are solely those of the writer.