Politics & Policy

Israel, Palestine, and the Peace Pieties

The peace pieties are the code phrases used to undermine Israel and, ultimately, the West.

Faithful NRO readers are increasingly clear-eyed about what President Obama and his supporters call “the Middle East peace process.” They know this process has a diplomatic language of its own, a propaganda language that uses code phrases to make maximalist demands sound like righteous — or at least reasonable — negotiating positions. I call these phrases “the peace pieties.” Four of them are fundamental to the process, and NRO authors such as Andrew McCarthy, Charles Krauthammer, Mona Charen, and Clifford May have done an outstanding job of translating the first three into plain American English.

Peace piety #1 holds that “Israel must return to its 1967 borders.” President Obama said just that on May 19, 2011, and was clearly surprised by the speed with which a wall of opposition rose up against him. He hadn’t caught up with the fact that this peace piety has become the most widely exposed of the lot. NRO readers and millions of other Americans translated it swiftly and accurately. It means: Make Israel indefensible by giving the Arabs the high ground to the north and the east, leaving the Jewish state with an exposed western plain and a midsection nine miles wide. There would be no natural barrier between tiny Israel and millions of Palestinian Arabs committed to its destruction, backed by 22 Arab states with the same aim, as well as Iran. Calling that an acceptable border is a cruel joke. More and more Americans get it, and they’re not laughing.

Peace piety #2, the insistence that “Jerusalem must be a shared capital,” has long been transparent to Christian Evangelicals, and is increasingly so to millions of other thoughtful Americans, secular as well as religious. It means: Ignore the fact that Jerusalem is the holiest, most historically significant city in the 4,000-year history of the Judaeo-Christian world, the geographical heart of the two great religions that shaped Western civilization, making us who we are and our country the beacon of freedom it is. Ignore the fact that no self-respecting Muslim would —  or should — accept non-Muslim control of any part of Islam’s holiest and most historically significant cities, Mecca and Medina. Ignore the fact that no honorable Muslim would or should passively accept the sight of Islam’s holy shrines elsewhere being willfully defaced or destroyed, or the sight of peaceful Muslims being denied access to them or the right to pray there.

Then, ignore the fact that whenever Arab forces have controlled Jewish and Christian shrines, in Jerusalem and beyond — from the seventh century right through to today — they have repeatedly done exactly that and more, killing Jewish and Christian worshippers in a long series of attacks on “infidels,” in Jerusalem as in Cairo, Baghdad, and every other Middle Eastern city that still has any Jewish or Christian shrines left standing, or any Jews or Christians left alive to try to gain access to them. “Sharing Jerusalem” means ignoring all that and giving half of Jerusalem to the terrorist-embracing, shrine-destroying Arabs who call themselves Palestinians. This is not “sharing.” It is surrendering, and it is neither wise nor honorable. It sends a powerful message of weakness, of a declining Western civilization, ripe for toppling.

Peace piety #3, “the refugees’ right of return,” is less well known. Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain — a true and committed friend of Israel — was momentarily suckered into making quasi-accepting noises about it in response to a question on Fox News on May 22. He corrected himself within hours, after learning what NRO readers and millions of other good Americans have also learned. The “Palestinian right of return” is code for: Destroy Israel by swamping its 6 million Jews with millions of new Arab immigrants, as committed to the destruction of the Jewish state as the millions who are already on Israel’s side of the River Jordan. Again, this is not a formula for any sort of peace between Jews and Arabs. It is a death sentence for the Jewish state.

So far, so good, translation-wise. But to truly free ourselves from the destructive snares of a so-called peace process that has brought us and the Israelis 44 years of increasing terror attacks and propaganda-war defeats, we must all, finally, reject peace piety #4, the foundation stone of the whole corrupt process. It is the“two states for two peoples” idea, and to the best of my knowledge, only two NRO writers — David Pryce-Jones and I — have unequivocally rejected this piety of pieties, arguing that creating a separate Palestinian state would be a terrible blunder under any circumstances. The fundamental mistake here, as I see it, is buying into the myth that the Palestinians are a separate people, with a claim on the Holy Land that, if not superior to that of the Jews, is at least equal to it, because Palestinians are a native Middle Eastern people and Israeli Jews are not. In fact, the truth is the opposite.


Palestinians are native people, but they are not a people: a separate, centuries-old human group, distinguishable from other human groups by virtue of their common genes and/or language, religion, culture, history, or form of government. Obvious examples of Middle Eastern peoples include the Persians, Egyptians, Coptic Christians, Kurds, Berbers, Jews, and Arabs.

Palestinians have no comparable uniquenesses. They are Arabs, and they do not differ from their Sunni Arab brothers in any of the ways listed above. When the ancient state of Israel was partially re-created in 1948, there were no “Palestinians.” Arabs in Israel called themselves “Arabs,” or adopted the nationality of whichever Arab state claimed sovereignty over the part of Israel they lived in at the time — Jordan, Egypt, or Syria. Walid Shoebat, an Arab born in 1960 in Beit Sahour, a village near Bethlehem, put it this way: “We considered ourselves Jordanian until the Jews returned to Jerusalem. Then all of the sudden we were Palestinians — they removed the star from the Jordanian flag and all of the sudden we had a Palestinian flag.” In other words, Shoebat and millions of other Arabs with little or no real connection to the Biblical Holy Land became “Palestinians” in 1967, after Israel defeated the second of three all-out military assaults by the combined armies of Egypt and a slew of Arab nations created after World War II.

Defeat on the battlefield didn’t make most Egyptians or other Arabs abandon their goal — destroying the Jewish state — but it did make them change tactics. Henceforth, they became champions of “Palestinian rights,” mounting an all-out diplomatic and propaganda war against Israel. After their third military defeat, in 1973, they relied on that, and terrorist assaults — rather than massed armies — to destroy Israel over time. The very name “Palestinian” is an in-your-face irony. It’s a foreign name — derived from the Latin name Emperor Hadrian gave the state of Israel after he defeated the Jews’ last attempt to regain their independence from Rome in 135 a.d. When the Ottoman Turks conquered the area in 1516, the name disappeared, and it didn’t reemerge until the British replaced the Turks after World War I. Like everyone else, they called the Arabs “Arabs,” but they used the English version of the old Roman name, “Palestine,” to denote an area much bigger than Biblical Israel. Tasked with dividing this area between Arabs and Jews, they gave three-quarters of it to the Arabs, creating the new Arab state of Jordan, and, in effect, left the Jews, the Arabs, and the rest of us to fight it out over Biblical Israel.

Today, three-quarters of the people of Jordan call themselves Palestinians, along with most Arabs in Israel, and millions of other Arabs throughout the Middle East and far beyond it. Nearly 2,000 years after the Romans created the name, all Arab rulers and the Arab people as a whole embrace it with fervor, and why not? Relentless Arab propagandists have been so successful in selling it to the world that nearly all Westerners accept it without question. But, because there is no “p” sound in Arabic, most Arabs can’t pronounce it. They call it “Falastin.”

And if you think most Palestinians stay in Biblical Israel today because of some passionate attachment to the land, think again. Most stay because they have no real choice. The Arab brothers who champion “Falastinian rights” champion them only in Israel, and either reject Palestinian immigrants to their own countries altogether, or keep most of those they accept in prison-like “refugee camps,” isolated, impoverished, and embittered, generation after generation. There is hope, though. A 2004 poll of Arabs in what those same relentless Arab propagandists have taught us to call “the occupied areas” of Biblical Israel found that 70 percent of them would choose to leave, if given the assistance they would need to go elsewhere.


In striking contrast, the great misunderstanding about Israeli Jews is the near-universal assumption — in the West — that they are all relatively recent immigrants from Europe, America, and the Soviet Union. In fact, the average Israeli Jew is a Middle Eastern native whose family lived in the Middle East since Biblical times, and never lived anywhere else. Most Arabs, Egyptians, and Iranians know this. How could they not? Jews existed in their midst for centuries, until their governments, with enthusiastic popular support, expelled them, en masse, after Israel became a state again in 1948. These native Middle Eastern Jews — invisible to us — are the Mizrahi, and there is no irony about their name. “Mizrach” is the ancient Hebrew word for “east,” and the Jews of the east were a majority of all the Jews in the world from ancient times until the eighteenth century. They formed a majority of all the Jews in Israel by the 1960s, and they still do.

Arab propagandists have exploited our ignorance on this score, gleefully portraying Israelis as foreign invaders, colonists from the West, come to exploit the native peoples of the region. But we, too, bear a share of the blame for this blindness. A kind of unconscious Western chauvinism, here and in Israel itself, causes us to focus only on Israelis with roots in our world, Israelis who speak English or one of the European languages as well as Hebrew, and to ignore the existence of the mass of ordinary Israelis whose first or second language is Arabic or Farsi.


The upshot of all this for what too many of us still call “the peace process” is not just that this is the wrong time for it, because the Palestinian Authority has dropped its pretend-opposition to terrorism by offering to form a government with no-pretense Hamas terrorists. It’s not just that the proposed borders are the wrong ones — the ones Abba Eban, Israel’s foreign minister at the time of the Six-Day War, called “the Auschwitz borders.” It’s not just that without Israeli control over Jerusalem, neither Jews nor Christians can be assured that their major religious sites will continue to exist, or that they will continue to enjoy the right to visit them, and to pray there if they wish. The upshot is that the whole so-called Middle East peace process is a great Taqqiya — a deliberate deception by Arabs and Islamists, aimed at conning naïve Jews, Christians, and other Westerners into cooperating in their own defeat and destruction — first in Israel; then in Europe, where they have made significant progress already; and, finally, here in America.

It is past time — late, but not yet too late — for all who reject that outcome to join brave Turks like Burak Bekdil in saying a loud, clear, and final “No” to this misbegotten “peace process,” and to work for peace itself instead. Real peace, a defensible and lasting peace, can emerge only when we say no to spurious Palestinian claims to the Holy Land and return Israel to its original borders, stretching from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean, and from the Golan Heights to the Red Sea. Real peace will come — to us, to the Israelis, and to all who cherish freedom — only when we join Herman Cain and a heartening number of other Republican presidential hopefuls in telling the world, clearly, proudly, and unequivocally: “Mess with Israel, and you mess with us.”

Unless and until we do that, we don’t — and can’t — have genuine peace. We have instead a rerun of Munich in 1938, with Palestinians playing the part of Sudeten Germans, and our current president playing the role of British prime minister Neville Chamberlain, intent on cutting Israel in half, as Chamberlain agreed to cut Czechoslovakia in half, giving the high ground to the Sudeten Germans and their German Nazi backers, making Czech democracy indefensible. Recall, too, the fact that the British statesman most opposed to Munich at the time was Winston Churchill, and it seems both fitting and ominous that President Obama chose to return the gift the British people gave to the American people after World War II: a bust of Churchill.

— Barbara Lerner is a frequent contributor to NRO.


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