Politics & Policy

Jews in the Judean Desert?

Israel’s proposed plan to build in E1 wouldn’t shatter a possible two-state solution.

More than 40,000 people have been slaughtered during the rebellion in Syria, and the death toll rises daily. The European Union does not appear to be particularly concerned. North Korea’s rulers have launched a three-stage rocket, moving closer to their goal of developing a nuclear-tipped ICBM, and they’re sharing nuclear-weapons technology with the world’s leading sponsors of terrorism in Iran. The EU does not seem to be worrying about that either. Israel is considering building homes on barren hills adjacent to Jerusalem. The EU’s 27 foreign ministers said they were “deeply dismayed” and warned Israel of unspecified consequences if the plan is carried out.

The European Union — recent winner, I should note, of the Nobel Peace Prize — has its priorities. So let’s talk about what the Israelis are doing to so distress them.

The area in which Israel may build covers 4.6 square miles. For the sake of comparison, Denver International Airport is 53 square miles. Known as E1, this area lies within a territory that has a much older name: the Judean Desert. Might Jews think they have a legitimate historical claim to the Judean Desert? This question is rarely asked.

For Israeli military planners, E1’s strategic value is more germane than its history. Developing it would help in the defense of Jerusalem, and would connect Jerusalem to Maaleh Adumim, an Israeli town with a population of 40,000. Media reports note that both Israelis and Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital. Media reports often fail to note that right now both Jews and Arabs live in Jerusalem — for the most part peacefully, with both populations growing — while Hamas vows to forcibly expel every Jew from Jerusalem. Such threats of ethnic cleansing also do not trouble the EU much.

It has been widely reported that if Israel should build in E1, the possibility of a two-state solution would be shattered. The New York Times was among those reporting this but, to the paper’s credit, it later published a correction, stating that building in E1 actually “would not divide the West Bank in two,” nor would it cut off the West Bank cities Ramallah and Bethlehem from Jerusalem. Anyone looking at a map would see that.

People forget, or perhaps choose not to remember, that Israelis always have been willing to give up land for peace, including land acquired in defensive wars. Historically, that has not been a common practice, for a very sound reason: Aggression can be deterred only if it carries substantial risk. Nevertheless, Israelis gave up Gaza and the Sinai, and have offered to give up more land — at least 97 percent of the West Bank, retaining only those areas absolutely necessary for national security.

Israelis do want something in exchange: an end to the long conflict they have been fighting against those who insist that the Jewish people, uniquely, has no right to self-determination, no right to independence, no right to self-rule within their ancient and ancestral homeland.

What Israelis have received instead: missile and terrorist attacks and, last week, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal at a rally in Gaza proclaiming that “jihad,” armed struggle, will continue until Israel is defeated, conquered, and replaced — every square mile — by an Islamist theocracy.

“Since Palestine is ours, and it is the land of the Arabs and Islam,” he said, “it is unthinkable that we would recognize the legitimacy of the Israeli occupation of it. . . . Let me emphasize that we adhere to this fundamental principle: We do not recognize Israel . . . The Palestinian resistance will crush it and sweep it away, be it Allah’s will.” He added: “We will free Jerusalem inch by inch, stone by stone. Israel has no right to be in Jerusalem.”

Within the EU there was a debate about whether to comment on that. Eventually, pressure from Germany and the Czech Republic led the EU to issue a mild rebuke to Hamas — a single paragraph in a three-page statement focusing on Israel’s “dismaying” behavior.

Mahmoud Abbas, regarded as a moderate Palestinian leader, could not bring himself to call Mashaal’s latest threats wrong — or even unhelpful. Instead, Azzam Alahmed, a senior official in Abbas’s Fatah organization, described Mashaal’s speech as “very positive,” because it stressed the need for reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah. Such reconciliation would be achieved not by Hamas softening its positions, but by Fatah more explicitly agreeing that Israel’s extermination — rather than a two-state solution — remains the Palestinian goal, the final solution, if you will.

Just after the conclusion of the truce halting the most recent Hamas/Israel battle, Abbas went to the U.N. General Assembly to request that Palestine be recognized as a “non-member state.” The outcome was never in doubt — the UNGA, which cannot with a straight face be described as a deliberative body, has a reflexively anti-Israeli majority. Abbas’s action was a blatant violation of the Oslo Accords, under which any change in the Palestinians’ status is to come about only through negotiations with Israel.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman laments that “the Europeans in general, and the European left in particular, have so little influence” in Israel. He is puzzled as to why that is. He insists that “it’s incumbent on every Israeli leader to test, test and test again — using every ounce of Israeli creativity — to see if Israel can find a Palestinian partner for a secure peace.” Only by so doing, he adds, can Israel “have the moral high ground in a permanent struggle.”

If “creative” Israelis were to find such a partner, would Friedman be able to arrange a life-insurance policy for him? And between those threatening their neighbors with genocide — which is, indisputably, what Hamas is doing — and those offering to negotiate peace with their neighbors — which is what Israel is doing — can there really be ambiguity about who holds the moral high ground?

Evidently, there can — at least for Friedman and the EU and, I’m afraid, lots of other folks around the world. Israelis, and their few friends, may just have to learn to live with that as best they can.

— Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on national security.

Clifford D. MayClifford D. May is an American journalist and editor. He is the president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a conservative policy institute created shortly after the 9/11 attacks, ...

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