The Bob Newhart Peace Plan

President Bill Clinton looks on as Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (left) and PLO leader Yasser Arafat shake hands after signing a peace accord at the White House in 1993. (Gary Hershorn/Reuters)
The Palestinians need to stop making war before their conflict with Israel can be resolved.


There’s a Bob Newhart sketch you probably know: A woman walks into a therapist’s office and says that her life is being spoiled because she spends all of her time obsessing over the fearful possibility that she will be buried alive in a box. His advice:

Stop it!”

She’s resistant, and lists her other problems:

“I’m bulimic. I put my finger down my throat and—”

Stop it!

“I have self-destructive relationships with men.”

Stop it!”


There is a great deal of wisdom in that. Jay Nordlinger likes to tell a story about “B-1 Bob” Dornan, the Republican congressman from California. He was a famously tough guy, an Air Force captain who survived two parachute bailouts in the Fifties and registered black voters in Mississippi in the Sixties. He said the hardest thing he ever did was quit smoking. But it’s the easiest thing in the world to do: You just stop it. Drinking, drugs, eating junk food — giving any of those up is a purely negative achievement. You just don’t do it anymore. Simple. “Simple as a flower, and that’s a complicated thing.”

This week marks 25 years since the Rose Garden ceremony celebrating the signing of the Oslo Accords. You’ll remember the famous picture of a beaming President Bill Clinton kind of shoving PLO terrorist Yasser Arafat and Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin toward each other to shake hands.

Like many of the purported victories of the Clinton administration, that moment of triumph has not aged very well. As Herb Keinon writes in the Jerusalem Post:

The longed-for peace still tarries, the New Middle East of Shimon Peres, one of the architects and leading proponent of the Oslo Accords, never emerged. In fact, some argue that the handshake 25 years ago did not improve the chances of peace between Arabs and Israelis, but actually — because it raised and then dashed hopes — pushed them farther away. A quarter-century since the formal kickoff of the Oslo process, peace between the two sides has rarely felt more distant.

A peace plan isn’t peace. Peace negotiations aren’t peace. Nobel Peace Prizes aren’t peace, either, though they were handed out after Oslo.

Peace is peace.

And war is war: There were 169 Palestinian suicide attacks between 1993 and 2016, targeting shopping malls, bus depots, the streets of downtown Jerusalem. In 2014 alone, there were 4,500 rocket and mortar attacks on Israelis. The Palestinians still proudly celebrate their stunning military victory over a pregnant woman, seven children, and five other civilians eating pizza at the Battle of Sbarro. There is constant violence on the Gaza border, and balloons and kites now are used to deliver incendiary devices into Israeli cities. There are practically no diplomatic relationships between the Israeli government and the Palestinian government, partly because the Palestinians have two competing governments run by two competing terrorist organizations: Fatah in the West bank and Hamas in Gaza. The United States government has announced that it will cease funding the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), and an Israeli newspaper reported that the Trump administration, through Jared Kushner and his representative Jason Greenblatt, had offered the Palestinians $5 billion to come to the negotiating table again — a claim Greenblatt denies. President Trump has suggested that he’ll rely on financial leverage to motivated the Palestinians, telling reporters: “I’d say, ‘You’ll get money, but we’re not paying you until we make a deal. If we don’t make a deal, we’re not paying.’”

Another deal. One cannot fault the administration for trying. What else is there to do?

If only Secretary of State Bob Newhart were here to offer the Palestinians some sound advice: “Stop it.”

The conflict in Israel might be settled 1 million different ways, but Palestinian powers reject 999,999 of those possibilities in favor of the one outcome that the Israelis cannot accept: the elimination of the Jewish state as such. To the extent that the Palestinian powers have the consent of the people they purport to rule, this is what is being consented to: war and more war, misery and more misery, with the Palestinians themselves suffering some of the worst of it. But the Israelis cannot make peace with people who will not make peace with them. They can only do what they have tried to do: protect themselves and look for harm-reduction opportunities.

There is plenty of valid criticism of the Israeli government under Benjamin Netanyahu and others, of the Israeli Right, and even of Israeli society at large. No politician, no administration, and no government is without its own interests distinct from those of the people in whose service they are employed. If there were an Olympics of finger-pointing, the world’s commentators on Middle Eastern affairs would have all the gold medals. But whatever you make of all that, the facts have to be taken into consideration: The Israeli state exists, and the Palestinian state, thank goodness, does not, being as it is barely more than a dangerous hypothesis. A state is a weapon as fearsome as a nuclear missile, and one can guess what the Palestinians would try to do with one, if they had one that worked.

It may be the case that Chemi Shalev is correct when he writes in Haaretz that Netanyahu et al. never gave Oslo a chance:

After demolishing the Oslo agreements, [Netanyahu] is now working to deplete the mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO and its role as the representative of the Palestinian people as a whole. He ignores Mahmoud Abbas, refusing to make even a minimal effort to earn his trust. He is willing to contemplate de facto recognition of Hamas rule in Gaza, a move that would undermine the Palestinian Authority’s claim, as heir and arm of the PLO, to represent the Palestinian as a whole; His aides have even been heard to whisper in Trump officials’ ears about the desirability of making the separation permanent by linking the future of Gaza to Egypt and the West Bank’s, in one form or another, to Jordan. With the active assistance of the Trump administration, Netanyahu is also endeavoring to eradicate the very concept of a Palestinian diaspora and its refugees, a move that would subvert the very raison d’etre for the PLO’s existence in the first place.

This is meant to be an indictment. What it sounds like to me is a pretty good program, because the fundamental “raison d’etre for the PLO’s existence” is making war on Israel, whatever strategic pauses or rhetorical innovations it comes up with. And there will not be peace until the Palestinians stop making war. Whatever your politics, whatever your analysis of the situation, however you apportion blame — that is the fact.

Israel has been under assault from the moment of its foundation. The 25th anniversary of the Oslo agreement is just one more milestone, marking a quarter century in which Israel has continued to grow and thrive in spite of the rockets falling on it, a quarter century in which the Palestinians have not learned how to make anything other than war.

Like the man said: “Stop it.”


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