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September 3, 2015 / 19 Elul, 5775
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The Elephant And The Sand Castle

Seeking to place blame for the failure of the Kerry initiative is like trying to calculate why a sand castle cannot support the weight of an elephant: It simply is not built for it.

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Why is there no peace in the Middle East?

“There are a lot of reasons for the [recent] peace effort’s failure,” writes Israeli analyst Nachum Barnea on Ynet, but “the primary sabotage came from the settlements.” This is the conclusion of unnamed “senior American officials involved in Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace push” who talked with Barnea.

Just curious: Did the Arab side agree to live in peace with Israel before there was a Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria, such as in 1948? Did the Arabs accept Israel in 1964 when the PLO was established with the objective of destroying Israel? (Hint: They didn’t.)

“From the U.S. perspective,” Barnea writes, “the issue of the settlements was largely to blame” for the breakdown of talks. The officials said they couldn’t understand why Israel rejected Abbas’s demand for a three-month freeze on settlement construction. “Why is it such a big deal?” they innocently asked.

It’s questions like that that make it hard to believe that Barnea was actually talking to “senior” officials who were truly “involved” in the peace talks. Don’t they remember what happened the last time Israel agreed to a construction freeze in Judea and Samaria? Not only did it nearly drain Israel’s entire housing industry, leaving long-term financial damage in its wake, but it also brought further Palestinian blackmail and demands, with absolutely no Arab concessions.

It was in late 2009 that Israel declared a ten-month construction freeze, under American brokerage, thus paying the Palestinians to deign to agree to come to the negotiating table. “We hope this decision will help launch meaningful peace negotiations,” Prime Minister Netanyahu declared at the time.

But the PA played its cards well. For nine months it simply refused to begin negotiating, and then finally claimed, “This ten-month moratorium is not acceptable; it must be ‘infinite.’ ”

Only in the final month of the freeze did the PA finally pretend it had agreed to talk – and then, only on one topic: “The freeze must continue indefinitely, or else no talks.” Thus, Israel had agreed to freeze the lives of 350,000 Israelis just so that the PA would agree to negotiate about how much longer the freeze would go on.

Israel did not fall for the trap, ended the freeze as scheduled, and negotiations have been stuck right there ever since. Yet now, it’s considered Israel’s fault…

Another aspect of the “blame the settlements” approach can be seen in the hostile reaction to Israel’s reissuing of tenders for 700 housing units in Gilo. Gilo is a Jewish suburb of Jerusalem, in an area that had been unilaterally and illegally administered by Jordan between 1948 and 1967. (Illegal, because the area was supposed to be part of a Palestinian state, according to the 1947 UN partition resolution; Jordan refused to accept this, invaded the area to attack Israel, and then took for itself parts of Jerusalem, as well as Judea and Samaria.)

To blame the talks’ breakdown on housing plans in Gilo is the height of smug hypocrisy. Everyone knows that Gilo will always be a part of Israel, no matter what “peace agreement” is ever reached. Gilo is far from just another little “settlement.” It is home to over 40,000 Israelis from all walks of life – including some of Israel’s most prominent left-wing pundits – and is an intrinsic part of Yerushalayim in every way. So, for that matter, are Ramat Eshkol, N’vei Yaakov, East Talpiyot, and other Jerusalem “settlements” claimed by the Palestinian Authority.

The truth is that seeking to place blame for the failure of the Kerry initiative is like trying to calculate why a sand castle cannot support the weight of an elephant: It simply is not built for it. The Arab world is simply not built to accept the existence of Israel in its midst. The PA, specifically, teaches its youth that the Jews have no national or historical rights in the area; that those who murder them in suicide and other attacks are to be glorified; and that the several thousand nomads who lived in the Holy Land together with Jews in recent centuries are actually the forebears of a “glorious Palestinian nation” that has been around for 2,000 years – even before the advent of Islam.

About the Author: Chaim Silberstein is president of Keep Jerusalem-Im Eshkachech and the Jerusalem Capital Development Fund. He was formerly a senior adviser to Israel's minister of tourism. Hillel Fendel, past senior editor at Israel National News/Arutz-7, is a veteran writer on Jerusalem affairs. Both have lived in Jerusalem and now reside in Beit El.


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