Donald Trump’s Defense Secretary, retired US Marine Corps and former head of the Central Command of the US Army (CENTCOM), Gen. James Mattis, made headlines earlier this month when told a Senate Armed Services Committee that Tel Aviv, and not Jerusalem, is the capital of Israel. When Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) asked him “What’s the capital of Israel?” Mattis answered, “The capital of Israel that I go to, sir, is Tel Aviv because that’s where all their government people are.”
That’s a refreshingly honest response, if you think about it. Had the official meetings between the security leadership and the general been conducted in the defense ministry’s building in Jerusalem (as soon as they build one, currently it’s listed on Kaplan Street, Hakirya, Tel Aviv) – his response would have changed.
And when Graham asked Mattis, “Do you agree with me that the capital of Israel is Jerusalem?” the general answered, “Sir, right now I stick with US policy.”
Which is the only way we want our generals, American and Israeli, to act, as subordinates to the political echelons in their respective countries. Indeed, when Graham finally asked Mattis if he supports moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, he answered cryptically, “I would defer to the nominee for secretary of state.”
Perfect answer, the only acceptable answer, in fact. Likewise when Mattis was asked if he supported the two-state solution, he said, “I do,” adding that he would be interested to hear an alternative solution.
Three years ago, General Mattis was harshly criticized for predicting that if the current situation in Judea and Samaria continues, Israel would necessarily evolve into an “apartheid state.” Now, the pro-Israel camp has been hit over the past three or four decades with the “A word” by Israel’s sworn enemies on the left, who used it as yet another annoying and lying pejorative. Mattis, on the other hand, offered a dispassionate analysis that many rightwing Israelis, especially those advocating sovereignty in the liberated territories, would endorse.
Speaking to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer after an Aspen Institute conference in 2013, Mattis warned: “I would tell you that the current situation is unsustainable. It’s got to be directly addressed. We have got to find a way to make the two-state solution that Democrat and Republican administrations have supported. We’ve got to get there, and the chances for it are starting to ebb because of the settlements, and where they’re at. [They] are going to make it impossible to maintain the two-state option.”
To summarize: in the current situation, with the two-state solution as the prescribed goal, the continued presence of Jewish settlements is an obstacle. Couldn’t agree more. Even those of us who believe the two-state solution is an ancient relic that never, ever received the support of the Arabs in serious negotiations, and which always, always ended in rivers of blood, would agree wholeheartedly that the settlements have been an obstacle, for a variety or reasons, most essentially because they are Jewish.
Mattis explained, “If I’m in Jerusalem and I put 500 Jewish settlers out here to the east and there’s 10,000 Arab settlers in here, if we draw the border to include them, either it ceases to be a Jewish state or you say the Arabs don’t get to vote – apartheid. That didn’t work too well the last time I saw that practiced in a country. So we’ve got to work on this with a sense of urgency.”
Here, too, Mattis is correct, if all he has to work with is a box called the two-state solution. There are many other boxes, however, which he, being the honest observer and not an ideologue on Middle East peace, would likely be glad to entertain. These would include creating a Palestinian autonomy under Israeli rule, where the Arabs within can vote for their municipal authorities but not for the Knesset. Another option is to give the Arabs living in the autonomy Jordanian citizenship, so they could vote for government, but in Jordan. Should Israel and Jordan eventually establish a federal alliance, this could prove to be a useful and productive solution.
What must be established, though, as MK Bezalel Smotrich and others have been saying for a few years now, is that the entire area from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea is governed lawfully and rightfully by the Jewish State of Israel. Once the world, the US, and General Mattis, have accepted this as a viable solution, the gates of prosperity and all the benefits of life in a Western democracy would open up to the Arabs inside the Palestinian Autonomy.
The US currently has between 10 and 15 million illegal aliens within its territory who work hard and pay taxes, but do not enjoy the right to vote, for any post. And yet, no one is accusing the US of being an apartheid state. At the essence of the South African Apartheid policy was a constitutionally enshrined belief in the inferiority of “black” and “colored” people. Both the US and Israel have sanctioned equality as the foundation of their democracies, and their laws reflect that. Including those laws which are necessary to enable both democracies to respond to security and other threats. Calling this “apartheid” is dishonest and intentionally misleading.
Mattis also told Blitzer in 2013, “I paid a military security price every day as a commander of CENTCOM because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel. That influences all the moderate Arabs who want to be with us, because they can’t come out publicly in support of people who don’t show respect for the Arab Palestinians. So [Kerry is] right on target with what he’s doing. I just hope the protagonists want peace and a two-state solution as much as he does.”
Four years later, give or take a few months, the situation Mattis described has changed radically. Something else former Secretary Kerry has done, enabling Iran to become a potential nuclear state, necessarily marginalized issues such as the pride of the Palestinians in the eyes of the still comparatively sane and stable Arab states, in favor of the need to seek critical security support from the only credible force in the region willing and able to stand up to the Tehran bullies: Israel. Also, the Obama foreign policy which set loose Islamist fervor in the region, has delivered yet another reason why countries like Egypt have been cooperating with Israel against the terrorist Hamas government. So Mattis should calm down, no pro-American Arab potentate is going to demand justice for the Palestinians before they permit the US to arm them in the war against radicalism.
Finally, Mattis was, in years past, extremely critical of the IDF strategy in Lebanon, writing that “the Israeli use of the effects doctrine in Lebanon (attempting to achieve psychological results in the local population, instead of aiming for traditional military targets) showed that “the terminology used was too complicated, vain, and could not be understood by the thousands of officers that needed to carry it out.”
Yes, finally a man who can explain the reasons behind the Elor Azaria fiasco!
Mattis also wrote: “Although there are several factors why the IDF performed poorly during the war, various post-conflict assessments have concluded that over reliance on Effects-based operations (EBO) concepts was one of the primary factors contributing to their defeat. […] [This] doctrine was in complete contradiction to the most important basic principles of operating an army in general […] and is not based upon, and even ignores [….] the universal principles of warfare. It is a completely mistaken concept that could not succeed and should never have been relied upon.”