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Mike Khizam op-ed in Adelaide Advertiser: A Deconstruction

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In an online op-ed for the Adelaide Advertiser on Friday 11 August, AIJAC guest Dr Eran Lerman congratulated the South Australian Legislative Council for rightly calling for a negotiated outcome between Israel and the Palestinian Authority prior to a Palestinian state being recognised.

Presumably in response to this, Australian Friends of Palestine Association executive officer Mike Khizam had his own piece published on the Advertiser's website on Monday 14 August.

While Dr Lerman used nuance and reason to make his point, Khizam relied on anti-Israel canards, missing context and blatant mistruths to press his own misinformed views.

There is much wrong with the piece, but I will focus on a few key issues:

The new motion effectively supports business as usual for Israel and its fifty year occupation of the Palestinian territories. It only supports recognition at the end of negotiations; at the end of a currently non-existent peace process.

The peace process at the moment is most definitely stalled, but whose fault is this? Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu frequently repeats an open invitation for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to come to the negotiating table without preconditions.

In 2008, then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud made Abbas an unprecedented final status offer, which gave Palestinians land equivalent to all of the West Bank and Gaza after land swaps and included the painful concession of giving up Jerusalem's Old City to international control. He told Abbas, "it will be 50 years before there will be another Israeli prime minister that will offer you what I am offering you now. Don't miss this opportunity". Abbas never responded. Recently, Abbas described his response to that offer in an interview with the following words, "I rejected it out of hand."

In 2010, the United States requested a 10-month settlement construction freeze to coax Abbas to the table; he waited nine months before entering negotiations, and even then only wanted to discuss extending the freeze.

Martin Indyk, Chief US negotiator during the 2014 negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, told The Atlantic in July 2014: "I saw him [Netanyahu] sweating bullets to find a way to reach an agreement." But Abbas simply walked away.

Hence it is Abbas who refuses to negotiate in good faith, and it is Abbas who walked away from negotiations in 2008, 2010 and 2014. Similarly, his predecessor Yasser Arafat rejected Ehud Barak's offers in 2000 and 2001. So if the peace process is stalled, it certainly isn't Israel's fault. Yet Mike Khizam wants to reward the Palestinian Authority for its consistent intransigence and refusal to negotiate in good faith.

Recognition is designed to help force the Israelis to engage in genuine negotiations and to stop activities, like settlement building on Palestinian land, that undermine the possibility of peace.

The Israelis are not shunning negotiations and as for settlement building undermining the possibility of peace, as we have demonstrated here, settlements take up 2% of the West Bank's land no new settlements have been built since 1999. Furthermore, construction that has occurred In the last eight years under the Netanyahu government, always within existing settlement boundaries, has in fact barely kept up with natural population growth.

Regarding "settlement building on Palestinian land", under the Oslo Accords, there are no restrictions on Israel building in Area C of the West Bank. Article 5, Section 3 of the Accords, which specifies what will be discussed during permanent status negotiations, makes it clear that the future of the settlements would be resolved only through direct negotiations between the two parties. Furthermore, it is generally accepted - even by the Palestinians - that under a future agreement, Israel would retain the main settlement blocs of Maale Adumim, Gush Etzion and Ariel, compensating the Palestinians with land swaps.

Even Peace Watch's Lior Amihai said in a 2014 interview that despite settlements, "if the parties were to reach an agreement today then the two-state solution is very possible."

Our recognition of Palestine does not impose peace on Israel.

It is hard to disagree, recognising Palestine doesn't impose peace on anyone. On the contrary, it attempts to give the Palestinians statehood without any obligation to make peace. With no expectations placed upon the Palestinians, it leaves Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority thinking they are free to continue on a path of intransigence, rejectionism and incitement against Israel. We have seen the results of such a path, most recently in Halamish where three members of the Salomon family were brutally murdered in their home by a Palestinian terrorist whose actions were a direct result of such incitement. Furthermore, this murderer will now receive a US $3120 monthly salary as a reward from the Palestinian Authority.

Mike, you're right. Recognising Palestine certainly doesn't impose peace.

[Israel] has been doing this for fifty years.

Khizam would have readers believe it's all Israel's fault that there has been no solution to the conflict over the last 50 years. Never mind that Israel tried to return Gaza and the West Bank to the Arab world immediately after capturing them in 1967, only to be met with the infamous "three no's" from the Arab World - no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel and no negotiations with Israel.

Time and time again since the Oslo Accords, Israel has sought to settle the dispute once and for all. Arafat rejected offers in 2000 and 2001, Abbas rejected the offer in 2008, refused to negotiate in 2010 and the 2014 negotiations were shuttered before there was a chance for real progress. Israel's total unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 was met with rockets and terror tunnels rather than peace.

It is only when the Palestinians own up to their own failings, renounce incitement and terror, accept that Israel is here to stay and return to negotiations in good faith, that there can be progress towards real peace.

Palestinians are desperate for peace, for normality, for security, and for a future for their children.

I don't doubt everyday Palestinians are indeed desperate for these things. But their leadership clearly is not. This is a leadership that spreads incitement and rejectionism among its people, through PA-controlled media, children's television programs and in schools. As above, it is a leadership that pays salaries to terrorists and their families. The same leadership recently named a children's camp after a terrorist who murdered 37 people.

And this is a leadership who, when offered in 2008 a peace deal giving them everything they claim to desire, reacted by, in the words of PA President Abbas, rejecting it "out of hand."

If the Palestinian Authority truly wanted a future for its people, it would have long ago turned its efforts towards building a state for them instead of extending every effort to delegitimise, incite against and demonise the Jewish one.

In 1948 they lost 78 per cent of their country to the new state of Israel...

Palestine was not and has never been a country. The name "Palestine" is not Arabic; it was given to the area by Hadrian in 135 AD after the conquest of Judea. Over the centuries various foreign empires - from the Byzantines to the Umayyads to the Crusaders to the Mamaluks - claimed control over the geographical area that was only occasionally known as Palestine, but never anything resembling a state or other autonomous entity.

After it was liberated from Ottoman rule, the British ruled over what they called the Palestine Mandate (which also included what is now Jordan) from 1920 until 1948. During this time there were two competing national movements - the Zionist movement of the Palestinian Jews (who were then known merely as "Palestinians") and that of the Arabs (now known as "Palestinians"), but it belonged to neither.

Palestinians could have had most of the good land from that area if they agreed to partition in 1947 (the Jewish state was given slightly more territory under than plane but most of it was in the almost uninhabited Negev desert) and created a Palestinian state for the first time in history. Instead they rejected it. Now, Khazim implies, they only want the remaining 22% - but they were offered the equivalent of that in 2008 and couldn't bring themselves to say yes.

... and were denied self- determination in their own homeland because they were Muslims and Christians.

This is possibly the most vile canard of all, with not a shred of truth to it. The Palestinian Arabs were not denied self-determination "because they were Muslims and Christians". On the contrary, they rejected self-determination for themselves if it meant having to accept self-determination for the Jews.

United Nations Resolution 181, also known as the partition plan, proposed to divide what was left of the Palestine Mandate into separate states for the Jews and Arabs. Though it was far less than what they had been hoping for, the Jews agreed. The Arabs rejected it, and upon the declaration of the Jewish state, five Arab armies launched a war aimed at annihilating it. These are facts of history which even Israel's harshest critics accept.

For Mike Khizam to instead allege that the Palestinians were denied self-determination "because they were Muslims and Christians" is a complete and utter fiction and a vicious calumny. It takes a mere five-second google search to expose this libel for what it is.

Around 750,000 people, then half of the Palestinian population were ethnically cleansed.

Another slanderous fabrication. There was an attempt to ethnically cleanse a people from the land, however it was the Arabs trying to ethnically cleanse the Jews. But according to Khizam's version of events, the 1948 War of Independence, in which Israel fought for its very survival, never happened. It is true that up to 750,000 Palestinian Arabs left their homes during that war, for a variety of reasons - so did many Jewish residents. But to completely leave out any mention of the defensive war the fledgling State of Israel was fighting, and to say the Palestinians were "ethnically cleansed", is intentionally misleading.

Khizam also seems to choose which refugees he shows concern for. There is no mention of the 850,000 Jewish refugees who were expelled or forced to flee from Arab nations in the decades following Israel's establishment.

Over twenty years ago the Palestinian leadership made peace with Israel and accepted the loss of 78 per cent of their country.

Despite signing the Oslo Accords, the Palestinians have neither made peace with Israel nor accepted its existence within its internationally recognised borders (what he calls "78 per cent of their country", a country which I've already pointed out never existed).

The very Palestinian leader who put pen to paper on the Accords, then Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, commanded the Second Intifada, in which over a thousand Israeli civilians lost their lives in suicide bombings and other terror attacks - not something you do to people you've made peace with.

As for recognising Israel, political expediency may have seen the PLO "talk the talk" prior to the Oslo Accords, but the Palestinian leadership in practice does not "walk the walk" and continues to act contrary to this recognition. Official PA maps regularly omit any reference to Israel, the PA continues to deny Jewish history in Jerusalem and Palestinian school textbooks demonise Israel as "an evil entity that should be annihilated".

And they keep saying no to offers that would give them their state.

All the while Israel takes more and more of Palestine...

We've already pointed out earlier in this document that no new settlements have been built since 1999; nor have the geographical boundaries of existing settlements expanded. It is simply untrue that the settlement footprint in the West Bank is expanding.

Israel must either give the Palestinians their freedom or give them the vote.

If Khizam is genuinely concerned about Palestinian freedom and voting rights, his anger is being seriously misdirected. Around 98 per cent of Palestinians live under either Palestinian Authority or Hamas rule. Their freedoms are indeed severely restricted - by their own leaders.

Mahmoud Abbas is now in his 12th year of a four year term and no parliamentary elections have been held since 2006. In the Palestinian Authority, freedom of speech and freedom of the press are virtually non-existent. Palestinians living in Gaza face a similar or worse situation under Hamas. So Palestinians should indeed be given a vote - by their own leaders.

Even if Israel withdrew tomorrow to the 1967 borders, turning over the entire West Bank to the PA (presumably what Khizam means by giving Palestinians "their freedom"), Palestinians would not have their freedom. In fact, the 300,000-odd Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, who currently enjoy residency of Israel, would experience a severe drop in their freedoms.

Israel is on the wrong side of history in so far as it pursues colonial expansion and constructs a new apartheid state in the occupied territories.

"Colonial" and "apartheid" seem to be two popular buzzwords used by anti-Israel activists. The former is used to suggest a foreign people came to a land in which they had no ties and displaced the local people - a gross fallacy. The ties of the Jewish people to the land of Israel can be proven beyond doubt. Or Avi-Guy says it best:

"Once Israel is falsely depicted as a ‘colonial enterprise,' instead of the result of long struggle for self-determination for the Jewish people (who came not just from Europe, but rather from all over the world - including many who are indigenous to the Middle East region), one can pretty much be certain that we are not talking about settlements, human rights or peace anymore ... too often the settlements are merely a distraction, when the real objection is to ‘Zionist national identity,' and its political manifestation - Israel - alone of all the national identities in the world."

As for the "apartheid" allegation, this too is patently false. Justice Richard Goldstone, who wrote and then retracted the infamous Goldstone Report after Operation Cast Lead in 2009, wrote in a New York Times op-ed:

"The charge that Israel is an apartheid state is a false and malicious one that precludes, rather than promotes, peace and harmony.
"The situation in the West Bank is more complex. But here too there is no intent to maintain ‘an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group.' This is a critical distinction, even if Israel acts oppressively toward Palestinians there. South Africa's enforced racial separation was intended to permanently benefit the white minority, to the detriment of other races. By contrast, Israel has agreed in concept to the existence of a Palestinian state in Gaza and almost all of the West Bank, and is calling for the Palestinians to negotiate the parameters.
"But until there is a two-state peace, or at least as long as Israel's citizens remain under threat of attacks from the West Bank and Gaza, Israel will see roadblocks and similar measures as necessary for self-defence, even as Palestinians feel oppressed."

Next.

Israel has successfully pursued a strategy of sidelining the UN, international law and its obligations under agreements it has signed.

First to the UN. The Palestinians, along with many of Israel's detractors, have pursued a strategy of demonising and delegitimising Israel at the UN, which seems all too happy to accommodate their behaviour. The Palestinians have pursued a unilateral strategy at the UN to avoid negotiations with Israel and more recently within UNESCO to see absurd resolutions spirited through denying Jewish history and legitimacy at some of Judaism's holiest sites.

As for international law, no official legal body has made a definitive ruling on its application in the West Bank. Even the highly politicised and flawed UNSC Resolution 2334, which calls settlements a flagrant violation of international law, according to UN Watch, is lawless "because it purports to state a legal conclusion which it is unqualified to do and which is incorrect".

In fact, as Ambassador Alan Baker - who participated in the negotiation and drafting of the Oslo Accords - argues, Israel is well within its rights under international law to have a presence in the lands it took from Jordan in 1967 and even the settlements which are on state land (not the illegal outposts) are legitimate under international law. This is not to say the Palestinians have no right to a negotiated sovereignty over parts of the West Bank in the future, but as Amb Baker quite correctly points out:

"Even the Palestinians themselves, in the Oslo agreement that they signed with Israel, acknowledge the fact that the ultimate permanent status of the territory is to be determined by negotiations. Therefore, even the Palestinians accept the fact that this is not Palestinian territory, it's disputed territory whose status is yet to be settled."

Which segues us nicely to the point of who is actually sticking to the agreements they have signed - hint: it's not the Palestinians. The Palestinian Authority is obligated under the accords to recognise Israel, and while it did this in English to the world, it tells its population something very different in Arabic and in the maps schoolchildren study in PA schools. It is obligated not to incite against Israel yet as discussed earlier in this piece incitement, including by PA President Mahmoud Abbas himself, is rife, not to mention the financial rewards the PA dishes out to terrorists and their families. The Palestinian Authority is obligated not to seek unilateral actions, yet this has been its sole strategy for the past five years as it continues to avoid negotiations.

[Israel] continues to fight any sign of support for the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people...

Israel does not fight "any sign of support for the legitimate rights of Palestinians". Israel does fight demonisation and delegitimisation, such as that promoted by the anti-Israel boycott movement. Sadly, the purveyors of this hate like to package it as support for Palestinian rights, but you never hear them speaking up for the rights of Palestinians in Lebanon, Jordan or Syria. Nor do they bring up the autocratic PA or brutal Hamas regime who curb Palestinian rights in the West Bank and Gaza respectively.

Only when Israel can be blamed, demonised or delegitimised are the rights of the Palestinian people suddenly important.

The problem is that views such as Mike Khizam's are one of the reasons the Palestinian Authority continues its intransigence, rejectionism and incitement. It is only when the Palestinians own up to their own failings, renounce incitement and terror, accept that Israel is here to stay and return to negotiations in good faith, that there can be progress towards real two-state peace.

Gareth Narunsky

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