Apparently, some things cannot be tolerated. For example, while Vice President Joe Biden was visiting Israel last week, Jerusalem's Regional Planning Council announced its approval of plans to construct apartments for 1,600 Israeli families in Israel's capital, Jerusalem. "I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem," Biden said in a statement. "Condemn" is a word seldom used in diplomatic parlance — least of all in reference to an ally.
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately offered profuse apologies, but top Obama adviser David Axelrod nevertheless appeared on a Sunday talk show to complain that the White House had suffered "an affront, an insult." Commentators on National Public Radio fumed that Israel's behavior was "a slap in the face" and "too much to bear."
Apparently, other things are not so difficult to tolerate. For example, Fatah, the Palestinian organization that wields power in the West Bank, last week named a square in the town of El Bireh in memory of Dalal Mughrabi, the terrorist who in 1978 hijacked an Israeli bus and massacred 37 Israeli civilians — 13 of them children — and an American photographer. No one in the Obama administration or the elite media seemed to think this deserved condemnation or even serious criticism.
How do you explain the strange calculus that condemns building homes for citizens and condones celebrating terrorism? You start by understanding not how the "peace process" works — because it doesn't — but how "peace processors" think.
They have convinced themselves that the Palestinians will make peace with the Israelis when and if the Israelis make sufficient concessions. So the pressure must always be on the Israelis to offer more concessions.
Building apartments in Ramat Shlomo — a Jewish neighborhood that has become overcrowded and therefore requires denser housing — signals that the Israelis mean to stay in Jerusalem. That's not really surprising: Jews have lived in Jerusalem for the past 3,000 years. But, in the view of the peace processors, offering part of Jerusalem for inclusion in a future Palestinian state is a concession that will be necessary in exchange for Palestinian agreement to halt terrorism and recognize Israel as a permanent presence in the Middle East.
Historical footnote: The Palestinians did agree to halt terrorism and recognize Israel when they signed the 1993 Oslo Accords. But terrorism continued all the same, and now both Hamas and "more moderate" Fatah say they are "not bound" by those commitments.
Second historical footnote: At Camp David in 2000, Israel's then–prime minister Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians sections of East Jerusalem in which they would be able to establish the capital of a state that also would comprise 100 percent of Gaza and 95 percent of the West Bank. Then-leader of the Palestinians Yasser Arafat turned the offer down and launched a bloody intifada. In 2008, Israel's then–prime minister Ehud Olmert made a similar offer. No Palestinian leader was interested. The motto of the peace processors could be: Live and don't learn.
A third historical footnote: Israelis have demonstrated that, in the pursuit of peace, they will give up land to which they believe they have a legitimate claim and even dismantle established communities. In 1967, Israel prevailed in a defensive war against Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and other Arab neighbors. That's how it came to occupy Gaza, which, prior to the war, had been ruled by Egypt. Subsequently, Israeli settlements were established in Gaza. Nevertheless, in 2005, Israel removed them all in the hope that turning this "occupied territory" over to Palestinians would promote peace. Instead, Gaza was taken over by Hamas, which — backed by Iran — almost immediately began to rain missiles on Israeli civilians.
One philosophical footnote: Why is it impossible to imagine that Jews might continue to live in a place that would become part of a Palestinian state, should peace ever break out? Jews and Arabs live in Israel. Yet it is taken for granted that any future Palestinian state must be "ethnically cleansed" of Jews. Is it not unseemly that American diplomats, statesmen, and journalists are so comfortable with that discriminatory double standard?
But most important to understand is this: No Palestinian leader can make peace with Israel any time soon. The reasons, though fairly obvious, elude the peace processors.
Members of Hamas object to Israel's existence on theological grounds. According to their reading of the Koran, what we call Israel is as an "endowment from Allah to the Muslims." As such, it cannot be given away — not a square inch — to Jews or other infidels, no matter what concessions are offered in return.
More secular Palestinians may not view it in these terms. But they know that signing a peace treaty with Israel, as Egyptian president Anwar Sadat did, would invite the fate Sadat received: He was gunned down by members of an Egyptian jihadist group. (Final historical footnote: That group, Egyptian Islamic Jihad, merged with al-Qaeda in 1998. Its leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is now Osama bin Laden's top deputy and alive and well and almost certainly living in Pakistan.)
Now would be a particularly bad time for Palestinian leaders to seriously consider settling the conflict with Israel because Iran — ruled by a regime committed to wiping Israel off the map and achieving a "world without America" — could soon acquire nuclear weapons. If that happens, Iran will become the region's strong horse, and no Palestinian leader is likely to be so foolish as to put his head in front of that bucking bronco's hoof.
Willfully blind to all this, the peace processors insist that the obstacle to peace is Israel, which persists in taking such provocative steps as planning to build homes for its citizens, not in Gaza or the West Bank, but within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, a city the United States years ago recognized, officially and under law, as the "undivided" capital of Israel.
"History teaches us that a divided Jerusalem leads to conflict while a unified Jerusalem protects the rights of all faiths," Rep. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.) noted this week. "I urge the administration to spend more time working to stop Iran from building nuclear bombs and less time concerned with zoning issues in Jerusalem. As Iran accelerates its uranium enrichment, we should not be condemning one of America's strongest democratic allies in the Middle East."
And maybe we should be telling Palestinian leaders that celebrating terrorism is frowned upon by Democratic and Republican administrations alike. Hearing that would be reassuring to Israelis and, I suspect, to more than a few Americans as well.