Thomas Nides should visit all parts of Israel, including those “settlements” in Judea and Samaria. Writes Hugh Fitzgerald
Thomas Nides, the Biden administration’s new ambassador to Israel, has some very firm views on what Israel must do, in his view, to achieve a “two-state solution.” Jerold Auerbach discusses Nides’ performance so far, which he has weighted and found wanting, here: “Another Biden Blunder in Pick for Israel Envoy,” Algemeiner, March 21, 2022:
Nides started his career as a low-level political aide to three Democrats in succession – Mondale, Coelho, and Foley – then used the connections he acquired in Washington to enter high finance, and then returned to government as Obama’s Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources. There is nothing in his background that has to do with diplomacy, nor does he appear to have any particular knowledge about the Middle East. He is Jewish, and perhaps thinks that alone makes him suitably informed about Israel and the Palestinians, but every remark that he makes on that subject only confirms his ignorance of the most basic matters.
…With no evident qualifications for the position of Ambassador — other than his self-described political identity on the “center-left” (although “center,” Nides has explained, was inserted “to make myself feel better”) — President Joe Biden appointed him Ambassador to Israel. His public statements since leave little doubt about his discomfort with the Jewish State.
Soon after his arrival, Nides announced that he would not visit settlements lest it be offensive — to whom, he did not specify. “The idea of settlement growth,” he revealed, “infuriates me when they do things that just infuriate [sic for “inflame”] the situation both in east Jerusalem and the West Bank.”
Nides may not know it, but east Jerusalem was annexed, more than forty years ago, in 1980. Its Jewish inhabitants are not “settlers.” As for “settlement growth,” the very idea of which so “infuriates” him, one wonders if it would be too much trouble for Nides to study the Mandate for Palestine and the territory assigned to it, by the League of Nations, for the creation of the future Jewish National Home. That territory included all the land from the Jordan River in the east to the Mediterranean in the west, and from the Golan in the north to the Red Sea in the south. Along with the Palestine Mandate, Nides should study the Treaty of San Remo, Article 80 of the U.N. Charter, and U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 (Nov. 22, 1967). He would then realize that the “settlements” in Judea and Samaria are legal, and furthermore, that Israel has not been building new settlements – it hasn’t done so for 20 years – but adding housing to existing settlements to accommodate the natural growth of the population.
Overflowing with sound and fury, Nides insisted that “We can’t do stupid things that impede us for a two-state solution. We can’t have the Israelis doing settlement growth in east Jerusalem or the West Bank.” The idea that Jews living anywhere in Jerusalem are “settlers” is, of course, absurd. Nides appropriately acknowledged: “This is not like I thought this through,” adding that going to settlements is not “the right thing to do.” After all, why risk learning something about Jews living in the ancient homeland of the Jewish people?…
Here are some of the “stupid things that impede [sic] us for [sic] a two-state solution” that Thomas Nides overlooks: Yasir Arafat in 2000 walking out on negotiations with Ehud Barak after the later made an offer to return 92% of the West Bank; Mahmoud Abbas in 2008 walking out on negotiations with Ehud Olmert, who offered 94% of the West Bank and compensatory land carved out of Israel, as well as agreeing to put the Old City under international control. Another “stupid thing” that impedes any agreement between Israel and the Palestinians is the continuing P.A. support for terrorists through its “Pay-For-Slay” program, which provides generous stipends to the families of imprisoned territories and to the families of terrorists killed during their attacks. There have been seven stabbing attacks on Israelis in the last month; it is absurd to ask Israel, under such conditions, to think of engaging in talks with the P.A., that has been praising the latest terrorist murders to the skies.
Why does Thomas Nides refuse to visit settlements? He thinks it would not be “the right thing to do.” He means that such a visit would anger the Palestinians, and they are to be given a veto over his visits. And he is afraid that such a visit would somehow “legitimize” the settlements, and that, he thinks, would never do. But shouldn’t he be interested in seeing the settlements in Judea and Samaria, where half a million Israelis live, for himself? Shouldn’t he see the security situation, see what it would mean If Israel were to be deprived of its current control of the Jordan Valley, so essential to preventing an attack from the east? Shouldn’t Nides see what would happen if Israel were to be squeezed back within the 1949 armistice lines, by visiting Qalqilya, which is located just on the 1949 armistice lines; at that point, between 1949 and 1967, Israel had a narrow nine-mile waist. Does Nides think Israel should return to those armistice lines, that nine-mile waist, or does he agree with Lord Caradon, who wrote the UNSC Resolution 242, that Israel is entitled to hold onto territory, won in the Six-Day War, that it needs in order to have “secure [i.e., defensible] and recognized boundaries”?
Nides would not visit an extraordinary part of Jewish history – an underground tunnel leading from the Western Wall into the Muslim Quarter – only because he doesn’t want to anger (“aggravate”) the Palestinians, whose delicate sensibilities would be offended if any attention were to be given to the ancient Jewish structures that testify to the Jewish presence going back 3000 years. Where will that end? Would he refuse to visit the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, for fear of annoying Arabs who consider that site, which is the second holiest site in Judaism, as belonging to Muslims alone? Would Nides visit the Temple Mount, or does he think that would anger the Palestinians, who would interpret that visit as legitimizing Israel’s continued control of the site? Wouldn’t he learn something from such a visit, as he could see for himself how Jewish visitors are prevented – by Israeli police – from saying prayers aloud, or even from silently mouthing them? He would see how Israel bends over backwards to accommodate the Palestinians in order not to offend them.
Thomas Nides believes his heart is in the right place: he supports Israel. But he thinks Israel needs to be saved from itself. And it is up to Israel’s “true friends” – such as those who are in Peace Now, J Street, Jewish Voice For Peace – to make the Jewish state accept a “two-state solution” that will require Israel to again be squeezed within the 1949 armistice lines, with a nine-mile-wide waist from Qalqilya to the sea. Those lines, as the author of UN Security Council Resolution 242, Lord Caradon, said, were “horrible”: “We could have said: well, you go back to the 1967 line. But I know the 1967 line, and it’s a rotten line. You couldn’t have a worse line for a permanent international boundary. It’s where the troops happened to be on a certain night in 1948. It’s got no relation to the needs of the situation. Had we said that you must go back to the 1967 line, which would have resulted if we had specified a retreat from all the occupied territories, we would have been wrong.”
Nides absurdly claims that his “north star” is strengthening Israel. “However, to do that,” he imagines, “we must have a two-state solution.” Anything else “is not good for the Palestinians, it’s certainly not good for Israel, it’s not good for the Jews, it’s not good for anyone.” Especially for Nides.
Not everyone agrees that a “two-state solution” is a good idea. It’s a phrase used constantly, but there are many possible outcomes for those two states. The Palestinian state, for example, would almost certainly have to be demilitarized. Would the P.A. ever accept that condition? It might have to be prevented from admitting millions of “Palestinian refugees,” who would overwhelm the Jews demographically in the area “from the river to the sea.” Would that be acceptable? Prime Minister Bennett, for one, has vowed to prevent the creation of a Palestinian state. He, and many others, believe that such a state would be used as a way station to the ultimate Palestinian aim of destroying Israel.
When people talk about a “two-state solution,” in most scenarios – and certainly in that envisaged by Thomas Nides – they assume that Israel will eventually acquiesce, and agree to be squeezed back within the 1949 armistice lines. Even if that future Palestinian state would be required to disarm, how would Israel prevent arms smuggling, or arms manufacturing inside “Palestine”? Why would terrorist groups be any better monitored in that future state than they are at present in Gaza? Israel would be in the same situation it is now, with an implacable enemy determined to destroy it, but the Jewish state would be in a much more vulnerable position militarily, with loss of control of Judea and Samaria, including the Jordan Valley. Israel’s ensuing security nightmare would whet, not sate, Arab appetites, for finally conquering the Jewish state and avenging the Nakba of 1948. It is perfectly possible to envisage another “solution,” one that would give the Palestinian Arabs not full statehood, but an intermediate status, providing them with as much autonomy as is consonant with Israel’s security. The more peaceful the Palestinians, the more autonomy they can enjoy. But this quasi-state would have to be disarmed and a monitoring mechanism put in place to assure that the disarming requirement will be observed. Thomas Nides gives no indication that he’s thought any of this through; he’s content to repeat, ad nauseam, his support for a “two-state solution.”
Nides ignores the reality that there already is a Palestinian State — in Palestine. Its name is Jordan. Following World War I, British Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill removed the territory east of the Jordan River, included in the British Mandate for “Palestine,” and gifted it to Hashemite leader Emir Abdullah. It eventually became the Kingdom of Jordan. Palestinians now comprise a majority of its population. Demographically and geographically, Jordan is “Palestine.” A second Palestinian state would be superfluous.…
A second Palestinian state would not only be superfluous, as would a 23rd Arab state. It would also be wrong, for it would be built on the very territory that the League of Nations had assigned to the Mandate for Palestine for the establishment of the Jewish National Home. Does Nides know this? Everything he has said suggests he does not. An ambassador to Israel who presumes to give lessons to the Israelis, without having bothered even to study the Mandate for Palestine? That is not acceptable. He needs to burn the midnight oil.
Any lingering doubt as to Nides’ political preferences was evident when he recently told an interviewer: “Your agenda is where my heart is.” He was referring to Peace Now, the far-left Israeli organization that favors a Palestinian state based on pre-1967 borders. That would reincarnate Jordan’s West Bank — originally known as Biblical Judea and Samaria — and divide Jerusalem into two capitals for two states.
The comforting reassurance that can be drawn from Ambassador Nides’ absurd fantasies is that there is as much likelihood of their implementation as there is that Israel would embrace its own self-destruction. Even President Biden might realize that.
Thomas Nides could learn a lot if he so chose. He has the time. He doesn’t have to follow the agenda of the far-left Peace Now, which insists that Israel must return to the 1949 armistice lines for the sake of “peace.” He clearly does not know much about the history of modern — or come to think of it, of ancient — Israel, but he can now do two things.
First, as Ambassador to Israel, he didn’t know much about Israel before, but he could crack open the history books and study the Mandate for Palestine, and especially the territory assigned to it by the League of Nations. He could read the incomparable study by the celebrated Australian jurist and expert in international law, Julius Stone, Israel and Palestine: Assault On The Law of Nations. He could look at Article 80 of the U.N. Charter, which binds that body to complete the unfinished work of the League of Nations’ system of mandates. He could study UNSC Resolution 242, and the applicable criteria it provides to justify Israel’s retaining of certain territories won in the Six-Day War. That is the book-learning part of his task.
Second, Thomas Nides should visit all parts of Israel, including those “settlements” in Judea and Samaria. He should walk through the subterranean tunnel in Jerusalem that connects the Western Wall to the Muslim Quarter, that he has so far refused to visit for fear of angering Palestinians. He should visit the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, the second holiest site in Judaism, which is also important, although to a much lesser degree, to Muslims, and see the elevator for the disabled, both Jews and Muslims, that Israel built and that the Palestinians have repeatedly rioted over. He should go to the Golan Heights, to see exactly how important control of that territory is to Israel’s security; he can stand on the commanding heights, and envisage how, from 1949 to 1967, Syrian artillery rained fire down on Israeli farmers far below, killing hundreds. He can visit the archeological sites – there are thousands from which to choose — especially those in Judea and Samaria, that bear witness in stone to the 3000-year presence of Jews on the land. He can also visit the ruins of the Jewish archeological sites that the Palestinians have been systematically destroying, in order to efface, as best they can, the Jewish connection to the land. And he can visit the sites sacred to Jews that the Palestinians have tried to destroy, including both Jacob’s Tomb and Rachel’s Tomb.
Such a study should lead Thomas Nides to reconsider his brusque dismissal of Israeli claims to those “settlements” in Judea and Samaria. He might begin to see the grand sweep of Jewish history, where it was first made in Eretz Israel — made especially in Judea and Samaria — and where it is again being made. An immediate experience of Israel, leaving no part of the country off-limits, would convey, too, the Jewish state’s vulnerability. Both that experience, and his study of the history of modern Israel, beginning with the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate for Palestine, might cause even someone as flighty as Ambassador Thomas Nides to have a change of mind and heart. And that is devoutly to be wished.