In a move worthy of a world-class prestidigitator, the Government of Israel (GOI) waves its right hand while deftly shoving a rabbit into the hat with the left. Presto! One "illegal" so-called "outpost" constructed by nationalist Israelis is gone. And, shazaam! fifty new homes are approved for the displaced families. The new subdivision has been approved by the GOI's Defense Ministry for inclusion in a "settlement" near Jerusalem.
At the same time, almost to the minute, GOI announced it is expropriating some land near the Dead Sea. To read GOI's version of the land in question, all fifty-four square miles is somewhat less desirable real estate than some crater on the backside of the moon.
The Arabs don't see it that way.
As if it were stop-the-presses-I've-got-a-remake-of-page-one-for-the-bulldog level news, the Arabs resident in the affected region are hacked off. Royally. But, the GOI crooned in response that those who are annoyed by this latest bit of thaumaturgy have forty-five days in which to appeal the adverse impact upon them.
Put together the three related developments put a thumb in the Obama administration's eye. It shouldn't though. Not if the administration had the slightest bit of historical sense.
The real deal is simple and easily seen on the great videotape of history. Israel and its government, not just this government, but any of the many governments going all the way back to the thirty years of Labor Party domination has had no, repeat, absolutely no interest in losing the land of the West Bank. One ministry after another has firmly rejected any commitment to exchanging land for peace where the West Bank has been concerned.
All the way back during the international war phase of the two stage Israeli War of Independence, the government and many citizens of Israel wanted the West Bank and the Old City of Jerusalem (or East Jerusalem, if you prefer the alternate denomination) so bad they could taste it. When King Hussein made the major blunder of joining the other "confrontation states" in the Six Day War of June 1967, Israel satisfied its long standing desire for the land--and the Old City.
As the Israeli government well knew from its never-ending "secret" meetings with Jordan's King Hussein, the monarch was willing to break ranks with the Arab states generally and sign a separate peace with Israel in exchange for the lost territory of the West Bank and the Old City with its Number Three In The World Muslim holy site. From Golda Meir on each and every Israeli prime minister said, "No!"
Even when King Hussein sweetened the deal by allowing some border changes to acknowledge the new "facts on the ground" created by the GOI's "settlement" plan as well as allowing IDF outposts in the West Bank, the Israeli's remained totally rejectionist. GOI's intransigence in large measure depended upon the continued support of the US.
The Nixon and Ford administrations, which contained Henry Kissinger as National Security Advisor and later SecState, backstopped the Israeli position with vigor and determination. In the wake of the Yom Kippur War of 1973, Henry Kissinger redoubled his efforts to assure that the West Bank would stay under Israeli occupation. Declassified documents detail how Kissinger cozened, manipulated, and flatly lied to King Hussein in order to separate the sticky subject of the West Bank from the matter he really wanted to address.
Peace with Egypt. Kissinger wanted to pull off the "deal of the decade" by gaining a trade of land for peace between Israel and Egypt. In this ambition he was joined by Anwar Sadat, who had scant regard for either the Arabs of the West Bank or Jordan and an offsetting great regard for himself.
In the conduct of the Yom Kippur War Sadat had lied to his cobelligerent, Assad of Syria, as well as King Hussein. Then, after the Egyptian army reclaimed its testicles in the first few hours of the attack across the Suez Canal, Sadat was more than willing to do what was necessary to extract Egypt from its Soviet mentors, sign a deal with Israel, and scarf up American money.
The deal went down and peace was made. The losers were the Arabs of the West Bank and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
Life for the West Bankers and Jordan did not improve any with the coming of President Carter and his Camp David Accords. Intentionally, Jordan was excluded so that glittering generalities could be made about the West Bank without any necessity of actually doing anything. Both Israel and Egypt were happy with the West Bank status quo albeit for different reasons.
And so it went year after year. No GOI had any interest of seeing the West Bank effectively removed from Israeli domination even should physical occupation come to an end. Certainly no GOI contemplated the most remote possibility of the "settlements" either being abandoned or their expansion materially decreased. Indeed, no GOI would have politically survived any move in that direction.
Trading Sinai for peace was one thing. Trading the West Bank was and is something quite different. Bear in mind that it took thirty or so years for Israel to finally agree that a pure Arab city such as Jericho should be under non-Israeli rule. The notion was first discussed by King Hussein and his Israeli interlocutors in the wake of the Six Day War but the reality did not come to pass until a new century dawned.
The Obama administration is now finding out what the Carter administration did in the days after the shake-and-grin over Camp David. GOI is long on promising--or seeming to promise--an end to the "settlement" plan and very, very short on delivering these commitments. Jimmy Carter went ballistic when he discovered that GOI had flat out lied about the "settlements." The American president thought he had a guarantee of a permanent halt. GOI said it had never intended more than a short term hiatus "for confidence building" with the Arabs.
So, there you have it, Mr President, short and not at all sweet. If you go to the videotape you can see the entire drama of deceit, duplicity, ambition, greed and politics, Israeli style. You can also see the key players who lurk on the edge of the camera's view, the Israel Lobby, the Congressmen and Senators seeking election and the money that takes, the media misleaders, all the motley crew which serves to condition and limit American foreign policy and constrain the means by which it may be conducted.
It's all there, Mr President. There is no need for you to be surprised or see yourself as President Carter did, a victim of world-class hornswagglers. Yeah, land for peace sounds so fine. Too bad it's not going to happen soon--or perhaps, ever.