WASHINGTON — A former Israeli general and an ex-State Department official presented sharply differing views on the obstacles to Middle East peace during a Zionist event in America’s capital.
Speaking at the American Zionist Movement’s national conference Nov. 15, Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser described Palestinian rejection of Israel as the main impediment, while former U.S. Mideast policy adviser Aaron David Miller said both Israel and the Palestinians are to blame.
Kuperwasser said the primary obstacle to peace is “the fact that all Palestinian factions remain committed to the destruction of Israel.” He said that despite other religious and political differences they may have, the various Palestinian movements agree that “all of Israel is ‘Palestine,’ and they do not accept the permanent existence of any kind of Jewish or Zionist state there.”
Noting that the theme of the conference was “In the Spirit of Balfour,” Kuperwasser said that the Palestinian Arabs and their leaders “to this day reject the basic premise of the Balfour Declaration.” This month marks the centennial of that British pledge to facilitate the establishment of “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”
The Palestinians believe “that the Jews are not a legitimate people, that they never had a genuine connection to the land of Israel at any time in history, and that they had no right to establish a state there in 1948,” Kuperwasser said.
Kuperwasser, who formerly headed the research branch of the IDF’s military intelligence division, said that “the Palestinians see themselves as victims of British colonialism, American imperialism and Zionism, and as a result they believe that they should not be held to the same standards as others and do not have to play by the rules that the international community expects others to play by.”
According to Kuperwasser, “the Palestinians believe, and teach their children, that all forms of struggle, including violence, are legitimate in the war against Israel.” They regard “the ‘fighting sector’ of Palestinian society, those who engage in violence, as heroes who deserve to be rewarded with handsome payments,” he said.
Kuperwasser was the author of a recent report, published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, which documented the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) payments to imprisoned terrorists and the families of dead terrorists. The report helped galvanize congressional support for the Taylor Force Act, which was unanimously passed by the House Foreign Affairs Committee this week. The legislation would impose restrictions on U.S. aid to the PA if the payments to terrorists continue.
Miller, by contrast, told the American Zionist Movement conference that Israel and the PA are equally to blame for the fact that peace has not yet been achieved. He said that “both sides lack leaders who will make decisions and who are not prisoners of ideologies.” Miller said he “cannot imagine either Israeli or Palestinian leaders getting up in front of their people and announcing that the conflict is over.”
The former State Department official also asserted that “the Israelis and Palestinians don’t care as much about [resolving the conflict] as external parties do.” He compared their mindset to someone who rents a car but does not really care about it, because it is owned by somebody else.
According to Miller, the other major “missing ingredient” today is “effective U.S. leadership.” He praised former President Jimmy Carter as well as former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and James Baker as “the only American leaders who understood that you have to use not just honey, but also a fair amount of vinegar” in dealing with Israel.
During the early 1990s, Miller was part of a team of senior advisers to Baker. The aides were widely criticized in the American Jewish community over their treatment of Israel.