The Palestinian Authority (PA), it appears, has decided to cut off communication with the American government as a result of a series of American actions the Palestinians believe disqualify Washington from acting as an honest broker in what passes for a “peace process” with Israel. This includes the Taylor Force Act, but most specifically it appears linked to a warning that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) mission in Washington might be closed because the PA violated the terms of its presence.
The PA appears to have mistaken “neutral party” for “honest broker.” Between Palestinians and Israelis, the United States is not — and should not be — the former, but it might, under some circumstances, be the latter. And if the U.S. is not neutral, honest brokerage is even more important. The U.S. has an obligation to Israel — and to the Palestinians — to state clearly the requirements of peace and ensure that both players understand the consequences of breaking the rules.
Israel’s relationship with the United States runs deeper than any practical point. Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks of the United Kingdom said recently:
“The founders of [the United States] had the Hebrew Bible engraved on their hearts. … It is presupposed in the most famous line of the Declaration of Independence: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.’ Those truths are anything but self-evident. They would have been unintelligible to Plato, to Aristotle, or to every hierarchical society the world has ever known. They are self-evident only to people who have internalized the Hebrew Bible.”
On a different level, Israel has a multi-party parliament subject to regular elections; an independent judiciary; a free press; protections for religious and ethnic minorities; rule of law; tolerance for diverse social norms; and world-class universities. Israel is a partner to the U.S. and to NATO in building a capable military; a partner around the world in agricultural, solar and water technology; and a partner in international relief and rescue operations.
The PLO — precursor to and still the parent of the Palestinian Authority — was born dedicated to terror. It hijacked airplanes and threw an elderly man in a wheelchair overboard from a cruise ship. Black September, an arm of the PLO, murdered 11 Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich. The PLO has committed acts of horrific terror in Israel — including killing bus drivers and their families on holiday. Twenty-five adults and 13 children were killed and 71 others wounded — including the niece of a U.S. senator — in what was called the Coastal Road Massacre. The PLO committed acts of war against the United States, killing American diplomats in Sudan.
Just opening face-to-face conversations with the PLO was a delicate dance, slipped in during the transition period between Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Opening a PLO “office-cum-diplomatic-mission” in Washington was prohibited by the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1987.
The PA — successor to the PLO — emerged on a bet and with conditions. And in the post-Oslo Accord euphoria, Senate legislation permitted the PLO an official mission “to implement the accords.” Rep. Howard L. Berman, California Democrat, said at the time, “This legislation provides a limited, temporary and conditional waiver of restrictions in United States law.” It was “conditional” on the PLO meeting its Oslo obligations, including refraining from terrorism and renouncing international moves that would impede bilateral agreement on final status issues. This last provision is the proximate cause of the U.S. warning about closing the mission.
President George W. Bush set out American parameters — conditions — for U.S. support of Palestinian statehood:
“Peace requires a new and different Palestinian leadership, so that a Palestinian state can be born. I call on the Palestinian people to elect new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror. I call upon them to build a practicing democracy, based on tolerance and liberty.”
It was followed by two “ifs” and a “when.”
“If the Palestinian people actively pursue these goals, America and the world will actively support their efforts. If the Palestinian people meet these goals, they will be able to reach agreement with Israel and Egypt and Jordan on security and other arrangements for independence.
“And when the Palestinian people have new leaders, new institutions and new security arrangements with their neighbors, the United States of America will support the creation of a Palestinian state.”
“If” and “when” never happened, but the PA could be forgiven for thinking it didn’t matter. The Obama administration dropped the precursors, and adopted most Palestinian positions as its own.
Pursuit of arrangements between Israel and the Palestinians is not for the faint-hearted. The parties deserve honest brokerage — neutrality would be a betrayal of an ally.
• Shoshana Bryen is senior director of the Washington-based Jewish Policy Center.