Financial Times stubbornly sticks to discredited Mid-East dogmas

Last month, Financial Times joined the small list of media outlets (such as the Guardian) and nations (such as Iran and Turkey) critical of Jerusalem’s historic normalisation agreement with UAE.  In that piece (“Israel’s deal with UAE is a setback for wider peace”, Aug. 16) the FT’s editorial board argued that the deal was, at best, irrelevant, because it ignored the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which it framed as the root problem of the Arab-Israel conflict.

However, as we argued in our response to the Guardian editorial which made a similar argument, the UAE-Israel peace deal (and the subsequent agreement with Bahrain) in fact fatally undermines the widely held assumption that the central issue at the heart of the decades-old conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors is the occupation.

That Aug. 16th editorial is important in placing a more recent FT editorial (“Palestinians face a new reality”, Sept. 22) in context.

Whilst insisting that “Palestinians must…see [the Abraham Accords] as a wake-up call to reset their strategy”, criticising the PA’s “ageing leadership”, and acknowledging the PA-Hamas dispute as serious obstacle to progress, the FT editorial board, as they did in August, continues to embrace old dogmas on the failure of Israeli-Palestinian peace, as in this claim:

Much in the failure of the Oslo accords can be blamed on Israeli intransigence and settlement building on Palestinian land.

Though this is only one sentence in the editorial, its impact in obfuscating the reality of the last 27 years is hard to overstate.  In addition to erroneously suggesting that every kilometre of territory in the West Bank is “Palestinian land” and greatly exaggerating the role of settlements, their failure to acknowledge Palestinian “intransigence” and their leaders’ role in crushing Oslo’s promise is staggering.

Palestinian leaders have, since 1993, rejected three Israeli peace offers that would have created, for the first time in history, a sovereign Palestinian state. These offers (in 2000, 2001 and 2008) would have created a state of Palestine in well over 90% of the West Bank and all of Gaza, with a capital in east Jerusalem.

But, even more important in understanding Oslo’s failure is the PA leadership’s decision, after Yasser Arafat rejected the first such Israeli offer (Ehud Barak’s proposal at Camp David), to launch a deadly intifada, a nearly five year campaign of savage violence largely targeting innocent Jewish civilians, including children.  As dovish Israeli writer Yossi Klein Halevi observed, the Second Intifada “remains the great Israeli trauma of this generation”, and fatally undermined the widespread belief that a two-state offer would necessarily bring peace.

It wasn’t “Israeli intransigence” that battered the Oslo paradigm.  It was the decision by Palestinian terrorist groups, including those controlled by Yasser Arafat, to deploy suicide bombers to Israeli buses, markets, cafes and even Passover Seders.

Add to the mix the calamitous consequences of Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, especially for Israelis living near the border, following the decision by a plurality of Palestinians to cast their vote in legislative elections for Hamas, and the “Israeli intransigence” argument further erodes.

Contrary to FT’s suggestion later in the editorial, the overwhelming majority of Israelis still do long for peace, and have not moved “right” since Oslo.  Rather, they soberly observed the deleterious consequences of popular assumptions about the path to Mid-East peace and adjusted their thinking accordingly.  We can only hope that FT editors are one day equally capable of discarding old orthodoxies in light of new information.

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