A few weeks ago, Yeshiva University held a symposium on the state of US-Israel relations under the new administration.
Needless to say, the nomination and anticipated confirmation of Long Island bankruptcy attorney David Friedman came up as a question and was discussed by the panelists. Former Senator and VP candidate Joe Lieberman argued that Friedman will make a “great” ambassador. On the other end of the table, former US ambassador Dan Kurtzer argued that Friedman was far too “polarizing” to serve in such an unstable region.
Both have the requisite experience and knowledge to make their respective claims. With the confirmation hearing and confirmation behind us, outlined herein is exactly what Friedman needs to do if he wants to be seen in a positive light universally.
In his confirmation hearing, Friedman discussed his plan to rectify the issues between the Israelis and Palestinians. He mentioned, inter alia, his desire to serve as an economic catalyst in the region. He discussed how, some of the tensions in “disputed” territories, could probably be quelled if Palestinians didn’t feel economically oppressed.
The suggestion was that if people had better fiscal opportunities, then they would be less inclined to join the bidding of Hamas and other terrorist organizations. He hopes that if Hamas’ influence in the region is lessened, then average Palestinian citizens–apathetic to political nuance–would be able to live their lives without influence from Hamas.
The generally accepted notion that people join terrorist organizations because their quality of life is diminished is false. As Peter Bergen points out in his 2012 CNN article titled Jihadi John: The bourgeois terrorist, most members of ISIS and Al Qaeda come from standard middle class backgrounds, have received an education, and had a decent upbringing. Osama bin Laden himself, the most extreme example, came from an especially privileged background.
But while economic conditions don’t seem to have any influence on the quantity of terrorism. There does seem to be a relationship between economics and the quality of terrorism—suicide bombings specifically. In a 2012 study called Economic Conditions and the Quality of Suicide Terrorism Harvard professor Efraim Benmelech and his two colleagues from Hebrew University explained that while financial prosperity doesn’t have an effect on the amount of terrorist activity taking place, it certainly does have an effect on the efficiency of the attacks that are taking place. This, of course, seems counter intuitive. One would think, that with more money and resources, terrorist organizations would only have larger capabilities in executing their attacks.
But the study, which focused specifically on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, noted that while fiscal instability will not cause someone to join a terrorist organization it will get someone who is already committed to the cause to give up his life for it.
The article goes on to argue that if people are wealthier, then the more capable will be less inclined to commit suicide bombings. Therefore, those left to partake in these heinous crimes will be less capable and/or intelligent, thereby, diminishing the efficiency of these attacks.
To bring this back to Friedman, we can suggest that if he does limit suicide missions by sparking the economy, this will be a big hit to Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist group’s operational plans. Because, as stated, the individuals performing the tasks will be of a lower quality.
As Friedman argued during his hearing, he feels that if the restraints of Hamas were taken off Palestinians, they would want peace as well.
If by weakening their operations, Friedman can weaken these terrorists as a whole, he will then be able to loosen their grips on the general Palestinian population and end their coercion over the population. Only then can he start the peace process in a manner where it can actually be resolved.
What everyone expects to be written here, is that the embassy should be moved instantaneously to Jerusalem. And it probably should be. But what Mr. Friedman needs to do imminently is find out whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu actually wants the embassy moved.
That remark may seem outrageous, especially since, Netanyahu has gone on the record publicly saying that he does want the embassy to be relocated. But one has to wonder why after so many presidents, who have had cordial relationships with Israel, this has not yet happened.
The move, would undoubtedly bring him difficulty and hardship. Protests and Palestinian outrage would storm the country and it would also have its effects internationally. The Arab League, a regional organization of Arab countries, has already taken action in anticipation of this legislation by adopting a resolution against the cause. If, as some speculate, moving the embassy will only do Netanyahu more harm than good, then the general public needs to know about it.
Conversely, the moving of the embassy has no practical significance. And while the symbolic significance is certainly important enough for many to warrant the move, it needs to be investigated, by Friedman, to see if that symbolism is important enough to Netanyahu. As someone responsible for governing the already volatile region, it is curious to ask if he wants to bring more raucous to his state for the sake of something that just serves as a representation of an idea.
Many presidents (especially those on the Right) have made this promise over the years and have backed out over the course of their presidency. Perhaps, that is because the Israeli leadership told them to do so.
The goal here is not to present a conspiracy theory, rather, the point is to say that if Israeli leadership wants the embassy moved Friedman should work to move it from the very beginning of his ambassadorship. If this is truly in Israel’s best interest, then it should be taken with the utmost seriousness. But if it is not, then that should be made clear to the public so that we can all move on from a topic that has been burdening US-Israeli relations for far too long.
3. A New Plan for Peace
When asked what he thinks Friedman’s first moves should be, Elliott Hamilton of the Dailywire, suggested that “Friedman should make it very clear that the United States is no longer playing the same rules it played for decades. The two-state solution as we know it is dead and the United States should not force Israel to compromise its security to make the talking heads in the West happy.”
What Hamilton seems to understand, is that the true center of the conflict has nothing to do with land or statehood. That is why, he suggests, we have to do away with the notion that the Palestinians (as they are now) will accept and realistic two-state solution.
Because as history will recount, Israel has given or has offered land in exchange for peace and it never works. The animosity between the Israelis and Palestinians stems from the fact that, from infanthood, the Palestinian’s are taught to hate Israelis and Israelis are taught to defend themselves from the Palestinian’s.
Jerrold M. Post, a professor from George Washington University’s international affairs department, explained this in his book on political psychology. In a chapter titled, When Hatred is Bred in the Bone, he notes that “the hatred socialized [by the Palestinian’s] towards the Israeli was remarkable, especially given that few reported any contact with Israelis.” This clearly isn’t a disagreement that has been sparked over the time as the parties involved grew intellectually and ideologically, rather, they are being indoctrinated to hate each other from the very beginning of their lives.
If, in some of the manners mentioned earlier, Friedman does in fact lessen the sway of the individuals corrupting Palestinian society, then a peace deal may be reached. If, with Friedman’s help, we can get the territories governed by real politicians and academics, and have it taken out of the hands of terrorists and anti-Semites, then we could start peace talks anew.
No baby is born evil, if the US and Israel can manage to educate Palestinians conventionally, and take out the murderous propaganda that currently infiltrates their education system. Then, perhaps, we will see a generation of cooler-headed Palestinians who are ready to come to the negotiation table.
If, after the Trump administration’s first term, Friedman can begin to accomplish these three critical policy points then he will be a successful ambassador.