Guest Post: Former Ambassador Edward Peck

We have received a submission from Ambassador (Ret.) Edward Peck, reflecting his views on the words we use in discussing the issue of Israel and Palestine. It is in response to a number of posts in which we have examined the topics of the Arab Spring and changes in the Middle East generally, touching on the Israeli – Palestinian context. It is a timely debate, since the New York Times published a major editorial on May 18 entitled “President Obama and the Arab Spring.” Further, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel will be meeting with President Obama on Friday, and Netanyahu will be giving a speech to Congress where he is likely to stake out his government’s position.  We will be posting the text of Obama’s speech on our blog and will welcome comments on it from our readers. Again, we welcome a diversity of serious and reasoned views on these issues. -Harry Blaney

Only Direct, Clearly Descriptive Words, Such As ‘The Occupation’, Can Explain Jerusalem/Palestine To Americans

Euphemisms and Omissions Further Complicate a Critical Issue

No one in his or her right mind, and it is understood that not everyone qualifies
for inclusion, wants anything bad to happen to a single Israeli, or Palestinian,
or American, or anyone else in the Middle East. The tragedy, however, is
that terrible things have happened in the past, are happening now, and will
unfortunately happen in the future to all three groups – and others – because of
what is and what is not happening in Occupied Palestine. All of us, as described
above, fervently hope this prediction is totally wrong, but are profoundly fearful
that it is not.

Every individual who is both rational and well-informed on the issues has the
same, identical objective: all the peoples of the region living in peace and security,
regardless of nationality, religion or ethnicity. The only issue on which there is
any meaningful disagreement, and there are also irrational divergences, is how
we can arrive at that goal. Two relevant points merit attention.

The first is rudimentary: none can live in peace and security unless all do, since
the essential definition of genuine peace and security is that everyone shares it.
Attainment of that objective will be neither easy nor rapid, and it is accepted that
numerous problems and some rather unpleasant memories may persist. Just as
in Europe and elsewhere, however, these issues do not necessarily have to have a
seriously negative impact on peace and security.

The second point is more complicated.

Generated outside the area of immediate concern, but with a major impact on
almost everything that goes on inside, is the role of the United States. America’s
massive military, economic and, above all, fervent political support facilitate every
Israeli action. Like all sovereign nations, Israel has the right to do whatever it
believes will advance its interests, domestically and internationally, and then deal
with the results, anticipated, unexpected or undesirable.

Israel’s citizens are directly involved in the issues, participate in the choice of

decision-makers, and are face-to-face with those results. Unfortunately, the
same cannot be said about Americans, generally and justifiably not renowned
for the breadth and depth of their interest in and knowledge/understanding of
the rest of the world. In part, this results from their own country’s size, and the
significant distances that separate it from most of the others. An additional,
perhaps more important factor is the limited information that actually reaches
the general public on the subject of events overseas, and Israel-Palestine is
clearly the outstanding example. It is not surprising that the very low level of
attention paid to this critical situation results in a costly combination of ignorance,
misinformation and, therefore, apathy.

Far too many Americans, largely unaware of the nature of their significant
involvement in all the ongoing Mid-East crises, do not understand the loss of
credibility, reputation, respect, blood and lives, or the resentment and sometimes
fierce reactions it generates. A major contributor to the problem is the tendency
of the media to place Israeli actions in the best possible light or, more frequently,
just leave them out, with the result that they remain largely misunderstood
or unknown. It is a closed circle: Americans are not informed so they are not
interested; they are not interested because they are not informed.

An additional, potentially significant layer of insulation is added to this basic lack
of understanding by the words almost always employed, by virtually everyone, on
all sides of the issues, when addressing the problem verbally or in writing. Those
words serve to create an image of the Israel-Palestine relationship that is divorced
from reality. They may not have been inserted into the dialogue intentionally, but
the standard vocabulary almost always employed is not merely euphemistic, it is
highly misleading. This is a crime of which we are all guilty. Consider the words
we all use, all the time, and then let us resolve to drop them from the vocabulary.

“Ending the Conflict”. This constantly employed phrase has no relationship
whatever to the actual circumstances. There is no ‘conflict’ going on. Conflicts
are fought by nation’s armies across their borders. In Palestine there is only
one army, and there is no border. What must be ended is the OCCUPATION,
illegal under international law. Resistance to that OCCUPATION is recognized as
legitimate by those same laws. It is both depressing and instructive to note that
the word ‘OCCUPATION’ is hardly ever included in U.S. media coverage. Worse, it
does not even appear in speeches or writings by those who are strongly opposed

to it, and yet it is the shatteringly obvious key to the entire problem. Like the
other words and phrases discussed below, ‘Ending the Conflict’ may have been
introduced and its use promoted because it has a diversionary effect on efforts to
move toward resolution of the issues, since ‘Ending the Occupation’ is what must
be achieved.

“Peace Process”. These two words constitute another powerful euphemism,
either together or ‘Peace’ by itself. Overused in the extreme, it does the same
long-term damage, getting marginally informed people to think, briefly, about
how that non-existent ‘conflict’ they always hear about could be resolved through
a Peace Process. A ‘peace process’ between the occupier and the occupied is an
oxymoron, a contradiction in terms, since there is no war, and no conflict, just a
brutal Occupation.

“Searching for a solution” This phrase indicates that no one knows what the
solution might be, but ending the occupation is and has been the objective of
everyone interested and/or involved in arriving at an end state of peace and
security for all sides.

“Negotiations” This describes an agreement between independent, relatively
equal parties to discuss how to resolve an issue that divides them. But armed
guards do not ‘negotiate’ with prostrate prisoners. At best, the Palestinians
can only beg. There is not the smallest shred of anything even distantly
resembling balance or equality between the two sides, eliminating any
meaningful ‘negotiations’.

“Direct Talks” Enormous efforts are expended to get the parties to talk to each
other. This ignores the fact that they are in constant, far too often unpleasant
contact. They are not even separated by a border. If Israelis want to talk to
Palestinians, they know precisely where they are, and exactly how to get there.
It should by now be abundantly clear that Israel sees nothing to be gained
from ‘direct talks’, since it can continue doing whatever it wishes under existing
arrangements. Total failure to generate any truly meaningful results in past
sessions should be the clincher.

“Concessions” Far too many references are made to the need for
Israeli ‘concessions’, which would include ending the illegal occupation and all

the inhumane actions and policies it includes. Describing these and many actions
as ‘concessions’ completely obscures the real issues. Further, it conceals the
benefits of security, peace and global acceptance that would accrue to Israel.

“Recognition” The U.S., joined by Israel of course, insists the Palestinians must,
repeat must recognize Israel. This is seen by the average American as something
fairly reasonable, but only if three basic requirements are totally ignored.

Recognition is reciprocal. A recognizes B in exchange for B recognizing A.
No one has ever even mentioned, let alone proposed, that Israel should
recognize Palestine, but mutual recognition is how it is done.

Recognition is given to a state, defined as an entity with its territory
enclosed by recognized international borders, but no one knows exactly
where Israel’s are now, or where they will be in the future. Would it
include all or just part of Jerusalem; how much of the West Bank? There
is no exact location for, or limitation on, what the Palestinians are being
required to recognize. Additionally, Jerusalem is not accepted as the
capitol, although Israel says it is.

States, not groups of people, extend recognition to another state. The PA
and Hamas are not states, and demanding that they extend non-reciprocal
recognition to the occupier, with unspecified size or exact location, is a
gross violation of rationality, international practice, and reason.

We have all heard and read these words/phrases countless times, and perhaps
used them ourselves. In the overall context of the enormous, contentious, critical
and dangerous problems we are attempting to resolve, for the benefit of all
parties, they may not be of great significance. Considered in the light of their
unfortunate contributions to making the task even more difficult, especially in
terms of America’s involvement, I believe that the minimum effort required to
eliminate them from the discourse is eminently worthwhile.

I therefore urge constant and careful replacement of those unfortunate,
misleading descriptions with more accurate, powerful, evocative words. They
should accurately describe circumstances and actions that threaten the stability
and future of an entire region and its inhabitants, as well as those far away.

Continuation of the illegal OCCUPATION of Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza
is clearly not in the best interests of anyone, most assuredly not the Palestinians,
nor Israel, nor the United States. Closer attention to the words used to describe
the yawning abyss we are all facing could contribute to avoiding the accelerating
slide into it.

2 thoughts on “Guest Post: Former Ambassador Edward Peck

  1. Harry Blaney May 19, 2011 / 6:48 PM

    I think that Ambassador Peck’s ideas about the words we use got some traction in Obama’s speech. He did use the word “occupation” and made what can only be termed a largely fair and balanced statement. The constraints of internal and external pressures and not least the visit of the Israeli Prime Minister who seems not to want or able to move, sets up a difficult context to break the deadlock. Also where will we find some Arab leaders who will join him in seeking a necessary compromise?

    See President Obama’s speech on this blog and the added comments there for further discussion of these issues and post here on outr own debate. But Amb. Peck’s desire to see a new level of dialogue seems to be right on, but dealing with key substance and some hard pressure on all actors clearly will be needed to advance towards a lasting peace. It may still take years and not months to come to agreement….but time may not be on the side of peace unless everyone acts soon.

  2. Alan Berlind May 19, 2011 / 3:08 AM

    Ambassador Peck’s keen examination of the issues involved is nowhere more insightful than when he calls attention to America’s “fervant political support” of Israel, the “general ignorance, misinformation and apathy” that mark Americans’ attitudes, or lack thereof, toward the Israeli-Palestinian dilemma, and the disgraceful (my word) role of the U.S. press in giving Israel a pass, in other words, shielding that untouchable entity from criticism. Ambassador Peck chooses not to address by name, however, the role of the Israeli Lobby and its stranglehold on Congress and U.S. policy over the years. What he has exposed, however, will surely subject him to the same kind of shameful calumny heaped upon Mearsheimer and Walt when they took on that subject a few years back: shameful and destructive of the vital national interests of all concerned parties.

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