There was a tempest recently when National Public Radio, the listener-funded American radio network, published a map on their website that erased Israel and called the region between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River “Palestine.”
There were other errors on the map – Turkey and Cyprus were also omitted as part of the Middle East and Afghanistan and Pakistan were included, despite not being considered part of Middle East. The map was removed from the website after complaints from HonestReporting.
It is good that watchdogs like HonestReporting exist and that media outlets that make errors – or deliberate misrepresentations – respond when challenged. However, there is a degree of irony in the fact that more attention is given to erasing Israel from the map on a relatively irrelevant webpage than there is to the near-universal erasure of Israel from the curricula and foreign policies of almost every country in the region.
In textbooks, including some funded by the United Nations, Israel is omitted from maps that teach children geography, replaced, as in the NPR case, with the word Palestine. This is by far the bigger concern.
The reality is that, from the foreign-policy perspective of most Arab and Muslim-majority countries, Israel doesn’t exist and never has. Foreign policy toward Israel among members of the Arab League is one of aggressive denial, in which Israel is referred to obliquely as “the Zionist entity,” or worse. In Iran, there is less denial that Israel exists and more overt determination to literally wipe it from the map.
Yet, all of these facts are effectively ignored by Western European foreign policies, like that of France recently. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has called for a peace conference “to preserve and achieve the two-state solution.” Fabius said that, if his plan for a negotiated settlement did not break the status quo, his government would unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state, as Sweden did in 2014.
Rightly, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu rejected the idea on Sunday. The French proposal, he correctly noted, provides the Palestinians with a disincentive to negotiate in good faith. Failure of a negotiated settlement is pretty much guaranteed by promises like that of France. Historically, the Palestinian leadership has rarely been willing to compromise, confident, correctly, that their Western allies would endorse their position without it – there has been no need to recognize Israel’s right to exist, to negotiate borders or other outstanding issues. From far too few countries has there been recognition that there are actually two legitimate sides with competing claims.
Aside from being a foreign policy of fools, the French proposal reflects the false narrative that is dominant in Western circles, one that sees Israel as the only obstacle to peace. If Israel does put roadblocks in the way of European proposals for a negotiated settlement, it is because European countries have shown too little concern, if any, to the very legitimate concerns Israel has about its security and indeed its continued existence with the very real potential for a terrorist state immediately abutting its tiny territory. If governments run by Hamas and Fatah are not worrisome enough, their stability in the face of threats from even worse terrorist organizations, namely ISIS, may be of no concern to the French, but it is a very serious concern for Israelis and those who care whether they live or die.
Alleged Israeli obstructionism, exemplified by the admittedly unhelpful expansion of settlements, is held up in the West as the main obstacle to peace, while the genocidal incitement that is rampant among Palestinians and in other parts of the region is dismissed as a temporary by-product of Israeli policies. In other words, as so often in history, Jews are blamed for bringing catastrophe upon themselves.
It is not a good thing that a news organization like NPR would redraw the boundaries of Israel and Palestine. Of far more concern should be efforts by the government of France and other Western powers to force such reconfigurations on a region they clearly do not understand.