Ep. 42: A Perpetual Israeli-Palestinian Dispute with Clifford D. May

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Episode Description

Clifford D. May, the president and founder of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and Luke Scorziell go in-depth on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. He details its complex history and how exactly we got here today. Additionally, Cliff discusses the impact of the UN Relief and Works Agency on Palestinian Refugees.

Stay tuned for a direct, uncensored, fact-based interview.

If you’d like to listen to my interview on the same topic with Sarah Leah Whitson of Human Rights Watch click here.

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Show Notes (abridged script)

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During the interview, Cliff recommends listeners read Daniel Deronda by George Eliot.


Education and Experience

Clifford D. May is the President and founder of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), a think tank focusing solely on national security policy.

May has master’s degrees from both the Columbia School of Journalism and the Columbia School of Public and International Affairs. He has been an editor, reporter, and foreign correspondent at numerous major publications, such as Newsweek, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Atlantic.

Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD)

Each year FDD receives about 5,000 research requests from congress members, journalists, and members of the presidential administration. The respond to requests with reliable, factual, footnoted research to help them do their jobs better. 

America’s “Holiday from History”

“We think America is taking a holiday from history. We think America is taking a peace dividend prematurely.” ~ Clifford D. May on Jean Kirkpatrick and Jack Kemp’s worries after the Cold War

May founded The Foundation for Defense of Democracies in 2001, with conversations starting before the September 11th attacks. Jean Kirkpatrick, the first female Ambassador to the United Nations, and Jack Kemp, a nine-term congressman, approached May with a concern that the United States was taking a holiday from history. 

Attacks on the United States Prior to 9/11

While Americans seemed to believe they were living in perpetual peace, attacks were occurring across the world, with the United States as the target. The US was attacked in Beruit in 1983, in New York City in 1993, in Saudi Arabia’s Khobar Towers in 1996, in Africa in 1998, and more. Kirkpatrick and Kemp wanted to learn who was behind these attacks. They wanted to come up with policy outcomes.

“What you feared and anticipated has come to pass.” ~ Clifford D. May to Jack Kemp and Jean Kirkpatrick after the 9/11 attacks

Listen to the episode to find out May’s reasons for founding FDD.

A History of the Israel-Palestine Dispute

Prior to Israel’s Founding

May tells us it is important to understand there were many indigenous people in the Middle East, including the Jewish People.

Jews rebelled against the Roman Empire. During this their people were slaughtered, their temple destroyed, and the Jews were expelled from their land in the Jewish Diaspora. However, they did not all leave the area that is now Israel.

“The Jews never accepted the idea that their land had been conquered.” ~ Clifford D. May

19th Century Zionism

“The Zionist Movement in the 19th century was comprised of people who said…we need to go back to our homeland. We need to go back to Israel.” ~ Clifford D. May

During the 19th century, Jews faced rampant discrimination across Europe. This gave rise to a Zionist movement advocating for the Jewish People’s return to Israel. During that time, the land that is now Israel was conquered by different empires. Such empires included the Ottomans, who conquered Israel from the Momlukes.

During World War I, the Ottomans were defeated by the British and the French. About 75% of the Mandate of Palestine became the Hashemites.

A United Nations Resolution, 1947-48

“When the British pulled out, the Jews announced the independence of Israel and all of the Arab states surrounding Israel attacked. Quite remarkably, the young State of Israel survived.” ~ Clifford D. May

In 1947 and 1948, the United Nations decided to divide the land between Israel and Palestine. Israel accepted the plan, while Palestine did not. This new deal resulted in attacks from neighboring nations on the newly-formed Israeli State.

The Six Day War, 1967

The Israelis took back two formerly British territories, Gaza and the West Bank. Rather than annexing them, the Israelis wanted to use the territories to create a Palestinian State. However, all offers have been refused by the Palestinian leadership.

A Palestinian State Prior to Israel?

“There was no Palestinian State…look at any Palestinian government office, you will not see a picture of a Palestinian leader that predates Arafat.” ~ Clifford D. May

May tells of the Arabs that lived on the land with other people of the Ottoman Empire. However, he says there was no Palestinian State prior to the Arafat.

May does reference a World War II religious leader, Amin al-Husseini. Amin was appointed Gand Mufti of Jerusalem by the British and was very close with Hitler during the war. He helped broadcast Nazi Propoganda into the Middle East during the war.

“It’s fine for Palestinians to say, ‘We now identify as a nation.’ Israelis accept that, but they also want Palestinian acceptance of the idea there is a nation called Israel.” ~ Clifford D. May

The Great March of Return

How did the protests start?

“If you can’t use missiles and you can’t use tunnels, what can you do?” ~ Clifford D. May on the Great March of Return

May describes the protests as one of many strategies of Hamas, a US-designated terrorist group, to attempt to breach the Israeli border. During the 2014 War, May was present in the region while Hamas launched rockets at Israel. He also describes the use of “terrorist tunnels” by Hamas.

“The Israelis have done everything they can to protect and defend their border, as they have an absolute right to do.” ~ Clifford D. May

What happened?

The protests, May tells us, had about 10,000 protestors according to the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) estimate. Some of them were terrorists planted by Hamas.

“What Hamas would do…is use human shields. They push out women and children in front of the terrorists.” ~ Clifford D. May

Hamas has acknowledged that they use human shields to protect their terrorist agents, May describes. During the protests, they pushed women and children to the front, while burning tires to keep the IDF from being able to see the protesters.

“We know, because Hamas admits it, that about 85% of those who have been killed in these so-called protests…are in fact Hamas warriors.” ~ Clifford D. May

Was this a peaceful protest?

“If [Hamas] got Palestinians killed, particularly women and children, they could use that as a public relations campaign to say, ‘Look how terrible the Israelis are. They’re killing us even though all we’re doing is peacefully protesting.” ~ Clifford D. May 

The protesters sent burning kites, birds, and explosives over the Israeli border, according to May.

“What Hamas is doing is not good for the people of Gaza if their goal is to live a decent life and have their children live a decent life. If their only goal is to wipe out Israel, and they’re willing to sacrifice generation after generation, then I guess they’re doing what they need to do.” ~ Clifford D. May 

May tells us a peaceful protest would be useful if there was a reasonable solution at the end of it. Rather, Hamas won’t even consider, he says, a peaceful coexistence with Israel.

“How you create peace when one side openly rejects the very possibility of peace seems to me an impossible task.” ~ Clifford D. May

Was Israel’s response justified?

May says the Israeli Defense Force’s response was entirely justified. He believes every nation has a right to defend its border when it is at risk, which Israel’s was.

“The Israeli Defense Forces routinely do more than any military in the world to reduce collateral damage.” ~ Clifford D. May

May describes how when the IDF targets a building with civilians, they will call to tell them to leave before the strike. Another precaution the IDF takes is to “knock on the door” by dropping a non-explosive on the roof of the building.

“If Gaza were ruled by people who wanted to get along with Israel, you would see the standards of living rise very rapidly.” ~ Clifford D. May

United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)

UNRWA vs. UN High Commissioner for Refugees

While the UN High Commissioner has resettled many refugees, UNRWA has eliminated zero refugees, according to May.

“UNRWA counts, as Palestinian refugees, not only those who have fled the battlefields of the War of 1948 or the War of 1967, they count their children, their grandchildren, their great-grandchildren. The result is they now count 5 million people as refugees. People who have never set foot in Israel and who are living in and area that is part of a Palestinian State.” ~ Clifford D. May

May states that UNRWA’s definition for Palestinian refugees is much different than the traditional definition. They count not only the original refugees, but also their descendants. This amounts to about 6.8 million Palestinian Refugees, according to Americans United for Palestinian Human Rights.

The descendants are Palestinian Refugees living in Palestine, May tells me with a slight irony in his voice. Not only this, but many of them have never stepped foot in Israel.

Creating Further Accountability

May does not believe UNRWA should be defunded by the US, but that they ought to be more transparent about what they do. For example, May would prefer UNRWA to disclose the number of refugees left over from the actual wars with Israel. Such information exists from the Obama Administration, he says, however it is classified.

“The number of Jews who were refugees after World War II and the number of Palestinians who were refugees is about comparable.” ~ Clifford D. May

Foreseeable Peace?

Israel Has Bigger Fish to Fry than Hamas

Although Hamas is a threat, May tells us, Israel faces much larger threats around the Middle East. There are Iranian Troops, Hezbollah Troops, Shia Militia Troops, and others setting up against Israel.

“Hamas is not the biggest enemy that Israel faces. It’s rather small compared to Hezbollah and Iran.” ~ Clifford D. May

Will the Palestine-Israel Conflict End?

May believes the only way for the conflict to end, is to have a Palestinian leader who is willing to compromise and live peacefully with Israel.

Bills with Luke Scorziell does not provide investment, tax, or legal advice or recommendations. This material is solely intended for educational purposes based on publicly available information and may change at any time. Additionally, this article’s content is a summary of the Interviewee’s comments and, while rephrased by the Author, are not from the Author himself.

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