Not So Random Questions, Facts, & Observations about Gaza & Israel


If forces in Mexico – drug cartels, for instance – were firing rockets and missiles into an area roughly covering 25% of the United States this is what it would look like.

If the U.S. equivalent of one million Israelis were under threat of this bombardment on a daily basis, running for cover, hiding in bomb shelters, suffering damage to their homes, roughly 45 million Americans would be victims of this terror.

Imagine the reaction of the American people. Imagine the political and national defense requirements of the U.S. government in response, even if no one had yet been killed.

The United Nations categorizes 48 nations, with a population of 832 million – nearly 1 in 8 people on the planet – as “least developed countries.” Neither the West Bank nor Gaza, since they are not countries, is on this list. However, according the CIA World Factbook ranking of the percentage of national populations living in poverty, in which Gaza is included, Gaza ranks 46th, with 38% of its population living below the poverty line. That is, 45 nations of the world have higher percentages of their people living in poverty. The list of these nations, including a very large number of African Nations, is close to identical to those on the U.N. list, but not quite. Among those nations not categorized by the U.N. as least developed nations, but with higher percentages of their populations living below the poverty line than Gaza are Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Bolivia, South Africa, Kenya, Nicaragua, and Belize.

Unlike with Hamas in Gaza, Israel is not now engaged in armed conflict with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Why is that?

If the armaments directed by Islamists in Gaza against Israel are, in fact, incapable of inflicting significant damage to military purpose – if they are so ineffectual to any practical material end – why do the extremists fire them? What is their immediate goal? What is their ultimate desire?

If, in return, Gaza periodically – now, a fourth year cycle – sustains physical destruction and casualties from Israel far beyond what Islamists inflict, why do they persist? What did they materially gain the last time? What prospect of material gain is there this time? Why (to choose a phrase) in the name of humanity do they do it?

Bibi Netanyahu is said by his critics not to be truly committed to negotiations and two states. Let us accept this for present purposes as true. It is true, too, that after more than sixty years (which is not to discount centuries) of mind-bendingly complex conflict and historical entanglement, simply affirming a commitment to anything and mouthing a willingness to negotiate are clearly not in themselves representative of a true or impending path to resolution of the conflict. This is what, in fact, Bibi Netanyahu has done, and his critics discount it. They simply do not believe him. Whatever creative thinking, diplomacy, and policy initiative might be required to break open the uncrackable nut of this problem, they have not issued from the brain trust, the intellectual think tank of the Netanyahu government. Okay. Agreed.

It is also true that there is no easier, so slicker, no more tendentious form of argument than to ground one’s arguments on the indemonstrable inner beliefs and passions of participants to the argument. Disputing arguments to the unseen is like attempting to prove a negative.

Has the pronounced position of the Benjamin Netanyahu government, every day of its administration, been that it is willing to negotiate unconditionally? I will answer that question.


Has it been the pronounced position of the Palestinian Authority on any day of Benjamin Netanyahu leadership of Israel that it is willing to negotiate unconditionally?


Has Benjamin Netanyahu publically declared his willingness to seek a two-state solution?


Is Hamas willing to commit to a two-state solution?

No. (Hamas wishes, rather, to kill all Jews. Or simply rule them in the culminating world caliphate. Theologians, robed and unrobed, dispute this.)

Those who claim that if only Benjamin Netanyahu were Ehud Olmert, or Ehud Barak (good Ehud Barak, before he was bad Ehud Barak), or even Yitzhak Rabin or Shimon Peres, there would be a chance for peace need to point to anything ultimately accomplished by any of these Israeli leaders – in the face of Palestinian rejectionism – that substantiates that belief.

More Americans died after the United States went to war against Imperial Japan subsequent to the Pearl Harbor attack than were killed before. Does that mean the U.S. was wrong or even simply mistaken to engage the conflict? Maybe it should simply have accepted the damage thus far and not made things worse? And Germany had not even attacked the United States. Was the U.S. declaration of war against Germany, then, aggression?

Did the allies during World War Two worry, in bringing the war to Japan, that they were creating more Kamikazes? Did they consider that if perhaps they simply ceased their aggressive defense, the Japanese would alter their own aggressive designs?

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not remotely comparable to the Irish Troubles. This common analogy is a weak, warm brew (or one dunk only of a Lipton’s tea bag – take your pick).

Protestant Irish are the lineal or political descendants of invaders, with no original claim to the land of Ireland.

Both Palestinian Arabs and Jews are original inhabitants of Israel-Palestine.

Nonetheless, most observers and people of good will were of the belief in the twentieth century that the Protestant Irish had long since roots in Ireland deep enough to warrant certain political claims, among which claims, considering Catholic-Protestant enmity, was autonomy (in Union with Great Britain) in Northern Ireland. A “two-state solution” had already been effected for Ireland in 1921. Palestinian Arabs rejected their two-state solution in 1948.

Rather than an internal minority rising up in violence against the State of Northern Ireland, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (more fully, historically, the Arab-Israeli conflict) is the product of an external majority’s unwillingness to acknowledge, or seeking to destroy, a separate state.

For all the enmity between Irish Protestants and Catholics, Unionists and Republicans, neither was committed by charter or theology to the genocidal destruction of the other.

The Belfast Agreement of 1998 required first a ceasefire and was predicated on IRA disarmament.

Whatever compromises were reached, the IRA was required to abandon its goal of uniting Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland.

Those who put forth this analogy generally articulate their case from the standpoint of human conflict as the product of misunderstanding and mistrust, however overlaid it may be with webs of historical, religious, and political complexity. In such presentations they do not acknowledge the reality of any kind of essential hate, of arrogance and absolutism. With enough patience and communication, human miscommunication can be overcome, they believe. Problems can be solved. We can all come together.

The indigenous peoples of the world – as that category was identified by the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations – Native Americans in the United States, First Nations peoples in Canada, the Aboriginal peoples of Australia, the many Indigenous cultures of Latin America all wait for the First World nations’ recognition of the reality of absolutism, arrogance, and condescending hate. But those peoples already lost, to conquerors who were merciless in their conquest and are unrepentant in their rule. Fortunately for the New World’s ruling cultures, their indigenous peoples are not supplied with rockets by Syria and Iran. Fortunately for Israel, it does not have to focus on what the past week would have been like were the circumstances reversed, though it can never afford to forget.


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The Palestinian Failure


Munib al-Masri

Some nations are lucky in their leaders. For decades now, academic historians have downplayed the significance of the leader – the “great man” – in the understanding of historical epochs and focused their attention elsewhere. Still, you cannot study the early American republic without renewed appreciation for the role of George Washington. How lucky was the U.S. again for Lincoln in his time, FDR in his, England for Churchill at the same time, Israel for David Ben Gurion. The French were not so lucky at the time of their revolution. The Palestinian Arabs, too, have had no Ben Gurion. They had Yassar Arafat.

A couple of weeks ago, Munib R. al-Masri, a storied figure among Palestinians and considered to be the wealthiest of them all, published an Op-Edin The New York Times. al-Masri is quite a moderate Palestinian, who is currently seeking a third way, beside the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, and trying to construct avenues toward peace with Israeli counterparts. Still, he must operate in the Palestinian environment created over the past sixty-plus years, and there are party lines he chooses to follow. He claimed, for instance, as the title of his Op-Ed read, in response to the well-publicized comment by Mitt Romney, that “Occupation, Not Culture, Is Holding Palestinians Back.” My point is not to comment on Romney’s observation, but al-Masri’s – that it is any Israeli “occupation” or other activity that has held Palestinians back. In fact, I don’t need to make that case. Seven years ago, in David Samuels’  lengthy “In a Ruined Country,” for the Atlantic, al-Masri made the case himself.

The money [Arafat] spent to buy the loyalty of his court, al-Masri gently suggests, could easily have paid for a functioning Palestinian state instead.

“With three hundred, four hundred million dollars we could have built Palestine in ten years. Waste, waste, waste. I flew over the West Bank in a helicopter with Arafat at the beginning of Oslo, and I told him how easy we could make five, six, seven towns here; we could absorb a lot of people here; and have the right of return for the refugees. If you have good intentions and you say you want to reach a solution, we could do it. I said, if you have money and water, it could be comparable to Israel, this piece of land.”

Samuels expanded.

For those at the top of the heap the rewards were much larger and more systematic. The amounts of money stolen from the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people through the corrupt practices of Arafat’s inner circle are so staggeringly large that they may exceed one half of the total of $7 billion in foreign aid contributed to the Palestinian Authority. The biggest thief was Arafat himself. The International Monetary Fund has conservatively estimated that from 1995 to 2000 Arafat diverted $900 million from Palestinian Authority coffers, an amount that did not include the money that he and his family siphoned off through such secondary means as no-bid contracts, kickbacks, and rake-offs. A secret report prepared by an official Palestinian Authority committee headed by Arafat’s cousin concluded that in 1996 alone, $326 million, or 43 percent of the state budget, had been embezzled, and that another $94 million, or 12.5 percent of the budget, went to the president’s office, where it was spent at Arafat’s personal discretion. An additional 35 percent of the budget went to pay for the security services, leaving a total of $73 million, or 9.5 percent of the budget, to be spent on the needs of the population of the West Bank and Gaza. The financial resources of the PLO, which may have amounted to somewhere between one and two billion dollars, were never included in the PA budget. Arafat hid his personal stash, estimated at $1 billion to $3 billion, in more than 200 separate bank accounts around the world, the majority of which have been uncovered since his death.

Contrary to the comic-book habits of some Third World leaders, such as President Mobutu Sese Seko, of Zaire, and Saddam Hussein, Arafat eschewed lurid displays of wealth. His corruption was of a more sober-minded type. He was a connoisseur of power, who used the money that he stole to buy influence, to provoke or defuse conspiracies, to pay gunmen, and to collect hangers-on the way other men collect stamps or butterflies. Arafat had several advisers who oversaw the system of patronage and theft, which was convincingly outlined in a series of investigative articles by Ronen Bergman that appeared during the late 1990s in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz. The PLO treasurer, Nizar Abu Ghazaleh, ran the company al-Bahr (“the Sea”) for a small number of wealthy shareholders, including Arafat’s wife, Suha. Al-Bahr set the price of a ton of cement in Gaza at $74, of which $17 went into Arafat’s private bank account. One of Arafat’s favorite bagmen, Harbi Sarsour, ran the General Petroleum Company, which established a monopoly over all the gasoline and fuel-oil products sold in the West Bank and Gaza. A company called al-Sakhra (“the Rock”), run by Fuad Shubaki on behalf of Fatah, profited hugely from an exclusive contract to provide all uniforms and other supplies to the Palestinian security forces. Official monopolies on basic goods and services had exclusive suppliers on the Israeli side. These profitable contracts were made available by Arafat to companies associated with former high-ranking members of the Israeli civil administration and the security services in the West Bank and Gaza.

The genius behind this system was Muhammad Rachid, who became Arafat’s closest economic adviser. A onetime protégé of Abu Jihad, Rachid was a former magazine editor who became involved in the diamond business. He came to Arafat’s attention because of his keen talent as a businessman, and because he was an ethnic Kurd—which meant that he was safely removed from the family- and clan-based politics that always threatened to disrupt the division of the spoils.

In their cities and villages Palestinians were subject to the extortion and violence of Arafat’s overlapping security services, which competed among themselves for payoffs, arbitrarily arrested people and seized their land, and forced citizens to pay double or triple the price for everything from flour and gasoline to cigarettes, razor blades, and sheep feed. The fact that nearly everyone in Palestinian political life had taken something directly from Arafat’s hand made it hard to criticize him; it was easier to go along. In 1991, at the low point of Fatah’s finances, Ali Shahin, one of Arafat’s earliest allies, wrote a secret report lambasting Fatah’s “inconceivable moral degradation,” for which he blamed the excesses of a leader whose true interests were “the red carpet, the private plane of the President, free rein to spend money.” Shahin became the minister of supplies in Arafat’s government and was notorious for selling spoiled flour and making truckloads of chocolates sit at the Erez checkpoint in the heat in order to help out a friend who owned the only candy factory in Gaza. The economy of the Palestinian territories, which had enjoyed startlingly high growth rates after 1967, when it passed from Jordanian and Egyptian control into the hands of the Israelis, stagnated and then went backward. In less than a decade Yasir Arafat and his clique managed to squander not only the economic well-being but also the considerable moral capital amassed by the Palestinian people during two and a half decades of Israeli military rule.

Samuels later gives us Gazan human-rights activist Iyad Sarraj.

“Palestinians have lost the battle because of their lack of organization and because they have been captives of rhetoric and sloganeering rather than actual work,” he says. “I believe that the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians in one way or the other is between development and underdevelopment, civilization and backwardness. Israel was established on the rule of law, on democratization, and certain principles that would advance Israel, while the Arabs and the Palestinians were waiting always for the prophet, for the rescuer, for the savior, the mahdi. Arafat came, and everyone hung their hats on him without realizing that there is a big gap between the rescuer and the actual work that needs to be done. This is where the Palestinians lost again the battle. They lost it in ’48 because of their backwardness, ignorance, and lack of organization in how to confront the Zionist enemy. They lost it when they had the chance to build a state, because the PA was absolutely corrupt and disorganized.”

There probably has never been a people more ill-served by a greater lack of leadership, a greater financial and moral corruption of leadership, than the Palestinian people. And there is a lot of competition.

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Israel The Political Animal

The Mystery of Terrorism, Revealed

Cross posted at The Times of Israel.

When I wrote the other day about our dumbness before the phenomenon of terrorism – so often the wanton and random killing in large numbers of those who must by any non-self-justifying reason be considered innocents – I was invoking the mystery of the moral self that can rise to so horrendous an act. Most of us will never fathom it.

I hereby revise myself.

While I am no promoter of the “banality of evil,” the commonplace has its role. Evil, human evil, in its purest form surely is the vileness, the befoulment of human sympathy we imagine it to be. It is the general of the armies of moral ugliness, hatred, and corruption. But it has its privates, its clerks – its professors and attorneys too, like PR hacks and mob lawyers. It is so often, at the head of cutthroat guerrilla insurgencies in the jungle, some highly educated soul who lost himself in an idea, amid the complexity of ideas, and so chose the simple one, in order to clarify, of murder.

A couple of weeks ago at Electronic Intifada we had Linah Alsaafin‘s “How obsession with ‘nonviolence’ harms the Palestinian cause.” That is to say, as a magnification of the mind behind the work, not “concern” with nonviolence, but “obsession,” as if one were overly fixated on double-checking light switches or on pantyhose. Alsaafin is a young, recent college graduate – a major in English literature – born in Wales to Palestinian parents and mostly raised in the UK and the U.S., now living on the West Bank. According to her Twitter page‘s romantic ejaculation,

I starve myself for you to remain. I die for you to live. Stay with the revolution.

Having discovered, like some of her age and temperament, that the world began with her birth, and conflict – its intolerances and rationales, and the suffering they engender – truly, with her consciousness of them, Alsaafin writes at Electronic Intifada,

Nowadays, Israelis and internationals and unfortunately even some “enlightened” Palestinians champion “nonviolent resistance” and consider throwing a rock to be a violent act. The argument goes that throwing rocks tarnishes the reputation of Palestinians in the western world and immediately negates the “nonviolent/peaceful” resistance movement. This argument falls into the trap of western- (read, colonizer) dictated methods of acceptable means to resist.

Oppressed people do not and should not have to explain their oppression to their oppressor, nor tailor their resistance to the comfort of the oppressors and their supporters.

So we begin with stock, ideologically reductive, historically obscurantist renderings of the world, in which a single senseless sentence undoes all Alsaafin’s education and all the ground for any of the ideas in which she herself believes.

Then we move on to an even more highly educated and older voice, Richard Falk, Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University and United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights. Falk’s cognitive disability in the political area for which he was chosen by the UN to serve is well documented, and exemplified in detail by my analysis of the gross distortions of the Global Policy Forum, of which Falk is a former director. Relevant here is his further descent into ideologized cultural self-debasement and intellectual incoherence. Having read Alsaafin, by whom Falk feels instructed and further enlightened, he writes,

The posture of solidarity with the struggle of “the other” is more complex than it might appear at first glance. It seems a simple act to join with others in opposing severe injustice and cruelty, especially when its reality is experienced and witnessed first-hand, as I have for several decades in relation to the Palestinian struggle.


The witness of unwelcome truths should always exhibit a posture of humility, not making judgments about the tactics of struggle employed by those fighting against oppression, and not supplying the solutions for those whose destinies are directly and daily affected by a deep political struggle. To do otherwise is to pretend to be the purveyor of greater wisdom and morality than those enduring victimisation. In the Palestine/Israel conflict it is up to the parties, the peoples themselves and their authentic representatives, to find the path to a sustainable and just peace, although it seems permissible for outsiders to delineate the distribution of rights that follow from an application of international law and to question whether the respective peoples are being legitimately represented.


[Alsaafin] persuasively insists that for sympathetic observers and allies to worship at the altar of Palestinian non-violence is to cede to the West the authority to determine what are acceptable and unacceptable forms of Palestinian struggle. This is grotesquely hypocritical considering the degree to which Western militarism is violently unleashed around the planet to maintain structures of oppression and exploitation, more benignly described as “national interests”. In effect, the culturally sanctioned political morality of the West is indicative of an opportunistically split personality: nonviolence for your struggle, violence for ours. Well-meaning liberals, by broadcasting such an insidious message, are not to be welcomed as true allies.

Having, then, ceded the ground of reason and all ethical consideration to the calculus of grievance and rage – it is not explained how, other than by the whiteness Alsaafin invokes, or the Westernness that Falk does, one group’s victimized self-identification is weighed against another’s, preventing a free-for-all of unchallengeable forms of struggle – Falk confounds his tortured notions in incoherence. Now he asserts,

At the same time, there are some universal values at stake that Alsaafin does not pause to acknowledge. Two of these truths are intertwined in bewildering complexity: no outsider has the moral authority or political legitimacy to tell those enduring severe oppression how to behave; no act of violence, whatever the motivation, that is directed against an innocent child or civilian bystander is morally acceptable or legally permissible, even if it seems politically useful. Terrorism is terrorism whether the acts are performed by the oppressor or the oppressed, and for humanity to move towards any kind of collective emancipation, such universal principles must be affirmed as valid, and respected by militants.

Is it too redundant to state outright that this completely contradicts Falk’s previous paragraph above? Falk will contradict himself several more times as he closes, including this reversion, in opposition to the above.

We all need to remember that each struggle has its own originality that is historically, politically, and culturally conditioned, and the Palestinian struggle is no exception.

One need not wonder very much how this kind of thinking can produce the sense that anything is permissible – justified by the “historically, politically, and culturally conditioned,” in the name of the two-headed god of resistance and struggle.

What might be needed to complete this intellectual journey to terror? Only the answer to the question I posed above, about how to weigh competing claims. For this we need Glenn Greenwald, late, soon, of, on his way to an even more fitting home at the Guardian, in responding to the Burgas terrorism.

I have no idea who is behind the attacks. If it turns out to be Hezbollah and/or Iran, that will not shock me: after all, if it is perceived that you have sent hit squads onto a country’s soil to murder their nuclear scientists, it’s likely that the targeted nation will want to respond with violence of their own.

Embedded in this very brief but profound corruption of historical and moral review are two distinct failures of judgment. Greenwald first suggests a chain of events leading to Burgas, so that we not simplistically conceive of the bombing as an isolated and easily judged act of terror. It is a consequence, and thereby loses some weight of morally assignable blameworthiness. It is, you know, as always, understandable. (We ignore here that Greenwald’s whole post criticizes reliance on the unsubstantiated perception of Israel and the U.S. that Hezbollah and Iran were behind the attack, yet relies on a similar unsubstantiated perception – “if it is perceived” – to quasi-justify Burgas.) The chain of events is notably short, however, and stops at suggested Israeli acts. Could we trace a longer chain? Of course, we could, though Greenwald obviously wishes not to. So in the few links that Greenwald offers, the first and originally causative one is Israeli.

If, rather, we were to extract from those sentences a world-weary gesture toward the infinite regression of links and causes, the unending chain of grievance between opposing sides – as between Israel and the Palestinians – that seems always the foundation of irresolvable conflict, we could abandon the futile search for root fault and assess the parties in their present form. In that present form, too, Greenwald finds Israel wanting and Hezbollah and Iran just that uncertain step short of excusable we can call excuse-makeable.

Either way we consider the matter and the more general situation, Greenwald’s sympathies are not, as they never are, with Israel, even relative to Hezbollah and Iran. He observes the actors of the world in all of their worldly complexity and determines that Israel is one of the malevolent actors in it, whereas theocratic, anti-Semitic and repressive Iran is one of the state actors whose conduct needs to be understood – rationalized – in context. Greenwald does not actually sanction terrorist attacks; he simply understands their occurrence situationally. The situation is one in which Iran warrants our understanding and Israel does not.

Greenwald’s voice, then, is that of the lawyer, in these times most often prosecuting the Obama administration, while also making the defense attorney’s sympathetic plea before the jury for the perpetrators of mass-murder attacks. It is, rather, the passionate, youthful zealot, “starving” for her people, “dying” that they may live, who offers the intellectual rationale for murder and why no outsiders, including the  victims, have intellectual or moral standing to protest the justice of their ends. It is the aged professor, clinging to rhetorical habits, like a prayer recited by heart but in which all belief has been lost, who calls out weakly in his shame and doubt, ‘Thou shalt not kill,” but also, “We may not judge.”

And we have terrorism.


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The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in a Single Conversation


The following is a partial transcript of a “discussion” on Democracy Now between Commentary’s Jonathan Tobin and Ali Abunimah of Electronic Intifada. In this brief exchange we see all of the essential characteristics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Tobin makes the point that regardless of any opinion regarding the settlements, peace can be had. Legal settlements can be sacrificed for peace just as illegal might be. Abunimah fails here, as everywhere else, to be an honest interlocutor. Rather than respond to that idea, he dismisses it as a “talking point.” And even if it were? What about the idea behind it? However, Abunimah is not a man of ideas, but of postcolonial jargon. His rhetoric in a single brief conversation represents in nature the actions of the Palestinian and greater Arab world going back to 1947: refusal to engage and accept, a rejection of reasoned discourse just like rejection of a Jewish state. He slings historically and conceptually false lablels like slurs and stones: “settler colonialism,” “apartheid,” “indigenous Palestinian people.” In his final dishonesty, he snows the sympathetic mind with reference to “Jim Crow tyranny,” as if two peoples in conflict over land and competing nationhoods are the equivalent of discrimination within a single nation.

But, ah! That’s the point. Abunimah’s unspecified solution in equality to his manufactured inequality is an unarticulated but implicit single nation – which isn’t Israel. Tobin, less driven and riven by hate and mental hackery, is too smart for him, and does not leave the inference unexpressed. Then Abunimah is reduced to scurrying into all the corners of his dishonesty to deny the implications of language.

Same as it ever was. Same as it ever was. Read.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: I want to turn to a statement made by Israeli President Shimon Peres. He spoke out Tuesday against settlements in the West Bank. He said, quote, “Israeli settlement in territories densely populated by an Arab population could bring about a threatening demographic change; that is, it could endanger the Jewish majority in Israel. It is doubtful that a Jewish State without a Jewish majority can remain Jewish.” Jonathan Tobin, can you comment on what Israeli President Shimon Peres said?

JONATHAN TOBIN: That’s a position that many Israelis hold. But it shouldn’t be conflated with the question of their legality. The problem here is that people like the people from The Electronic Intifada don’t really recognize legitimacy of Jewish life anywhere in the country, including inside the Green Line, including the settlement Tel Aviv. The problem here is that it’s not a question of whether they’re legal or not, because if the Palestinians wish to make peace, if they wish to compromise, if they wish to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders are drawn, they can do so, and Israel has approved it will withdraw from territory, if offered peace. The problem is, the Palestinians won’t recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, the legitimacy of Jewish life anywhere in that country. That’s why this is—the talk of war crimes, the talk of it’s criminal—Jews are not foreigners in the land of Israel.

The problem is, the Palestinians don’t wish to share. What we have here is a question of disputed territory. Both sides have rights. All the rights are not on the sides of the Palestinians. Jews have rights, too. If the Palestinians wish to have peace, if they wish to have the Palestinian—independent Palestinian state that they were offered three times and rejected three times in the last 12 years, they have to start dealing with the reality that the Jews aren’t going away. And if they do, they’ll find that Israel is willing to withdraw from most of the settlements, whether they—whether they consider them legal or not. Let’s not conflate these two issues. Peace is possible if the Palestinians are willing to make peace. It’s not possible if they focus on fantasies about throwing the Jews out. Even the Obama administration, which has been the most sympathetic to the Palestinian of any in recent—in any recent light, understood that many of the settlements are going to stay. That’s what the talk about territorial swaps was about last year. So, to focus on the illegality of things, of places that everyone knows are going to stay Israeli, and where Jews have the right to live, is just a fantasy that breeds more terrorism and more rejection of peace, which is what we get from The Electronic Intifada.


AMY GOODMAN: Ali Abunimah.

ALI ABUNIMAH: I mean, yeah, I see that Mr. Tobin studied the talking points very well this morning. Of course, let’s bring things back to basics. This isn’t a question of Jews. Jews have lived in Palestine since before the Zionist settler colony was imposed on Palestine. It’s not a question of Jews living there. It’s a question of settler colonialism, of apartheid, of the assertion that Jews have a right to superior rights than the indigenous Palestinian people and have a right to just bulldoze— literally bulldoze—their way onto Palestinian land and steal it for their own benefit. Frankly, I mean, I’m not surprised Mr. Tobin doesn’t care a jot about international law—

JONATHAN TOBIN: Jews are the indigenous people there, too. Jews are not foreigners.

ALI ABUNIMAH: —but you would think—you would think that Commentary, a conservative publication, would care at least about private property rights and the fact that vast tracts of these Jewish-only settler colonies are built on private Palestinian land, stolen by force by Israel’s Jewish sectarian militia known as theIDF.

Now, back to Shimon Peres’s statement, which was your original question, of course, his statement calling Palestinian babies a so-called demographic threat really reveals the Jim Crow-like racism at the core of this Zionist ideology that views the mere existence of Palestinian babies in their own native land as a threat to Israel. How can Palestinians ever possibly recognize or give legitimacy to an entity which views their mere reproduction as human beings as a mortal threat? It’s time for Mr. Tobin and all the fans of this apartheid, racist, Jim Crow tyranny to make good on their claimed liberal and progressive values and oppose Israeli apartheid and accept the inevitable, which is, just like in the Jim Crow South, just like in apartheid South Africa, one day there is going to be equal rights for everyone between the river and the sea, and all of this nonsense that Mr. Tobin is trying to sell us will be absolutely forgotten.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: I want to turn to the U.S. response to the commission’s report. The Obama administration criticized the findings of the report. Speaking Monday, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said, quote, “The U.S. position on settlements is clear. Obviously, we’ve seen the reports that an Israeli Government appointed panel has recommended legalizing dozens of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, but we do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity and we oppose any effort to legalize settlement outposts.” Jonathan Tobin, can you respond to that?

JONATHAN TOBIN: Well, of course the administration isn’t going to—hasn’t recognized that position. It opposes it. But it also tacitly agrees to the fact that the Jews aren’t going away. I mean, what we heard from my colleague on the show was the Palestinian fantasy that some day Israel is going to be destroyed. All the calumnies, all the slanders about apartheid—

ALI ABUNIMAH: I never said that. I didn’t use those words.

JONATHAN TOBIN: Yes, yes. That’s what—

ALI ABUNIMAH: I said that the system of racism and apartheid is going to be ended.

JONATHAN TOBIN: That is exactly what you are talking about.

ALI ABUNIMAH: And that will happen.

JONATHAN TOBIN: It is not an apartheid state. It is the only—

ALI ABUNIMAH: But don’t substitute your words with mine.

JONATHAN TOBIN: It is a state where Arabs have equal rights, serve in the parliament. And that—that is exactly what they are talking about. They’re talking about the destruction of Israel, and which is why this whole discussion—

ALI ABUNIMAH: Your words, sir. And it’s your fantasy.

JONATHAN TOBIN: It is your meaning. Don’t try to—

ALI ABUNIMAH: Your fantasy is the destruction of Israel.

JONATHAN TOBIN: Don’t try to—don’t try to lie your way out of it.

ALI ABUNIMAH: Was Jim Crow the destruction of Alabama and Mississippi?

JONATHAN TOBIN: You are fantasizing about the end of the Jewish state.

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Israeli Ambassador Fears 60 Minutes “Hatchet Job”; Bob Simon Protests, Then Delivers


On 60 Minutes last night, Bob Simon explained in backgrounding the excerpts of his interview with Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren that Oren asked to respond to the 60 Minutes report – before it even aired – because he had heard the report would be a “hatchet job.” (The reported charge is in the video, but omitted from a transcript that is not labeled as abridged.) Simon made much of the unusual request and Israel’s apparent defensiveness. Oren said during the interview that the interview itself had confirmed the reports. Simon protested that Oren could not know this because the report had not aired yet. Oren conceded that point.

Now the report has aired.

It is worse than a hatchet job. It is slick, slasher journalism and a disgrace. It is a black mark on 60 Minutes’ storied tradition not only because it enters the annals of prejudicial, anti-Israel reporting, but because it is garbage journalism not worthy of the name.

To suspect that Simon might be responsible for a hatchet job on Israel, one only need be familiar with his prior reporting on the subject. In this 2009 report, for instance, it is not only the substance of the report that is problematic, but Simon’s reporting tactics and style. At about 5:35 in the video, Simon makes a show of attempting to interview a small IDF unit that has taken up a position in a Palestinian home, a unit in the middle of a security operation. Talking through a door from the street, Simon attempts to make the soldiers appear dishonest and furtive because their commander – in the midst of a military operation – will not talk with a reporter.

“Have you lost your voice,” Simon accusatorily asks, while surrounded by Palestinian boys.

It is a manipulative and bathetic display with only one aim.

In last night’s report, Simon pretends to cover the story of the West Bank’s dramatically declining Arab Christian population. He interviews a myriad of Palestinian sources and cites Palestinian documents that clearly suggest Israeli responsibility for the decline. Among Israelis, Simon interviews only Oren and Ari Shavit, though Shavit is actually offered as a mostly supportive voice for the Palestinian claims. So Oren is the only Israeli voice to counter all of those that are critical. The manifest aim of the report is insinuate the cause of Christian immigration by adjoining the repeated references to the population decline to stock complaints about Israeli behavior towards Palestinians, such as the construction of the security barrier. Amidst all this, however, the report does not present a single piece of factual evidence or cite a single Israeli policy or action that is specifically directed against Arab Christians.

Let me repeat that, because it is very important: Bob Simon’s 60 Minutes report, the report that very prominently devotes itself to suggesting Israeli culpability for the decline in the Arab Christian population in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and which explicitly upbraids Ambassador Michael Oren for objecting beforehand to its aim – that report does not cite as much as one Israeli policy or Israeli government act as exemplary of behavior specifically driving Christians to emigrate.

The report never addresses why Moslems are not emigrating in the same way. Though Oren states it, Simon’s report never explores his claim that it is Moslem behavior toward Christians that is driving them away. Though even Shavit states,

 Israel is not persecuting Christians as Christians

Simon does not explore the meaning of that point or alter the argumentative drive of his report.

When Simon reports, in this one sentence,

But inside Israel, in Christian towns like Nazareth, Arabs are Israeli citizens and, according to Ambassador Oren, they’re thriving,

he leaves it at that and devotes not a word of commentary or a second of screen time to examining the truth of Oren’s claim or its implications for the presentation his report is making.

The report even goes this far. I leave it for last because it is so outrageous and so tendentiously brands Simon and his report as promoters of the Palestinian propaganda that seeks even to reach back into history and lie about it to delegitimize the Jewish presence in Israel. The report offers:

Mitri Raheb: Christianity started here. The only thing that Palestine was able to export so successfully was Christianity.

Mitri Raheb is a Palestinian, a Christian and a Lutheran minister from Bethlehem. He runs schools, cultural centers and health clinics.

Mitri Raheb: Christianity has actually on the back a stamp saying, “Made in Palestine.”

This is said, with no corrective follow up, of the religion whose central figure of veneration was born and died a Jew, whose followers for the next century were still considered Jews, and who was born in the Kingdom of Judah.

Bob Simon owes Michael Oren an apology. CBS needs to initiate a review of the making of this 60 Minutes report and account for it to its audience.


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What Can “Free” Palestine


On Wednesday The New York Times published an OpEd by Mustafa Barghouthi, a member of the Palestinian Parliament and “secretary general of the Palestinian National Initiative.” The article is entitled “Peaceful Protest Can Free Palestine.”

Peace is always a good start to resolving disputes. Here is what else would help to “free” Palestine.

The Arab and Muslim world, including Palestinians, can stop hating Jews. It can stop teaching the hatred of Jews – not only Israelis, but Jews – in its schools. It can stop preaching the hatred of Jews in its mosques. It can work to disinfect itself of what it has permitted to become a culturally defining characteristic: genocidally expressed anti-Semitism.

The Arab and Muslim worlds can also freely acknowledge and accept the existence of Israel as a Jewish state.

These changes from decades, and longer, of hatred and rejectionism could open the way to compromise and resolution. What nation faced with the unyielding hatred of surrounding enemies – hatred expressed toward the inherent nature of that nation’s people – and those enemies’ refusal to acknowledge unreservedly that nation’s right to exist would perform any differently?

What would also help is to cease lying about history and inculcating those lies in the young and sympathetically supportive. So, yes, peace would help. What have Palestinians ever gained from the rejection of that too? But protest against what? Against the anti-Semitism? Against the rejectionism? Shall we count the number of times Palestinians have had the opportunity of their own state and rejected it? Against the historical lies? For aside from the admirable commitment to peace, Barghouthi’s article is a sham, and the Times’ publication of it a disgrace. The “paper of record” which still claims to be the publisher of “all the news that’s fit to print” apparently finds any blatant historical lie fit to print. It will not, to its own historic shame, call torture torture, and it demonstrates again – with, in fact, no ideological consistency – that it will exercise no intellectual and professional judgment in distinguishing propagandistic misrepresentation from honest difference.

Of course, the very title of the article is a lie. There never was a national Palestine that enjoyed a condition of “freedom” – independence? – which was subsequently lost and to which it might return, thus rendering it freed. Immediately before the now forty-five year period that Israel has sometimes and sometimes not “occupied” all or parts of the West Bank, for instance, the West Bank was entirely occupied by Jordan, which afforded its residents far less freedom, independence, and self-government (none) than do the Israelis. Should not the Palestinians have complete independence and self-government? They should. Is it too much to ask that the condition of independence be negotiated in historical honesty? So far, yes.

The article proper begins inauspiciously.

Over the past 64 years, Palestinians have tried armed struggle; we have tried negotiations; and we have tried peace conferences. Yet all we have seen is more Israeli settlements, more loss of lives and resources, and the emergence of a horrifying system of segregation.

The article begins embedded with lies. Sixty four years ago, the Arab population of the Palestine mandate (they were not yet regularly referred to as Palestinians) rejected a state of their own. Their armed struggle in 1948 was not for freedom – which they would have immediately had from the British Mandate had they accepted their own state – but to prevent for Jews an independent state of their own. The Palestinians have, indeed, tried negotiations and conferences, which on those occasions and others offered them that independent state of their own. They have never accepted it because it always involved giving Jews more than the Palestinians want them to have – which for significant numbers of Palestinians is anything at all. Israeli Jews originally accepted for their independent state only about two thirds of the state that emerged after the 1948 armistice. They wanted a state.

The settlements on land the Palestinians consider theirs to have for a future state – now just on the West Bank, Israel having abandoned its equally ill-advised settlements in Gaza – did not begin until after the 1967 War. Barghouthi’s opening two sentences rather unclearly suggest that the settlements have been going on for 64 years. This is all an extraordinary amount of misinformation for 44 words.

Of course, there is the further currently popular whitewashing of suicide bombing advocate Khader Adnan.

And there is the typical, misleading comparison of Israel-Palestine to Britain-Northern Ireland, which misdirection aims at characterizing the ancient and unbroken Jewish presence in their homeland as that of foreign invader and conqueror. On that point, Barghouthi contradictorily claims,

Our movement is not intended to delegitimize Israel, as the Israeli government claims. It is, instead, a movement to delegitimize the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, which we believe is the last surviving apartheid system in the world. It is a movement that could free Palestinians from nearly 45 years of occupation and Israelis from being part of the last colonial-settler system of our time.

I will not even bother with the apartheid claim. But as mistaken as the Israeli settlements on the West Bank are, Jews lived on the West Bank before the 1948 war. Jews on the West Bank are no more “colonial-settlers” than an Arab returning to Israel would be a colonial-settler. But that last sentence reveals the full scope of the ideologically opportunistic propaganda of Barghouthi’s presentation. The “last colonial-settler system of our time”? Would that be virtually every nation in the Western Hemisphere, as well as Australia, where truly non-indigenous, conquering cultures still rule over subjugated indigenous populations? Adherents of the ideology Barghouthi mimics would gladly pronounce that truth, but the pretense that the historical situations are equivalent only spotlights further the dishonesty of this advocate of peaceful protest.

Peace is nice, peace is good. Palestinians need it. Israelis need it. The region needs it. Can it set the Palestinians “free”? It is a necessary, but not a sufficient condition.

I hear tell the truth can set you free. It’s been said.

Maybe Barghouthi should try that too.


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Counter Thinking in the Israeli Palestinian Conflict

In the contemporary field of education, few concepts are more heavily promoted than that of what is called critical thinking. Very simply, thinking that analyzes itself, that habitually questions suppositions and established intellectual foundations –  the warrants on which we base our claims about the world – is critical thinking. Revisionist histories arise from critical thinking. Much of literary studies for going on fifty years has been directed at reading against the grain: dehistoricizing, rehistoricizing, deconstructing.  The whole hermeneutic endeavor is to dig out, even create, from below the surface and between the cracks, and in a new dynamic interplay of elements, the hidden meanings beneath the obvious (and therefore misleading) surface. Common sense? Obvious? Common, indeed. Too obvious.

Cleverness – true and deep, as well as superficial and showy – is prized. How can I see things differently from others? How can I reveal the obscure truth to them? Conspiracy theorists, scholars, think tankers, journalists, personal coaches and seers, Tony Robbins, writers of all kinds. It seems a billion people try to make a living or a name doing this. With the advent of blogging, make that two billion. (My hand is raised.)

As I say, though, some of this cleverness is true and deep, some not so. Everywhere – you never know where or when – the subtle thought slips into the sophistical and the misleading casuistry. An example of this kind of approach in political history is to focus, in the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, for instance, on American anticipation of the power struggle with the Soviet Union, and the impending Soviet declaration of war on Japan, rather than on the Japanese refusal to surrender and the projected carnage to come in an invasion of Japan. The clever counter thinker tells us that, since all policy-making is self-interested and cynical, the U.S. bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki not to end the war quickly and spare hundreds of thousands of American lives, but to make a show to the Soviets.

In the political history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we get counter thinkers like Robert Malley. Malley is one of those who have offered a revisionist take on the 2000 Camp David peace talks, in which he participated. Rather than Arafat, who, committing himself to nothing, rejected an offer in which Ehud Barak conceded so much, and that Bill Clinton endorsed, Malley blames Clinton for negotiating poorly, Barak for making offers Arafat could not accept. (So far, we have no basis to believe that the Palestinian side will accept anything other than nearly everything – not so with Israel.)

What happens with this kind of counter thinking is that the world gets turned upside down. The subtle drops off the cliff into the preposterous, yet there are always those at the bottom waiting to catch it. The latest example? By Malley himself and Hussein Agha, from the September 3 Guardian. My analysis of its absurdities – preparing the way to justify another Palestinian refusal to come to terms – follows below.

The skewed Middle East peace talks

Whether there’s a deal or not, the Palestinians can’t really win, while the Israelis have little to lose

Well, you can’t say the head and sub-head are hiding their purpose. But they embed an argument that reappears and that I’ll return to.

Israelis and Palestinians who have started peace negotiations in Washington are separated by much more than the gulf between their substantive positions. Staggering asymmetries between the two sides could seriously imperil the talks.

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu is the head of a stable state with the ability to deliver on his commitments. Celebrations of supposed institution-building notwithstanding, Palestinians have no robust central authority. Their territory is divided between the West Bank and Gaza. On their own, Palestinians would find it difficult to implement an agreement, however much they might wish to. Israel controls all material assets; Palestinians at best can offer intangible declarations and promises.

Consider the implications of this. The authors are setting the foundation for an argument that delegitimizes the negotiations, and any outcome – treaty or no treaty – that follows, based on “skewed” conditions, “asymmetries.” Translation: Israel is, in fact, a successful, functioning democratic state while the Palestinian Authority has no such. (This ignores the truth that the PA is actually functioning in many respects with increasing success and authority on the West Bank.) Israel’s success and Palestinian dysfunction are unfair. Give me back my ball; I’m going home.

Netanyahu operates within a domestic consensus. On issue after issue – acceptance of a two-state solution, insistence on Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, rejection of a full settlement freeze including Jerusalem, refusal of preconditions for negotiations – his stances resonate with the Israeli people. Neither the right, from which he comes, nor the left, whose peace aspirations he is pursuing, denies him the mandate to negotiate. Netanyahu is heading on his own terms to negotiations he has demanded for 20 months; Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas is being dragged there without any of his preconditions having been met.

Translation: Israel is an integral society. Palestinian society thus far is not. This somehow (start with the headline, follow with the tone and the clear direction in which the argument is headed) is mark against Israel. “Netanyahu is heading on his own terms to negotiations he has demanded for 20 months.” One can only not laugh if one does not recall that Netanyahu’s “terms” were no terms – no preconditions, which is always the open, non-prejudicial approach to negotiations. Abbas, in contrast, is to receive our sympathy, because his preconditions were not met. What were his preconditions? That there even be preconditions. And he is being “dragged” into negotiations. Israel willingly seeks unconditional direct negotiations, the Palestinians for 20 months reject them – and this is a mark against Israel.

The Palestinian leadership has never been more vulnerable. Participation in talks was opposed by virtually every Palestinian political organisation apart from Fatah, whose support was lethargic. Abbas’s decision to come to Washington is viewed sceptically even by those who back him. Netanyahu’s is supported even by those who oppose him.

One is nearly speechless. (But, of course, not.) This whole focus on Israeli strength – political and social, not simply military – as a subversive element to negotiation is relatively new. I last encountered this argument when debating George Clifford at Ethical Musings, on which I reported in “Framing Israel.” Clifford argued at one point: “Negotiation implies equality. Israel refuses to negotiate with the Palestinians as equal.” Leaving aside whether that second statement is factually true – from where did Clifford get such an idea, that negotiation implies equality? Does he mean that in civil law suits, when the two parties negotiate a deal, they both have, or should or must have, equal footing? We know this is not so. When defendants plea bargain with district or U.S. attorneys – a negotiation – are they equal? Why does one company in merger negotiations retain its name and CEO in the merged company – because the two companies were equal? What a preposterous notion, yet among those who play-talk as advocates of peace, but who really pursue a terribly misguided, peace destroying Palestinian advocacy, this is a new argumentative tactic: the negotiations are unfair because the Israeli polity is stronger, more united, and actually wants to negotiate an end to the conflict, while the PA comes to the negotiating table with none of those attributes. The Palestinians and their Arab “friends” lost the war they started in 1948 (should Israel offer a do over?), frittered away six decades playing the cards of abject victimhood  and preening as Third Word revolutionary freedom fighters, instead of building a society (look always in comparison at the Iraqi Kurds), and still are not clearly committed to contending with reality – and their advocates want to proclaim that this weakness is unfair.

Palestinian views are well known. There is little to no distinction between their public, opening and final positions. Yet no one truly knows the Israeli stance. Netanyahu can start with maximalist positions and then climb down, exuding flexibility next to what inevitably will be couched as Palestinian obstinacy. Palestinians are likely to be frustrated, the atmosphere poisoned, and American bridging proposals – likely falling somewhere between Palestinian bottom lines and Israel’s negotiating posture – risk being skewed.

One must get this, truly. “Palestinian views are well known. There is little to no distinction between their public, opening and final positions.” Translation: the Palestinians – the poor, weak Palestinians – won’t make concessions. They won’t negotiate. “Netanyahu can start with maximalist positions and then climb down.” In other words, Israel will negotiate, will make concessions from what it would like if its position were really so powerful that it could have it all its own way. The Israelis will be “exuding flexibility next to what inevitably will be couched as Palestinian obstinacy.” But that is exactly what the authors just told us the circumstances actually will be!

Palestinian negotiators have logged countless hours on final status questions since the 1990s. The reverse is true on the Israeli side. From Netanyahu down, only one leading figure has seriously tackled permanent status issues, and it is unclear what role defence minister Ehud Barak may play. This disparity should favour the Palestinians – the experienced trumps the novice. But they will also be prisoners of their well-worn outlook, whereas the Israelis will be free to introduce new ideas. Yet again, Palestinians will confront the maddening task of beginning from scratch a process they have undergone on multiple occasions.

Let’s see if we can get this straight. The Palestinians will be the more experienced negotiators, but this is bad because they will be “prisoners” of their own “well-worn outlook, whereas the Israelis will be free to introduce new ideas.” This is to say the Palestinians will not budge off the square they have inhabited for so long with such great results, while the Israelis will think creatively to pursue solutions. Dastardly villains!

Neither Israel’s mounting isolation nor its reliance on US assistance has jeopardised its ability to make autonomous choices, whereas the Palestinian leadership’s decision-making capacity has shrivelled. Most recent Palestinian decisions have been made in accordance with international demands, against the leadership’s instinctive desires and in clear opposition to popular aspirations. Despite such deference, Palestinian leaders cannot count on international support. They feel betrayed by Arab allies and let down by Washington. In contrast, Israel has defied the Obama administration without endangering close ties to Washington. Palestinians will have to take into account the views of Arab and Muslim states; Israel can negotiate by and for itself, without reference to an outside party.

What happens should negotiations fail? The status quo, though sub-optimal, presents no imminent danger to Israel. What Israelis want from an agreement is something they have learned either to live without (Palestinian recognition) or to provide for themselves (security). The demographic threat many invoke as a reason to act – the possibility that Arabs soon might outnumber Jews, forcing Israel to choose between remaining Jewish or democratic – is exaggerated. Israel already has separated itself from Gaza. In the future, it could unilaterally relinquish areas of the West Bank, further diminishing prospects of an eventual Arab majority. Because Israelis have a suitable alternative, they lack a sense of urgency. The Palestinians, by contrast, have limited options and desperately need an agreement.

The Palestinians “desperately need an agreement,” yet the authors have spent an essay telling us why they will not make one and how unfair that is. One reason that negotiations may bear some kind of fruit is that one of the parties, in that weaker position, is desperate for a resolution that, far from that party’s ideal, will offer conditions better than those it faces without the agreement. Most people make the agreement. That the Palestinians for sixty years have not is a study in political pathology.

In any event, Abbas will return to a fractured, fractious society. If he reaches a deal, many will ask in whose name he was bartering away Palestinian rights. If negotiations fail, most will accuse him of once more having been duped. If Netanyahu comes back with an accord, he will be hailed as a historic leader. His constituency will largely fall in line; the left will have no choice but to salute. If the talks collapse, his followers will thank him for standing firm while his critics are likely in due course to blame the Palestinians. Abbas will be damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. Netanyahu will thrive if he does and survive if he doesn’t. One loses even if he wins, the other wins even if he loses. There is no greater asymmetry than that.

The authors have described over these final three paragraphs the essential conditions of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, varied facets of Israeli social and political strength and Palestinian weakness, almost all of the latter, in fact, fairly represented as manifestations of Palestinian and Arab disunity and intransigence. Yes, we know, these emerge from the driving animus against Israel and Jews, but animosity is what fuels, if not what guides, all conflict. It is what peace negotiations, in strength or in weakness, must always overcome. Supposed sympathizers who shape arguments to further rationalize failure are not forces for peace, and as we see here, quite transparently, they don’t make very good arguments either.



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Framing Israel

It is inevitably so that when two parties are in protracted conflict, neither will be faultless in conduct. Wrongs will be committed, misbehavior will be rationalized, and the sense of one’s own righteousness will excuse even long-term, strategic misdirections in course. The first two of those categories are why political settlements of disputes cannot come from attempting to argue to resolution the “original” wrong: there are always wrongs and Rashomon complexities to grasp onto to make one’s case. The latter is why the Israeli settlement policy in the West Bank and Gaza was such an historic error. Israelis would be happy – even I, inconsequentially, would be happy – never to need argue the same historic counter claims and charges again. There are coincident claims to land. I do not say conflicting claims because conflict is a product of mental attitude: there need not be conflicting claims to the land of ancient Israel, of Palestine, but there are coincident claims. They are either warred over, negotiated to settlement, or endlessly debated in pursuit of some undefined, ultimate judgment of the inherently superior justness of one’s cause. The last may continue up until the moment a settlement is reached.

Many of the parties these days who disfavor Israel wish to continue arguing. They wish to make Israel wrong. There is, in their own minds, an obvious reason for this, a reason that even those who disagree with them should be easily able to recognize: Israel exists, in relative power, more than sixty years after the partition, and Palestinians persist for just so long in various conditions of stateless disenfranchisement. It is impossible for many people to accept – it goes so against fundamental presumptions about human nature – that it is the Palestinians, and their fellow Arabs, who are mostly responsible for this condition, so, instead, Israel must be at fault. The difficulty in this position is that the facts, historically, overwhelmingly refute it. There is, however, a way – there is always a way – to overcome this difficulty.  Facts (ah, those golden shiny nuggets that bear a good bite of the incisor) – facts can catch the light the way you want them too if you turn the right facet to the light. The matter becomes, then, one of presentation, of angling the object of consideration just so, with this side fully revealed to the light, another like the dark side of the moon. Or, as I discussed the matter in those posts on Glenn Greenwald, it becomes a matter of framing, less a question of the facts, but of the facts one chooses to include and exclude and how one frames the narrative surrounding the former.

We know all the framing devices, from casting Israeli Jews as the last horrid conquistadors of the colonial epoch, to denying the millennia-long history of Jews in Israel – even the non-Khazarian Jewishness of Jews – to even the odious comparisons to Apartheid South Africa and, yes, Nazi Germany. To the Palestinian sympathizer who crosses the boundary into Israel demonization, these frames become the means by which to reshape, overlook, and discount all the facts that argue against their perspective. Case in point: a very recent encounter.

The blogosphere today is like a crossroads city in the ancient Levant. There are travelers and merchants converging from many lands, and if one speaks the lingua franca, one is able to do business in the vibrant market of multifarious experience. As it happened, a Twitter friend directed me to a post at Ethical Musings. The proprietor of the Musings blog is George Clifford, “an Episcopal priest, ethicist, and author” who was a Navy Captain in the Chaplain Corps during which time he taught “ethics at the Naval Postgraduate School and philosophy at the Naval Academy.” Clifford’s post, “Building in Israel and Palestine” was based around a video it offered from The Economist showcasing the photography and narration of Bruno Stevens. About the nature of Stevens’ advocacy journalism, you can read here. I was moved to comment at the blog.

One may believe it necessary and just to create a Palestinian state, and still be committed to factual and historical accuracy. Indeed, justice is unlikely without them. Your post stands correction on several points.

To begin, Bruno Stevens’ video is highly biased and inaccurate. He states that pretty much any merchandise of significance enters Gaza through the Philadelphi corridor tunnels. There are, of course, no official statistics, but smuggler estimates have been that perhaps a few thousand tons per month are transferred through the tunnels, and this number would include weapons and armaments materials. Israel delivers 12,000-15,000 tons of supplies per week.

Stevens misleadingly speaks as if the area through which the tunnels run could be policed by the Israelis. Since 2005 and the Israeli withdrawal, this is not so: the tunnels run into Egypt. The border is Egypt’s, and the Philadelphi corridor, on the Egyptian side, is policed by Egypt. The blockade at that border is Egypt’s, not Israel’s.

Stevens functions in this video as a partisan, not a reporter. He states without qualification that the blockade of Gaza is illegal. It would be generous to say that, because of the complexity of the context, expert legal opinion is divided. Investigation will reveal that many more legal experts think the blockade legal than not. The Carnegie Council overview is a good place to start.

You seem to endorse this paraphrase of Stevens: “that the Israelis view the tunnels and associated traffic as providing justification for military incursions into Gaza and for continuing their blockade.” There has been only one Israeli incursion into Gaza since Israel withdrew completely and turned the strip over to the Palestinian Authority. That incursion was not in response to the tunnels, which clearly Israel tolerates: it was in response to many thousands of rocket attacks into Israel over many years. Since the 2008 incursion, those rocket attacks have mostly stopped. Thus there have been no additional incursions.

You state, “Concurrently, Israel continues to build more housing on Palestinian lands.” Again, one may oppose Israeli settlements on the West Bank, and support the idea of a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza, and remain factually correct. Inaccuracy prejudices rather than supports a final resolution. The West Bank, whatever the future, was never “Palestinian land.” It was part of Mandate Palestine (the name drawn from the historic Roman territorial name, not a people) before the partition and 1948 war, occupied by Jordan from then until 1967, and then occupied by Israel and in part administered by the PA since, with Jordan having relinquished any claim. There is individually owned Palestinian (and Jewish) land on the West Bank, but, historically, no national “Palestinian land.”

Further, to write, as you do, of Israeli housing policies that “the permitting process [is] a process highly contingent upon religion, race, and sometimes gender” without any mention that Hamas, in its covenant and frequent public statements is genocidally committed to the destruction of Israel and the death of Jews, or that West Bank schools still teach virulent anti-Semitism, is prejudicial to the extreme.

Finally, and in light of the above, you further argue that “genuine progress toward peace in the Middle East will not occur until Israel adopts policies consonant with establishing two nations, Israel and Palestine.” This statement appears to be ignorant of Israeli policy through the entire Oslo peace process, and of Israeli proposals for a Palestinian state at Camp David and as recently as fall 2008. It ignores years of terrorist attacks on Israelis and Jews all around the world, and years, this decade, of suicide bombings. It ignores the Hamas covenant and the anti-Semitic education. It ignores the reality that even now, it is the Palestinian Authority, not Israel, that places conditions on negotiations and refuses direct negotiations. It ignores any Palestinian role in the conflict.
The subject requires better.

Clifford responded, in part,

With respect to the legality of the blockade, I’m not a lawyer and have no legal opinion. I strongly believe the blockade immoral. The Palestinians have every right to their own nation, choosing their own government. An essential element of sovereignty is control of one’s own borders, something which Israel currently prevents.

With respect to your claim that the 2008 Israeli incursion into the Gaza strip is the first since Israel withdrew and turned the strip over to the Palestinian Authority, a quick Google search showed incursions in 2007, 2009, and 2010.

With respect to Israel building housing on Palestinian land, your rejoinder acknowledges my point: when Israel turned the West Bank over to the Palestinian Authority, the West Bank became Palestinian land.

With respect to Hamas, Hamas is far from a model of good government, good neighbor, or good citizen in a global community. Hamas’ espousal of the destruction of Israel and killing Jews is wrong, plain and simple. However, those wrongs in no way justify an immoral response by Israel or any other nation, including the U.S.

Israel, in my estimation, pays lip service to creation of a Palestinian nation while working against the realization of that idea. You are correct: the Palestinians similarly represent an obstacle to peace. My aim is to emphasize responsibility for that deadlock rests with both sides, not simply with Palestine as most Americans presume.

Most of my analysis of this response (and clarification on the issue of incursion) is in my follow-up, but note the beginnings of argumentative slipperiness. The point on the legality of the blockade is evaded by shifting to the even more subjective question of its morality, which is the beginning of Clifford’s framing. He has chosen not to focus on the morality of Hamas. My reference to Palestinian administration of West Bank territory is converted into the vague “turned over” in order to evade the question of legal and national possession and once again assert the existence of “Palestinian land,” as if the phrase “turned over,” which I did not use, is legally determinative. Clifford’s final paragraph, and the term “lip service,” further reveals his framing. How does one counter charges of “lip service,” which is an assertion about sincerity that is very hard to support or deny, and which he does not make about the Palestinians? Actions should be telling, no? That mostly comes later. This time:

…it takes only a professional commitment to pursue objectivity for a reporter to present the true nature of expert opinion on the matter rather than state outright, confusing personal conviction for fact, that the blockade is illegal. The morality of the blockade, about which I disagree with you, is a different subject, to be addressed in different terms, but was not the claim Stevens made.

You state, “The Palestinians have every right to their own nation, choosing their own government.” I agree, and suggested that agreement in my original comment, but it might be interesting to discuss on what we base this “right” and how that basis is applied to other populations in the world who desire their own state.

You state further, “An essential element of sovereignty is control of one’s own borders, something which Israel currently prevents.” There is currently no sovereign or other Palestinian state and so no Palestinian “borders.” The boundary lines in question are impermanent, armistice lines from 1948. The borders of a future Palestinian state, however close they may come to those armistice lines are a matter to be negotiated.

Regarding “incursions,” here we are being tripped up by imprecise use of language. I thought the issue was the kind of sustained military operation of late 2008. You are right that news organizations refer to any brief movement of troops or tanks into Gaza, to pursue Hamas combatants or to seek to end concentrated rocket fire, as an incursion – and not to address the matter of the tunnels as you suggested by echoing Stevens. I wonder, would you deny Israel the “right” to respond to such offensive actions against it? And if we consider the very broad, actual definition of “incursion,” which is a “raid” or “hostile entrance into a territory,” could we then agree that, rockets aside, Palestinian combatants, as suicide bombers, made many incursions into Israel until Israel exercised what you correctly state is the right of any sovereign entity – to control its borders?

You argue, “when Israel turned the West Bank over to the Palestinian Authority, the West Bank became Palestinian land.” Israel has not “turned the West Bank over” in any legal sense that acknowledges national ownership or sovereignty. The complex arrangement of distinct Israeli and Palestinian controlling and administering authorities in Areas A, B, and C is provisional pending final resolution of the conflict.

More generally, your final two paragraphs in response to my comment profess a balance in your judgments that seems belied by your chosen emphasis. Indeed, as I feel you state rather too decorously, Hamas is far from a “model” of anything. It is an illiberal and undemocratic organization committed in its theology and political program to intolerant, theocratic rule, the virulent hatred of another religion and the genocide of that religion’s adherents. To speak more assertively of Israel’s immorality in contrast sets up an unsettling contrast.

You may estimate that Israel pays only lip service to a Palestinian state, but nearly forty-five years of the conflict were consumed by the Palestinian refusal to pay even that lip service to Israel, in voicing recognition of Israel’s right to exist. All the years since have seen the same refusal from Hamas. In contrast, as a reminder, Israel accepted an “Arab” state, as it was called, at the time of the partition, and was prepared then to live beside it. Yet you focus on Israel’s lip service, about which I would be happy to review with you the history of Israel’s concrete actions in pursuit of peace – before, during, and despite the error of the settlements – in contrast to any from the Palestinian side. It may be your aim to address the responsibility of both sides, but if you review your post, I think you will see that you did not meet that aim.

Clifford responded,

Negotiation implies equality. Israel refuses to negotiate with the Palestinians as equal. Insistence that Israel has offered to support a Palestinian (or Arab) state for over 60 years is overly simplistic. Israel has offered words, not actions, in support of that claim. If you wish to compare the plight of the Palestinians to another people, their plight most resembles that of black Africans in the South African “territories” during the rule of the white supremacists.

The USSR for most if not all of its life denied the right of the US to exist and wanted to kill US citizens. That did not prevent the US from recognizing the USSR as a sovereign nation, establishing diplomatic relations, etc.

In this moment, power rests with Israel. Regardless of Hamas’ rhetoric, progress toward peace will begin only with movement toward establishing a viable Palestinian state. Co-existence, in time, will abate the fiery rhetoric and enable both states to move towards a middle ground. Defense based on subjugation of another people always fails – at least if history is a guide. Israel’s actions over the last three decades have become increasingly self-defeating.

“Incursions” may be brief or long. If Israel’s actions in response to missile attacks targeted only the allegedly guilty, providing them the full benefit of the Israeli justice system, such responses would be moral. Instead, Israel uses it military to punish the innocent and the guilty, e.g., leveling a large apartment building from which Israel believes the missile was launched or in which a launch participant supposedly resided. Such tactics fuel animosity rather than promote cooperation.

I recommend that you read Jimmy Carter’s book, Peace Not Apartheid. My agenda, like his, is pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian. All are God’s children, equally beloved.

Note how in his reply Clifford is unresponsive to my specific arguments. Apparently lacking the specifics with which to counter my own specific arguments, he abandons topics (like that of “Palestinian land”) and shifts ever more to framing devices: some undefined notion of required equality of the parties to substantiate negotiations, lip service (“Israel has offered words, not actions”), the reduction of the nature of Hamas to no more than “rhetoric,” a call for coexistence and the promotion of cooperation only in terms of Israeli actions. Most tellingly, despite pretenses to balance in his concerns, my arguments only push Clifford more openly to express his judgments upon Israel, not the Palestinians, as he now resorts to the apartheid charge. I think, then, it is now time to specify Israeli actions toward peace and question any of the Palestinians

Your resort to the awful South African white supremacist analogy – unsustainable at any point of comparison – reveals the tendentiousness behind your claims of balance. So, too, does your reduction of Hamas to mere rhetoric, and your accumulation of unsupportable pronouncements such as “Negotiation implies equality.” Says who? According to what evaluation of equality, judged by whom? There could rarely be negotiations anywhere about anything under such a requirement, but it does seem that you choose to frame the context so that Israel is structurally in the wrong while giving only, in your words, lip service to Palestinian responsibility. That is the effect, too, of conflating matters of armed conflict – warfare – with criminal justice. You speak of Israel’s words and actions, diminishing the latter, but again never speak of Palestinian action. I suppose your inequality rule renders such a consideration nugatory. I wonder what framing devices will render this list of highlights among Israeli actions toward peace and coexistence as meaningless as you must think them to so completely overlook them. I wonder what list you can offer for the Palestinians.

Actions not Words

1. Israel accepted the 1948 partition, which would have created an Arab (Palestinian) state, while every Arab nation and the Palestinians rejected it.
2. Israel offered to exchange land captured in the 1967 war for recognition in peace. As long as 32 years ago when a nation, Egypt, was willing to accept that exchange, Israel signed a peace treaty with Egypt and returned the land.
3. Israel signed a peace treaty with Jordan.
4. Israel entered into the Oslo peace process and, as part of the process, officially agreed to the creation of a Palestinian state at the end of a negotiated peace settlement.
5. Israel, at Camp David in 2000, agreed to a settlement, which the Palestinians rejected, in which Israel would have dismantled nearly all of its settlements and that would have created a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza.
6. Israel withdrew from Lebanon.
7. Israel dismantled all of its Gaza settlements and withdrew from Gaza, turning the strip’s administration, its civil, and its policing authority and control over to the Palestinian authority.
8. Israel, again, in 2008, proposed to the Palestinian
Authority directly a peace agreement
, which the Palestinians rejected, in which Israel would have dismantled nearly all of its settlements and that would have created a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza.

Here is Clifford’s reply, where I chose to end the exchange on his blog.

To explore the parallels between Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and apartheid South Africa, read Carter’s book, Peace Not Apartheid.

Negotiation requires a measure of equality because otherwise the more powerful simply dictates to the less powerful, creating an illusion but the reality of negotiation. This precept holds for personal relationships as well as international relationships. My extensive experience as a pastoral counselor bears witness to the former; the history of U.S. “negotiations” with third world countries bears witness to the latter. The power discrepancy between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (as well as other Palestinian groups) is too significant to permit true negotiation.

Israel nominally accepted the 1948 partition imposed by the United Nations. In fact, Israel’s actions since then have consistently demonstrated a rejection of that partition, e.g., in continuing to build settlements in west Jerusalem. In other words, Israeli actions have spoken more loudly than Israeli words.

Israel has made peace with Egypt and Jordan. Israel has never, in my judgment, entered into good faith negotiations with the Palestinians apart from the Camp David accords, the results of which Begin’s death tragically truncated.

You see why I chose to stop. A concrete, specific, and substantive exchange was not going to take place. My list of concrete Israeli actions was completely ignored in return for more subjective and unsupportable framing: “Israel has never, in my judgment, entered into good faith negotiations with the Palestinians apart from the Camp David accords.” Clifford’s judgment counters the facts of my list how exactly? Israel’s acceptance of the partition was nominal. How so judged, on the basis of the immediate Arab attack on Israel? (What’s less than nominal? Would it be outright rejection? Doesn’t fit the frame.) There cannot even be “true negotiation” under current conditions. How’s that for framing. Perhaps if Israel went so far as to give the Palestinians a military force comparable to its own, we would have the equal conditions suitable to true negotiation, or the destruction of Israel in fulfillment of Hamas’s and Hezbollah’s and much Palestinian “rhetoric.”

It is hard not to conclude that Clifford is not actually very knowledgeable about the history. He makes no mention of the nineteen year period between the partition and the Six Day War, when Israel was not permitting settlements on the West Bank because Jordan controlled it and did not give it to the Palestinians for a state. That doesn’t fit the frame. He avoids all my references to the Oslo process, and seems, in fact, to confuse to a degree Camp David of 1978 with Camp David 2000. (We’ll attribute “settlements in West Jerusalem” to ordinary mental error.) In all of Clifford’s many balanced judgments against Israel, there is never any consideration of Palestinian “lip service” or “good faith.” Not only is there no response to my list of specific Israeli actions, there is no acknowledgement that there can be no comparable list of Palestinian actions. None of all of this will fit the frame.

This is the nature of the debate now. If the Jews aren’t really Jews, the remaining facts don’t matter. If the Jews didn’t really live in Israel three thousand years ago, the remaining facts don’t matter. If Jewish nationalism and self-determination, among all nationalisms and cultural yearnings, is racist and colonial, the remaining facts don’t matter. If any individual judges in his own mind that Israel, whatever its apparent actions, is not acting in good faith, or offers only lip service, the actual facts don’t matter. If, rather than attention to detailed consideration of events and circumstance, Israel can be thumb nailed in one more excuse of paltry analogy for an argument, the facts don’t matter. If the whole history of Arab and Palestinian anti-Semitic rejectionism, and war, and genocidal threat is ignored, or reduced only to a funhouse mirror reflection of Israeli actions, the facts do not matter.

That’s the framing of Israel.



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The Mystery of Judgment

Too often, it can be hard to figure how some people can be so wrong. That’s why we have political parties, so we can put all the wrong people in the other party. That way we don’t have to put bells on them to know when they’re coming. As Graham Greene wrote in The Quiet American

Innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm.

Poor judgment is like Greene’s leper without his bell, the vital error that has strayed from the other side and sits with you supping with a smile.

Judgment isn’t intelligence, or maybe better said, intelligence isn’t judgment. We’re much involved these days in noting and naming the varieties of intelligence, the manner and boundaries of them, but the brainiac with no common sense, for instance, is an old conception. On more complex levels, thorough and coherent analysis of information – data, trends, actions, ideas – is one manifestation of good judgment: putting it all together, amid the myriad possibilities, in a way that most closely approximates reality. And reality? Well, one test is in a second manifestation of good judgment, the kind we seek in leaders – making right decisions, based on the analyses, to effect the outcomes we desire. If we can effect those outcomes, that’s evidence our analysis was correct.

Discourse into the Night

But judgment is a mystery. There is no telling, sometimes, where you’ll find it and when it will show up missing. Who would have guessed, beforehand, Truman? How shall we number, to look back to Greene, all of the mistaken judgments among the “best and the brightest” that went into the Vietnam War?

While poor judgment can be a mystery in the offing, however, once it is upon us, it leaves its marks to be read.

As soon as Peter Beinart’s NYRB piece appeared, Jeffrey Goldberg engaged him in a Goldblog discussion of his claims. In part II, Beinart said the following:

But over the long run, the best way to undermine Nasrallah and people like him is to give hope to those Palestinians and Muslims who do want a two-state solution. In Fayyad, and even Abbas, we have such leaders. Surely in those circumstances continued settlement growth, which simply convinces Palestinians that they will never have a state on most of the West Bank, is deeply self-destructive. I want the major American Jewish groups to say so, loudly. Instead, they deny that settlements are even a problem.

Now, I share Beinart’s displeasure with the West Bank settlements, always have, but they exist in a formidable complex of history and policy. It is a judgment to focus on the settlements above all else, and a bad judgment. I wrote to Goldberg suggesting a question to Beinart for part III of the discussion. Apparently, Goldberg is not yet letting me choose his interview questions for him, but I’m working on him. I suggested he ask Beinart why Beinart had not, instead of the above, written the following reformulation of it, which would, of course, have changed his entire article.

But over the long run, the best way to undermine Netanyahu and Lieberman and people like them is to give hope to those Israelis and Jews who do want a two-state solution. In Barak, and even Olmert, we had such leaders. Surely in those circumstances continued anti-Semitic education in Palestinian schools, Muslim calls for the destruction of Israel and rejection of every Israeli peace offer, which simply convinces Israelis that they will never have a genuine partner in peace, is deeply self-destructive. I want the major American Palestinian groups to say so, loudly. Instead, they deny the Palestinians are in any way responsible.

One can choose to perceive circumstances from either vantage point, from that of Israelis as active agents of events, of Palestinians as active agents, or – what seems most reflective of reality – of both. A supposition of the reformulation, were one to offer it, is that the Palestinians – the political and intellectual leadership, the people themselves – actually want a two-state solution. In fact, there is considerable evidence that this is not so, and that even when Palestinian leaders say they want it, they don’t mean it.

Critics of Israel who follow the general line of argument laid out by Beinart almost exclusively choose the first. Why? There are many motivations, many of them, we know, not good, but I attribute none of those to Beinart or to many other well-meaning liberals, with whom, on a host of other issues, I would otherwise be standing. Let’s look at another of Beinart’s statements, from part III of the interview, (The one missing my question, that Goldberg chose not to ask, though it was an excellent question. Jeffrey.)

I really think Israel and the U.S. botched the Hamas election victory–i think they should have supported, not torpedoed, a Palestinian national unity government even if it fudged acceptance of past agreements a bit (after all, Israeli governments haven’t respected all past agreements–Netanyahu said explicitly that he rejected Oslo when he was elected in 1996), and then dealt with the non-Hamas ministers as we do with the Hezbollah presence in the Lebanese government. That might have created an opportunity for calm, economic growth, and perhaps eventually new negotiations with a strong Palestinian government able to marginalize the rejectionists politically and impose control on the ground. The problem I have with the Gaza War is less that I think Israel used disproportionate force: it may well have, but war is always hell. It’s more that I think just wars must be last resorts, you have to exhaust the alternatives, and I think the Israelis and the Americans really didn’t. That’s not to excuse Hamas–which is a nasty movement–but it’s a way of saying that with a group like Hamas, which has deep roots in the Palestinian society, you can’t eliminate it through military force alone. You have to moderate at least elements of it by bringing them into the political process and investing them in non-violence paths to statehood. I think that was possible, or at least that more of an effort could have been made. Besides, think how much more leverage it would give Fayyad if he could show Palestinians that he got Israel to really stop settlement growth (as opposed to this sham “partial freeze,” which hasn’t really stopped actual construction at all), or even withdraw some far out settlements. If you hate Hamas, nothing would hurt them more politically.

The Discourse, by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

There is a whole lot in there, including a factual error about Netanyahu and Oslo that has already been pointed out by Yaacov Lozowick. What I will point out is that the passage, like Beinart’s whole argument, and that of others who share it, reflects what in rhetoric is called a mixed discourse. What is Beinart doing – offering an analysis of statecraft or a moral critique? In fact, he is doing both together, mixing them up, confusing one for the other, the statecraft analysis for the moral critique.

Government agents of foreign affairs – ministry diplomats and top tier government officials – manage the state and manage its problems. Effective management involves constant review and assessment of policy to determine if the state, independent of what state parties are morally responsible for a situation, is serving its interests and achieving its aims. The Palestinians in general, Hamas, and Hezbollah, and Syria, and Iran, and so on are all threats the Israeli government has to manage. While I disagree that Israel mismanaged the Hamas election victory, one can reasonably argue, I think, that it mismanaged the withdrawals from Lebanon and Gaza, in that by conducting the withdrawals unilaterally, Israel fostered the notion among its enemies that it had buckled at long last to their violent opposition, and that the enemies had gained victories. Such criticism is what I refer to here as statecraft analysis, and it is conducted among those, primarily Israelis, who share the same policy goals. But even if these withdrawals were badly performed, that does not make Israel morally responsible for the attacks on it, and its subsequent responses to the attacks, because its enemies chose to answer Israel’s disengagement with violence. And the withdrawals can only be judged critically to begin because of the enmity and bad faith of Israel’s foes.

Beinart here consistently analyzes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the perspective of Israel as active state agent and the Palestinians as the problem to be managed. Even Palestinian misbehavior is argumentatively presented as poor Israeli statecraft. If Israel had accepted the Hamas election victory

That might have created an opportunity for calm, economic growth, and perhaps eventually new negotiations with a strong Palestinian government able to marginalize the rejectionists politically and impose control on the ground.

The focus is not on Palestinian support for a theocratic terrorist organization, not a on the absence of “calm” created by the Palestinians, but on the hypothesized better conditions that might have resulted from, in Beinart’s eyes, better Israeli management of Palestinian choices and behaviors, which are treated like a natural disaster that has no moral agency.

The dangerous condition Israel now confronts is one in which various critical forces mix. Among the clear and not as clear anti-Semitic attacks, and the ideological rejections of Israel’s existence in varied covert formulations, enters now increasingly this mixed discourse, in which critical friends and supporters of Israeli confuse Israel’s decades-long management of a problem with moral responsibility for the problem.

One day – fifty years from now, two hundred – future historians will analyze this subject and this era, and how so many misjudged reality so badly (it isn’t like it hasn’t happened before) will make fascinating reading.


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