The Refusal II – A Response and Elaboration

I’ve received a comment from a reader (“People Are Talking,” at right), a very fine thinker and a reader I admire, that raises problematic issues with my last post, “The Refusal.” They are significant enough to warrant clarification in a post.

I need to start near the end. The reader writes

Both current Israeli policy and the tone of your post seems to be that the only solution you see is cause enough pain and death and suffering to advance this fatigue in the Palestinians.

First, to speak for myself, my intended tone was not what the reader infers, though I do see how it could be taken as such. In fact, the difference between what I intended and what he inferred is crucial to the entire history of the conflict. My reference to “fatigue” and the conflict ending when the refusal ends was not intended to represent a policy of causing “enough pain and death and suffering to advance this fatigue in the Palestinians.”

The refusal is the animating force behind six decades of Arab/Palestinian violence directed against Israel. Rather than suggesting that Israel will keep hammering Palestinians over the head until they stop refusing, I intended to suggest that when Palestinians (and other Arab and Muslim forces committed to the destruction of Israel) stop refusing, then their violence will stop, and Israel will no longer have to manage that violence.

I think it is a complete misrepresentation, fostered by the kind of cognitive warfare “The Refusal” addresses, to suggest that a “sufficient-suffering/fatigue and defeat” calculus is Israeli policy. No party understands the reality on the ground better than the Israelis do; they see themselves, overall, as managing the violence over a very long haul – longer than most other nations would ever dare contemplate, at sixty years already – until there is some developmental break in conditions. What break? This was the point I aimed at in speaking of fatigue.

As I read the situation – and I welcome any Israeli reader who would care to offer insight; I know some are out there – there is one kind of fatigue afflicting Israelis, and this fatigue accounts for what has developed into a new kind of Israeli consensus. This consensus brings together the likes of Ehud Barak, Benjamin Netanyahu, and even Shimon Peres, and has marginalized the “peace” forces in just the way critics complain. After all these years, Israelis do not imagine a decisive victory; they see the necessity of managing the violence of their enemies, because, as a consequence of the refusal, there is no other choice.

The morally criminal quality of Arab and Palestinian leaderships over these many decades is in the conditions to which they have driven their own people, past any “national” gain they could have achieved earlier – indeed, in all respects other than a state, already had with the Partition – and past any fatigue. (Differences between some areas of the West Bank, currently experiencing the pleasures of economic advance and settled lives, and Gaza are instructive in this regard.)

The reader asks

Is it your understanding that for forty years Israel has offered to return to 67 borders in exchange for peace?… I missed the point in which Israel has offered to return to ’67 borders. When do you think that offer was made?

This is one of those constant subjects of misinformation, confusion and dispute. Israel has offered to exchange land for peace since 1967. How much land Israel has been willing to exchange never needed to be specified before Oslo, because there was never a process of negotiation prior to Oslo in which Israel would have needed to specify in an offer how much land it would return – and there was never a process because prior to Oslo the Palestinians were never willing to talk of recognizing Israel’s right to exist – i.e. a cessation of violence – in return for land. That’s twenty-four years gone right there.

Contrary to what is constantly, incorrectly reiterated by some, Security Council Resolution 242 does not call for a return to 1967 boundaries. They are not called “borders” because the ’67 boundaries were an impermanent armistice line, from 1948, dividing Israel from a territory governed by Jordan. Indeed, the 1978 Camp David accords state, “The negotiations [concerning the West Bank and Gaza] shall be based on all the provisions and principles of UN Security Council Resolution 242. The negotiations will resolve, among other matters, the location of the boundaries and the nature of the security arrangements.”

Lord Caradon, who introduced Resolution 242 to the Security Council, himself stated, “It would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of June 4, 1967, because those positions were undesirable and artificial.”

Then U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Arthur Goldberg stated, “The notable omissions – which were not accidental – in regard to withdrawal are the words ‘the’ or ‘all’ and the ‘June 5, 1967 lines’ … the resolution speaks of withdrawal from occupied territories without defining the extent of withdrawal.” Envisioned was “less than a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from occupied territory, inasmuch as Israel’s prior frontiers had proved to be notably insecure.”

Forty years does change some elements on the ground. Palestinian leaders know they can have most – 94%? 97%?, with land swaps – of the West Bank. They will have a state, which Jordan and the rest of the Arab world were not offering them on the West Bank and in Gaza in 1967.

The reader states

Certainly East Jerusalem, has never been on the table

East Jerusalem was, indeed, part of the offer from Ehud Barak in 2000 – and again from Ehud Olmert in 2008, in an offer to which Mahmoud Abbas did not ultimately respond.

I have always believed that Jerusalem should be internationally administered – two thousand years of warfare over a city being quite sufficient – and elements of international administration were in the proposal that Barak accepted and Arafat rejected.

The conditions in Gaza are pitiable. Israel is in an unenviable position in a variety of ways, not least of which is its confrontation over many years with a foe that will sacrifice the daily well being and the lives of its people – let us count those ways – in a futile cause animated by virulent religious hatred. Part of the war of ideas against Israel is to make it the active agent in all consequences of the dispute. The Palestinians are responsible too, for so many things, including the refusal, which has led to all of the rest.


1 thought on “The Refusal II – A Response and Elaboration

  1. In the big picture, I’m sure we are in substantial agreeement.

    I identify as a Zionist who is still old fashioned enough to believe that Israel was promised to the Jews by God.

    I share your perception that the main obstacle to peace is that Israel does not have a peace partner who can negotiate in good faith.

    But the interests of Israel and the international community are to lay the groundwork for developing a peace partner. Since the goal is peace, Israeli policy must be evaluated in that context.

    Currently Gaza is administered by the Israelis as a cross between a POW camp and Escape From New York urban dystopia. But it is a POW camp in which women are having an average of five children. I don’t see how this leads to a good outcome. I think it is likely to be digging the hole deeper.

    The way forward of current Israeli policy and in your argument seems to be that essentially you will facilitate the Palestinian society of hitting rock bottom and that will help them let go of their addiction to animus of the Israelis. I am skeptical that that will work. I think the assumptions involved mask the punitive anger of the Israeli people, which, while understandable, is not constructive. I think the suffering of Gaza is more likely to lead to extremism than it is likely to provide a constructive lesson.

    I acknowledge that the suffering of Gaza is mainly the result of bad decisions by Palestinian leaders. But I believe that in the obvious frustration and anger, Israeli policy has become punitive and sadistic. It is understandable, but it is not helpful.

    The list of rules is arbitrary in the way of any prison. The Israelis bomb the sewage treatment plants and won’t allow the concrete to repair them. The list of imports into Gaza that Israel allows is arbitrary. The basic thesis of the Goldstone Report — that there were many instances of Operation Cast Lead in which Israeli violence exceeded military necessity seems accurate to me. Certainly compared to the Palestinians and even compared to America, Israel’s behavior is better. But in absolute terms, I would think more restraint would better match the long term interests of Israel.

    If you get a chance to read the Lawrence Wright article, I wonder if you would have the same reaction to it that you have to Goldstone.

    In regards to your assessment of Israeli peace proposals, I think it is a decidedly minority view in Israel that Jerusalem should be administered under an international regime. The current Israeli government would not countenance such a proposal. And it has been long time American policy to oppose settlements in the Occupied Territories as a complication to peace. These American objections have generally been ignored.

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