Monday, January 25, 2010

The Settlements are Not the Problem

There are those who still believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that Barack Obama was right to call for a total settlement freeze in the West Bank. They argue that Jewish settlement activity undermines the potential for peace and destroys any possibility of future negotiations. It is interesting to note that this position is basically identical to the position of PA chief Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas refuses to negotiate so long as any settlement activity continues.

I have to wonder what it is about the mere presence of Jews in the West Bank that prevents Mahmoud Abbas from sitting across the table from Benjamin Netanyahu? If these people, these odious “settlers,” were not Jewish would they still represent a reason not to negotiate final borders? What if they were Laotian Buddhists instead of Jews? Would that make a difference?

Now, I understand that some settlers have committed crimes. Some Jews have acted violently and some have, allegedly, uprooted olive trees belonging to their Palestinian neighbors. Well? To the extent that any Jews in the West Bank are committing crimes they should be arrested and prosecuted. I feel reasonably certain, tho, that there are people outside of the West Bank, who happen not to be Jewish, and who sometimes commit crimes, as well. I would even venture to guess that the occasional Palestinian commits a crime. But the mere presence of Jews in the West Bank is not what has undermined the possibility of negotiations.

The settlements are not the problem. They may be a problem, but they were never considered a reason not to negotiate in the past. Yassir Arafat never claimed that he could not negotiate if Jews moved into the West Bank.

What screwed up the possibility of negotiations was Barack Obama’s demand for a total freeze on settlement activity to begin with. By demanding a total freeze on settlements Obama demanded something that Netanyahu could not deliver without bringing down his coalition government. It was thus, in effect, nothing less than a demand that Bibi step down as the Prime Minister of Israel. Needless to say, Netanyahu was never going to comply with such a ridiculous demand from the American president, no head of state would, and the Israeli people backed him to the hilt.

By demanding a total settlement freeze Obama also forced Abbas into a very difficult position. Abbas, like all politicians, has his constituency to think of and given the realities of Palestinian politics he cannot be seen as being softer on Israel than the American president. His own position as chief of the Palestinian Authority is also at stake. To be seen as weaker on Israel than Barack Obama would have been political suicide... if not actual suicide. He couldn't do it, so he did not.

This is not meant to suggest, by the way, that the building of Jewish settlements in the West Bank is a good idea. The settlements are the cause of considerable stress within Israeli society and are an appropriation of land meant for a Palestinian state... although it remains entirely unclear why Jews should not be allowed to live in that state and if Jews will be allowed to live in the state of Palestine their current presence there should be irrelevant to the question of talks.

Nonetheless, President Obama fell flat on his face coming directly out of the gate. The demand for total settlement freeze has placed the kabash on negotiations and both sides are hardening their positions. Netanyahu is now demanding the presence of Israeli security forces along the border of Jordan in order to make sure that weaponry is not transported into the West Bank. For his part, Abbas is now claiming that the Palestinians will unilaterally declare a state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

I, for one, do not have a problem with a unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood. I very much want to see an autonomous state of Palestine next to Israel. The problem, however, is East Jerusalem. It's one thing for Ehuds Barak and Olmert to offer parts of East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state. It's another thing entirely for the Palestinians to attempt seizure of East Jerusalem. Netanyahu would never allow this and he shouldn't allow it.

So, what can Obama do now to get back on track toward a negotiated settlement? Some believe that the US should put further pressure on the Israelis, perhaps economic sanctions, but it is not the Israelis who are refusing to negotiate. It is the Palestinians who refuse to do so. Thus the thing to do is make prodigious use of both carrots and sticks to encourage the Palestinian leadership, sans Hamas, to come to the negotiating table.

Given the fact of occupation, and given the fact of Palestinian poverty, one would think that the Palestinian leadership would be eager for a state and for a normalization of economic relations with Israel. Unfortunately, neither the Palestinian leadership, nor the Arab leadership, has ever agreed to a Palestinian state at any moment when it counted. They have turned down offers of statehood in 1937, in 1947, in 2000, and most recently when Ehud Olmert offered Abbas one hundred percent of the Gaza, over ninety percent of the West Bank (with land swaps) and with parts of East Jerusalem as its capital.

It is difficult to see what more Olmert could have offered Abbas. (Tel Aviv, perhaps?) It makes me wonder if the Palestinian leadership truly want an autonomous state next to Israel? Or do they want the whole shebang? Further, it is unlikely that Netanyahu would be inclined to offer as much as Olmert did. The Palestinians, however, can have a state and should have a state and would get a state if they would simply sit down to negotiations and agree to the final status.

Israelis want peace, but somehow I do not see it happening so long as Obama’s government will not apply sufficient pressures and incentives on the Palestinian Authority. Usually the question is, what must Israel do in order to secure peace? Sometimes we have to ask a different question, though. Sometimes the question really should be, what must the Palestinians do in order to secure a state?

That’s an excellent question, I think... because things are not always and forever up to Israel... and the answer is obvious.

Agree to one.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Jewish-Liberal Dilemma

The liberal-progressive movement in the United States and Europe is forcing liberal Jews to make some very difficult choices. The voices who dominate the I-P discussion on the left are telling liberal Jews that they must make a choice; they can support Israel or they can support the progressive movement, but they cannot support both. This is rarely stated explicitly, of course, but it is the implication embedded in the never-ending disdain and contempt heaped upon the Jewish state by those liberals who claim to speak for human rights… even as they almost entirely ignore horrendous human rights violations by China or Russia or various African countries, not to mention the so-called Coalition of the Willing.

On a daily basis, throughout the left political blogosphere, Israel is accused of anything, and everything, that anyone might think of for the specific purpose of delegitimizing its very existence. Israel is accused of being an apartheid state. Israel is accused of being a racist, colonialist entity. Israeli leaders are perpetually compared to Nazis. Israel is accused of being a vile, imperialist regime wholly dependent upon the United States for its existence, even as it is also accused of being the epicenter of a vast “Zionist” conspiracy to control the US government and media. (Just how Israel manages to be both an imperialist tool of the US, even as it allegedly controls the US, has never been made entirely clear to me.)

These accusations are not about policy, nor even about the occupation, per se, but go directly to the very nature of Israel’s existence and the implications of those accusations are obvious. If Israel is an apartheid state (which it most emphatically is not, by the way) than it must be dismantled, just as the racist South African regime was dismantled. If Israel is a Nazi fascist regime then, like Nazi Germany, it must be destroyed. If Israel is some excremental rogue state in perpetual violation of international law, than it must be shunned and opposed. It must be subject to boycotts, divestments, and sanctions. Its leaders must be dragged before the international court at the Hague to answer for war crimes. Its intellectuals must be banned from the world community of scholars. Its agricultural products must be left rotting on the docks of Tel Aviv. The entire world must line up against it on every possible level, politically, culturally, intellectually, and diplomatically, if not militarily.

And if liberal Jews disagree with this assessment? Then we are accused of racism, militarism, and right-wing extremism. We are called “right-wing Zionists” if not “ZioNazis.” Jewish college students who support Israel are hounded, sometimes violently, on university campuses throughout North America and Europe. Each and every Jewish organization that supports Israel is systematically maligned, denigrated, and delegitimized. If we actually have the cojones to stand up for Israel, or to counter the smears it perpetually faces, than we are spat upon and demeaned.

So, just what do you expect left-liberal Jews who support Israel to do? Are we supposed to continue supporting a political movement that insists that of all the world’s people Jews, and only Jews, must be denied self-determination and self-defense, despite centuries of persecutions, pogroms, and expulsions, all leading to the romping good time that we had in the middle of the twentieth century in Europe?

I don’t think so.

Perhaps the biggest lie told by those on the left who continually spit bile at the Jewish state is that their contempt has nothing whatsoever to do with Jews, but merely with the state of Israel. It is the nature of the state, not its people, that is worthy of their hatred, or so we are told.

This is a lie. It is false.

Jews are a tiny minority that represent about .02 percent of the world population. Israel is the lone Jewish state. 80 percent of its population is Jewish and it contains something like 40 percent of the world Jewish population, supported by the great majority of diaspora Jews. Furthermore, as a secular democracy, the behavior of the state is reflective of the will of the people. When Israelis witness the southern part of their country endure years of rocket fire, and when they see the left-progressive movement condemn it for the crime of being a Jewish state, and therefore vote in right-wing politicians like Benjamin Netanyahu, the will of nearly half the world’s Jews is expressed. You cannot, therefore, condemn Israel without condemning the Jews.

It is for this reason why it is important to make a strong distinction between criticism and defamation. Claiming that Israel should be dismantled as a Jewish state is not “criticism.” Claiming that Israel is an “apartheid state” is not “criticism;” nor is charging that Israel is something akin to Nazi Germany “criticism,” either. These are not criticisms, but vile smears designed to delegitimize Israel for the eventual purpose of destroying the national home of the Jewish people.

And you want my support?

What kind of a fool thinks that the liberal-left can smack around the Jewish people and that the Jews will support them in their efforts to do so?

For the moment, the great majority of American Jews barely realize the level of anti-Zionism, and hatred toward Israel, that infests the grassroots / netroots of the progressive movement and the Democratic party. There is one thing that you can be certain of, however. If the anti-Zionism and Israel hate moves from the fringes to the center, Jews will run for the hills before they will continue to support any such movement.

Of course, that’s probably what some on the left would prefer to see, anyway.