Thursday, July 24, 2008

What Kristof Should Have Written

Nicholas Kristof published an op-ed in the New York Times today that sounds like it could have been an editorial for…Haaretz! Kristof attempts to answer his critics in the sort of liberal Zionist way that is no longer satisfying for me. So I thought I would follow his answers with my own.

Tough Love for Israel? By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

On his visit to the Middle East, Barack Obama gave ritual affirmations of his support for Israeli policy, but what Israel needs from America isn’t more love, but tougher love.

Particularly at a time when Israel seems to be contemplating military strikes on Iranian nuclear sites, the United States would be a better friend if it said: “That’s crazy” — while also insisting on a 100 percent freeze on settlements in the West Bank and greater Jerusalem.

Granted, not everybody sees things this way, and discussions of the Middle East usually involve each side offering up its strongest arguments to wrestle with the straw men of the other side. So let me try something different.

After I wrote a column last month from Hebron in the West Bank, my blog, , was flooded with counterarguments — and plenty of challenges to address them. In the interest of a civil dialogue on the Middle East, here are excerpts from some of the readers’ defenses of Israel’s conduct in the West Bank and my responses:

Jews lived in Hebron for 1,800 years continuously ... until their community was murdered in 1929 by their Arab neighbors. The Jews in Hebron today — those “settlers” — have reclaimed Jewish property. So I don’t see what makes them illegitimate or illegal. (Irving)

True, Jews have deep ties to Hebron, just as Christians do to Jerusalem and Bethlehem, but none of these bonds confer any right to live in these places or even visit them. If Israel were to bar American Christians from Jerusalem, that would not be grounds for the United States to send in paratroopers and establish settlements. And if Israel insists on controlling the West Bank, then it needs to give citizenship to Palestinians there so that they can vote just like the settlers.

Jerry’s turn: The analogy with American Christians is bizarre. What Kristof should have said is that, yes, Jews have a claim to live in Hebron. But the Palestinians have always been a majority in Hebron and in the West Bank, and they have the greater claim to sovereignty over all these areas. If the Jews want to press their claims to live under Palestinian sovereignty, that’s their business. If they are afraid they are going to be massacred, let them leave. But if they press historical claims, then the same should apply to the Palestinians going back to Palestine. (Hence, I am in favor of Jews living in Hebron, and of Palestinians returning to Palestine.)

One side is a beautiful, literate, medically and scientifically and artistically an advanced society. The other side wants to throw bombs. Why shouldn’t there be a fence? (Mileway)

So, build a fence. But construct it on the 1967 borders, not Palestinian land — and especially not where it divides Palestinian farmers from their land.

Jerry’s turn: Please, Mileway, save your racist and condescending comparisons for some colonialist “paradise” like Algiers or apartheid South Africa There have been “literate, medically and scientifically and artistically advanced societies” that committed genocide. One side throw bombs, the other side has planes that drop bombs. As for the fence, build it on the border – but not before you have made restitution for the colonialist exploitation of the Occupied Territories. When Israel withdraws it will have an ongoing and historical responsibility to help create a strong and vibrant Palestinian state.
While I do condemn this type of violence, it pales in contrast to Palestinian suicide bombers, rockets and other acts of terror against Jews. (Jay)

B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization, reports that a total of 123 Israeli minors have been killed by Palestinians since the second intifada began in 2000, compared with 951 Palestinian minors killed by Israeli security forces.

Jerry’s turn: And, Jay, don’t play the intention game. Israel intends to beat the other side into submission. Each side blames the other side. The stronger party carries the most blame.
To withdraw from the West Bank without a partner on the Palestinian side will find Israel in the same fix it has once it withdrew from Gaza: a rain of daily rockets. Yes, the security barrier causes hardship, but terrorist attacks have almost disappeared. That means my kids can ride the bus, go to unguarded restaurants and not worry about being blown up on their way to school. Find another way to keep my kids safe, and I’ll happily tear down the barrier. (Laura)

This is the argument that I have the most trouble countering. Laura has a point: The barrier and checkpoints have reduced terrorism. But as presently implemented, they — and the settlements — also reduce the prospect of a long-term peace agreement that is the best hope for Laura’s children.

If Israel were to stop the settlements, ease the checkpoints, allow people in and out more freely, and negotiate more enthusiastically with Syria over the Golan Heights and with the Arab countries on the basis of the Saudi peace proposal, then peace might still elude the region. But Israel would at least be doing everything possible to secure its long-term future, rather than bolstering Hamas.

Jerry’s turn: Laura, I am going to be blunt – if the price for your children’s safety is the suffering of Fatima's children, of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian children, then the moral answer is to come up with a solution that maximizes both sides’ children’s safety. Your children cannot be safe at the expense of their children. Your children are more important to you than theirs are to you – but your children, or my children, for that matter, are not more important than theirs are.

Neither Israel nor Zionism is worth a damn if it cannot be implemented without massive suffering on the other side. Now, I know that there are mafia-morality Jews who will say, “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?” I fully expect most people not to care at all about the other side. Common-sense says that Laura’s first concern will be rightly with her children. That’s the same with the Serbs and the same with every group. But I can expect disinterested parties to stand up and say, “Laura, we understand why you don’t care about those folks, but you should understand why we care about them. Because their children deserve nothing less than do your children.

To paraphrase Hillel, if I are only for myself, then what the hell am I?

If there is no two-state solution, there will be a one-state solution — and given demographic trends, that will mean either the end of Israeli democracy or the end of the Jewish state. Zionists should be absolutely clamoring for a Palestinian state.

Laura is right about the need for a sensible Palestinian partner, and the failures of Palestinian leadership have been legion. At the moment, though, Israel has its most reasonable partner ever — Palestinian President Mahmud Abbes — and it is undermining him with its checkpoints and new settlement construction.

Peace-making invariably involves exasperating and intransigent antagonists and unequal steps, just as it did in the decades in which Britain struggled to end terrorism emanating from Northern Ireland. But London never ordered air strikes on Sinn Fein or walled in Catholic neighborhoods. Over time, Britain’s extraordinary restraint slowly changed attitudes so as to make the eventual peace possible.

I hope Mr. Obama, as a candidate or as a president, will be a true enough friend of Israel to say all this, warmly but firmly.

Jerry’s turn: Scripture says, “Seek and pursue peace”..but. it emphasizes “Justice, justice you shall pursue” And without a strong, vibrant, Palestinian state, and an equitable solution for all the refugees, there is no justice. Those two conditions are the sine qua non of a justifiable Jewish state.


Anonymous said...

On that last question, Kristof should have said that the failures of the leadership on both sides have been legion. And the US too. It was the US that urged Fatah to undermine Hamas after it won the election, and the result of that was that Hamas won the civil war the US was pleased to start.

But in the NYT, it's always the Palestinian leaders who screw up, never the Americans or their noble Israeli allies.


Anonymous said...

Actually, there are separation barriers in Northern Ireland, called 'Peace Lines'. However, they don't, as far as I know, completely surround Catholic areas, nor are they anywhere near as extensive as the West Bank's separation barrier; Wikipedia claims the peace lines are in total only 13 miles long.

Anonymous said...

On another note. From 1971 to 1975 Britain implemented Operation Demetrius, otherwise known as internment, where about 2000 catholics and 100 loyalist were detained without charge or trial (sound familiar?).

It was, as one soldier put it later, the IRA's best ever recruitment campaign.

Anonymous said...

Israel never had a shortage of bad examples to follow when dealing with the Palestinians, nor any reluctance to follow them cheered on by the US, who also seem not to have trouble following bad examples. In both cases it is the perverted "choseness" which says "They screwed it up, but We are different from the other nations of the earth" therefore we cant"