Israeli philosopher Avishai Margalit has written a very interesting book called "Compromises and Rotten Compromises," which I hope to discuss later on this blog. I am reminded of it when I read the petition prepared by a bunch of credentialed liberal Zionists, who clearly had to compromise big-time in order to get agreed-upon wording for the petition, "For the Sake of Zion" which is circulating on the web. See here. I also am reminded of Margalit's book because it opposes "sectarianism", the sort of ideological purity that banishes all deviants to the left and to the right. And I am very sympathetic to that opposition. Readers of this blog know that I am not a liberal Zionist as that phrase is generally understood. But I am a member of and a donor to the liberal Zionist organization J-Street. You see, I know that liberal Zionists are allies in the fight against the Israeli occupation and control of the West Bank and Gaza, although they will admit that have been no more successful in ending it than my non-statist Zionist crowd, or for that matter, anybody's crowd. Still, building coalitions is important, and while there are rotten compromises, compromises need not be lousy or rotten. That is why there are petitions that I will sign even if I don't agree with all the sentiments expressed. There are petitions that although I will not personally sign I will urge others with whom I don't agree to sign. There are still other petitions that I won't sign but will shut up about. And then there is "For the Sake of Zion," which, as liberal Zionist petitions go, represents several giant steps backward in American Jewry's understanding of what is needed to make some progress to end the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Indeed, it barely qualifies as a "liberal" Zionist document at all. Of course, I have all sorts of objections to the tone and assumptions, the ritualistic bending-over-backwards to balance a fundamentally imbalanced situation, the by-now standard reference to Palestinian incitement, as if the Palestinians under a brutal occupation would be any more favorably disposed to the Israelis were they to be taught The Case for Israel (a book that has done more damage to support of Israel-Palestinian peace efforts -- especially since the Federations distributed that regurgitation of stale Israeli hasbara to Hillels and day schools -- than any schoolbook concocted by the PA). And although there are few certainties in life, the one thing absolutely certain to me is that Israel faces no external existential threat. Hizbollah? Hamas? Ahmadinejad? Are you folks serious? But all right, all right, I can grit my teeth for the sake of finding some common ground in the spirit of bipartisanship that helped get health care through the Congress. But not at the price of sekhel ha-yashar, "straight thinking." And there are sections of this petition that should be disavowed by anybody considering himself to be a liberal Zionist. At best, it is typical of liberal Zionism c. 1975, and it is no coincidence that most of the folks who signed it are retired or soon-to-be retired. Has nothing changed since then? As I have not spoken to the main authors, I don't know what they threw in to make more palatable to the Fox News crowd. As a modern orthodox Jew, I naturally look over to the right, and I understand the pressures. Yet there are green lines that are not meant to be crossed. Let me point to some passages that are deal-breakers in my eyes for any liberal Zionist. Consider the following paragraph with its tortuous syntax.
Advancing toward a two-state solution will require significant concessions and commitments by both sides. Among these: Terrorism must stop, and the Palestinians will need to set aside their claimed “right of return” to Israel, which would undermine the very notion of a Jewish state; they must vigorously oppose incitement against Israel. Israel, for its part, will need to dismantle the settlements considered illegal under Israeli law; protect Palestinians from maltreatment and violence by extreme elements of the settler community; set aside its insistence on exclusive sovereignty over all of expanded Jerusalem, including Arab neighborhoods, where, we anticipate, the designated capital of the new state of Palestine will be located."Now what is this "advancing toward a two-state solution" business? Whatever it means, it cannot be plausibly read as closing the deal. And, indeed, there is no talk here of dismantling Israeli settlements beyond the "settlement blocs," with their (bizarre) privileged status, and which everybody agrees must occur in a two-state deal -- only settlements that have been recognized as illegal by Israel, i.e., outposts. Now removing outposts is already in the 2003 Bush road map. As Daniel C. Kurtzer wrote in the Washington Post:
Here are the facts: In 2003, the Israeli government accepted, with some reservations, the "road map" for peace, which imposed two requirements on Israel regarding settlements: "GOI [Government of Israel] immediately dismantles settlement outposts erected since March 2001. Consistent with the Mitchell Report, GOI freezes all settlement activity (including natural growth of settlements)."So according to "For the Sake of Zion," Palestinians are required NOW, as they "advance towards peace," to renounce the right of return, despite the fact that Bush Road Map sees that as an end of conflict issue. What Bush did not require of the Palestinians, "For the Sake of Zion" does! And while the Clinton bridge proposals suggested that Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem and the Haram al-Sharif would be under Palestinian sovereignty, the current petition already places the capital of the Palestinian State outside of Jordanian East Jerusalem -- into an Arab neighborhood in an expanded Jerusalem. Sheikh Jarrah or the Damascus Gate or Silwan are not in "expanded" Jerusalem (expanded by Israel); they are in Jerusalem. Of course, this comes under the rubric. "We anticipate". Well, amigos, I anticipate that this humiliating offer is the sort of lousy compromise that no Palestinian will accept. And that's why Bill Clinton, not exactly a stranger to liberal Zionism, didn't propose it. And how seriously am I to take the call to immediately cease construction in the occupied territories, when that call was already made years ago by George W. Bush. This is what make you liberal Zionist? When I saw that Bernard Henri-Levy and Alain Finkelkraut (with Daniel Cohn-Bendit) had coauthored an appeal calling for the Europe and the US to put pressure on Israel and the Palestinians (another word missing in the current petition) I initially dismissed it because of those gentlemen's track record. But then I read the appeal and I found it precisely the sort of appeal that liberal Zionists around the world should be writing. Short, to the point, without prejudging the end game except to emphasize a two-state solution. "For the Sake of Zionism" is the opposite of that one. It does a disservice to liberal Zionism, to peace efforts in the Middle East, and ultimately, to the "state we hold so dear." What a pity. My only consolation is that the petition will do little harm. And that the people who signed it, many of whom I know and like, will be embarrassed when they realize what they have signed. I invite any of the writers of the petition to show me where I have offered an implausible reading of the petition.