Bon Voyage: President Obama in Israel
by Jerold Auerbach
In anticipation of President Obama’s forthcoming visit to Israel The New York Times published three “Op-Ed” columns in a single day (March 13) assessing the dim prospects for Middle East peace – and, to be sure – holding Israel responsible. Even if “Op-Ed” refers only to location (adjacent to the editorial page) rather than to policy (deviating from the editorial position), this was an unusual, but hardly random, concentration of journalistic firepower.
With his characteristic airy detachment, columnist Thomas Friedman seemed to applaud Obama’s belated realization that given current realities on the ground, “benign neglect” toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is preferable to active intervention. After all, as Friedman correctly notes, “the most destabilizing conflict in the region is the civil war between Shiites and Sunnis,” not the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Furthermore, the obstacles to an Israeli-Palestinian peace are, at least at the moment, insurmountable. Why? Because Israeli settlers and Hamas rockets make it so. Note the moral equivalence.
Nonetheless, Friedman prepared questions for the President to ask Israeli officials – but not Palestinian officials in Ramallah: How can “your relentless settlement drive” fail to undermine Israel as “a Jewish democracy” and further “delegitimize” Israel worldwide? Shouldn’t Israel “be constantly testing and testing whether there is a Palestinian partner for a secure peace” – as though Israel had not repeatedly done that ever since the Oslo Accords were drafted. “As a friend,” Friedman also wants to know whether Israel even has a long-term strategy for peace.
Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit pointedly declared the “Old Peace” of Oslo to be dead. Waves of Palestinian terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians, Yasir Arafat’s refusal to accept generous Israeli peace terms at the Camp David summit in 2000, and destruction during the Arab Spring of the “corrupt yet stable tyrannies” (especially Egypt) that had supported peace with Israel demolished peace efforts.
But Shavit is optimistic about the prospects for a “New Peace.” The Arab awakening, in conjunction with the “social justice protest movement” that emerged in Israel in 2011, promises “a pragmatic, gradual process” leading to peace based on mutual respect. The burden, to be sure, is on Israel, which must implement a “real” settlement freeze. Settlers, he recently wrote in Haaretz, not only occupy the West Bank; they “occupy Israel.”
Columbia professor Rashid Khalidi wants President Obama to guide a peace process that any Palestinian would applaud: an end to Israel’s “intransigence,” “illegal” settlements, “apartheid-style wall,” and “ghettoization” of Palestinians, with a government “hellbent on territorial expansion.” The Israeli “occupation” must end, and settlements must be removed. What Palestinians must do is not mentioned.
From their quite different perspectives Friedman, Shavit and Khalidi reach the shared conclusion that surely pleases Times editors: the absence of peace is entirely Israel’s fault. And, no surprise, Jewish settlers are primarily responsible. Not a word about the Palestinian terrorism that led to the “apartheid-style wall” separating Israel from the West Bank. Nor about Israel’s 10-month settlement freeze two years ago that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas pointedly ignored. Nor about the vast Hezbollah accumulation of rockets in south Lebanon that probably exceeds what Hamas has stored in Gaza. Nor about the absurd claim, echoed by Khalidi, that “5 million” Palestinians live “in a state of subjugation or exile” for which Israel implicitly bears responsibility.
It is highly unlikely that the Times would publish three op-eds in a decade, no less in a single day, that even mention, no less defend, the right of “close settlement” west of the Jordan River enjoyed by Jews ever since the League of Nations approved the Mandate for Palestine nearly a century ago. That right has never been rescinded. Or that UN Resolution 242 following the Six-Day War called upon Israel to withdraw its military forces from “territories,” not from “the” territories or “all” the territories that it had gained from Arab aggression. Or, even in passing, that there already is a state (now known as Jordan) with a Palestinian population majority, in Palestine as originally defined by the League of Nations. Or that settlement in the Land of Israel is what Zionism has always meant. Might the Times recognize that the largest Jewish settlement in the Middle East, endlessly calumnied in its own pages, is the State of Israel?
Jerold S. Auerbach is the author, most recently, of Against the Grain (Quid Pro Books, 2012).