Dear WaPo: Abbas did not ‘reject’ Olmert’s offer.

This appeared last week at Open Zion, and I forgot to post it here! Imagine.

olmert abbas shakeYesterday my editor Ali Gharib took the Washington Post to task for its ill-conceived weekend editorial concerning John Kerry’s recent push to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Let me start by saying that I agree with everything Ali wrote—except that he skipped something.

There’s a little moment, a single line, not even an entire sentence, buried deep in the editorial which serves as a kind of emblem of all that is wrong with so much of the discourse surrounding the conflict, including the contribution made by the very piece of writing in question.

“In 2008 Mr. Abbas rejected an offer from Mr. Netanyahu’s predecessor [Ehud Olmert],” the Post’s board writes, and then carries on its merry way to dismiss Kerry’s diplomatic efforts out-of-hand. The only problem being: It’s not true.

As Bernard Avishai reported in the New York Times in February 2011:

“We were very close,” Olmert told me, “more than ever in the past, to complete an agreement on principles that would have led to the end of the conflict between us and the Palestinians.” Abbas said the talks produced more “creative ideas” than any in the past. He took pains to assure me that he had been most flexible on Israel’s security demands. Olmert, in retrospect, agrees, saying that Abbas “had never said no.”

Was a deal struck during Olmert’s premiership? No, it was not. In that sense, then, I suppose it could be argued that Abbas “rejected” an offer from Olmert—but surely only in the same sense that Olmert “rejected” an offer from Abbas.

Thus, the Post did the very thing that a long list of Americans and Israelis have always done: Create an imaginary Palestinian, and then talk about that fictitious creature as if it were composed of flesh and blood rather than straw and propaganda.

Did Abbas reject Olmert’s offer? No. Is Abbas congenitally not-a-partner for peace?Nope. Did Yasser Arafat walk away from a “generous offer” at Camp David? No. Are the Palestinians likely to “back down” from a shared Jerusalem if Israelis don’t “blink”? Not likely. Is Palestinian culture to blame for the moribund state of the Palestinian economy? No (no, really: no). Are the Palestinians “an invented people”?No more than any other people. Are they, or were they ever, the equivalent of “cockroaches in a bottle”? Uhhh—no.

Some of the fictions hawked over nearly five decades of occupation skate near the truth—we can’t let Arafat entirely off the hook for Camp David any more than we can blame him exclusively—while others peddle in dehumanizing xenophobia, but all serve a narrative that few in positions of power care to question: That of the Israeli hero, standing against the odds and the barbarous hordes in the name of Democracy and Chicken Soup.

If, on the other hand, Olmert and Abbas were “very close” to an agreement; if Abbas has (in fact) been advocating for a two-state solution since 1977; if Ehud Barak and Bill Clinton share the blame for the failure of Camp David; if the Palestinians really mean it when they say that Jerusalem is their one and only capital; if Israel is the main force behind the shattered Palestinian economy; if, in fact, Israel shares the blame for all of its current troubles, from the waging of wars to the absence of peace, and Palestinians are as human as anyone else—then we may need to take them into consideration. We may need to give up our maximalist dreams (whether they be of a Greater Israel, or, in the case of America’s neocons, American global hegemony), and we may need to feel our way, however haltingly, toward mutually respectful accommodation.

But as Ali pointed out, mutually respectful accommodation is not now nor has it ever been on the Washington Post’s menu of options, so its editorial board needs to keep spinning a tale that doesn’t merely scoff at Kerry’s efforts to end decades of bloodshed (as in: actual people, actually dead), but (because it’s the Post) serves to effectively undermine those efforts.

It’s bad enough to casually print factual inaccuracies, but those who advocate for a continued state of managed-conflict in Israel/Palestine are arguing that millions of people should continue to pay the price of ideology in blood, bone, and grief. The folks at the Washington Post may not have skin in this game, but I do, and that’s a truth I can’t be quiet about.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.


How Lapid reflects the ill-defined Israeli center.

yair lapidIn a recent interview with the New York Times, Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid said the following: “I used to have so many opinions before I learned the facts.”

He was talking about his transition from television to politics, and I have to say, that is a remarkable sentence from a man who was very recently elected based on his pre-fact opinions—particularly, but not exclusively, as he continues to function in a fact-free zone.

Thousands of Israelis protested the entire array of austerity measures in Lapid’s budget earlier this month, largely because they are so at odds with the promises he appeared to be making in his election campaign. As my colleague Gershom Gorenberg noted yesterday, among Lapid’s many fanciful notions is the idea that forcing hunger on the children of detested sub-cultures is an effective way to mainstream their parents into society—and given his position in the government, Lapid’s budget and opinions about the people it’s meant to serve are a pretty important indication of his ability to function without the constraints of reality.

But Yair Lapid is far more than just Finance Minister. He’s Benjamin Netanyahu’s greatest threat in the political arena, he reflects the views of Israel’s somewhat ill-defined “center” (non-religious Jews who, when polled, say they want to be shed of the occupation but are pretty sure the Palestinians are entirely at fault for the failure of the peace process), and as head of the second largest party in the Knesset, he’s instrumental in setting policy and shaping public opinion.

Thus, we must listen closely to his opinions about a wide variety of things, particularly (but not exclusively) regarding the conflict with the Palestinians (which, no matter how hard Israeli officials try to distract us, remains the country’s most salient, most defining concern)—and as I have noted before, a time or two, Lapid is very much wedded to creating his own reality.

For instance, in his interview with the Times, he said that a two-state peace is “crucial” to Israel’s future, but rejected curtailing settlement activity and/or any possibility of a shared Jerusalem, while also apparently questioning whether Palestinians really want a state, anyway.

He furthermore called Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas—who has supported a two-state peace since 1977 and led Palestinian negotiations in Oslo in 1993—“one of the founding fathers of the victimizing concept of the Palestinians.” Speaking with the Israeli outlet Yediot in the course of the same media blitz that brought him to theTimesLapid also pronounced Abbas “still not psychologically ready for an agreement with Israel, either partial or full.”

I don’t know—is Yair Lapid ill-informed? Under-educated? Spectacularly dim? Lying through his sizeable teeth? Or some combination of those things?

Short of the statement that a two-state agreement is crucial (a line that’s now de rigueur for all wannabe national leaders of the Jewish State), there is nothing even remotely reality-based in any of the above.

The Palestinians will not agree to an agreement if Israel doesn’t stop building on their land; they will not give up their generations-long dream of a national capital in their holy city of Jerusalem; they do, in fact want a state; Abbas is the man who’s been trying to tell Palestinians that they may have to give up on a full return of their refugees (and, frankly, one doesn’t need to invent a narrative of victimization—the Palestinians are, among many other things, victims); and Abbas has been “psychologically ready” for a two-state peace since Yair Lapid became bar mitzvah.That’s the truth, not whatever fatuities the Finance Minister holds in his mind and sends out through his mouth.

Lapid does get one thing very right, however: He reflects that ill-defined Israeli center, the one that wants peace but doesn’t seem to understand the role its country plays in the perpetuation of war.

A brave politician, a bold politician, an honest politician would start telling his or her people the truth. Such a politician would do everything within his or her not-inconsiderable power to finally help shift the discourse away from Israel’s own “concept of victimization” and toward an honest reckoning of responsibility and possibility.

As Noam Sheizaf notes in +972:

The public simply doesn’t want to deal with the Palestinian issue in any meaningful way…. There is an almost instinctive, little-spoken understanding that both alternatives—both one-state and two-state solution—are inferior to the status quo. Talks regarding the “unsustainability” of current trends seem very abstract. So far, the occupation seems to be the most sustainable thing this country has known.

Politicians understand this, and those who don’t lose elections (see: Livni). Lapid certainly understands.

Whether Lapid is ignorant, dumb, or dishonest about the facts doesn’t change the one thing about which he is very clever: Public opinion.

He doesn’t want to be brave, or bold, or honest. Yair Lapid wants to be elected. And he’s not going to risk that for anything so inconsequential as the truth.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

A crow, a cat, and a dog walk into a kitchen.

Here you will see a crow feeding a cat and a dog.

(Doesn’t the dog look all “Oh God, that awkward cousin is here again! Maybe if I go to my room, Mom won’t notice.”)


I discovered this video via an absolutely fascinating post at io9, Corvids: The Birds Who Think Like Humans, which in turn reminded me of this equally fascinating article from the New York Times a few years back, Friend or Foe? Crows Never Forget a Face, It Seems. Go! Read!