Did U.S. State Department ignorance kill the peace process?

From Thursday’s Haaretz:

There’s been a great deal of noise surrounding Nahum Barnea’s interview in Yediot Aharonot with unnamed U.S. officials closely involved with John Kerry’s peace efforts. “There are a lot of reasons for the peace effort’s failure,” the diplomats said, “but people in Israel shouldn’t ignore the bitter truth – the primary sabotage came from the settlements.” Cue the sturm und drang.

Of course, sturm und drang-inducing interviews aren’t given on the fly (anonymous or not). America doesn’t publicly criticize an ally unless the very public-ness is, itself, a message. It’s safe to assume that the officials in question didn’t say anything they didn’t mean to say – not even the bits that were shockingly ignorant.

And I quote: “We didn’t realize Netanyahu was using the announcements of tenders for settlement construction as a way to ensure the survival of his own government. We didn’t realize continuing construction allowed ministers in his government to very effectively sabotage the success of the talks.… We’re talking about the announcement of 14,000 housing units, no less. Only now, after talks blew up, did we learn that this is also about expropriating land on a large scale.”

I’m sorry – what? You “didn’t realize” settlement construction was being used to sabotage talks? You didn’t know that settlement building “is also about expropriating land on a large scale”?

There is simply no excuse – none, nothing – for this kind of ignorance among American officials. To tell one of Israel’s leading journalists that they didn’t see any of this coming, that they only realized the enormity of the truth “after talks blew up,” is to admit to an obliviousness that borders on criminal.

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In memory of the victims of murderers just sent home.

Morris “Moshe” Eisenstadt was born in Brooklyn in 1914; he immigrated to Israel late in life, and volunteered for many years at a hospital in a suburb of Tel Aviv. Eisenstadt was sitting on a park bench reading a book when Ibrahim Salem Ali al-Rai attacked and killed him with an axe in 1994. He was 79 years old.

Isaac Rotenberg was born in Poland in 1927. In the course of the Holocaust he was sent to the Sobibor death camp, but managed to escape in 1943 when Sobibor’s inmates rose up against the Nazis. Rotenberg ultimately fought the German army with the Partisans and, after arriving in Israel, worked in construction. He was on his knees repairing a floor when Salem Ali Atiyeh Abu-Musa and another assailant attacked and killed him with axes in 1994. He was 67.

Annie Ley came from France as a tourist in 1991; Mohammed Ahmed Khaled Asakreh stabbed her to death in Bethlehem, reportedly as she ate in the restaurant at which he worked. Ley was 64. Her murderer, along with al-Rai, Abu-Musa, and 23 other prisoners were released from prison by Israel earlier this week, as a good will gesture to its Palestinian negotiating partners.

Each of these attacks happened when I lived in Israel, and many others as well. I wasn’t able to fully grasp the horror at the time, and I’m not able to do so now. I don’t understand what it takes to pick up an axe and murder an old man on a park bench, any more than I understand what it takes to wrap oneself in explosives and rip a crowded bus to bloody shreds.

I understand that this is a war. When soldiers are killed, I mourn, but at least I understand the mechanism at hand: We kill their combatants, they kill ours. Parents remember nothing but chubby cheeks and expressions of love; enemies remember nothing but the other side’s willingness to kill me and mine.

I also understand that me and mine have killed a wildly disproportionate number of them and theirs, many of them non-combatants, at least a third of them minors. Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish can tell you about the three daughters and a niece he lost when an Israeli tank targeted his Gaza home during Operation Cast Lead; a shell ripped through a wall: “Schoolbooks, dolls, running shoes, and pieces of wood were splintered in a heap…. There was brain matter on the ceiling.” (And don’t tell me those deaths were “unintentional”—look Dr. Abuelaish in the eye, and tell him).

I believe that human beings can only make peace with their enemies. I believe that Israelis and Palestinians will have to forgive, or at least look past, terrible acts and tremendous loss if we are ever to stop the cycle of violence. I believe that the release of terrorists who murdered wholly innocent people was the right thing to do, if it will genuinely bring us closer to the possibility of a lasting peace.

Israelis often fail to understand the importance of the issue. The Palestinian prisoner population is massive, and not all are held with as much justification as those who murder Holocaust survivors and French tourists. Israel has long used the collective and individual fates of these men (and a handful of women) as a bargaining chip, and it’s doing so again—not meting out justice, but rather issuing open-ended punishments unless and until the state decides it’s in its own best interest to do something else. Israelis tend to underestimate the resonance of all this for the Palestinian people; it might be worthwhile to consider how much effort we put into returning the bones of fallen soldiers to our borders. Many in the Arab nations see those soldiers in no better light than we see the Palestinians released on Wednesday—one can argue with that perception, but arguing won’t change the fact.

And, for all that—for all that I believe the prisoner release was justifiable and smart—I do not believe that we are free to dismiss what those men did. I do not believe that we are free to ignore any of the humanity that has spilled on the ground as we have fought, and fought, and fought, using each other’s bodies as the tools by which to achieve our various ends.

Morris Eisenstadt, Isaac Rotenberg, and Annie Ley, and all those like them, did not deserve to die in abject terror as murderous hands descended. They deserved to reach the end of their days in peace and comfort, surrounded by love and goodness. No matter what John Kerry achieves, the reality of those deaths cannot be reversed.

It was right to release the prisoners. And it is right to never forget what they cost us.

A note about names and biographical information: Much of the published information regarding the prisoner release is at least slightly inaccurate—many sources have misspelled names, and at least one Israeli outlet identified Morris Eisenstadt as “a soldier.” In an effort to be as accurate as possible, I have leaned on and cross-referenced Israeli governmental sources for event details, Haaretz for the English transliteration of Arabic names, and a variety of English-language sources for the English spelling of victims’ names. I remain unsure as to whether Eisenstadt went by “Morris” or “Moshe,” so I have included both.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Yair Lapid – no cause for optimism.

yair lapid

Yair Lapid

In the lead-up to yesterday’s elections, there was real concern in certain circles (and happy certainty in others) that Naftali Bennett’s HaBayit HaYehudi (Jewish Home) Party was poised to sweep into the Knesset’s second place position, directly behind a weakened Likud—weakened in part by Bennett himself, a man who gives public expression to what many assume to be the real position of both the Likud and Prime Minister Netanyahu: Settlements Always, Palestine Never.

When that didn’t turn out to be the case—when it turned out that the putatively centrist Yair Lapid had not only come in behind Likud, but had far outstripped Bennett—there were expressions of relief, even hope, in some corners. Perhaps, just maybe, a roughly centrist government will emerge, one that will genuinely negotiate for peace?

With all due respect, though, there’s simply no objective reason to even entertain that thought.

First of all, it’s important to remember that these results are preliminary, in that they don’t yet include the votes of the military. Israel’s soldiers have traditionally skewed slightly to the right of the rest of the country, and in recent years, this tendency has increased, along with a growing religiosity. There’s good reason to think that when all the votes are counted, Bennett and/or the Likud will have gained two-three seats, and in a parliament this polarized, that can make a big difference.

More to the point, however, even if the division of seats doesn’t much change, neither will Bibi. He is and has always been a right-wing opportunist whose first and primary goal is to achieve and maintain power. He’s spent his entire political career catering to the settler community, and though he’s not himself personally religious, has been more than happy to cede power and influence to the ultra-Orthodox in order to maintain a coalition that keeps him in the driver’s seat, and advances the settlement project. A single speech at Bar Ilan University, made years ago, doesn’t mitigate the fact that the Prime Minister has done everything in his not inconsiderable power to make sure that a Palestinian State becomes a literal impossibility.

And then there’s Yair Lapid, also an opportunist, albeit one who at least looks centrist. He’s said that he won’t join a government that doesn’t negotiate with the Palestinians—but honestly, that’s meaningless. “Negotiations” can mean anything or nothing, and Netanyahu has himself “negotiated with the Palestinians” on more than one occasion. Negotiations aren’t a goal unto themselves, and without a solid commitment to compromise, will continue to serve the Israeli government as they have for years: a handy diversion with which to distract the international community, even as Israel’s hold on the West Bank deepens.

Moreover, Lapid has made it painfully clear that he has no real grasp of the enormity of the occupation’s implications, and doesn’t understand what a genuine, durable peace agreement will entail. He launched his campaign in the bloated West Bank settlement of Ariel, and has publicly (and more than once) announced that if Israel’s government just stands firm, it will convince the Palestinian people to give up on East Jerusalem as their capital.

As I’ve written before, this latter position is nothing short of delusional, and reveals a deep and abiding attachment to the same kind of magical thinking recently expressed by Daniel Gordis: We will deal with the Palestinians as we imagine them to be, and all will be well.

The only thing approaching an ideological commitment that Lapid has ever clearly expressed is an aversion to the ultra-Orthodox. I think it’s a decent bet that he wouldn’t join a government in which the ultra-Orthodox have more power than he does, but as long as he can present himself to his secular supporters (half of whom, not incidentally, self-identify as right wing) as having done better than Shas in coalition negotiations, I imagine he’d be happy to sit alongside them—and, quite possibly, Bennett—in a Netanyahu government, and passively support expanding settlement construction and the headlong rush toward West Bank annexation. And again: The rightist parties are likely to actually gain seats when the soldiers’ votes are counted.

There are two Israeli Jewish parties actually dedicated to saving the Jewish State from itself and negotiating a true peace accord with the Palestinian people: Meretz and Tzipi Livni’s HaTnuah. And if the projections hold, Meretz and HaTnuah will jointly take 12 seats.

So really, there’s no cause for even cautious optimism. On the contrary, perhaps a hard-right government would have shocked the world and Israel out of its complacency. As it is, it looks like Israel is set to continue to muddle along on its way to its own ruin.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Low expectations for lofty goals.

meretzIn an interesting case of idealistic realism, the last bastion of the peace camp in Israeli politics, Meretz, has introduced a party platform that calls for a four-year path to Israeli-Palestinian peace, while simultaneously acknowledging that they don’t stand a chance.

As Haaretz reported yesterday:

The leftist Meretz party on Tuesday unveiled its diplomatic platform – a four-year path to peace based on the Arab League initiative.

The platform calls for immediate recognition of a Palestinian state followed by negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, a freeze on settlement construction, release of Palestinian prisoners and removal of West Bank roadblocks, Meretz chairwoman Zahava Gal-On said on Tuesday at a Tel Aviv news conference.

The plan would also cancel the Oslo Accords in agreement with the Palestinians, and replace them with a new interim pact. Gal-On said she would be meeting with PA President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah to discuss the plan on Wednesday.

Which is all well and good, and after having spent several weeks reading about how everyone else in Israeli politics appears to be in a race to see who can be the biggest supporter of two-state wrecking settlement construction, is also a real pleasure to see. Despite what statistics are starting to suggest, apparently some Israeli Jews aren’t yet ready to shrug their shoulders over peace.

Yet despite the time-honored tradition of acting like you’re going to win even when you know you’re going to lose, not even the folks at Meretz are spinning their plan’s chances.

The platform was prepared by Ilan Baruch, a former career diplomat who resigned his post to South Africa in 2011 saying he could no longer represent the Netanyahu government’s foreign policy. At the same Tuesday press conference, Baruch said:

[This] is a plan intended to jump-start the process that has gone into deep freeze, [which is] completely the responsibility of the outgoing government and apparently the incoming one. Any plan that pretends to reinvent the peace process is not serious. Our plan is based on existing materials. The first and supreme test is the applicability of such a plan. [emphasis added]

Baruch is right. Any plan that pretends to reinvent the peace process isn’t serious, and at the same time, there is absolutely no reason to believe that the next Israeli government will have any interest in any peace process whatsoever. Meretz will certainly not be a coalition partner.

But it is an honorable tradition for the opposition to stand firm in the political desert and tell the truth, whether or not the people in charge want to hear it.

What I mean when I say the two-state solution is dead.

The other day I dropped what amounted (for me) to a bombshell, and I feel duty-bound to explain myself.

When Gilad Shalit returned to Israel, I wrote

I believe that October 18, 2011 is the day on which Gilad Shalit — a pawn in the hands of more people than I can rightly count at this point — came home, and the day on which the possibility of a two-state solution finally died.

I could be wrong, and lord knows I hope so. It might bear noting that the only times that I’ve been really wrong about this conflict have been those times that I’ve been optimistic, but then again, who knows.

But here’s why I think pessimism is in order: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has been a proponent of the two-state solution since the 1980s. It was his movement (Fatah) within the PLO which, under the leadership of Yasser Arafat, entered peace negotiations with Israel in the early 1990s, and he’s long been known to be more moderate (which is to say: more willing to renounce violence and/or to acquiesce Israeli demands) than Arafat ever was, even in his most Nobel-peace-prize winning days. If Israel was ever going to achieve a negotiated two-state peace, Abbas was the guy. And he and his government have consistently been available for talks and compromise — witness the revelations of the Palestine Papers.

But Israel has never given Fatah anything to show for their efforts. Life has gotten demonstrably worse in the territories since the 1993 Oslo Accords, and every time Arafat and then Abbas tried to do something about it, they got shut out.

Furthermore,  since the 2005 Gaza withdrawal, during which Israel steadfastly refused to negotiate anything, Abbas’s credibility has been in steep decline, in favor of Hamas. The Shalit deal is one more striking example of this: The prisoner exchange comes against the backdrop of Abbas’s UN statehood bid and a growing hunger strike on the part of Palestinian prisoners in or close to Fatah — or, in other words, just when it looked like Abu Mazen (as Abbas is known among Palestinians) was about to achieve something, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu gift wrapped 1,000 prisoners, and gave them to Hamas.

You simply cannot humiliate your negotiating partner again and again and expect that he will forever retain the political capital he needs to make the hard compromises that peace agreements always demand. This is perhaps the most egregious Israeli blind spot: No Israeli government has ever seemed to genuinely grasp that Palestinians will also be giving something up in any real negotiation process, and just like in Israel, that’s a hard sell. Political capital is crucial.

Now, Hamas has said time and again that it’s willing to enter some form of negotiations, or accept the results of a public referendum ratifying a peace deal, and don’t forget that back when Israel first started talking to the PLO, they were the terrorists we hated.

But to negotiate with Hamas, Israel would have to be even more willing to bend than it’s been with Abbas/Fatah. If Israel has been unwilling to discuss the eminently reasonable Fatah positions — all of which are based on every single peace proposal put forward to date — there’s no real reason to believe that Israel, particularly under the current leadership, will feel comfortable working with Hamas.

Which is not to say that the negotiation theater will end any time soon. Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and the US will continue to talk about it ad naseum — I just believe that is will continue to be an expensive, deadly exercise in wheel-spinning. Israel has no intention of actually making peace (witness the new settlement in Jerusalem) and Abbas probably couldn’t right now, even if Israel were to give it a go.

Having said that, I still believe that the two-state idea is the only possible resolution of the conflict. The vaunted “one-state solution” about which so many people like to talk is not what the vast majority of the people on the ground actually want (most particularly Israelis, but Palestinians, too), and if the sides haven’t been able to reasonably discuss a good way to share the land in two pieces, I cannot imagine what makes people think they’ll be able to reasonably discuss how to share it in one.

No, the “one-state solution” which I now believe is the inevitable outcome of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will come about as a result of ongoing, escalating bloodshed and destruction, and it will not be negotiated. It will be imposed, whether by fiat or by circumstances.

I imagine it won’t happen soon — death throes tend to take a very long time in global politics — and I will continue to advocate against it, but I am now genuinely convinced that the dream we’ve had for 25 years of two states and two peoples, living side by side and in peace, has become an impossibility.

The two-state solution, in which both sides would achieve both national dignity and genuine security, allowing each to heal and grow over time into real neighbors, is still the only resolution available. I will still fight for it. But I am now convinced that I fight a losing battle.

Sometimes, that’s all we can do.

Update: Click here for more on why I support a two-state solution, if you’re interested.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.

“Is such the fast I desire?”

On Shabbat and holidays, when Jews gather to pray, in addition to reading a portion from the first five books of the Bible, we also read a section of the Prophets, a section chosen to complement the other reading, or to reflect the Shabbat/holiday in question, or both. Every Yom Kippur, we read the following, from the book of Isaiah. As I look at what Israel and so many of my people are doing right now, I feel a desperate need to trumpet these words directly into their hearts. But I imagine if God hasn’t been able to all these long years, I don’t stand much of a chance.

This is the fast I desire:
To unlock the fetters of wickedness,
And untie the cords of the yoke
To let the oppressed go free.

If you fast, I wish you an easy one, and if you don’t, that’s ok, too. Shana tova, a happy and good year, to us all — amen, amen.

Haftarah for Yom Kippur – Isaiah 57:14–58:14

Chapter 57

14 [The Lord] says:
Build up, build up a highway!
Clear the road!
Remove all obstacles
From the road of My people!
15 For thus said He who high aloft
Forever dwells, whose name is holy;
I dwell on high, in holiness;
Yet with the contrite and the lowly in spirit —
Reviving the spirits of the lowly,
Reviving the hearts of the contrite.
16 For I will not always contend,
I will not be angry forever:
Nay, I who make spirits flag,
Also create the breath of life.
17 For their sinful greed I was angry;
I struck them and turned away in My wrath.
Though stubborn, they follow the way of their hearts,
18 I note how they fare and will heal them:
I will guide them and mete out solace to them,
And to the mourners among them
19 heartening, comforting words:

It shall be well,
Well with the far and the near

— said the Lord —

And I will heal them.
20 But the wicked are like the troubled sea
Which cannot rest,
Whose waters toss up mire and mud.
21 There is no safety

— said my God —

For the wicked.

Chapter 58

1 Cry with full throat, without restraint;
Raise your voice like a ram’s horn!
Declare to My people their transgression,
To the House of Jacob their sin.

2 To be sure, they seek Me daily,
Eager to learn My ways.
Like a nation that does what is right,
That has not abandoned the laws of its God,
They ask Me for the right way,
They are eager for the nearness of God:
3 “Why, when we fasted, did You not see?
When we starved our bodies, did You pay no heed?”
Because on your fast day
You see to your business
And oppress all your laborers!
4 Because you fast in strife and contention,
And you strike with a wicked fist!
your fasting today is not such
As to make your voice heard on high.
5 Is such the fast I desire,
A day for men to starve their bodies?
Is it bowing the head like a bulrush
And lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Do you call that a fast,
A day when the Lord is favorable?
6 No, this is the fast I desire:
To unlock the fetters of wickedness,
And untie the cords of the yoke
To let the oppressed go free;
To break off every yoke.
7 It is to share your bread with the hungry,
And to take the wretched poor into your home;
When you see the naked, to clothe him,
And not to ignore your own kin.

8 Then shall your light burst through like the dawn
And your healing spring up quickly;
Your Vindicator shall march before you,
The Presence of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
9 Then, when you call, the Lord will answer;
When you cry, He will say: Here I am.
If you banish the yoke from your midst,
The menacing hand and evil speech,
10 And you offer your compassion to the hungry
And satisfy the famished creature —
The shall your light shine in darkness,
And your gloom shall be like noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
He will slake your thirst in parched places
And give strength to your bones.
You shall be like a watered garden,
Like a spring whose waters do not fail.
12 Men from your midst shall rebuild ancient ruins,
you shall restore foundations laid long ago.
And you shall be called
“Repairer of fallen walls,
Restorer of lanes for habitation.”
13 If you refrian from trampling the sabbath,
From pursuing your affairs on My holy day;
If call the sabbath “delight,”
The Lord’s holy day “honored”;
And if you honor it and go not your ways
Nor look to yours affairs, nor strike bargains —
14 Then you can seek the favor of the Lord.
I will set you astride the heights of the earth,
And let you enjoy the heritage of your father Jacob —
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

JPS translation

Oldie-but-goodie: The problem.

My family and I are flying to Israel/Palestine this evening (with a brief stopover in London – yay!) and as I get ready to go, I of course find myself thinking about the conflict, the struggles, the desperate need for peace, and what stands in the way of achieving anything like peace. For today’s oldie-but-goodie (as, even if I weren’t struggling with my place in the blogosphere, I surely wouldn’t have time to write today – yikes!), I give you this — about the conflicts within families, and the fact that in many Israeli families, even on the left, the biggest stumbling block to peace can be found very close to hand.

I have family in a West Bank settlement.

Every left-wing Israeli family has its right-wing wing, and the rightists have their lefties. Thus, when I married my husband, I got not just his left-wing-through-and-through nuclear family of origin, but also the folks who parked their Uzis under the table at our wedding (next, it should be noted, to the table at which my Palestinian co-worker sat. Oh, that was a moment!). I also got the aunt and uncle who lived in a Jerusalem “neighborhood” which I, in the fullness of time, finally realized was actually a settlement in its own right, but they’ve since moved into really-Israeli-Jerusalem (their daily needs changed, not their ideology).

Everyone on that side of the family — all modern Orthodox, all parents of many children — has never been anything but kind and welcoming to me. They’ve reached out, they ask after me, after us, they want to see pictures of the children, they’re sorry we’ve moved away. One cousin in particular has the warmest, most gentle smile. She makes you feel like you’ve made her day just by walking into the room.

But the truth is that it matters not in the least that they are kind, or warm, or gentle. Because they are the problem.

They — in the broadest sense: they, and their friends, and their beautiful houses, and their armed guards, and their by-pass roads — are what stands in the way of peace and security for 7.3 million Israelis and 4 million Palestinians. I would venture that a good few Palestinians might even find them to not be particularly kind, warm, or gentle.

I know some people can compartmentalize their lives so completely that this sort of cellular-level disagreement regarding the ethics of one’s daily behavior can be overlooked for the sake of the relationship, but I am not such a person. Beyond what I’ve just said, I can’t really tell you much more about this side of the family, because I’ve worked pretty hard not to know them.

When I was once forced (it felt like I was forced) to spend the night in one of their homes, I couldn’t sleep; when celebrating family milestones together, I frequently have to leave the room, just to breathe. Whenever I see any of them, talk to any of them, hear about any of them, I want to — I don’t know, what? I guess I want to take away their homes and their land and move them bodily into Israel proper, and then shut the door and walk away, so as not to hear the stream of lies-that-they-believe that would inevitably pour from their mouths about Greater Israel and the knife I had just plunged into the nation’s back.

When the neighbors of the woman with the gentle smile were killed in a terrorist shooting, I did call. I asked how the family was doing, how the children were doing. I did it through gritted teeth, and I did it because it was the right thing to do, and, I will admit, I did it to make a point that the left often fails to make: No matter where you may live, you do not deserve to be shot to death on your way home. Terrorism — perhaps it bears repeating — is evil.

But it took terrorism for me to make any kind of effort, and that was years ago. I couldn’t tell you the first thing about their lives now.

Other than, of course, the earlier stated fact that they are the problem.

Their homes are the problem. Their decision, and the decisions made by half a million other Jewish Israelis to live on Palestinian land and slowly but surely turn the entire Jewish State into the Settlers’ Auxiliary and Bugle Corps, their decision to build and keep building and keep building and keep building — this is why, when history looks back on the Jewish State, it will see a sea of blood followed by the ultimate dismantling of the state.

When our blood is in the ground, when the Palestinians and Israelis have reached the point that the killing has utterly destroyed both societies and The State of Israel is but one more disaster on the long, long list of Jewish disasters, when, finally, this long, horrific tale is done — our blood will mingle, and no one will know which drop belonged to whom.

And the anemones will cover our graves, grow up and down the hills, heedless of battlelines or borders. Because that’s what anemones do.


For information, background, and statistics on the settlements: The Foundation for Middle East Peace

For historical documents on the occupation and settlement project: South Jerusalem (note, in particular, this legal opinion finding that settlements were contrary to international law, issued two months after the 1967 Six Day War).

For the impact of settlements on the Palestinian population of the West Bank: The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territories

For the history of the settler movement, read: Gershom Gorenberg’s excellent The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977 (Gorenberg is also one of the left-wing Orthodox bloggers at South Jerusalem)

For a close look at Palestinian life under occupation, read: Saree Makdisi’s heartbreaking Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation

Note: If anyone knows of a good source on Israeli perceptions of/responses to the settlements — a sociological or psychological study, something beyond polls such as these — please let me know.


Update: Coincidentally, Bradley Burston at HaAretz wrote a very similarly-themed piece in today’s paper: “Confessions of an Israeli anti-settler bigot”:

They say the first step in dealing with rage is acknowledging it. So here it is: I have become a bigot where it comes to the settlement movement.

I believe that the officials, the activists, and the Diaspora bankrollers and rooting section of this movement have ruined my life. They ruin it a little more every single day.

The extent to which they have embittered the lives of millions of Palestinians is incalculable. I won’t pretend to know what they go through or how it feels. For the moment, I just want to talk about what the settlement movement does to its fellow Israelis, and why so many of us are so fed up.

Bradley Burston is one of my favorite Israeli commenters. Please click through and read it all.

Yup – Hamas is a terrorist organization. Now what?

Please note update, below.

I’m frequently asked about Hamas with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and this past week has certainly been no exception. The questions take many forms, but they tend to boil down to this very reasonable query: “Hamas is a terrorist organization. How do you make peace with a terrorist organization?” Following is a bulked-up version of an email that I sent last night, in answer to that very question.

There’s no doubt that Hamas is a terrorist organization. Indeed, when I lived in Tel Aviv, they tried to kill me — by sending people to blow themselves up on buses that I rode frequently, and in the middle of a cafe just two half-blocks from my home. I had to cover several of those stories as a newspaper reporter, and I would be lying if I said that doing so wasn’t a particular kind of awful. Seeing what I saw, and knowing that the perpetrators would have been just as happy to have my blood join the blood that was splashed across the sidewalk before me didn’t always leave me feeling particularly even-keeled.

So, yeah. No love from me for Hamas.

But all throughout history, nations — Israel among them — have made peace with organizations and nations they found genuinely reprehensible.

  1. The PLO was (and some factions, let’s be honest, still are) a terrorist organization, and Israel found a way to talk to the PLO.
  2. Egypt and Jordan gave wiping-Israel-off-the-map a very, very good go, and yet Israel managed to find a way to achieve peace agreements with them.
  3. Going farther afield, the IRA was a terrorist organization, and today Ireland has peace.
  4. Not to mention that Israeli Prime Ministers Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir were, in fact, bona fide terrorists themselves. Egypt made peace with the former, and the world went through the motions of trying to get the latter to make peace with the Arab world writ large, so, yeah. Humanity has a history of making peace with terrorists, both literally and figuratively.

Much of Hamas’s popularity among the Palestinian people is explained much more by their service work than by their violence, however — things like providing soup kitchens, schools, and assistance to families of Palestinians killed by Israel. I’ll admit that I have a hard time giving them any credit for any of that, though, because even having said that, they’re beyond vile. Their vision of Islam is extremist and stultifying, they romanticize and have in the past perpetuated a truly twisted form of violent resistance, and they hate me and mine because of who we are.

But they were, in fact, democratically elected to lead the Palestinian Authority (if only just – people don’t realize that. It was a protest vote against the PLO’s rampant corruption, and it was a “landslide” kind of in the sense of Newt Gingrich’s “revolution” in 1994 or Bush’s “mandate” in 2004. Which is to say: Not really) by people who’d been served by their service projects and were hoping to find accountability from their politicians, and who had given up on the PLO after 10 years of absolutely fruitless negotiations. I can’t blame the people who voted for them – and Israel all but handed Hamas that victory when it withdrew from Gaza without first negotiating security arrangements.

Also, it’s worth noting that the day after those elections, 75% of the Palestinian electorate expressed the hope that Hamas would negotiate with Israel*, and in his book Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, Jimmy Carter reported that only 1% of Palestinians polled wanted to see a theocracy such as that envisioned by Hamas in the Palestinian territories. Moreover, just last week, a poll showed 70% of Palestinians opposed to the launching of rockets into Israel from Gaza, with 75% believing that military escalation would serve not them, but Israel. As a political movement, Hamas has political, national goals, and a constituency to which it is at least somewhat accountable and which is demonstrably not particularly keen on its more extremist tendencies — and thus, contrary to what Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu would have us think, vile as I find them, Hamas is not the Palestinian answer to al-Qaeda.

And finally, if I want peace, I have to build peace with the actual Palestinian people, not the Palestinian people I imagine in my head — and Hamas represents a certain slice of the Palestinian polity. If Israel gets behind a genuine, workable negotiating process toward a two-state peace plan, three-quarters of Palestinians have said time and again that they would support it — and Hamas, for its part, has said time and again that it would honor a referendum that approved such a plan.

So sure. Like a lot of people, I don’t like Hamas. But that doesn’t matter. One makes peace with one’s enemies, not with one’s friends — and one doesn’t get to pick and choose one’s enemies.

UPDATE: The first commenter, below, poses a reasonable question: How can anyone expect Israel to negotiate with an organization that doesn’t recognize its right to exist? Please be sure to read the question and my response, as well.

*This figure is from a 2006 poll conducted by al-Jazeera immediately after the elections. I wrote about it at the time, and have the original link, as well as a link to the Google-cached page — but neither works any longer! You’ll either have to trust me, or get in touch with al-Jazeera.

Israel: Buffeted by fate? Or a character in its own play? (Re-up)

I’m pleased and proud to say that as of today, I’ll be posting regular book recommendations at Americans for Peace Now. I’ll be away from my desk for most of the day though (until just before Shabbat, and this blog and I don’t roll on Shabbos) and won’t have a chance to post anything particularly pertinent for any new readers. So I’ve decided to re-up something pertinent from a few months back. If you’re a new reader, please poke around the place! I don’t only write about Israel/Palestine, and I’m even funny on occasion. I swear!


There is something very curious to the right-wing Israeli/Israeli apologist insistence that, say, settlement building isn’t what will wreck the peace process — if the Palestinians walk away over settlement expansion, it’ll just be another example of (as the Foreign Ministry took it upon itself to tweet me the other day) the Palestinians “once again miss[ing] an historic opportunity for peace.”

Or: The fact that there is no peace today doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that Israel ignored the peace offer made by all 22 members of the Arab League in 2002 (and repeated in 2006) — it’s that the Arab countries rejected the division of Palestine in 1948, or attacked in 1967, or supported Lebanon in 1982, or call today for an end to Israel’s violent control of Palestinian lives.


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