By Dan Fleshler | January 3, 2009
In a recent post, Philip Weiss denounces Americans for Peace Now and J Street for “equivocating” about the assault on Gaza. He believes they have not been emphatic enough in their opposition to Israel’s behavior because they have not come down hard enough against Palestinian civilian casualties.
His conclusion: “It is very difficult, nigh impossible, to be in a Jewish or Zionist communal organization and take a strong position against the destruction of Arab lives or for Arab human rights. It just won’t happen. It’s in the water.”
Sadly, Weiss is correct that the American Jewish communal world finds it much too difficult to criticize Israeli human rights violations or express concern about Palestinian suffering. I have made the same point many times on this blog. But he is picking the wrong enemies and the wrong examples in this particular fight. He subsequently wrote something positive about J Street so I’ll take issue with his bromide against Americans for Peace Now.
Here is the specific APN language that Phil finds equivocal and problemmatic:
Over the past weeks, Israelis, Palestinians, and the world have once again witnessed the unfolding of a serious and dangerous military escalation between Israel and Hamas. APN and its Israeli sister organization, Peace Now, have repeatedly expressed solidarity with the residents of communities of southern Israel, who have been subject to the terror of incoming fire from the Gaza Strip.
Israel has the right – indeed, the obligation – to take measures to bring these attacks to a halt… However, simply escalating the violence is not going to resolve the situation.
These paragraphs were part of a larger statement that responded to the prevailing view within the organized Jewish community that Israel’s Gaza operation is entirely justified. That is the community that APN must try to galvanize. Weiss not only left out the rest of the statement; he omitted the context, which was a specific question posed to APN:
“Why is Americans for Peace Now pressing for another ceasefire, when the last ceasefire was used by Hamas, predictably, to shore up its forces and prepare for even steeper violence against Israel. Israel is fighting a war against an organization dedicated to wiping it off the map. Given this reality, APN should be supporting Israeli efforts to defeat Hamas, not putting pressure on Israel to establish self-defeating, short-lived ceasefires with it?”
The answer was a cogent analysis –yes, from Israel’s perspective, sorry if that bothers you, Phil– that is a welcome contrast to much of the blather eminating from the organized American Jewish community:
Israel’s military leaders know that while the IDF can achieve short-term tactical gains in Gaza, the Israeli military cannot destroy popular support for Hamas, stop all rockets from falling, or force the release of Gilad Shalit. Indeed, this escalation of violence risks playing into the hands of extremists, while increasing dangers to both soldiers and civilians, and risks getting Israel bogged down in an open-ended mission in Gaza. It also raises the specter of a two-front war, should Hizballah decide to renew conflict on Israel’s northern border, with all the challenges to the IDF and danger to Israeli civilians that this would entail.
Many would argue that this is precisely what Hamas wants. We would argue that these are yet additional important reasons to seek to avoid an escalation and move quickly to a ceasefire, recognizing the extreme difficulty Israel faces in achieving any sustainable ceasefire agreement, formal or informal, with an extremist, ideologically-motivated organization like Hamas.
The breakdown of the recent ceasefire does not prove that ceasefires are futile. Rather, it demonstrates the danger of treating a ceasefire as an end unto itself. As we have warned repeatedly in the past – indeed, every time we have called for a ceasefire – a ceasefire is useful and desirable only as a means to halt violence and chaos in the immediate term, creating the space to facilitate improvements in the humanitarian situation, stabilize the political situation, and get the process back on track to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Absent improvements in the humanitarian situation in Gaza and the re-emergence of a serious, productive political process, any ceasefire risks becoming merely an intermission to allow those attacking Israel to re-arm, re-trench, and enhance their military capability. Sadly, this is exactly the situation today.
Looking ahead, the only way out of the current crisis is to re-establish the ceasefire, but this time not as a short-term fix but rather as part of a serious, longer-term strategy to deal with the core issues at play in Gaza. In this way, and only in this way, it can allow the sides to avoid the re-emergence of violence in the longer term. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is, at its heart, a political conflict. Palestinian terrorism against Israel – including Hamas-fired rockets from Gaza – is a horrendous aspect of this conflict that cannot be brought to an end simply by increasing the harshness of the Israeli response.
Finally, the lessons of the 2006 Lebanon War should not be lost here. Any realistic, sustainable resolution to this crisis will require Israel and Hamas to engage, directly or indirectly, to achieve a ceasefire. The only questions then are: how many more Israelis and Palestinians will die or be wounded in the interim; how much less international sympathy Israel will have when the ceasefire is being negotiated; how much bigger will the disaster on the ground be, both in Israel and Gaza, once a ceasefire is achieved; and how much damage will have been done to the credibility and viability of the peace process and the Israeli and Palestinian peace camps?
And perhaps most importantly, will a ceasefire this time be accompanied by both the kind of changes on the ground and the establishment of some sort of political process necessary for it to succeed?
What is equivocal about that? Now, there is much in that APN statement that I am sure some of the regulars here will dispute.I don’t quite follow the last paragraph, for example. But castigating APN because its closely argued statement does not devote more space to the victimization of Palestinians is like objecting to a bill calling for prison reform because it does not devote many provisions to “unequivocably” condemning the death penalty.