American foreign policy Barack Obama Benjamin Netanyahu Israel Israeli occupation

Obama’s gutsy, principled Middle East speech

Everyone agrees President Obama made a gutsy political call when he ordered the Navy Seals team to take out Osama bin Laden. There would have been a fierce backlash if the mission had failed. But he’s not getting credit for demonstrating even more political courage by calling for an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement based on Israel’s borders before the 1967 war, with agreed-upon land swaps.

Just before Obama’s speech on the Middle East yesterday, Prime Minister Netanyahu had angrily “demanded” that the “reference to the 1967 borders be cut,” the New York Times reported. So Obama must have known that he was inviting a firestorm. Yet he decided that America’s interest in Middle East peace and stability trumped the short-term political gain he could have derived from saying nothing, doing nothing, and avoiding the wrath of right-wing American Jews and the politicians who pander to them.

Obama must have known that Republicans like Mitt Romney would accuse him of throwing Israel “under the bus.” He must have been aware that he was going to tangle with an Israeli Prime Minister who has never hidden his willingness to use American domestic politics as a tool to undermine U.S. Presidents. Netanyahu quickly criticized Obama right after the speech, calling the 1967 borders “indefensible,” even though Obama clearly was not calling for Israel to withdraw all the way back to those borders. When Bibi speaks to AIPAC on Sunday and Congress on Monday, although he probably won’t openly denounce Obama, he may well find ways to throw the American president under the bus, given his past behavior.

When Bibi was the Israeli opposition leader in the mid-1990s, he and his Likud operatives openly lobbied Congress to block the Clinton administration’s efforts to aid the Oslo peace process. In September, 1998, before he went to the White House during his first official visit to Washington as the newly elected Prime Minister, Netanyahu conspicuously met with Bill Clinton’s avowed political enemies: Jerry Falwell, Newt Gingrich and an adoring rally of the National Unity Coalition for Israel, a far-right Christian evangelical group. As the New York Jewish Week week reported at the time, “`[Bibi] was blatant about the fact that this trip had less to do with diplomacy than public relations,” said a 20-year veteran of the pro-Israel wars. `For him to meet with Gingrich and Falwell before he met with the president — and for him to choose to make his initial speech to a group that continues to bitterly attack Clinton — was a virtual declaration of war.’”

Yet Obama decided he would risk such a war and articulate a policy that, he believed, was in the interest of Americans, Israelis, Palestinians and the entire world. Now, cool heads might prevail in the American and Israeli governments and American Jewish community, and a direct confrontation could be avoided. The last thing AIPAC wants is a public battle between the Israeli and American governments; its primary goal is to solidify U.S.-Israel relations. It’s also quite possible that, if the current squabbling does continue, Obama won’t pay the steep domestic political price that some are predicting. American Jewish voters are solidly behind Obama, and only a small minority of them make Israel their first priority when assessing political candidates. The rise of J Street, a promising alternative to the conventional Israel lobby, has provided at least some political wiggle room for Obama to take stances on Israel that are supported by the liberal American Jewish majority –as he did in his recent speech.

But Democrats are very worried about diminished Jewish political donations and they don’t want Israel to be a wedge issue in the Congressional races. Obama decided to put those worries aside and did what he thought was right for America, Israel and the rest of the Middle East. The far left and much of the Arab media, predictably, did not think Obama’s speech was tough enough on Israel. But they don’t pay any attention to either Israel’s security needs or American political realities. I wish he had been bolder, and laid out the parameters of a settlement a bit more clearly. But coming on the heels of his order to take out bin Laden, Obama has given convincing answers to those who say he lacks the intestinal fortitude and temperament needed to make painfully difficult, principled foreign policy decisions.

46 thoughts on “Obama’s gutsy, principled Middle East speech

  1. I am surprised by how big deal this speech seems to turn out. The official US policy all these years was about return to the 1967 lines under negotiated agreement. But apparently, such “understood” things, if they stay “unsaid” long enough are nor longer really understood.
    I wonder what part the recent American Liberal Zionists turning their back on Netanyahu played in this newly found Obama courage. Phil likes to say that David Remnik could bring Netanyahu down, which always seemed an exaggeration and wishful thinking to me. I could be proven wrong.

  2. Peace in the Middle East doesn’t need visionaries. It needs politicians who are willing to take a hit in the interest of giving the peace process a push. In this case, making a speech that was bound to upset the Israeli and Palestinian political classes was the right thing for Obama to do. And, honestly, is there anything constructive the president might have said that would’ve pleased Netanyahu?

  3. I think it is essential to challenge the right wing hawks by asking how Israel can avoid a major, very damaging war or Intifada, solve its many economic, environmental, and other domestic problems, and remain both a Jewish and a democratic state without a just, comprehensive, sustainable resolution of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

    Yes, this will be difficult to obtain, but it is a case of “Ein breira” — there is no alternative, so all efforts should be made to reach an agreement. A settlement is in the interest of all the parties involved directly, plus the US, and indeed the entire world.

  4. Ok, guys, Lets start with one problem. Israel CANNOT permit a hostile military force on west bank ridge line. I repeat CANNOT. Now after the Goldstone report and its aftermath how do you convince the average Israeli to keep taking rocket attacks and when he strikes back the world comes down on him. What the motivation. I have more but lets start there.

    Oh, and considering that Jewish religious site are routinely destroyed by the palestinians where is the safe guard there.

    And what of the palestinians in refugee camps. Does that continue and is there no “end of the conflict” Ergo Israel gives up strategic depth for, what exactly. Because it sure isn’t peace that is being offered, or has ever been offered.

  5. According to CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America)–Obama said that Israel needs to go back to 1967 lines, not borders–and that he was correct in making the distinction.

    CAMERA is accusing the media of erroneously attributing the term “1967 borders” to Obama. I guess the lines are still open for negotiation (and debate)–whereas borders implies that the matter is already legally settled.

  6. Suzanne, thanks for pointing out that distinction. I hadn’t noticed. They were armistice “lines,” and were never really “borders,” but I’m not sure why one is more open to negotiations than the other.

    Bill, if there weren’t very reputable, experienced Israeli military and intelligence experts who believe it is worth trying to reach a permanent agreement with Abbas and Fayyad and carefully testing Hamas, then I wouldn’t ever presume to advocate those things. Many of those people are former defense officials who know a lot more about arms and armies than you or me, like Shaul Mofaz and Ami Ayalon.

    I don’t know what you mean when you say that peace hasn’t “ever been offered.” What were Abbas and Erekat offering when they sat down with Olmert? War? They appeared to be ready to accept a demilitarized state. What is the Arab Peace Initiative? Maybe the arrangements offered are not to your liking, but your wholesale dismissal of them is not justified.

  7. “The far left and much of the Arab media, predictably, did not think Obama’s speech was tough enough on Israel.But they don’t pay any attention to either Israel’s security needs or American political realities.”

    Possibly the first is true–I don’t give it a whole lot of thought. Israel has security needs mainly because they treat Palestinians badly. It’s not likely they will have a major war with Egypt or Turkey and the Syrian army is too busy shooting its own people. Iran is the big boogey man, but Iran won’t have much to posture about if the Israelis actually do reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

    The second claim is odd. Half of what lefties talk about is American political realities and how idiotic they are. Obama ran as fast as he could from Palestinians like Rashid Khalidi during the 2008 election season. Even if someone is one of those pathetic Obamaphiles who believes Obama is secretly a progressive just like them it doesn’t make much sense to praise the guy if you don’t think he went far enough. The Israelis seem to understand the importance of complaining when you don’t get all you want. If the far left (or more importantly, Arabs, since no one pays the slightest attention to us far lefties anyway except online) praise Obama, then his position becomes defined as the pro-Arab one and bargaining inevitably shifts things more towards Netanyahu’s position.

  8. “Israel has security needs mainly because they treat Palestinians badly.”

    Statements like this convince me that you are an ideologue. There are clearly a large minority, and of a much larger antagonistic population (the Arab and Muslim world, and far left/right) that accurately do hate Israel and desire its demise (including by war).

    You might accurately argue that that hatred is stimulated by some of Israel’s actions and policies towards Palestinians, but your dismissal is cruelly naive.

    Obama is definitively NOT solidarity. He hears and designs and mediates to accomplish design.

    “Design” is the effort to incorporate multiple (even contradicting) features into a construction. A building is a good example, as to withstand hurricane, earthquake, and to support high-speed elevators, all withing a viable business context, takes a complex tension of structural and other features.

    To simplistically design only for hurricane (shaking at the top of the building) and not also for earthquake (shaking at the bottom of the building) is negligent, with the result of mass death.

    Grow already please, and substantively, not just token.

  9. Dan–my understanding of the distinction is that borders imply Israel needs to start handing back land unconditionally because the matter has already been legally determined–whereas lines means that it’s still up for bargaining. The lines are more flexible and contingent on what both sides are willing to bring to the table.

    Now, I guess the question is–did Netanyahu hear that distinction from Obama?

  10. The Golan Heights is not only a major water source and agricultural area for Israel it is also a vantage point that puts all of Northern Israel under artillery threat. And an easy place to cut off the northern pan handle. Its also a listening post to watch the Syrians. So the Obama premise is that Israel should withdraw from here in return for what exactly? And with who?

  11. “You might accurately argue that that hatred is stimulated by some of Israel’s actions and policies towards Palestinians, but your dismissal is cruelly naive. ”

    It was an exaggeration, Richard, I admit. This is one of those rare occasions where you have a point, so savor the moment. Of course I implicitly admitted this already with my reference to Iranian posturing. To be more specific, obviously Ahmadinejad is not acting in the role of a human rights activist when he bashes Israel–he doesn’t like Jews. If there was a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians which was acceptable to the latter, it would take the wind out of his sails.

    Of course there are anti-semites in the Middle East, as there are Jewish supremacists among Israelis. But the question does come down to whether the main source of Israel’s problems with Palestinians comes from those feelings or is the main source Israel’s behavior? I think it’s mostly the latter and if Israelis ever decided to treat Palestinians fairly, the anti-semites would find it much harder to sell their ideology.

    As for Israel’s “demise”, I suspect that in their hearts virtually all Palestinians and most Arabs wish for Israel’s “demise” in the sense that you mean it–that is, they don’t recognize Israel’s moral right to exist as a Jewish state at the expense of the Palestinians who lived there. They have this funny notion that Palestinians are human beings with rights. But they might be resigned to Israel’s existence in its present form, or they might be persuaded to accept its existence in its present form if the peace deal is favorable enough.

    “Statements like this convince me that you are an ideologue.”

    Oh, absolutely. I’m pretty much convinced that states which are Jewish or Muslim or Christian and which clearly discriminate on that basis are stupid anachronisms and the faster that region moves away from such thinking and towards the notion of equal rights for everyone regardless of religion or ethnicity, the better off they will be.

  12. He talks the talk. Does he walk the walk? Netanyahu basically answered Obama’s exceedingly cautious and friendly suggestions by “Shut up and fork over the money, b*tch!” Let’s see how Obama will react.

  13. “I’m pretty much convinced that states which are Jewish or Muslim or Christian and which clearly discriminate on that basis are stupid anachronisms and the faster that region moves away from such thinking and towards the notion of equal rights for everyone regardless of religion or ethnicity, the better off they will be.”

    There are more of them than there are democratic states.

    The existence of non-ethnic, non-national democratic states is only possible with a firm commitment to the rights of minorities to the level of confidence.

    You don’t offer that. You offer words as you propose change.

    Obama at least offers deeds as he proposes change.

  14. “You don’t offer that. You offer words as you propose change.”

    You don’t know how to attack the idea of universal human rights so you accuse me of using words. Guilty as charged.

  15. Donald wrote: “You don’t know how to attack the idea of universal human rights so you accuse me of using words. Guilty as charged.”

    What is your idea of universal human rights in this context?

  16. The idea of universal human rights hasn’t exactly got to the palestinians. Or to the crowd that gang raped Lara Logan because they thought she was Jewish

  17. Universal human rights states that in the context of war, adversaries apply the minimal harm that they can safely.

    The EFFORT is to change the status from one of war to one of peace.

    The condemnatory judgment of incidents, events, is barely substantive relative to the effort to achieve peace.

  18. Suzanne–Ideally it would mean that Jews and Palestinians live in the same state, respecting each other. Jews with a strong religious attachment to “Judea and Samaria” get to live where they want, assuming they pay for it . Same for Palestinians. People in the Middle East would be much better off if they move away from their notions of statehood being linked to religion or ethnicity. Of course this also applies to all states over there. Coptic Christians should have equal rights in Egypt, and Jews should also have full rights in whatever country they live in. While I’m dreaming, there should be a right of return for Jews who were forced out or felt they had to flee from the various Arab countries. That’s the ideal people should hold up even if we recognize it’s not going to happen in the short run. Why should Americans endorse values antithetical to our own?

    I’d be surprised if this actually happened any time soon, so a two state solution would be the transitional solution until the current generation of hardliners on both sides die off and people start to realize the advantages of unification. But I don’t think people in the US or anywhere else should pretend that these states based on ethnicity or religion are a good idea.

    And on a purely practical level I think it biases the discussion against the Palestinians if people pretend that there was some justifiable moral reason for their expulsion in 1948. Asking Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state is asking them to endorse their own ethnic cleansing. If they have to negotiate for a portion of their original land, it’ll help them if people in the US stop acting like Israeli offers are “generous”, when at best we’re talking about 22 percent.

    Oh, and one other point. Obama and US politicians should stop pretending that only the Palestinian side commits atrocities. It is insulting to Palestinians, it’s false, and it gives a green light to Israel to NOT apply the minimal force that Witty says he wants. (Though it’s nice that Witty said “adversaries”–is he acknowledging that Palestinians also have the right to self-defense, so long as they apply the minimum force necessary?)

  19. Donald,
    What percentage of land would the Palestinians or the Arabs have offered to the Jews had the latter lost in 1948? Or in 1967? Or in 1973?

  20. Tom–None, I don’t think, in 1948. They thought (correctly), that the Zionists were there to displace them. Now if Judah Magnes had represented mainstream Zionism it might have been a very different story.

    1967–I think Nasser basically blundered into that one.

    1973 was a war designed by Sadat for the purpose of recovering the Sinai.

    But anyway, I already said that if Arabs had had their way there wouldn’t be an Israel,not as a Jewish state. This isn’t controversial, AFAIK.

  21. “They thought (correctly), that the Zionists were there to displace them.”

    Now, we’re back to idiot wind ideolog. The very vast majority of Zionist “colonists” were refugees seeking haven from a grossly unfriendly Europe following the war and genocide.

    You know what it was like for a Jew returning to his/her village in Hungary, Poland, Rumania, Russia, after the war?

    Roadblocks are nothing compared to what my in-laws experienced AFTER the war.

    Palestinian experience is real, but your ideological revision stated as “THE” reality is sickening to me.

  22. Have to agree with Richard on this regarding ideologism. The truth is, there was always room for Jews and Arabs on that land–but when one side has a blueprint for an organized state–and the other side comes from a different experience and has no incentive to break the status quo–there is inevitable conflict.

    The objections come equally from both parties.

  23. Folks, the truth about the Zionists’ “intention” to displace Arabs can be found, predictably, in a grey area between the competing claims that have been made in the last few comments. I keep meaning to write about this, but I keep getting stymied by the need to write many thousands of words to do the topic any justice at all. One persuasive source is anonymous: the author of a web site called “Middle East Piece.” See for his/her take on ethnic cleansing. What follow is is a very lengthy excerpt:

    There is certainly no disputing that a preference for the transfer of Arabs out of the territory allotted to Israel had been vocalized by Zionist leadership of all ranks. It is also true that Zionists of all ranks (often the very same ones) had spoken out in opposition to the idea of transfer. Various ideas were entertained at various times by various people as those people reacted to events, often times violent ones, taking place. An opinion in 1934 that no Arab should be expelled from Palestine does not preclude that opinion from changing in 1947 to one that Arabs should be transferred, and vice versa.

    For a quick perusal of some examples of Zionists endorsing transfer, see Palestine Remembered’s collection of Zionist quotes on transfer. Other resources for Zionist statements regarding transfer, albeit while proselytizing for ethnic cleansing, can be found in Nur Masalha’s book Expulsion of the Palestinians1 and most books by Ilan Pappe. These sources do a good job at providing the reader with half the picture. As already mentioned, Zionist leaders are also on record denouncing the transfer of Arabs, declaring a transfer is not their goal and indeed, not a pre-requisite to the Jewish state.

    If statements favoring the transfer of Arabs can be pointed to as evidence that ethnic cleansing was the aim of the Zionist leadership, what then do we do with contrary statements? For example:

    • “at a meeting of the Zionist Congress, the supreme governing body of the Zionist Organization, held at Carlsbad in September, 1921, a resolution was passed expressing as the official statement of Zionist aims ‘the determination of the Jewish people to live with the Arab people on terms of unity and mutual respect, and together with them to make the common home into a flourishing community, the upholding of which may assure to each of its peoples an undisturbed national development'”2

    • Ben-Gurion stated in 1931 that “The Arab community in Palestine is an organic, inseparable part of the landscape. It is embedded in the country. The Arabs work the land, and will remain.”3

    • David Ben-Gurion repeatedly announced that he did not see population transfer as a requisite component of Zionist aspirations when others brought it up: “Like Weizmann, Ben-Gurion believed that the creation of a Jewish majority did not mean ‘the removal of many Arabs from Palestine,’ but ‘the introduction of many Jews through development and industry.’ This was the message Ben-Gurion bore during a four-month swing through Europe, with stops in London, Stockholm, and Berlin.”4

    • “All necessary measures shall be taken to encourage and stimulate immigration of Jews into Palestine on a large scale, and as quickly as possible to settle Jewish immigrants upon the land through closer settlement and intensive cultivation of the soil. In taking such measures the Arab peasant and tenant farmers shall be protected in their rights, and shall be assisted in forwarding their economic development.”5

    • Even a cursory glance at the principles embodied in Ben-Gurion’s version of Labor Zionism speaks to his planning on the Arabs remaining in Palestine, not being ethnically cleansed from it:
    o “… the most important economic asset of the native population is the fellahs … Under no circumstances must we touch land belonging … to them … They must receive help from Jewish settlement institutions, to free themselves from their dead weight of their oppressors, and to keep their land.”7

    o “… bridges had to be built to the Arab worker who, though still a politically negligible force, would one day emerge triumphant. It was, in fact, the historic mission of Zionism to elevate the Arab worker, without whom it would be difficult for Labor Zionism to succeed, for the fate of the Jewish worker was bound up with that of his Arab comrade.”8

    Why all the concern about bettering the lives of Arab farmers and workers when the plan was to ethnically cleanse them from the land?

    • Failing even to allude to the transfer of Arabs, Ben-Gurion told his party, “The Arab question has only two solutions … One is an agreement with the Arabs, and the Arabs don’t want one. The other is reliance on England. There is nothing in between.”9

    • Efraim Karsh’s article 1948, Israel, and the Palestinians goes into greater depth illustrating the degree to which Zionism attempted to reach an agreement based on co-existence:

    “The simple fact is that the Zionist movement had always been amenable to the existence in the future Jewish state of a substantial Arab minority that would participate on an equal footing ‘throughout all sectors of the country’s public life.’ The words are those of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the founding father of the branch of Zionism that was the forebear of today’s Likud party. … Jabotinsky voiced his readiness ‘to take an oath binding ourselves and our descendants that we shall never do anything contrary to the principle of equal rights, and that we shall never try to eject anyone.’

    Eleven years later, Jabotinsky presided over the drafting of a constitution for Jewish Palestine. According to its provisions, Arabs and Jews were to share both the prerogatives and the duties of statehood, including most notably military and civil service. Hebrew and Arabic were to enjoy the same legal standing, and ‘in every cabinet where the prime minister is a Jew, the vice-premiership shall be offered to an Arab and vice-versa.’

    If this was the position of the more ‘militant’ faction of the Jewish national movement, mainstream Zionism not only took for granted the full equality of the Arab minority in the future Jewish state but went out of its way to foster Arab-Jewish coexistence. In January 1919, Chaim Weizmann … reached a peace-and-cooperation agreement with … Faisal ibn Hussein …. From then until the proclamation of the state of Israel on May 14, 1948, Zionist spokesmen held hundreds of meetings with Arab leaders at all levels. … and Palestinian Arab elites of all hues.

    … two months before the passing of the UN partition resolution, two senior Zionist envoys were still seeking to convince Abdel Rahman Azzam, the Arab League’s secretary-general, that the Palestine conflict ‘was uselessly absorbing the best energies of the Arab League,’ and that both Arabs and Jews would greatly benefit ‘from active policies of cooperation and development.’ Behind this proposition lay an age-old Zionist hope: that the material progress resulting from Jewish settlement of Palestine would ease the path for the local Arab populace to become permanently reconciled, if not positively well disposed, to the project of Jewish national self-determination. As David Ben-Gurion … argued in December 1947: ‘If the Arab citizen will feel at home in our state, . . . if the state will help him in a truthful and dedicated way to reach the economic, social, and cultural level of the Jewish community, then Arab distrust will accordingly subside and a bridge will be built to a Semitic, Jewish-Arab alliance.'”

    • “And for the Yishuv’s security, ‘let us not rely on English friendship … let us be careful not to depend solely on the help of England.’ Lasting security and peace could be had only through self-defense and a political settlement. It was thus necessary to speak with the Arabs. To drive his point home, Ben-Gurion dramatized: ‘I’ll go still further, and say that I am ready to be a submissive slave to Ibn Saud and the Arab effendis if there is no alternative … if I knew that there lay the road to Zionist fulfillment.'”10

    • “Ben-Gurion was adamant. He said, “Were it possible to achieve the minimum through an agreement with the Arabs – I would do it, because I am full of fear and dread of the militarization of the youth in our state. I already see it in the souls of the children, and I did not dream of such a people and I don’t want it.”14

    It is impossible to document the extent that Zionists pursued a peaceful, political settlement toward the Arabs with a few bulleted points, but the effort was widespread. And while Zionism for decades exhausted efforts at achieving an understanding with Palestine’s Arab population, some still choose to belittle this record with a perfunctory glance, and cling to mere words as all the proof of ethnic cleansing they need. Even within the realm of statements and opinions, however, contradictory viewpoints regarding transfer are as clear as it gets. What the sum of these mixed opinions, ideas, and musings leaves us is the speculative, academic game of predicting whether or not Zionists would have expelled Palestinian Arabs in the absence of hostility.

    Might the Killing have Influenced Opinion?

    Arab hostility against the Jewish community in Palestine is the key that makes sense of the conflicting statements from Zionist leaders on the issue of transfer and provides a pragmatic explanation as to why the expulsions of Arabs took place. A conspiracy theory espousing ethnic cleansing need not be created to make sense of things. To be sure, there are those who can point to Zionist statements in favor of transferring Arabs out of Palestine as evidence ethnic cleansing was the plan all along, but a plan is something that may or may not happen in the future. There is uncertainty about whether Zionist rhetoric over transferring Arabs out of Israel would have ever transformed from word to deed.

    Arab hostility and violence, on the other hand, was not a possible future event but had been in progress for 30 years. It was at the time drastically increasing in intensity and was accumulating not just inside Palestine, but to a large degree in the greater Arab world as well. There was no element of uncertainty attached to this reality. While claims of ethnic cleansing tenuously rely upon what Zionists might or might not have done in the absence of their being invaded (see next paragraph), pervasive anti-Jewish sentiment, destruction of Jewish property, sporadic outbreaks of violence, and massacres were ongoing events. Next came a civil war. And finally, armies from seven surrounding Arab nations sent soldiers to destroy the new state and most likely a good number of its citizens. Claims of “ethnic cleansing” can only be made while ignoring, in totality, these circumstances facing the Jewish community in Palestine.

  24. I wasn’t denying the rights of Jewish and other refugees to flee to wherever they could find refuge. I’ve never said one word against Jewish refugees from persecution going to Palestine or any other place. There are others at Mondoweiss who might have, but not me. In fact, I recommended the book “The Lemon Tree” to you, and half of that book is about Holocaust survivors coming to Israel, while the other half is about the Palestinian perspective on the Nakba and clearly the author (Sandy Tolan) wants the readers to sympathize with both. I suggested that you read it for a couple of reasons–first, it’s my favorite single book on the subject because it’s not just about history but about a few specific people that the reader comes to like. Second, because there’s got to be some way of breaking through that wall you have against acknowledging Zionist crimes against Palestinians and I thought an author who showed compassion to both sides might have a chance. I recognize that Palestinians knowing that Zionists intended to create a Jewish state would quite naturally feel deep suspicion towards any attempt to bring Jews into the country under any circumstances. Now they should not have objected to refugees, but neither side in this conflict is composed of angelic beings. My objection is to the idea that you can go to a place already inhabited and plan to form a Jewish state there in direct opposition to the wishes of the people there first. And that idea preceded the 40’s. And it really doesn’t make logical sense to think one could do this without force, though maybe there was some hope the Palestinians could be bought out.

    “Roadblocks are nothing compared to what my inlaws experienced AFTER the war.”

    Two points. First, I’m not one who compares the level of crimes that Israel commits to the Holocaust–the latter is orders of magnitude worse. I don’t know much about what happened AFTER the war. Second, I understand, Richard, that roadblocks are the worst thing you will admit that Israel has ever deliberately inflicted on Palestinians. You will condemn Palestinian terrorism without any hedging, but you will never admit to deliberate Israeli war crimes. When you get emotional your real opinions come out, not that you’ve been very shy about denying Israeli war crimes anyway. But normally you’re not quite this crude. If you read “A Lemon Tree” it didn’t have the effect I hoped for.

    Dan, I didn’t find that piece persuasive. I’ve read Tom Segev, Shlomo Ben Ami, Avi Shlaim, and some of Morris and Ahad Ha’am’s statement in 1891 (cited in Segev) about Zionist racism and violence towards Arabs suggests the problem didn’t begin solely because those awful Arabs were so opposed to living next to Jews, but that there was that sort of condescension and racism one would expect from Europeans in the late 1800’s (Jewish or gentile). I’d also point out that Zionists had no right to plan to create a Jewish state in a land largely occupied by Arabs against the will of the Arabs. There isn’t a group of people on earth that wouldn’t have objected if a different group came in with the clear intent of establishing a state for their group. . I’ve never understood how Arabs were supposed to regard the Balfour declaration with anything other than outrage (which, however, does not justify the riots and murders directed against Jewish civilians in the 20’s). What right did foreigners have to ask the British government to promise a state carved out of land predominantly inhabited by Arabs? You can’t have a majority Jewish state in a land predominantly inhabited by Arabs without some sort of conflict.

    As for all the info about Israel granting equal rights to an Arab “minority” and raising their cultural level and making deals with this or that leader, it doesn’t sound all that different from what I’ve read about white settler’s views towards Native Americans over the centuries. And it’s not news. Shlomo Ben Ami talks about Ben Gurion’s views in “Scars of War, Wounds of Peace”. The portrait he paints is of a man buying time.

  25. I have to admit mondoweiss makes interesting reading. Phil ( Hitler should have finished the job ) Weiss, and his little buddy Horowitz, have been in especially good form lately. They can’t wait dor the destruction of Israel and the death of the Jews therein.

  26. Be that has it may Don I’ll go with the mondoweiss template here for a moment. The creation of Israel was a satanic plot of the zionist and their nexchmen who were actually the nazis. The arabs, well every one of them had a marble house , a flock of sheep, and a thousand acres of fertile land complete with a babbling brook. and spent there days communing with nature and doing good works. Then they were crushed under the zio-nazi jackboot and have suffered the worst oppression in world history, that nobody knows about because the zionist media has blacked it out.

    But what does any of that have to do with tomorrow, next week, next month.

  27. I won’t use the Pearlman playbook.

    You have enormous audacity to conclude that I have not read of Palestinian suffering and to consistently misrepresent my views and expression.

    I find you gullible and abusive in that gullibility on the political conclusions derived from the theme that “the” truth of the time is nakba, nakba only.

    Your citation of “Lemon Tree” conflicts with your statements here and elsewhere. You give token description to Jewish refugee experience, in Europe and then in Israel/Palestine. It is naive to a power of four. (You should read Righteous Victims already. You’ve dissed Morris for so long.)

    Did you read Dan’s comments?

    And, you really should study the ACTUAL history of the region, of the time. The reading of the history only through the Palestinian narrative is small tent.

    There were world wars (not nothing, and not rationalizable by “why should Palestinians suffer for European (or Islamic world) (or Asian) (or ecological) (or Ottoman) (or pan-Arab) (or cold war) affects.

    You want to work to improve their lot, their physical experience, their political experience, wonderful. I do as well, and actually bother to work at it (periodically, I also have a family to support, not so well these days).

  28. Dan, thanks for posting that. As we all know, there’s a lot of propaganda surrounding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and documented facts are the only way to keep things honest.

    Too bad there wasn’t more documentation on the demographics of Palestine from the 1800s onwards. There seems to be this idea that Palestine was HEAVILY populated with indigenous people and that ALL of today’s Gazans and West Bankers have been run off ancestral lands. Seems overlooked that many external Arabs flooded the area looking for better life opportunities too.

    I agree with Bill Pearlman’s point–how everyone got there is a moot point…how about tomorrow, next week, next month?

  29. Donald, you wrote:

    “I’d also point out that Zionists had no right to plan to create a Jewish state in a land largely occupied by Arabs against the will of the Arabs. There isn’t a group of people on earth that wouldn’t have objected if a different group came in with the clear intent of establishing a state for their group.”

    In the first few decades of Zionist settlement, they were not there with the “clear intent of establishing a state of their own.” Some leaders might have explicitly referenced the Jewish state as a goal but there was an open-ness to all kinds of other, shared possibilities, including the federal system advocated by Weizmann as late at ’45.

    The Balfour declaration, which you also mentioned, promised them a homeland, not a state. That’s a crucial distinction.

    I have written before that the pre-state Zionists were products of their time and place, which meant many of them were racist, Orientalist and had a view of “uplifting” the local Arabs that does not conform to modern sensibilities. If you sit in a contemporary universalist perch and judge them by today’s standards, they don’t come across very well. But Israel’s diehard critics don’t seem to apply the same standards to Arab behavior at the time, including a clear intent to ethnically cleanse the Jews and overt anti-Semitism.

    Anyway, to be born in tragedy does not mean you were born in sin, to borrow a line from Bernard Avishai. That’s how I look at the founding of Israel…

  30. “If you sit in a contemporary universalist perch and judge them by today’s standards, they don’t come across very well. But Israel’s diehard critics don’t seem to apply the same standards to Arab behavior at the time, including a clear intent to ethnically cleanse the Jews and overt anti-Semitism.”

    I have no problem with that as a summary of the early history. I do have a problem with the childishly one-sided pro-Israeli viewpoint that dominates the mainstream discussion of the I/P conflict in America. Take Obama’s recent speeches. I don’t doubt that in the future people will say that by universal human rights standards they don’t come across very well. But we don’t have to wait 100 years–we can say that right now. There’s some unwritten rule that says Americans speaking in favor of a two state solution must always contrast Israelis living in fear of terrorist attacks against their children with Palestinians feeling “humiliation” under the occupation. (Richard Witty’s roadblocks).
    This is a slap in the face of every Palestinian who has lost a civilian family member to Israeli violence. If a mainstream political pundit in the US ever noticed this and commented on it I would die of shock. Not every act of Israeli violence is “self defense” and it wouldn’t kill us to admit that once in a while.
    Though I suppose it would kill Obama’s re-election chances if he did so.

  31. I agree with you, Donald, as long as you believe Israeli fears of terrorist attacks are justified and understandable. Aside, possibly, from that, you reflect my thinking.

  32. “There’s some unwritten rule that says Americans speaking in favor of a two state solution must always contrast Israelis living in fear of terrorist attacks against their children with Palestinians feeling “humiliation” under the occupation. (Richard Witty’s roadblocks).”

    The significance of describing the two together is that the reality of the situation is of a complex, not of hero/villain.

    Hero/villain does NOT change the relationships. Mediation and persuasion does.

  33. Look, you got palestinians who get treated in hospitals in Israel. Then come back and attempt to blow them up. What do you do with people like that?

  34. Donald-
    What do you think about Pakistan, a state founded explicitly on ethno-religious lines, whose creation lead to ethnic cleansing of millions of Hindus and Sikhs and hundreds of thousands of dead? America is directly responsible for propping up that failed state by giving it weapons and billions of dollars in aid every year.
    I am puzzled as to why all the Left/Progressive/purificationists aren’t screaming to high heaven about the injustice of the creation of that state and the US’s role in propping it up.

  35. Ben Israel–

    A couple of things. First, you left out some things that would strengthen the argument against Pakistan. They committed one of the largest massacres in post-WWII history when Bangladesh split away and somewhere between hundreds of thousands and 3 million people were slaughtered, with ten million refugees fleeing into India. That was in 1971, I believe. India went to war against Pakistan and Nixon and Kissinger supported Pakistan. Chomsky mentions this, and Seymour Hersh has a chapter on it in his book on Kissinger, so lefties have a long history of criticizing our relationship with Pakistan.

    Second, we supported Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan (I think the news has leaked out) fighting the Soviets and one of the reasons we supported one of the worst groups (Hekmatyar or whatever his name is) is because of Pakistan. Back in the 80’s just about the only people I ever saw mention the unsavoriness of the people we were supporting were writers in the Nation and also Chomsky, though Chomsky would also add that the Afghans had the right to resist their brutal Russian occupiers and that was the main point. The mainstream (including neocon rags like COMMENTARY) lionized the Afghan resistance usually without mentioning their atrocities.

    Incidentally, India also wins no prizes on human rights–the ethnic cleansing went in both directions and they had a massive pogrom against Muslims in 2002 in Gujarat.

    Israel gets a lot of attention because unlike Pakistan, we aren’t bombarded with statements by American politicians telling us that they only act in self defense and other similar nonsensical claims. I can’t think of any other country in the world with a dubious human rights record (not even ours) where pundits and politicians feel they must treat them with kid gloves. Israel obviously isn’t the worst human rights violator in the world measured by number of people killed or tortured–it’s probably the country where there is the biggest gap between the reality and their American reputation.

    Dan–I agree that Israel has legitimate fears about rocket fire and terrorist attacks. I’m asking for evenhanded denunciations of violence and a recognition that both sides commit atrocities. One can go too far in the pro-Palestinian direction and one sees that in blog comments sometimes-a cliche commonly used when that is happening is that Palestinians have the right to resist occupation “by any means necessary”. Uh, no, nobody has the right to blow up children. But I don’t think that position is going to get much traction in the US, at least not when Arabs do it.

  36. India and Pakistan are different from one another.

    Pakistan ethnically cleansed its Hindu population. There are still a few Hindus residing in Pakistan, but really very very few.

    Bengladesh is a little more diverse. The Bengali identity is a strong component, as much as the Islamic.

    In contrast, the Muslim population of India is 13.4% of the population. There is similar numbers of minorities in Israel as in India.

    In pre-67 Palestine, and post-48 Arab world, the population of Jews was nil, ethnically cleansed.

    Please don’t play the “their leaders urged them to leave” theme. (I know that mirrors.)

    The world has changed since 1948. The Arab world has changed. Israel has changed. Both for the better in ways for worse in ways.

    The recognition of current Palestinian distinct national aspirations is consented now. (Prior, it had been confused with pan-Arab aspirations.)

    And, the recognition that Israel cannot remain Israel by annexing the West Bank is consented mostly.

    The fanatics remain. Movement that renders the fanatic voices mute, is the game of the day. Positive movement towards conciliation. Condemnation is what feeds the fanaticism.

    Donald, your own comments feed both solidarity and rabid Zionism, and only minimally moderate interpretations, in orienting towards condemnation and in generalized and frankly gullible forms.

    “Crimes” rather than “reforms” is so important to you. You will dispense lies about my views because I prefer the concept (not just the language) of reform.

    But, reform is goal-oriented, and has the prospect of affecting an improved future. Whereas condemnation ONLY has the affect of division and distrust.

  37. “and post-48 Arab world, the population of Jews was nil, ethnically cleansed.”

    Syrian Jews, for example, were not *allowed* to emigrate until 1992. Similar laws also existed in Morocco. Both countries have furthermore invited Jews back.

  38. Wrong again. Moroccan Jews were the numerically strongest Jewish community in the Arab world before mass emigration to Israel – against the efforts of the Moroccan government – started in earnest.

    And a “rule” doesn’t have anything to do with it. You made an absolute statement. Which was plain wrong.

  39. Israel gets a lot of attention because its the Jewish state. And therefore a lightning rod to the same people that have afflicted us since the beginning. No other reason.

  40. Bill P wrote: “Israel gets a lot of attention because its the Jewish state. And therefore a lightning rod to the same people that have afflicted us since the beginning. No other reason.”

    I hate to agree but this is my gut sense too. Because I grew up with an Irish surname I’ve heard things said that I likely wouldn’t have heard if my surname had been Jewish. So I have a trust issue around that. Just my perspective–and I realize my experience is not everyone else’s.

  41. “I hate to agree but this is my gut sense too. Because I grew up with an Irish surname I’ve heard things said that I likely wouldn’t have heard if my surname had been Jewish.”

    I grew up in the South right after Jim Crow and being white, heard whites, including some who considered themselves liberal, constantly strive to downplay or deny what the South had done to blacks. When I started reading about Israel it was uncanny how similar the justifications for Israeli behavior sounded. It was what made me suspicious even before I encountered revisionist Israeli historians.

  42. Your personal reflection is just that, a personal reflection.

    The same jaundiced, self-talk occurs among resistance as well.

    Its a human phenemenon, one that you share in, to artificially remove contradictions from a complex reality.

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