Tuesday, October 28, 2014

In Defense of Palestinian Statehood (Response to Jeffrey Goldberg)

In his latest essay, Jeffrey Goldberg observes world opinion is turning against Israel and that this isn't (entirely) due to anti-Semites. To illustrate this he highlights Israel's "friends" who "criticize it on occasion for continuing to advance the settlement cause." I think this is an important principle: if you truly care about someone you'll tell them when they need to get their act together. I'd also add, if they are asking for it, to help them.

My issue is about three quarters of the way through the essay where Goldberg takes a hard-right turn. "None of Israel’s true friends believe that it should immediately, haphazardly remove its army from strategic areas of the West Bank" because that could create "another Arab state that would be susceptible to takeover by fundamentalists." He further cautions that settlements might not be the central issue because "Arab rejection of Israel does predate settlements....their leaders and representatives walked away from each chance." The logic is clear: without the variable of the settlements, Arabs rejected a state anyway, therefore the real issue isn't Israeli behavior but Arab.

I won't go into too considerable detail about the negotiations but I think it's fair to say they are more nuanced than Goldberg allows. Arguing that Arab negotiators continually reject peace is about as accurate as me telling everyone you're lolling around on the floor, which makes you lazy, without mentioning every time you try to sit down I pull the chair out from you. Israeli negotiator Ron Pundak said the rejection of the Palestinian state was part of this maneuvering overall. Goldberg claims there's a "steadily intensifying" tension between Israel and its friends -- but over 20 years ago Israel blocked a deal on "an independent, viable, Palestinian sovereign state" (says Pundak) and yet each president since then has ramped up support for the country. Rather than being adversarial, the US was complicit.

Sticking to the issue of the settlements, Palestinian historian Rashid Khalidi argues Israel is able to use a strategy of "banking concessions" whereby the negotiators push their luck with more and more demands (recognition of the State being the latest) as a way to paint themselves as the reasonable ones. Goldberg continues this two-faced act. In his pleasant fiction, Obama's administration are the good guys and Netanyahu's buddies are "venting" reasonable fears. Yet without negotiations, and presumably the legal petition to the ICC which Israel's concerned friends like President Obama oppose, Goldberg is left advocating we sit on our hands and hope the Arabs simply calm down in the name of Israel's security.

If his concern is preventing extremism, Goldberg has it truly backwards. Much like the coup in Egypt and the chaos in Iraq which were a result of US and Saudi policies of finding who is "with us," according to the former US official Larry Johnson "the Israelis are their own worst enemies when it comes to fighting terrorism... They do more to incite and sustain terrorism than to curb it." Americans need to stop the intentional corruption of Palestinian independence. Like the IRA/British conflict, the deal doesn't have to be popular with everyone, it just has to give each side something to leverage against their violent comrades.

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