A Small, Big Point

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Yesterday I wrote that this article on the UN resolution by Times of Israel editor David Horovitz was a must-read. I said that because the piece cuts against Horovitz’s usual inclinations. Here’s a new piece by Horovitz, now on Kerry’s framework speech. This one is much more in line with those inclinations. Sadly it translates too, “We basically agree. You just didn’t say it right.”

That’s my less than generous but I think more than accurate read of Horovitz’s editorial. Let me explain his argument more on its own terms because that is a helpful segue into the point I want to make in this post.

Horovitz’s argument is that the Israeli public had largely tuned Obama and Kerry out long before this speech. That is for this reason. While most Israelis agree with them on the need for eventual separation from the Palestinians, on the argument for two states to preserve a Jewish and democratic Israel, they believe that the Americans fundamentally underestimate Palestinian rejectionism and violence. To Horovitz, that makes this speech just more of the same. The argument in sum is that the Palestinians are not ready for peace – or to put it more specifically, are not ready to accept the Israeli state, even in something like the 1967 borders, as a permanent and legitimate feature of the land.

I’m much less sure of this than Horovitz is. In any case I don’t think it is an either/or thing. The Israeli public has consistently elected governments for the last eight years which are clearly unwilling to accept the existence of a Palestinian state. I’m happy to say there is lots of Palestinian rejection first because it’s true and second because there’s also so much Israeli rejectionism. More to the point, I’m agnostic on the point because my position is not premised on Palestinian intentions. The reason to arrest the expansion of the settlements, particularly those outside the major settlement blocs, is threefold. First, they provide Israel with no additional security. Second, they make any eventual settlement harder and quite likely bloodier. Third, they delegitimize Israel’s current position in the conflict.

There have been a number of proposals from two staters – often from within the Israeli security establishment – proposing that the Israelis withdraw from all settlements outside the major settlement blocs, disclaim any claim to the land in question but maintain security and military control over the land in question until there’s a final agreement. Why do that? It would make clear that Israel is not trying to acquire more land, not trying to block the creation of a Palestinian state but rather focus the issue on Israel’s demand for security and a peace partner ready to accept its existence and reach a final and total settlement.

Showing that Israel is not trying to acquire more land or make a state impossible may shift the equation on the Palestinian side. Maybe not. More importantly, it will shift the equation dramatically with the government’s of the world which are friendly with Israel but oppose the settlements. This is obvious and it is critical. The Palestinians are not an existential threat to Israel. Complete international isolation is.

There are those who say, ‘No, it won’t make a difference. They’ll find another reason to hate us.” Well, which is it? Is Israel getting more popular, expanding its reach diplomatically, or will all countries hate Israel forever? Lashing out against the resolution, Prime Minister Netanyahu said, “The resolution that was passed at the UN yesterday is part of the swan song of the old world that is biased against Israel, but, my friends, we are entering a new era. And just as President-elect Trump said yesterday, it will happen much sooner than you think.” This captures the idiocy of Netanyahu’s position, managing to convince himself and somehow his country that this is the end of the “old word that is biased against Israel” when the “world” that voted for the resolution actually isn’t going anywhere. This is silliness, and scary silliness if you actually care about there being an Israel in the future as opposed to just hoping that people stop killing each other.

As long as Israel continues to allow its citizens to settle on more land, especially outside the major settlement blocs, the most reasonable interpretation will be that Israel is resisting a negotiations or final agreement because it wants more land. Certainly that will be the assumption of those who view Israel with preconceived hostility. But it will also be the assumption of many who don’t. In fact, it is a very reasonable assumption. More to the point, as the party with the power, it is in Israel’s interests to start defining a plausible final settlement on its own terms rather than have one forced upon it in the future – which is what most Zionist two-staters want more than anything to avoid.

A few years ago I was talking to an Israeli relative, who probably agrees with much of what I say above, but said, ‘Why should we do anything before they do anything?’ It’s like you have a knife in your belly but what you won’t pull it out until the other guy does something. On things where Israel is taking risks or really giving something up, I agree. But on-going settlement in the West Bank, especially outside the major blocs, is a knife in Israel’s belly. Take it out carefully but take it out. The only drive for it is ideological. But it’s an ideology that carries within it the seeds of Israel’s destruction.

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