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Sunday, October 18, 2015

Jeffrey Goldberg gets it... and most Israelis do too

This past week has been a surprising eye-opener for some people. Take, for instance, the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg.
When violence against Jews occurs inside Israel, or on the West Bank, a consensus tends to be reached quickly by outside analysts and political leaders, one that holds that such violence represents the inevitable consequence of Israel’s occupation and settlement of Palestinian territory. John Kerry, the U.S. secretary of state, said in an appearance earlier this week at Harvard that, “What’s happening is that unless we get going, a two-state solution could conceivably be stolen from everybody. And there’s been a massive increase in settlements over the course of the last years.” He went on to say, “Now you have this violence because there’s a frustration that is growing, and a frustration among Israelis who don’t see any movement.”  
(On Friday morning, speaking with NPR’s Steve Inskeep, Kerry revised and extended his comments, criticizing Abbas—in a passive way — for the violence: “There's no excuse for the violence. ... And the Palestinians need to understand, and President Abbas has been committed to nonviolence. He needs to be condemning this, loudly and clearly. And he needs to not engage in some of the incitement that his voice has sometimes been heard to encourage.”)
It is sometimes difficult for policymakers such as Kerry, who has devoted so much time and energy to the search for a solution to the Israeli-Arab impasse, to acknowledge the power of a particular Palestinian narrative, one that obviates the possibility of a solution that allows Jews national and religious equality. Writing in Haaretz, the left-center political scientist Shlomo Avineri describes an important disconnect that often goes unnoticed, even in times like these: Many Palestinians believe that “this is not a conflict between two national movements but a conflict between one national movement (the Palestinian) and a colonial and imperialistic entity (Israel).” He goes on to write, “According to this view, Israel will end like all colonial phenomena—it will perish and disappear. Moreover, according to the Palestinian view, the Jews are not a nation but a religious community, and as such not entitled to national self-determination which is, after all, a universal imperative.”
Avineri, like most sensible analysts, understands the many and variegated reasons for the continued failure of the peace process:
[M]utual distrust between the two populations, internal pressures from the rejectionists on both sides, Yasser Arafat’s repeated deceptions, the murder of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the electoral victories of Likud in Israeli elections, Palestinian terrorism, continuing Israeli settlement activities in the territories, the bloody rift between Fatah and Hamas, American presidents who did too little (George W. Bush) or too much and in a wrong way (Barack Obama), the political weakness of Mahmoud Abbas, governments headed by Netanyahu that did everything possible to undermine effective negotiations. All this is true, and everyone picks and chooses what fits their views and interests—but beyond all these lies a fundamental difference in the terms in which each side views the conflict, a difference many tend or choose to overlook.
The violence of the past two weeks, encouraged by purveyors of rumors who now have both Israeli and Palestinian blood on their hands, is rooted not in Israeli settlement policy, but in a worldview that dismisses the national and religious rights of Jews. There will not be peace between Israelis and Palestinians so long as parties on both sides of the conflict continue to deny the national and religious rights of the other.
Daniel Gordis speaks for many, if not most, Israelis, who finally understand that the conflict isn't about borders or 'settlements.' It's about Israel's very existence.
What Israelis are coming to understand by virtue of the fact that the attackers are not Palestinians living in refugee camps but Israeli Arabs — who have access to Israeli health care, Israeli education, Israel's free press and right of assembly, protection for gays and lesbians and much more — is that this latest round of violence is simply the newest battle in the War of Independence that Israel has been fighting for 68 years now.
The war began even before Israel was a state — Arabs attacked Israel not when David Ben-Gurion declared independence on May 14, 1948, but when the United Nations General Assembly voted — on November 29, 1947 — to create a Jewish state. When formal independence followed some six months later, the attacking Arab militias were replaced by standing armies of five Arab nations — Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and even Iraq (which joined the fray even though it did not share a border with Israel).
Over the years, the enemies have shifted (Israel signed peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, but now there are the Palestinians and Iran is both pursuing a weapon of mass destruction and declaring that Israel must be destroyed) and the methods have changed (standing Arab armies have been replaced by terrorism at home and an international campaign to delegitimize Israel in the UN and beyond). But the basic goal of Israel's enemies remains the destruction of the Jewish state.
Increasingly, Israelis (who, polls show, overwhelmingly would like to get out of the West Bank and live peacefully alongside a Palestinian State that would recognize Israel) fear that while for us this is a conflict that can be settled by adjusting borders and guaranteeing security for both sides, for our enemies this is an all-or-nothing battle in which the only end would be for Israel to disappear.
And Gordis, who is about as moderate as American immigrants come, writes that the current round of violence might mean the end of any pretense of a 'peace process.'
Israeli Jews have taken note — and the consequences are likely to be longstanding.
While Israelis are feeling vulnerable, they are also feeling abandoned. When Secretary of State John Kerry said that he would not "point fingers from afar" at who was responsible for the violence, and called the latest attacks part of a "revolving cycle that damages the future for everybody," he convinced Israelis once again that the present American administration has abandoned any ability to distinguish right from wrong, just from unjust, wise from destructive. America is hopelessly irrelevant in the Middle East, which means that Israel is sadly very alone.
When Americans fret in the months and years to come that the peace process is stuck, Israelis hope that they will remember that when the violence broke out again, the world's newspapers ignored it. When Abbas said Israel had murdered a 13-year-old Palestinian attacked and the Israeli press then published a photo showing the boy sitting in an Israeli hospital bed, Abbas did not retract and the world ignored his mendacity.
When the American secretary of state was asked to comment on why the new round of violence erupted, he refused to mention Abbas and said he would not point fingers. When Palestinians incited, Israeli Arabs (20% of Israel's population) who picked up knives convinced many Israelis that they were enemies, not fellow citizens.
Israelis hope that people will remember all that, but we also know better.
Why? Is it because Israelis do not want peace? Is it because we do not understand that our future would be better if Palestinians could have a democratic, functioning state? Is it because we're oblivious to their legitimate complaints?
No. It's simply that we know, with no doubt, that for our enemies, this is a conflict not about borders but about our very right to be here. We know that, overwhelmingly, the Arab world is still committed to driving us out of this land. So we'll stay, and tough it out — whatever the world thinks of the steps we have to take — for as long as it takes. For as Golda Meir put it decades ago with her characteristic wit, "Israelis have a secret weapon — we have nowhere else to go."
Indeed, many (if not most) of us have no place else to go. And even if we did, most of us are not going to leave.

And the world is just going to have to learn to deal with that.

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