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Sunday, May 02, 2010

'Mearsheimer is unhelpful, unrealistic and disempowering to the Palestinians' says...

I did say that there was one other comment on John Mearsheimer's speech that I wanted to blog. Most of the commenters I follow focused on Mearsheimer's remarks about American Jews. But thanks to Martin Kramer via Twitter, I came up with the quote in the title of this post. It comes from Hussein Ibish. Ibish has a lengthy response to Mearsheimer (that doesn't even mention American Jews) here. I want to focus on just a couple of small parts of it.

Ibish says that Mearsheimer laid out four possible scenarios for what will happen in the Middle East.
1) A two state solution, which he affirms is the best option for both sides but dismisses on the grounds that the Israeli public will never accept it and no Israeli government can agree to it. Moreover, the Israel lobby will prevent any American president from exercising sufficient pressure to force it from the outside. Furthermore, the Palestinians are badly divided.

2) Israeli ethnic cleansing on a greater scale than in 1948 and 1967, but which he thinks is extremely unlikely except under conditions of extreme Palestinian violence. Even then, he is skeptical that Israel would take such steps.

3) The emergence of a fully-fledged apartheid system in a greater Israeli state, complete with a Palestinian semi-autonomous but not independent bantustan, which he thinks is the only possible short and medium-term outcome. However, this openly apartheid system will fail because the world will recoil at such discrimination. Since it would be antithetical to Western values it will alienate the West, and it will make Israel a strategic liability for the United States. Moreover Israel will lose the support of most Jewish Americans, who cannot and will not support an openly apartheid state, and will be alienated by the growing religious orthodoxy of the Jewish Israeli population.

4) A democratic one-state solution, dominated by a Palestinian majority, is therefore the inevitable long-term outcome, because the inevitable mid-term apartheid system will prove unsustainable.
Ibish claims that Mearsheimer missed two other possible scenarios:
The first is the prospect of continued occupation or, as he would put it, the emergence of a fully-fledged apartheid state, resulting in an ever-escalating series of violent conflicts increasingly characterized by religious fanaticism. Indeed, he discusses the rise of religious fanaticism among Israelis as part of his evidence for why Jewish Americans will abandon Israel in the future, but leaves out the rise of Muslim extremism among Palestinians. In fact, the two go hand-in-hand and have created the most potent and dangerous alternative scenario to peace, but he doesn't seem to be aware of this powerful dynamic, although he vaguely cautions against violence. At present, the Palestinian debate really is between secularists who want a negotiated two-state peace agreement with Israel, and Islamists who want an Islamic state in either all or part of Palestine. There is a similar debate in Israel, which he acknowledges, but he doesn't seem to understand the synergy between the two and the outcome it could very well produce if the peaceful alternative is not realized.

It's possible, I suppose, that for whatever reason Hamas will simply go away or become irrelevant, but it seems most likely to me that if the effort led by the PLO to achieve a negotiated agreement with Israel should fail in the manner he describes, then Islamists led by Hamas will in fact be the primary beneficiaries, along with, of course, the extreme right wing Israeli settlers. The two will then be poised to lead their societies in a mutually suicidal religious war over God's will and holy places. It may be true that such a scenario leaves liberal and secular Palestinians nowhere else to turn except to a one-state civil rights movement, but it seems to me this ignores the possibility of the mainstream of the Palestinian cause becoming an Islamist movement or becoming dominated by Islamists or being subsumed in a broader regional Islamist discourse and agenda. Anyone who doesn't see this possibility is not seriously looking at the existing set of social and political forces at play at the present time, and is not presenting an analysis that should be taken particularly seriously. It pains me to say that on so many levels, but it has to be said.

The second scenario that Mearsheimer ignores or has failed to consider is the real Israeli "nuclear" option in this conundrum, which is not, as he mistakenly thinks, widespread ethnic cleansing. I suppose that's a possibility, but he's right to be skeptical that it can be resorted to as a practical matter except in conditions of extreme violence. However there is something much less dramatic than that which Israel can do as a game changer in the medium- to long-term that would completely alter the strategic realities he describes, especially the tension between Palestinian demographic pressure on the one hand and Jewish attachment to some key parts of the occupied territories on the other hand. This is, of course, the imposition of unilateral borders, more or less along the lines of the West Bank separation barrier, with or without some other parts of the occupied territories. Israel is, in fact, militarily capable of creating and enforcing such a fait accompli and annexing key parts of the West Bank, not including most population centers, in addition to municipal Jerusalem (by its own definition of the term) which has already been subject to de facto annexation, and presenting the Palestinians, the Arab states and the world with a situation in which a sizable majority of the occupied territories are no longer under direct Israeli occupation and which Israel formally renounces any claims over and in which it has no troops or settlers.
I actually believe Israelis would accept a 'Palestinian state' if the borders were a true compromise (i.e. not the 1967 borders), if it were demilitarized and if it were accompanied by assurances that its establishment represents the end of 'Palestinian' demands against Israel. Of course, none of those things is likely to happen in your lifetime or mine.

I don't see 'ethnic cleansing' happening, but not for the reasons that Mearsheimer or Ibish give. Jews don't do genocide.

I don't see 'apartheid' happening either. That's also not in our blood.

And I don't see what Mearsheimer regards as 'inevitable' - a one-state solution dominated by the 'Palestinians.' In fact, that's the assertion that really got Ibish's dander up for reasons we will see below.

The two scenario's Ibish posits are only slightly more plausible. The first scenario he posits is - at least when it comes to the 'Palestinians' - the most plausible one. Of course, Ibish neglects to mention that the 'secular' 'Palestinian Authority' is inciting violence and inculcating another generation for 'violent struggle' daily through its media. So it's definitely plausible that we will have another round of murderous suicide bombings from the 'Palestinians' in our future. But Ibish's implication - that 'Jewish extremists' will also resort to the same type of 'religious fanatacism' - is beyond absurd. Jews don't do suicide bombings and they don't target civilians.

As to Ibish's claim that Israel might adopt a 'nuclear option' and annex territory based upon the 'security fence,' most Israelis would not support that. After southern Lebanon and Gaza, most Israelis are not willing to go the unilateral route. Even Ehud Olmert figured that out and stopped talking about it halfway through the Second Lebanon War in 2006.

But what's most curious is this stinging criticism directed at Mearsheimer by Ibish:
Insofar as they are aimed at Palestinians, his conclusions are absolutely pernicious. They play into their most traditional and damaging fantasy: the idea that Palestinian numbers and presence on the land will, sooner or later, negate the Zionist project and deliver power into Palestinian hands in the whole of historical Palestine. This was a deep-seated belief since at least the 20s, and in every phase of Palestinian political life since then, and it remains a potent article of faith among Palestinians even today. This misapprehension, proven wrong time and again in practice, has been a key element in the steady accumulation of defeats, setbacks and miscalculations that have delivered the Palestinian national project to its present woeful state. I'm not sure I can imagine, short of a jihadist rant, a worse or more damaging message to a Palestinian audience than Mearsheimer's conclusion:
"In sum, there are great dangers ahead for the Palestinians, who will continue to suffer terribly at the hands of the Israelis for some years to come. But it does look like the Palestinians will eventually get their own state, mainly because Israel seems bent on self-destruction."

What is the take away from that indefensible assertion? Of course it's that Palestinians don't really have to do anything, except avoid the kind of violence that might justify massive ethnic cleansing by Israel, and simply wait for the Israeli project to collapse under the weight of its own contradictions. This is the key refrain of the siren song of the one-state agenda, the chorus of certainty between each and every verse. It takes a perfectly reasonable observation -- that because of the occupation Israel is charging headlong down the path towards self-destruction -- which is undoubtedly true, but attaches to that accurate assessment the weird corollary that this somehow means Palestinian victory. As I keep saying, again and again, it is entirely possible for either or, quite possibly, both sides to lose everything in this conflict. Nothing about it is a zero sum. Just as both Israelis and Palestinians require a peace agreement to secure a reasonable future, both of them are likely to face wretched futures as far as the imagination can justifiably be stretched in almost any scenario likely to be produced by a lack of peace (leaving aside, of course, science fiction-like fantasies that have no relation to the political and other forces that actually produce outcomes).

What Mearsheimer fails to see is that while it's true that extremists in the pro-Israel lobby are assisting Israel in its journey towards oblivion by counseling or enabling permanent occupation, he is performing the same Kevorkian-style tender mercy for the Palestinians by counseling and enabling the abandonment of efforts to end the occupation. Telling the Palestinians that they are doomed for a certain, probably long, term to endure formalized apartheid and there isn't really anything they can do to avoid that, but that in the long run they basically don't have to do much of anything for their national project to triumph since Israel will inevitably self-destruct is about as unhelpful, unrealistic and disempowering as anything I can imagine. It's been my long-standing suspicion that while Mearsheimer clearly doesn't like the pro-Israel lobby, he doesn't seem to really understand, or even care that much about the well-being of, the Palestinian people. That Mearsheimer is using them and their cause as a foil in his ongoing feud with the pro-Israel lobby, which he has been at odds with for so long he is starting to resemble, all but confirms this.
Do I hear Ibish calling Mearsheimer an anti-Semite? I couldn't agree more. On the other hand, it's pretty clear that Abu Mazen has adopted Mearsheimer's 'strategy.'

What could go wrong?


At 12:49 PM, Blogger Chrysler 300M said...

Arabs live in the Galil, Negev, Jaffa, Lod etc, so Jews must be able to live in Yehuda Shomron forever

At 1:38 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Carl - in the event negotiations are deadlocked, Israel should unilaterally annex those parts of Yesha inhabited by Jews and the Jordan Valley to Israel, withdraw from the Little Triangle and hand it over to the Palestinians. In one stroke, Israel both rids itself of several million Arabs including the Israeli Palestinians and becomes a state that has a 99% Jewish majority. Israel can then present the Palestinians and the Arab world with a unilateral fait accompli. Israel avoids all of the scenarios posited by Mearsheimer and escapes the apartheid label. Whether the Arabs succeed in building their own state or not is not Israel's concern - as long as they don't threaten Israel's existence. And it removes the Palestinian issue from the world agenda. It would be preferable to reach a divorce with Abu Bluff's agreement but if it cannot be done, Israel can unilaterally dictate the terms of the divorce.

At 2:31 PM, Blogger Juniper in the Desert said...

Nowhere has this individual mentioned the Arab intention, written into the Hamas charter and spewed out daily to children on the West Bank, to push all the Jews into the sea.

It is the central plank of their intentions and all the other waffle is just "taqqiya"!

At 3:31 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

How about another option: That things will continue as they are for a long time into the future. This is the most likely scenario, in my view.


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