Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Must Israel Make Peace with Rocket Fire?

P. David Hornik

In an insightful, idol-smashing article in the currently Atlantic Monthly, Robert Kaplan proposes that the reason the “two-state solution” keeps being frustrated is that the Palestinians don’t actually want the state that’s being offered them. But Kaplan also castigates Israeli leaders who are closer to that level of insight and calls for harsh U.S. pressure on them. After saying that “The statelessness of Palestinian Arabs has been a principal feature of world politics for more than half a century” and “is the signature issue of our time,” and that “obviously, part of the problem has been Israeli intransigence,” Kaplan says “there is a deeper structural and philosophical reason why the Palestinians remain stateless” and that it is “best explained” by a current Policy Review article by Jakub Grygiel. “In it,” Kaplan notes, “Grygiel does not discuss the Palestinians in particular, but rather the attitude of stateless people in general.”

Grygiel, Kaplan explains, says many stateless groups “do not aspire to have a state” and that it is now even “highly desirable” for them not to have one. In Kaplan’s telling, “New communication technologies allow people to achieve virtual unity without a state, even as new military technologies give stateless groups a lethal capacity that in former decades could be attained only by states.” Kaplan points out that “It was the very quasi-statehood achieved by Hamas in the Gaza Strip that made it easier for Israel to bomb it” whereas “statelessness offers a level of ‘impunity’ from retaliation.”

Kaplan goes on to add: “But the most tempting aspect of statelessness is that it permits a people to savor the pleasures of religious zeal, extremist ideologies, and moral absolutes, without having to make the kinds of messy, mundane compromises that accompany the work of looking after a geographical space.”

Turning again to the Palestinians, Kaplan suggests that if Grygiel is right, “then the Palestinians may never have a state, because at a deep psychological level, enough of them—or at least the groups that speak in their name—may not really want one…. Better the glory of victimhood, combined with the power of radical abstractions! As a stateless people, Palestinians can lob rockets into Israel, but not be wholly blamed in the eyes of the international community. Statehood would, perforce, put an end to such license.”

Seemingly, then, Kaplan should be sympathetic or at least respectful of the advent of a new Israeli government that is much more skeptical than its predecessor of Palestinian goals and the “two-state solution.” Kaplan, though, is anything but.

Having earlier decried “Israeli intransigence” as “part of the problem,” he asserts: “Despite seeming to submit to territorial concessions, one Israeli government after another has quietly continued to bolster illegal settlements in the occupied territories. The new Israeli government may be the worst yet: Its foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, is so extreme in his anti-Arab views that he makes the right-wing Likud prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, appear like the centrist he isn’t. The prospects for peace under this government are fundamentally bleak.”

There is a lot here to cope with, but as briefly as possible: Israeli governments have not only “seem[ed] to submit to…concessions” in the territories but have actually transferred a high degree of control to Fatah in parts of the West Bank, at the cost of thousands of murdered, maimed, and traumatized Israeli citizens. As for settlements, Kaplan’s implication that because it was illegally occupied by Jordan from 1948 to 1967 the West Bank is now legally off limits to Jews was controverted by, for instance, President George W. Bush—a strong proponent of a Palestinian state who in a 2004 letter to Ariel Sharon accepted the “already existing major Israeli population centers” in the West Bank and presumably did not mean thereby to commit the United States to supporting illegality.

And as for Lieberman, suffice it to say that while he has in fact made some harsh remarks about Arabs in the past, it might be worthwhile for Kaplan and others to check whether as foreign minister he has been living up to his demonic image. Apart from writing in February that he “advocate[s] the creation of a viable Palestinian state” and stating this month that Israel is obligated by the “roadmap to a two-state solution,” has Lieberman been making reprehensible statements or pushing reprehensible policies toward Israeli Arabs or any other Arabs? Worth looking into, perhaps—his conciliatory meeting on Thursday with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman might be a good place to start.

Indeed, Kaplan is considerably more indulgent toward the Israeli public that elected Netanyahu and Lieberman than to those leaders themselves, writing: “And yet this Israeli government faithfully represents the Israeli electorate, which is in utter despair over the impossibility of finding credible partners on the Palestinian side with which to negotiate. Hamas is dedicated to the destruction of Israel. President Mahmoud Abbas’s more moderate Fatah movement may be willing to live in peace with Israel, but it has insufficient political legitimacy among Palestinians to negotiate such a deal….”

Leaving aside that highly debatable statement about Fatah’s moderation, Kaplan seems to be saying that Israelis who have “despaired” have a point. And yet: “the United States should apply ample pressure on the new Israeli government to compromise with the Palestinians—ratcheting up the rhetoric and slowing down arms deliveries if necessary. It should do this because it is the right thing to do, and because it will help the U.S. to reestablish credibility in the Muslim world….”

Compromise with people who don’t want to compromise with you and prefer to “lob rockets” at you while savoring “the glory of victimhood”? How would Israel do that? Perhaps Kaplan can explain in his next piece.
P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Tel Aviv. He blogs at He can be reached at
Comment: The next few months are dangerous times for Israel-we shall find out how strong the new Israeli government really is..

No comments: