A conversation

I’ve been having a running discussion in the comments section of another blog with David Sokal, someone who is passionately devoted to peace between Israelis and Palestinians (but he and I differ significantly about how best to achieve this). He posted a longish comment on an old post in this blog, and rather than responding where nobody will see it, I decided to present his comment here (indented) together with my responses:

Two things:

1) Yes, obviously dialog is preferred to endless violence or the crushing of one side by the other without mercy. I think that should be clear to anyone who has seen the results of war and bloodshed first hand or even second hand.

I can’t disagree. But the implication is that dialog which would lead to peace is possible. What if dialog — combined with attrition by terrorism and pressure from external powers — is employed by one side as a tool to weaken the other, in order to make a violent ‘solution’ possible? In that case dialog leads to war, not peace.

2) It is up to the Palestinians to create a state of their own, but they might need a little help from Israel. At a minimum Israel must remove its soldiers from the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza. Furthermore, Israel will need to cooperate with Palestine on establishing a transportation route between the two segments of Palestine (Gaza and the West Bank). And finally, it would also be helpful if Israel removed all settlements from occupied territories, all of which are illegal under international law and many of which were stolen from the rightful Palestinian owners.

We already have a clear demonstration of what happens when Israel removes its soldiers from Palestinian-occupied territory: Gaza. So it would be helpful, too, if the various terrorist militias operated by Hamas and the PA were disarmed first. Maybe you are putting the cart before the horse?

The statement that “settlements are illegal under international law” is commonly made, often by those who have no understanding of what ‘international law’ actually is. Here is an argument that the settlements are legal. If you want to dispute it, go ahead.

Here are some questions for you and your readers:

1) Should the Palestinian State be built while it is under occupation?

The Israeli state was. All of the institutions necessary for a state — an educational system, health care, commerce and labor institutions, banks, etc. were in place long before the British occupiers were finally kicked out. Sure, Israel had the help of international Jewry, but no people in history has received more aid per capita than the Palestinians, and so far they’ve built very little (Hamas has built a lot of bunkers and tunnels).

2) Under what conditions should the IDF leave the West Bank?

When Israelis could be secure if the IDF were not in the West Bank.

3) Since there hasn’t been an attack for quite some time from the West Bank, why shouldn’t Israel reciprocate by, at a minimum, freezing the settlements?

Can’t you see the injustice involved in freezing the settlements? You are telling Jews that they can’t build a house on land within the boundaries of a settlement, land that they most likely have clear title to. Arab settlements inside Israel aren’t frozen, so why should Jewish ones in the West Bank be?

Also I must point out the main reason that the West Bank has been relatively quiet: the presence of the IDF.

4) What steps do you imagine still need to be taken before Israel and the PA can sit down and talk about creating a secure, viable and economically vital Palestinian state next to a secure, viable and economically vital Jewish state?

The PA has to stop the continuous flow of antisemitic incitement in their schools, mosques, television, radio, newspapers, summer camps, etc. Terrorist organizations must be disarmed. Palestinians must agree that Israel is a legitimate state of the Jewish people, and that the nakba will not be reversed. The Palestinians need to get a leadership that won’t spend the huge amounts of aid they get on weapons, explosives and distributions to members of their clans and rather invest in economic infrastructure.

5) What will the Palestinian state look like in your view? Will it be totally independent, semi-autonomous or merely a province of Israel with it’s own local authorities under the authority of the Israeli government?

It is entirely up to the Palestinians. If they continue to insist on “not one centimeter less” than pre-67 borders including all of East Jerusalem and ‘return’ of ‘refugees’ then there will never be a sovereign state. If they would honestly say “OK, the conflict is over, no more terrorism, we accept the idea of a Jewish state somewhere between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, we’ll compromise on East Jerusalem, etc.” then there could be a state.

6) If Israel continues to occupy the West Bank and continues to blockade Gaza, what does this mean for democracy in Israel? Can it rule over 4 million people, building walls and fences around and on their property, controlling their movement with armed soldiers at checkpoints dispersed throughout their land, dictating who they can and cannot elect as their leaders, building settlements the inhabitants of which claim citizenship and loyalty to another nation, arresting and imprisoning Palestinians without cause, destroying Palestinian homes as punishment or simply to replace them with settlers … can it do all this and still call itself a democracy?

There is more than some question as to whether your description of what Israel is doing is accurate! But leaving that aside, do you think that Israelis enjoy being yanked away from their lives for reserve duty at said checkpoints?  Why do you think they built the security barrier, just to piss off the Palestinians? And speaking of “claim[ing] citizenship and loyalty to another nation”, many Israeli Arabs are now calling themselves “Palestinians” and demanding that Israel grant them equal political power with the Jewish majority, change its flag and national anthem, etc. If the Jewish settlers don’t belong in the West Bank, should these Arabs live in Israel?

7) Finally, since you do not feel that all conflicts can be resolved through non-violent means, and apparently you include the conflict between Israel and Palestine in that category, what is the end game for Israel?

Israel needs to stay strong enough to repel terrorist attacks from Hamas and the various gangs associated with Fatah, and external threats, such as Hezbollah, Syria and Iran. Israel must make the cost of these Arab and Iranian military adventures so high that they will stop trying to destroy Israel by force.

Ultimately either the Palestinians will get a leadership that understands that it’s more important to help Arabs than to kill Jews, and peace can be pursued, or… not.

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7 Responses to “A conversation”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    Vic Rosenthal’s side of this dialogue seemed to me wholly convincing until we got to the last question and answer. It is a question which disturbs me greatly.
    We do want Peace, but I am not sure we are wholly honest with ourselves about how realistic our hope of Peace is i.e. The conditions we conceive of for Peace: retaining the Golan or a significant part of it, annexing those areas in Judea and Samaria which are heavily populated by Jews, retaining total security control over Jerusalem though allowing a certain kind of municipal autonomy in some predominantly Arab districts- are simply non- starters for the other side.
    What possible reason can they have for coming to agree with us, when most of the world supports positions closer to theirs, than ours?
    After all their real aim and hope is eliminating us , and their chance for this persists by keeping the conflict alive. Also their identity as ‘aggrieved party’ and the generous aid they receive in this depend on keeping the conflict alive.
    So what is our realistic position? It is the no- peace, no- war idea, the agreeing to disagree without allowing this to degrade into open violence.
    Perhaps it would be better for us to recognize ‘non- belligerency’ as our real aim rather than pretending we want a peace which will not be?
    The problem is this requires us to have eternal vigilance, a consistent military readiness and superiority- for clearly the moment the other side believes it can put an end to us, it will make the try. There was Peace in the Balkans of a kind for many years until neighbors who were more friendly by far with each other than we have been with the Arabs- began slaughtering the other side.

  2. DALevit says:

    Sad, but true, Shalom. I agree with both of you -not with David. Personally, I feel that there really can’t be a peace. It’s illogical for both sides, all thing carefully considered, and if Obama hadn’t framed the entire dialogue on a settlement freeze, who knows where the situation might, or might not be, by now.

    Probably still nowhere.
    Israel now sits as, in my opinion, an Outpost for the Western World, our first line of defense against more major mischief in the region. The Palestinians certainly see Israel as a Settlement, illegal in its entirety, yet, nothing can really be done, and everyone knows it.

    Agree to disagree may be the only answer for now. The 2-State solution might be “the final solution” come home again, this time to a spot where many, if not most, Orthodox Jews have gathered to live. They carry the Laws in purity and live out the dream as most of us can’t. They certainly try. They are “us”, and they are:

    Sitting ducks.

    And our country menaces them. Of the many instances of bad American government I feel I have witnessed in my lifetime of fifty-five years, what I see the United States doing against Israel wrenches the gut and makes my blood run cold. I’m Orthodox enough to believe the Torah tells G-d’s truth –but– He’s turned His face away twice before with horrible consequences. Something’s a little more wrong than usual, and I can’t quite put my finger on what exactly that is, but this is no time for Israel to knuckle under to the Arabs. Arm-up, prepare for anything — be ready for everything.

    There’s no one to back up any Palestinian “promises.” We (the USA) may only be as helpful in the future as we were during the 6-day war. That would be my bet.

    Like, …none. Again.

    While the game plays out, some Israelis will be getting homes. They need them and it’s good for Israel. Holding steady gets more done, than giving anything away. That’s being smart about it. I think that’s what Bibi meant.

    If and when Palestine shows itself as a mature enough people to self-govern, they can rely on the Jewish State of Israel doing it’s part. At this point, it’s in the Palestinians’ court. No one else BUT the Israeli’s would have tried this hard, or for this long, to accommodate this people.

  3. Mike Packer says:

    Vic, this is an interesting conversation but trying to convince liberals that Judea and Samaria are part of Israel according to the League of Nations Mandate and therefore legally Israeli property is futile. The illegal annexation of Judea and Samaria by Jordan after the 1948 war was recognized by only two countries, Great Britain and Pakistan. Our return to this area after 1967 is totally legal.

    This brings me to Shalom’s comment on annexing Judea and Samaria…its not necessary.

    The situation that we have on the ground today is just a continuation of Fatah’s plan for the whole area that was Mandated to the Jewish people. Arafat tried to grab Jordan but was kicked out by Hussein then he tried to grab as much of Lebanon as he could until Israel kicked him out of there and now his cronies are doing the same here.

    In my opinion, the only solution is to return to the status we were at before the Oslo accords. The PA must be disbanded and their leaders returned to Tunisia.

  4. dsokal says:

    To one and all:

    As you are probably aware the Palestinian view of the situation in Israel / Palestine is generally diametrically opposed to yours. Also, most of the Arab world view and a substantial portion of the Muslim world view is diametrically opposed to yours. You must assume they are dishonest, malevolent and/or simply ignorant of history and so therefore accuse Israel falsely.

    Of course, many in the Palestinian and Arab camps also feel the same about us; that we have lied and stolen and murdered because we are evil people.

    Another possibility exists: that two people have struggled to obtain the same piece of land, that one people won and the other lost. The ones that lost are in relatively bad shape (economically, governmentally, etc.) and the ones that won aren’t in such bad shape. Both see history from their own perspective and both are blind to the perspective of the other. Both rationalize their own wicked behavior and both have a serious issue with double-moral standards.

    Naturally among the ones that lost are those that insist on winning through military means. There are others who feel that negotiations could bring about more favorable conditions for their nation’s progress.

    Among the victors are those who feel that, because some of the losers still prefer armed conflict, there’s not much we can do until they give up their ambitions. Also, backing the losers are very powerful nations like Iran that intend to do all they can to destroy the victor and are hard at work right now to obtain the weapons with which to do so. (This seems to be the common view in this blog.)

    There are others (like myself) who recognize that the majority of the losers are willing to peacefully negotiate a settlement. The losers themselves could become the greatest allies (shocking thought!) in neutralizing one of the greatest sources of ill-will towards the victors, if only the victors could find the courage to compromise on some key issues.

    I find the idea that the victors have compromised enough somewhat ludicrous. After all, the victors won! They got the lion’s share of the land (as a proportion of the territory west of the Jordan) and, for the most part they got the best land from an agricultural and international trade perspective. And they continue to obtain more land.

    Please imagine for yourselves a map of the area starting with the first Yishuv at the turn of the last century. Basically, there are somewhere between 20,000 and 200,000 indigenous people (depending on whose numbers you believe), ancestors of today’s Palestinians (although not the only ancestors as some of them immigrated from other Arab countries as European Jews were arriving).

    Let us assume that the border of Palestine at this time includes all of modern day Israel and the Palestinian territories. Out of this land area, how much did Jews live on by the time the first Yishuv got started? A few percent?

    Jump forward to the partition plan, roughly a 50/50 split in land area, maybe slightly more than 50% for Jews? Now the war is over and the Jews have 60% to 70% and Jordan and Egypt take the rest. Who ends up the losers?

    We can argue all day about who did what to whom in 1948. There are very well researched books by Israeli historians using Israeli archives that were opened up in the 80s that show that the Palestinians who left were for the most part forced out at gun point. But let us assume that you still believe that they left because they were told by their leaders to leave so that the Arab armies could do their job and once successful, return the Palestinians to their homes.

    The end result is still the same. The Jews win and the Palestinians lose. We end up with a country and they end up in refugee camps. That is objective, something neither of us would disagree with.

    Following 1948, Israel wins the Sinai Peninsula twice and returns it twice, the second time only after narrowly avoiding catastrophe. It also takes over the Golan Heights and the West Bank and forty-two years later still occupies both.

    Shortly after taking over the West Bank from Jordan in 1967, Israel starts to settle the West Bank. Actually within days after taking over East Jerusalem, the Arab houses that were built around the Western Wall have been bulldozed and all the inhabitants expelled. I’ve spoken to a woman who was a small child living in one of those houses. She was living with her grandparents. An Israeli soldier opened the door, and shouted a command. The grandfather responded by heading towards the door which was at the bottom of a flight of stairs. Suddenly there was a loud explosion. The soldier had thrown in a hand grenade. It hit one of the stairs, so the grandfather’s life was spared, although his hearing was not. The next day they were forced to leave and the homes were bulldozed.

    Were Jews forced out of Arab countries in similar incidents? No doubt. 800,000 people don’t leave just for the fun of it. Nor did the 700,000 Palestinians (or 500,000 if you prefer the lower number) who left Israel in 1948. This is where I think it is important to recognize that we Jews have a double moral standard as much as the Arabs. We always bring up the 800,000 in response to the 700,000 as if this somehow erases the wrong. We ask others to recognize the wrong that was done to us and ask that the same wrong we did to others be ignored! Don’t worry, I have talked to Arabs who say that their countries always treated Jews just fine, no problems at all. So the double-moral standard is on both sides.

    Does the fact that the Arab armies attacked us upon the declaration of statehood in 1948 excuse the expulsion of the Palestinians? Were they a potential fifth column waiting to strike from within? Again history is open to interpretation. The same Israeli historians that concluded that most Palestinians were expelled at gunpoint also found convincing evidence that a large motivation for the expulsion was to create a contiguous Jewish demographic for the purpose of ensuring sufficient land area to accommodate future immigration, perhaps more so than for strategic military purposes. Certainly there had been Arab attacks on Jews leading up to the war, as well as attacks by Jews on Arabs, that created great fear on both sides. It seems that throughout this story, these two are intertwined. Security and expansion come hand in hand.

    And the story has, up until now anyway, always had the same conclusion; we win, the Palestinians lose. Again imagine a map if you will of the West Bank just after the Six Day War. How many hectares were occupied by Jewish inhabitants? Two percent? Three percent? And what is the percent today? Twenty or thirty perhaps?

    On the issue of stolen land: Some of you feel the West Bank territories belong to the Jewish People as part of our biblical inheritance or, for a more modern justification, the Balfour Declaration, McMahon-Hussein and Sykes-Picot agreements (although I’m no expert in the complex history of the British Mandate of Palestine do forgive me if I got it wrong). My general impression is that the British never definitively promised anything to the Jews. Here’s Wikipedia’s history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Mandate_of_Palestine; but some interpretations conclude that everything west of the Jordan was given to us and everything east to the Arabs.

    As a young Zionist, I was taught that European Jews bought much of their land from Turkish absentee landlords and so had legal claim to the lands they settled on. I’m not the only one that learned that Jews did not steal land. Hagit Ofran did too. In Nov. 2006 I received an email from one of the many list serves I belong to, this one being my old Labor Zionist youth organization, Habonim. It was about Hagit’s discovery that perhaps Jews do occasionally steal land.

    ” ‘Making this discovery did not bring me joy,” Ofran told JTA in an interview Tuesday at Peace Now offices in Jerusalem. “I always believed that at least according to Israeli law the settlements were on state land, even if the world held that the land was illegally seized.

    ‘It’s very sad to me that very idealistic people, good people, people who would be upset if their own child stole a pencil, are living on stolen land,” she said.”

    How did she figure this out?:

    “The formula used to determine the findings was relatively simple: Peace Now overlaid maps of private Arab property in the West Bank, obtained illicitly from Israel’s Office of Civil Administration, with maps of the settlements themselves.

    The results showed that of the land the settlements occupy, approximately 39 percent is under private Palestinian ownership. Of the remainder, 54 percent is state owned, 1.3 percent is privately owned by Jews and about 6 percent is “survey land” with unclear ownership.

    The report did not consider the reliability of the Civil Administration maps, which critics have since questioned. But the use of Israeli maps means that, if anything, the extent of Palestinian land ownership is estimated conservatively, Ofran said.”

    Here is a chart from Wikipedia showing how much land was owned by Arabs and other non-Jews in 1943: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Mandate_of_Palestine#Land_ownership_by_type

    According to this chart Jews owned 1,514 sq km of land in Palestine at the time and Arabs and other non-Jews owned 24,670. This includes Gaza and the West Bank. I don’t know the numbers for today, but I’m sure they are very different. This shift didn’t happen without some dislocation occurring. It is impossible to deny that there is a relationship between our insecurity and this transfer of land. Ending our insecurity means addressing this issue squarely and not hiding behind rationalizations that generally boil down to a demonization of the dispossessed.

    Thank you for your attention.


  5. Vic Rosenthal says:

    You’ve written quite a long comment, and I’m not going to try to respond to all of it. But the main point seems to be the contrast between ‘winners’ and ‘losers’. The Palestinians, for whatever reason, you say, have always ended up with the short end of the stick.

    Well, I see it slightly differently. I see it as though the Palestinians have made a series of very bad decisions — sometimes a result of really bad leadership — which have resulted in them losing more and more of what they had.

    The Palestinian Arabs not only lost the War of Independence, they started it, long before the British left and Israel declared independence. Had they accepted partition, they would not have become losers.

    The important point about the 800,000 Jewish refugees and the 700,000 Arab ones is not that one balances out the other. It’s what happened to them. Did you know that Arab refugees in Gaza were forced into camps at gunpoint — by Egyptian soldiers? Do you know (I’m sure you do) that the leadership of both the Palestinian Arabs and the Arab nations did their best to keep the refugees in camps, not allowing them to be absorbed into host countries, to be educated or have good jobs — so that they would always be angry losers who could be used against Israel?

    They made another bad decision in 2000 when they refused the Barak-Clinton offer — and it really was a good offer, just ask Dennis Ross about how Arafat lied about it. Arafat wanted the Palestinians to be losers, because ‘resistance’ was his life.

    And they made thousands and thousands of bad decisions over the years when they chose murder and terrorism as the way to make their case.

    About the Peace Now land ownership report: it’s been discredited. See http://www.camera.org/index.asp?x_context=2&x_outlet=2&x_article=1301

  6. dsokal says:

    Hi Vic,

    My knowledge on specifics of treatment of Palestinian refugees by Egypt and other Arab nations is limited, so I did not know about the actions of Egypt’s army that you refer to. But I’m not at all surprised. The “loser” status of the Palestinian people has been caused by more than one source, including bad decisions of their own. The classic and probably most widely known example of bad treatment by fellow Arabs is the massacre at Sabra and Shatilla, carried out by Christian Arabs and watched over by Ariel Sharon (at least according to the International Court). But this doesn’t refute their current condition and current mistreatment under occupation in the West Bank and embargo in Gaza which are under Israel’s control.

    Israel has also made “bad decisions” and continues to do so, such as the continuation of building in, on and around settlements despite the fact they have been given a clear message that a freeze is a prerequisite for peace talks. I recall your statement to the effect that Palestinians aren’t required to freeze building. Neither is Israel within its proper borders. When one truly seeks peace one has to try to view things through the eyes of the enemy. In this case, it is not hard for me to imagine why Abbas is so adamant on the freeze given the fact that since the Oslo accords the settler population has doubled.

    As for the offer given to Arafat in 2000, the question I always have is: has a written version of what was offered (assuming there was one) ever been presented to the public? There is lots of hearsay (negative from one side, positive from the other) about what it contained. If you have a source, I’d be interested in seeing it.

    I read over the http://www.camera.org article about the Peace Now investigation. It does focus on the one obvious and large error they made in accounting for private property in Ma’ale Adumin and implies that this inaccuracy should cast doubt on the rest of the study.

    The article also states that Peace Now used the wrong set of laws (Ottoman) for determining what is considered privately owned land and should have been referring to the more modern “Hague Regulations of 1907”. It conveniently provides a link to these regulations, but I was a bit mystified by the fact that these “regulations” (actually it was the “Hague Conference of 1907”) barely mention the subject of private land ownership and its definition.

    There was this one statement: “Family honour and rights, the lives of persons, and private property, as well as religious convictions and practice, must be respected. Private property cannot be confiscated.”

    Also there was one other: “Art. 55. The occupying State shall be regarded only as administrator and usufructuary of public buildings, real estate, forests, and agricultural estates belonging to the hostile State, and situated in the occupied country. It must safeguard the capital of these properties, and administer them in accordance with the rules of usufruct.” If you know what usufruct is … well, I certainly don’t. But the definition I found states: “A legal right to use and derive profit from property belonging to someone else provided that the property itself is not injured in any way”. Note that this Article 55 is referring only to public property, not private property. Anyway, I’m wondering if the article writer on the camera.org page was simply offering a red herring … As far as I’m concerned the jury is still out as to how much stolen land the settlers are living on.


  7. Vic Rosenthal says:


    The ‘clear message’ Israel received was an unreasonable demand. Israel did meet some more reasonable requests, like removing roadblocks, etc. One might ask why Israel should agree to any preconditions at all when the Palestinians have never softened any of their conditions, never even agreed to recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people – oh yes, that’s right, they believe that there is no Jewish people.

    Regarding the 2000 offers, I also do not think that the Taba discussions produced a detailed document, but the best evidence that the final Camp David proposal was generous is the testimony of Dennis Ross, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/09/opinion/09iht-edross.4148179.html?_r=1 . Proposals made at Taba, at the end of January, supposedly were even more advantageous to the Palestinians. See also http://www.mideastweb.org/lastmaps.htm for maps of Clinton’s ideas of July and December 2000.

    Ross was far more closely involved in the Camp David negotiations than Robert Malley, who argued the opposite side. I read Malley and Agha’s articles and was not impressed (not that that’s important).

    Regarding Peace Now, I am certainly not an expert in Middle Eastern land law. But it is a fact that the ‘data’ that they based their accusations on was a list of Palestinian claims to own land. Naturally, Palestinians claim everything. If Peace Now was so massively wrong about Ma’ale Adumim – the largest settlement – why should we think they are right about any of them?

    The mention of the Hague Conference was intended to support Israel’s use of pre-existing law regarding the definition of ‘state land’. It isn’t a red herring, it is meant to refute PN’s argument that Israel dredged up some ancient Ottoman rule to screw the Palestinians.