Rabbi Eric Yoffie, formerly the head of the Union for Reform Judaism believes that “Israel is losing the battle for public opinion in America.”
But the point is that we are now seeing, even as the threat from Iran escalates, a broad spectrum of respectable, pro-Israel opinion that is emphatically suggesting the need, right now, for some movement by Israel on the Palestinian issue. And it is not idealistic dreaming; every one of these voices talks about the poisonous nature of Palestinian politics and makes clear that the failure to achieve peace cannot be placed primarily at Israel’s door.
Why are we hearing these voices at this moment? I am not entirely sure.
It has to do, I suspect, with the cumulative impact of a 45 year occupation; with the fundamental illogic of Israel’s government calling for a two-state solution and then building settlements in a way that makes such a solution far less likely; and with the sense that Israel’s moral standing is being gradually eroded and that this is a tragedy. But this too: They know that Israel must be seen at all times as aggressively pursuing peace, and fairly or otherwise, that is not the case now. (my emphasis)
Rabbi Yoffie, I think, greatly weakens his case by using as his “exhibit A” NY Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman, calling him “a centrist, a moderate, and, by the way, the most important foreign policy columnist in the world.” Friedman is none of the above, unless ‘important’ means that he is better paid than, for example, Barry Rubin, who differs from Friedman by basing his analysis on knowledge rather than prejudice and the ‘line’ pushed by his employer.
But let’s leave the hackish Friedman, who revealed himself when he said that the standing ovation Netanyahu received from a joint session of Congress in 2011 was “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby,” aside, and turn to Yoffie’s argument.
Rabbi Yoffie points to “an important group of public intellectuals” who take this position. There certainly are such people here in the US and among the academic-media-left complex in Israel who continue to call for Israeli concessions.
But — and this is my first point in response to Yoffie — they get absolutely no traction in Israel, which is assuredly where the rubber hits the road. The parties to the left of the Likud have almost no hope in coming elections, and the support they do have is almost entirely based on social or economic — not security — issues.
In other words, most ordinary Israelis don’t agree. One would think that Yoffie, who criticizes Dani Dayan of the Judea-Samaria council for supposedly not being concerned with democracy, would respect the democratically elected and popularly supported government of Israel.
My second point is that the idea that Israeli concessions on settlements in Judea/Samaria or eastern Jerusalem are good policy has been proven wrong in the 19 years since the Oslo agreements. The Camp David/Taba offers and the withdrawal from Gaza were met by violence. The continued anti-Israel and anti-Jewish incitement from the Palestinian Authority (PA), the insistence on a right of return, the refusal to accept Israel as the state of the Jewish people, the demands for the release of convicted murderers, the honor accorded by the leaders of the PA to terrorists like Dalal Mughrabi and Samir Kuntar, all indicate that the PA has not deviated from the ideology of Yasser Arafat or from the ‘phased plan’ to destroy the Jewish state.
Israel has made one withdrawal and concession after another, has supported the PA financially and protected it from Hamas, and it has never responded except by making more demands. There is no future in making unreciprocated concessions to the PA.
But it is not only the PA that is insatiable. One hears that “if only Israel would…” then the ‘international community’ would see that Israel is committed to peace and the ball would be in the Palestinian court. But this never happens. Israel agrees to a settlement freeze in Judea and Samaria, but the Palestinians won’t negotiate because it doesn’t include East Jerusalem; and suddenly Joe Biden is ‘deeply insulted’ because Israel announced plans to build apartments in a Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem.
My third point is that not only do concessions endanger security without bringing peace any closer, they damage Israel’s legitimate legal rights, both in Judea/Samaria and west of the Green Line. The implication of a freeze that applies to Jewish, but not Arab, construction is that the Jewish right to live there is questionable.
The legitimacy in international law of Jewish settlement in the area between the Mediterranean and the Jordan comes from the adoption of the League of Nations Mandate, which called for ‘close settlement’ of Jews on the land in order to create a “national home” for the Jewish people. This applies on both sides of the Green Line. If Jews are not permitted to build east of the line, what justifies building west of it?
The 1949 armistice lines have no significance as borders, and the claim that territory to the east of the line is “Palestinian land” is equivalent to saying that the Jordanian invasion, ethnic cleansing of Jews and occupation of 1949-1967 made it so. How could this be?
Pseudo-legal quibbles with no practical significance? I don’t think so. Once one abdicates principle, there is no justification for practice that depends on it. On the other hand, insisting upon one’s rights does not imply that at some later date — if there were a Palestinian leadership actually prepared to accept a Jewish state — it would be possible to cede territory. But you can’t begin a negotiation by surrendering your rights.
Israel has already given up much by accepting its opponents’ characterization of the Jewish presence in Judea/Samaria as a military occupation. Now the Levy commission has made it possible to redefine Israel’s relationship to the territories, and the government should adopt its report and firmly stand behind its legal rights.
Finally, where is the urgency that requires Israel to imperil itself today, when the Iranian threat is about to come to a head, when Syria is imploding, when Egypt has decided to ‘reevaluate’ its peace treaty, when the Sinai has become a jihadist playground and the Syrian Golan may be next, when Turkey has gone from an ally to a hostile power, when Hizballah has de facto control of Lebanon and may shortly get its hands on Syrian WMD — do I have to continue?
It is remarkable that Rabbi Yoffie finds it possible to bring up “the needs of the Palestinians” while suggesting a path that can only end in the expulsion of Jews from their homes and which, given the players, is positively guaranteed not to bring peace — and at a time when Israel’s security is under unprecedented threat.
I believe that there are alternatives that Yoffie and others have not considered that need not lead to a forced choice between a Jewish or democratic Israel. This piece is already too long, but the general idea is that a solution to the question of Israel’s eastern border must primarily take into consideration Israel’s security needs, its historical rights and existing Jewish and Arab populations. “The needs of the Palestinians” are not top priority (sorry, not after decades of terrorism).
“Israel’s moral standing” is not necessarily enhanced by failing to stand up for its legal rights and by, in effect, selling out the Jewish people by surrendering to pressure from an international community that is more interested in pleasing Arab oil producers than in the survival of the Jews (indeed, many are interested in the opposite). Moral standing comes not only from readiness to compromise — which Israel has demonstrated in spades — but in maintaining self-respect (and its practical counterpart, deterrence).
After 19 years I think it’s time to put the “two-state solution” aside. It may be the case that the continued existence of a Jewish state is simply incompatible with a hostile sovereign Palestinian state a few miles from its population centers.
If that’s so, then maybe, finally, the Palestinians will have to make difficult choices, too.