Twenty years after the Oslo peace process, and now with the collapse of the recent negotiations mediated by John Kerry, Jewish American leftists groups are still trying to figure out what “peace” means. But the problem is that they can’t agree on what the current reality is in the first place.
The late Middle Eastern historian Barry Rubin noted that,
“Philosophical idealism means deriving conclusions about the world from the mind rather than material evidence. If one simply asserts that certain ideas are “fair” and “just” these must take precedence. Therefore, the fact that the left’s program had failed so miserably and that liberal programs weren’t working becomes irrelevant. What’s important is that they should work and eventually – with enough time, money and effort – they will do so because they right. That’s why the phrase is political correctness and not factual correctness.”
Rubin’s observation describes the unshakable devotion of the Jewish American left to the idea of Oslo and a negotiated peace. Peace is just and inevitable. But they ignore its failure and instead cling to the notion that settlements are the root cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The result is more wishful thinking, that even now Hamas may change its colors under the Palestinian unity government. Of course, more money is needed to invest in this righteous process. And pressuring Israel is a necessity; Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) is legitimate but only against settlements and their products.
The cognitive dissonance displayed by the American Jewish left highlights their own unease regarding values that clearly do not mesh with the realities of the Middle East. The belief that the “occupation” is the defining prism through which everything about the Palestinians is explained and all their actions justified has become near absolute. Occupation justifies “resistance,” that is to say, terrorism.
In contrast, such lovers of Zion have a difficult time grappling with the “harsh” Israeli reality under the leadership of “hawkish” governments. We witnessed this when J Street finally condemned the recent kidnappings of the three teenagers in the West Bank by stating, “J Street condemns in the strongest terms the kidnapping of three teenagers last week in the occupied West Bank.” The “occupation” is why the teens were kidnapped, and other kidnappings that have taken place throughout Israel are ignored.
The “truth” in this narrative also stands in contrast to the mainstream Israeli Left, which does support concessions for real peace yet is not ignorant regarding realities which demand strong, decisive action against constant threats.
Yossi Klein Halevi astutely observes that Israelis are “centrist [as] regards a Palestinian state as an existential necessity for Israel – saving us from the impossible choice between Israel as a Jewish and a democratic state, or the moral burden of occupying another people, from growing pariah status. But a centrist also regards a Palestinian state as an existential threat to Israel – risking rocket attacks from the Samarian highlands on the coastal plain, where most Israelis live, transforming greater Tel Aviv into Sderot, the besieged Israeli town bordering Gaza that has been on the receiving end of thousands of rockets over the last decade. A centrist has two nightmares about Israel’s future. The first is that there won’t be a Palestinian state. The second is that there will be.”
The centrality of the settlements is really an empty issue, which deflects notice from the core issues that truly obstruct a negotiated settlement. There is little debate over the fact that – should a peace agreement be completed – there will be a redistribution of land. Most of the bargaining is about whether these exchanges will take the shape of a total phased Israeli withdrawal, or an exchange of land annexing the more populous Israeli towns to Israel for other land in the Jordan Valley or Negev desert. But this must be left to the parties to decide and not imposed by outside powers.
Overall, the on-going cognitive dissonance regarding peace in the Middle East is what drives American Jewish leftist groups such as JStreet and American for Peace Now to convince themselves and their supporters that a framework can indeed be parachuted into the Middle East employing BDS, however limited, as the vehicle to bring about a two state solution. It is an oxymoron to advocate that you want peace between Israelis and Palestinians and that boycotts will engender that peace. Ultimately, by doing so these groups themselves open the question regarding the continued existence of the Jewish state.
Evidence and research on the Middle East are no match for idealism and universalism. Consequently, the pervasive view within leftist circles when it comes to the Israelis and Palestinians is that it is their moral duty to quote Saul Alinsky to “organize the organized.” A real peace is indeed the goal but a strong dose of reality is needed to help us get there.