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An open letter to Peter Beinart

While you may sincerely believe that you know better than we Israelis about the possible consequences of your peremptory injunction to evacuate the West Bank, I cannot ignore recent history

Dear Professor Beinart,

I was encouraged by the stated intention in your welcome to the Open Zion blog to “foster an open, unafraid conversation about Israel, Palestine, and the Jewish Future,” and your profession to looking forward to continuing the discussion.

Sadly, however, Open Zion has failed to live up to its promise of fostering an “open, unafraid conversation.” Instead it has consistently presented a series of unapologetic, one-sided attacks on Israel and its prime minister, devoid of any reference to the context in which quoted events occurred. Nor has it engaged in a “discussion” — a term that implies an exchange of views. Rather, it has presented a monologue advocating only the anti-Israel side of the conflict, with no attempt at openly discussing contextual aspects of the subject.

Since the blog is headed by a professor of journalism and political science, I was hopeful that your readers would be offered a truly constructive debate, free of the prevalent meaningless slogans and highly emotional but misleading rhetoric that pervades the majority of discussions about the Israel-Palestinian conflict. In particular, I was hopeful that, as a teacher of journalism, your blog would set an example of journalistic integrity, which demands that all available relevant evidence be followed, including facts that may contradict preconceived opinions. Omitting inconvenient facts is common and perhaps even tolerable in arguments by advocates of particular causes, but it is an egregious sin in a presumably “open” scholarly debate.

'A series of unapologetic, one-sided attacks on Israel and its prime minister.' Peter Beinart (photo credit: CC BY-ND Center for American Progress Action Fund, Flickr)
'A series of unapologetic, one-sided attacks on Israel and its prime minister.' Peter Beinart (photo credit: CC BY-ND Center for American Progress Action Fund, Flickr)

With great respect, sir, I therefore ask you to please address several highly relevant issues that have been ignored in the many articles you and your colleagues have written exhorting Israel to adopt policies that, you claim with conviction, will lead to a peaceful solution.

First, I ask in all sincerity whether you have such supreme confidence in your analysis of the situation that you choose to ignore the law of unintended consequences, with which you are no doubt familiar in the context of your academic activities. Permit me to quote from an influential article by the noted American sociologist Robert K. Merton, titled “The Unanticipated Consequences of Purposive Social Action,” in which he referred to situations in which someone wants the intended consequence of an action so much that he purposefully chooses to ignore any unintended effects. He defined this common source of unanticipated consequences as “imperious immediacy of interest.” And I ask whether you have considered the possibility that you may be influenced, albeit in good faith, by such wishful thinking instead of by appealing to evidence, rationality and reality.

Having served in WWII and as a volunteer from abroad in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, I personally long and pray for a peaceful and just accommodation with our neighbors. As a former anti-apartheid activist when I lived in South Africa I am no less concerned than you about justice for Palestinians and an end to Israeli domination of another people. However, while you may sincerely believe that you know better than we Israelis about the possible consequences of your peremptory injunction to evacuate the West Bank, I cannot ignore recent history. There is little to indicate that doing so will diminish the efforts to launch terror attacks on Israel within the green line. After all, Arab attacks on Jewish civilians go back long before Israel occupied the West Bank, and President Abbas continues to this day to glorify infamous terrorists like Abbas Al-Sayid, who planned the suicide bombing at the Jewish Passover Seder in Netanya in 2002 in which 30 were killed, and another suicide bombing in Netanya in which five were killed and 100 wounded in 2001.

Nor does one need to be paranoid to fear a repetition of the rocket attacks that followed Israel’s evacuation of Gaza if a Palestinian state is established, as you propose, on the outskirts of Ben Gurion Airport. Nor does one need to be paranoid to realize the need to factor into any proposed solutions the reality that Israel is under siege, surrounded by Islamist terrorist movements that explicitly and publicly declare their intentions to obliterate Israel, the “Little Satan,” and then the USA, the “Great Satan.”

With respect, Professor Beinart, I ask you to consider the high probability of “The Unanticipated Consequences of Purposive Social Action,” and I also ask how you will explain to your son, your responsibility if the policies you advocate lead to more bloodshed and greater Jewish and Palestinian suffering.

Remember Rabin

While you berate Netanyahu for not following in the peaceful footsteps of the late and lamented Yitzhak Rabin, please allow me to remind you that in a video message to the November 8, 2009 Rabin Rally in Tel Aviv President Obama’s called on all of us to follow in Rabin’s footsteps:

It is therefore important to realize that Netanyahu’s present policies do not differ materially from those of Rabin, who had no intention of returning to the 1967 borders. Like Rabin, very few indeed, even among the most ardent advocates of “ending the occupation,” call for Israel to relinquish Gush Etzion, which existed prior to 1948, the Western Wall, or access to Mount Scopus.

It is equally important to understand what the green line is and what it is not. Too often it is mistakenly referred to as an internationally recognized border, which it is not. The 1949 armistice agreements were intended to serve only as interim agreements. The green line was never intended as a recognized international border. Rather it was merely meant to be a placeholder until permanent borders were established by negotiation and agreement.

Under the circumstances, we cannot in good faith ignore the parameters of Rabin’s intentions as outlined by him, and there is no better place to obtain this information than his last speech on October 5, 1995, when he presented to the Knesset the “Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip,” only a few weeks before his assassination on November 4. Following are extracts from his complete speech:

The borders of the State of Israel, during the permanent solution, will be beyond the lines that existed before the Six-Day War. We will not return to the June 4, 1967 lines.

First and foremost, a united Jerusalem, which will include both Ma’ale Adumim and Givat Ze’ev — as the capital of Israel, under Israeli sovereignty, while preserving the rights of the members of the other faiths, Christianity and Islam, to freedom of access and freedom of worship in their holy places, according to the customs of their faiths.

The security border of the State of Israel will be located in the Jordan Valley, in the broadest meaning of that term.

Changes which will include the addition of Gush Etzion, Efrat, Beitar and other communities, most of which are in the area east of what was the green line prior to the Six-Day War.

The establishment of blocs of settlements in Judea and Samaria, like the one in Gush Katif.

…the primary obstacle, today, to implementing the peace process between us and the Palestinians is the murderous terrorism of the radical Islamic terrorist organizations, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which are joined by the rejectionist organizations

I want to remind you: we committed ourselves, that is, we came to an agreement, and committed ourselves before the Knesset, not to uproot a single settlement in the framework of the interim agreement, and not to hinder construction for natural growth.

From the depths of our heart, we call upon all citizens of the state of Israel — certainly those who live in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip — as well as the Palestinian residents, to give the establishment of peace a chance, to give the end to acts of hostility a chance, to give another life a chance, a new life. We appeal to Jews and Palestinians alike to act with restraint, to preserve human dignity, to behave in a fitting manner — and to live in peace and security.

President Obama’s aforementioned video message was truly inspiring. One cannot help but be moved by his call to follow in the footsteps of Rabin and his statement that the USA will never lose sight of our shared purpose: “a just and lasting peace between Israel, Palestine, and the Arab world,” one that respects the dignity and security of every human being.

Policies that 'do not differ materially from those of Rabin.' Benjamin Netanyahu (photo credit: Abir Sultan/Flash90)
Policies that 'do not differ materially from those of Rabin.' Benjamin Netanyahu (photo credit: Abir Sultan/Flash90)

In the knowledge that the great majority of Israelis do not wish to rule over the Palestinians, all human beings of good will must share this noble ambition, but one cannot help but wonder how, with all the hope this speech inspired, we can progress from words to deeds.

The problem is how to reconcile conflicting objectives, fears, and outlooks in attempting to achieve this goal. If progress is to be made, it is absolutely essential that we improve our communication by ensuring that we all attach the same meaning to the words we use. We need to define what we mean when we refer to Rabin’s legacy and when we proffer simple solutions like “end the occupation” or “return to the 1967 lines.”

The danger is that these mantras resemble advertising slogans like Yellow Pages’ “Let your fingers do the walking.” Like advertising slogans, the effectiveness of these catchy political phrases bears no relationship to their accuracy. Repeated often enough, they adhere to one’s memory and become part of conventional wisdom. But, sadly, few commentators pause to define what they mean when they offer them up as solutions.

About the Author
Maurice Ostroff is a founder member of the international Coalition of Hasbara Volunteers, better known by its acronym CoHaV, (star in Hebrew), a world-wide umbrella organization of volunteers active in combating anti-Israel media and political bias and in promoting the positive side of Israel His web site is at www.maurice-ostroff.org