Beinart: Israel Never Misses an Opportunity to Miss an Opportunity (Part 2)

The following is a continuation of my critique of Peter Beinart’s article, “Who Are the True Jewish Allies of Hamas?”

That same month, Israeli finance minister Yuval Steinitz boasted that, since 2009, Netanyahu’s government had doubled the portion of Israel’s budget going to settlements. Yet again, the news was met with silence in the American-Jewish establishment. One person who did not remain silent, however, was then-Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian leader most popular among Jewish groups because of his deeply un-Hamas like embrace of nonviolence, institution building and mutual coexistence.

Why should this news not be met with silence?  Is it the American-Jewish establishment’s role to critique internal budgetary affairs of the State of Israel?  Are they even knowledgeable of Israel’s budgetary needs?

A word about Fayyad. According to the Palestinian Constitution Fayyad was not legally the prime minister.  Not only that, in the last election his party won even fewer seats in the Palestinian Parliament than Fatah – Fayyad’s party won only two seats.  Now, the West may see Fayyad as the great white hope of the Palestinian people, and it may be correct in that assumption.  But does Salam Fayyad represent anybody?

As the world has learned, or should have learned, long ago, peace cannot be imposed externally – the interested parties have to want it, and be ready to sacrifice for it.  As much as Beinart et al. may want peace in the Middle East, they cannot decide on a potential hero with virtually no one local behind him, and push him to make peace and prosperity.  The West wishing Fayyad to lead the Palestinian people into a lasting peace with Israel does not make it so.  The street has to want peace too.

A few months later, in announcing his retirement, Fayyad cited settlement growth as one of the factors that destroyed him and bolstered Hamas. “In deeds,” he told Roger Cohen of The New York Times. “Israel never got behind me; in fact it was quite hostile. The occupation regime is more entrenched, with no sign it is beginning to relinquish its grip on our life. There are more settlements, more settler violence, more intrusiveness into all aspects of Palestinian life.” As a result, declared Fayyad, “Our people question whether the PA can deliver.” And “Hamas … is strengthened.”

Again, Fayyad was not “constructed,” so there was nothing to destroy.  In the previous election his party won two seats as compared with Hamas, which won 74.

And let us remember that Fayyad’s statement is suspect as Israel had uprooted more than 20 settlements in Gaza and Samaria a brief five months before this election.

Furthermore, the frequent military actions in Gaza since the dismantling of Jewish settlement in response to Gaza rockets fired on Israeli towns (and now major population centers) only reinforces the position that “it’s not about the settlements, stupid.”

To state what should be common knowledge: the year following the Gaza withdrawal the number of rockets shot from Gaza doubled; the next year they doubled again.  This escalation began before any serious blockage of the Gaza Strip.

Finally, last April, the Arab League for a third time offered to recognize Israel if it returned to the 1967 lines and found a “just” and “agreed-upon” solution for the Palestinian refugees.

This time, Israel’s Arab neighbors went further, declaring that Israel could keep some West Bank settlements so long as it swapped them for territory inside the Green Line. The Arab League proposal gave Abbas cover for territorial concessions of his own. Hamas rejected the offer but might have been isolated in the Arab world had not Netanyahu essentially rejected it too.

In a speech soon after the proposal, Netanyahu insisted that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was not “territorial” at all and that “no matter what the borders,” Palestinians must not merely recognize Israel, but recognize it as a Jewish state (something the Arab League offer had not done). Chalk up another win for Hamas.

Aha.  So once again Peter, you bury the important point in a parentheses.  Basically the Arab League agreed to recognize a State of Israel, but not as a Jewish state or a homeland for the Jewish people.   Now, pundits and academics have bandied about the definition and nature of Jewish state since before the state was born.  But one thing no one disagreed about was that Israel should be a state where Jews are in charge of their own destiny.  The AL formulation accepts a state, but only a state devoid of Jewish character. A state, in other words, which would easily turn into another United States or Canada with Jews a minority presence under the best of circumstances, or another Middle East Arab despot state, under the worst of circumstances.

In essence, the AL declaration means Israel can exist as long as it is not a Jewish state.  This in itself would be a victory for Hamas as it essentially wants the same thing.

Clearly an Israeli prime minister could not agree to such terms, and in fact is correct that it is not a territory issue but a conceptual one.

That the Arab world is not ready to play ball should come as no surprise.  Ever since 1937 the Arab world has been offered generous parts of the Land of Israel, only to come back with refusal.  Even Ehud Olmert’s Hail Mary offer of close to 100% of the West Bank in 2008 was rejected.

Sometime in the coming days, Israeli, Palestinian and Egyptian negotiators may well agree to some modest easing of the blockade that has virtually destroyed Gaza’s economic life. The people of Gaza will win this relief not because Salam Fayyad painstakingly built up Palestinian institutions, not because Mahmoud Abbas repeatedly recognized Israel’s right to exist and not because Bassem Tamimi protested nonviolently in partnership with Israelis. Tragically, under this Israeli government, those efforts have brought Palestinians virtually no concessions at all.

Again: it is Hamas’ shelling of Israeli border towns (and now well beyond that) that destroyed any hope of a vibrant Gazan economy, unfortunately Fayyad never held the Palestinian people’s interests, Abbas’ recognition of Israel has never been genuine, and peaceful Palestinian protests have been few and far between.

The people of Gaza will win some relief from the blockade – as they did when the last Gaza war ended – because Hamas launched rockets designed to kill.

…and had Hamas not launched those rockets to begin with there would have been no blockade.  In others ways too, such as the frequent armed conflicts in Gaza, Gazans have suffered terribly under Hamas leadership.

But somehow, the failure to broker a peaceful arrangement in the Middle East is not really Hamas’ fault – they are a violent organization, what can you do?  In Peter Beinart’s world, a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians is achievable, and the responsibility for any failure in that regard lies with Israel.

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