Thursday, February 13, 2014

Orwell or Chamberlain?

Big Brother is watching!
There are a lot of people who consider Peter Beinart an enemy of Israel. But I am not one of them. I am convinced that he believes that he has Israel’s best interests at heart.

That being said, I am in complete disagreement with him. Not so much about the facts on the ground as he states them in His Ha’aretz article. But in his criticism of Israel’s need to control the Palestinian population in Judea and Samaria (located on the West Bank of the Jordan River). I grant that he adds a disclaimer of sorts by implying that Israel may have valid reason for doing that. But then he goes into a tirade about Israel’s occupation worthy of Hanan Ashrawi declaring that Israel can in no way be called a democracy. From Ha’aretz
Where is George Orwell when you need him? Democracy means government by the people. Every single person in the West Bank lives under the control of the government of Israel. Yes, in the non-contiguous archipelago of Palestinian cities and towns known as Areas A and B, Palestinians receive many of their services from the Palestinian Authority. But the PA is not a government; it is a government’s subcontractor. The Israeli army - and the army of no other government - can enter every square inch of the West Bank. The Israeli government controls the West Bank’s borders. It controls the airspace. It controls the currency. At times over the past decade, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have elected representatives to a parliament. In 2012, the Israeli army placed the speaker of that (now-defunct) parliament under arrest.
My point is not about whether Israel has valid reasons for controlling the West Bank. It is merely that Israeli does control the West Bank. And it can only do so because Palestinians, who comprise more than eighty percent of the West Bank’s residents, cannot vote for the government that controls their lives.
That’s why defending the legitimacy of Israeli policy in the West Bank by citing one’s belief in democracy is so Orwellian. Because Israeli policy in the West Bank is premised on the West Bank not being a democracy. Were the West Bank a democracy, it would cease being under Israeli control. 
I can’t really dispute the facts. Israel does control the West Bank. But I can dispute the implication that Israel does not have just cause to act as it does. And yet based on the premise that Israel is not really a democracy with respect to the West Bank, Beinart defends a letter of protest (which he signed) sent to New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.  That letter was a response to his pledge to representatives of AIPAC, “when you need me to stand by you in Washington or anywhere, I will answer the call.” 

Roly Matalon and Felicia Sol - the two Conservative rabbis of Congregation B’nai Jeshurun said in that letter: “AIPAC speaks for Israel’s hard-line government and its right-wing supporters, and for them alone; it does not speak for us.” 

Fortunately members of that Shul protested that letter and sent a letter of their own. It’s nice to see that there are Jews willing to stand up and publicly show their displeasure at their own rabbis’ attitude about Israel and AIPAC. They understand Israel’s needs and are in essence in agreement with AIPAC - citing Israel as a duly elected democracy thereby deserving of our support.

Beinart says that since Israel is not a democracy with respect to the West Bank Palestinians - using that as the reason to support it is not valid. 

The problem with that is it ignores Israel’s legitimate need to protect its citizens. Something that Beinart implied that he understands. But that does not stop him from signing letters of protest to a mayor who pledged his support. In essence by asking de Blasio not to stand with Israel, he is asking him to stand against it. 

Beinrat wants Israel to end its occupation of the West Bank.  But in asking Israel to do so now - whether he realizes it or not - he is in essence calling for its destruction. As things stand now, if Israel gives the West Bank to the Palestinians, it will make Gaza look like Disneyland.

I’m sure that is not what Beinart wants to see. But my guess is that he doesn’t think that will happen. He probably believes what I used to believe, that if there was a true peace deal, the Arabs would not only leave Israel alone, but would become economic partners with them – eventually having the kind of friendly relations that the US has with Canada. Two countries of 2 great peoples: Israel and Palestine.

I cannot understand how a thoughtful and caring individual like Beinart does not see the folly of such a position. Has he never heard of Hamas? Or Hezbollah? Does he not know that Iran is prepared to do fully support of these two entities in their goal of wiping Israel off the map and ethnically cleansing it of Jews?

Does he think that Hamas will not take over the West Bank (democratically) the way it did Gaza? Does he believe that Hamas will stop firing rockets indiscriminately at Israel? Does he not realize that in the West Bank they will be able to fire rockets into the very heart of Israel? Including Jerusalem? Does he think that West Bank Palestinians will just forgive and forget the admittedly harsh conditions in which they lived under Israel occupation? That Israel’s security needs require hardly matter to them?

I can’t believe that Beinart is that naïve.  But I can understand his position. He sees innocent Palestinians suffering under Israeli rule and - as compassionate human being - seeks to relieve their suffering with some sort of just settlement for them. But his compassion seems to be blinding him to the facts.

That their suffering may be overblown by sensationalist media who sometimes exaggerate or embellish facts to suit their purpose (which is usually done to sells newspapers and thereby increase their advertising rates) doesn’t seem to occur to him.

It is unfortunately also true that innocent Palestinians do suffer the consequences of Israel’s security needs. It cannot be pleasant for example to have a 20 foot high wall separating West Bank towns from Israeli towns that border them. The fact that these walls in large part have been credited with a major downturn in terrorist acts against Israel doesn’t’ matter to the Palestinain who has to put up with them. Nor does it matter to a Palestinian suffering the hardships of roadblocks and checkpoints where he is singled out for more scrutiny than the Israelis who pass through them.

Peace in our time!
Beinart sees only Israel’s heavy hand and condemns it. He does not recognize Israel’s needs. His desire for peace at any price is reminiscent of Neville Chamberlain’s belief in 1939 that he had achieved ‘peace in our time’ by conceding to Hitler’s Germany’s claim to Czechoslovakia. That allowed Hitler to annex that country and emboldened him to invade Poland with the Holocaust to follow.

I don’t really see that much difference between Chamberlain’s naiveté and Beinart’s. As long as Hamas, Hezbollah, and their nuclear bomb seeking Iranian backers have as a goal the annihilation of the State of Israel, I’m not sure the results for the Jewish population of Israel of ending the occupation will be all that much different than it was for the Jewish population of Europe in World War II.

And one more thing. Contrary to Beinart’s assertinon, Israel is a democracy for all of its citizens. Including its Arab citizens. Israeli Arabs vote and have representatives in the Knesset.  

Furthermore Israel has no interest in preventing self determination for Palestinians on the West Bank. If there were no serious existential threat, Palestinians would have their state. Israel would give them the West Bank. Israel has shown its readiness to do that under Ehud Barak in the Oslo peace accords That even included a willingness to give up East Jerusalem! And under Ariel Sharon they have seen Israel actually give them Gaza hoping to set the stage for peaceful relations with a future Palestinian state.  What has that gotten them?

Beinart sees Orwell. I see Chamberlain. Until such time that Israel can realistically be assured that their existence would be threatened, then sadly for those truly innocent Palestinians who do suffer - Israel cannot afford to change the status quo. And they deserve all the support they can get. Including de Balsio’s.