Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Settlements Are an Impediment to Clarity

President Obama is scheduled to give an important speech in Cairo this week, outlining how his administration will bring peace to the Middle East. I'll comment on that once it happens, though regular readers won't be surprised to know that so far as I can tell, there is no theoretical speech that could be given by any American president, not even this one, which would herald peace in this region. But we'll talk about that once the speech has been made: who knows? Perhaps he'll surprise us.

What is clear already, however, is that the Netanyahu government has managed to position us all wrong for the event. See, for example, the NYT's report on an interview Obama just gave to NPR: the focus of the report, and apparently also of the interview itself, is on Israel's intransigence about building in settlements. True, there's a brief mention that the Arabs could do a thing or two, but it's brief, and not detailed. The drama is all about those pesky Israelis who are making peace unlikely. Isabel Kershner, also at the NYT, has all sorts of data about the matter, along with a quote from Netanyahu:
Mr. Netanyahu, of the conservative Likud Party, made his own wider position
clear on Monday. He said that while Israel would not allow new settlements and
that some small outposts would be removed, building within the confines of
established settlements should go on.
Israel “cannot freeze life in the settlements,” he said, describing the American call as an “unreasonable” demand.
Nonsense. Had the Palestinians accepted any of the three different peace proposals of July 2000-January 2001, Israel would have long since dismantled most of the settlements (certainly including Tapuach, described in Kersher's article), and perhaps might even have enjoyed a calmer decade since. Had Olmert not recklessly gone to war in Lebanon in July 2006, concentrating instead on the project he won the elections to do in March 2006, Israel would already have dismantled many of the settlements and retreated behind the barrier; this wouldn't have brought peace, of course, but would have made untenable the present narrative whereby Israel's settlements are the problem, not a side show. Had Livni been willing to pay Shas more money than she was willing, in September 2008, she'd be Prime Minister today, and her avowed support for a two-state resolution of the conflict, along with her willingness to disband settlements if only someone would offer something for them, would make for a dramatically different dynamic with the Obama administration. Peace would be no closer to happening, of course, and the Guardian would blame Israel no matter what, but the NYT would do so less, and Obama wouldn't have such an easy handle with which to apportion blame in all directions.

You don't have to accept my analysis, of course, but it's hard to argue, as Netanyahu and folks are doing these days, that the settlements are an existential need, and that slowing their growth or even removing them somehow constitutes an end to Zionism.

A large majority of Israelis knows that most of the settlements will someday be removed; a smaller majority, but still a majority, agrees that this isn't even particularly bad. What do we possibly have to gain from insisting otherwise? We do, however, have two things to lose.

First, by insisting on maintaining the entire settlement project, we lose the ability to explain and defend the more essential parts of it. A large majority of the settlers live in relatively few large settlements near the 1967 line, and it's far more likely that Israel will swap territories for them than dismantle them - a principle accepted by both previous American administrations, and even by the (unofficial) Palestinian participants in the Geneva Accords. Second, Jerusalem. The childish gesture politics of Netanyahu's government allows the Americans to lump together Tapuch and East Jerusalem as equally unacceptable - a position rejected by a large majority of Israelis, Right, Center, and Moderate Left.

As I noted at the beginning of this post: peace isn't going to happen anytime soon. Which means the important thing is to manage the conflict with as little violence, and as much intelligence as possible. That means ensuring that at any given moment the general public in Israel and in America, as well as the decision makers in Europe, recognize that Israel is the Western democracy yearning for peace and willing to take some risks to achieve it, surrounded by enemies who reject the principles of the Enlightenment and strive for Israel's demise. This is the fundamental truth, and allowing it to be obscured by unnecessary histrionics is the wrong way to go.

9 comments:

Philo-Semite said...

Sorry, Yaacov, I like your blog but you're barking up the wrong tree here.

slowing their growth or even removing them somehow constitutes an end to ZionismIt would not constitute and end to Zionism but would constitute encouragement to the Arabs' idea (already well-implanted by the Gaza and Lebanon withdrawals) that they need not resign themselves to Israel's existence, and instead may rely upon violence and American pressure to get everything they want.

Israel would have long since dismantled most of the settlements (certainly including Tapuach, described in Kersher's article), and perhaps might even have enjoyed a calmer decade since.Shocking drivel coming from you. Had Israel done as you wish, it would have had not calm but instead the same rain of rockets as have had the south and north - but instead from the West Bank, directed against israel's heartland.

Anonymous said...

sorry Mr. Lozowick
"recognize that Israel is the Western democracy yearning for peace and willing to take some risks to achieve it"
no matter how often Israel will prove that it is worth to be recognized as what it is there will always be the next demand for another proof around the corner - maybe it would be wise to take the settlements out of the argument but how Israel can do that without being perceived by the "Arabs" as easily overwhelmable and without raising the hope that if all that could be gotten for so little probably where that came from there is more. Having blinked one can never really be repared by a firm stance.
Think of Rumpelstilzken the more Gold she spins from Straw the more the King wants and do you really believe that in real life he would have stopped asking for more after the third time.
All my personal "wisdom" stems from ordinary office conflicts and there it is always the strong, reasonable and decent one who will be asked for just another little effort and another one and just this little one more.
Just as a gut feeling I think Netanjahu is right not to play up to the tough-love-never-waste-a-crisis smart aleck American friends. I think jeffrey Goldberg is a smart guy and Rahm Emanuel probably is also, but they are American and their knowledge of actual life seems to me too often shrouded in veils of theory and principle and the desirable.
Now I read the argument "leaving Gaza was badly managed, therefore this time it will be different because we know better" - sorry, but that is pure fairytale - as long as the distribution of guilt is handled so unevenly und not just by the Guardian I believe Israel is better off acting as stubbornly as it is possible without loosing the support of the Americans
rgds,
Silke

Maddux314 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Maddux314 said...

I do not think it is wise to take the New York Times as the pulse of American public opinion. A much more reliable outlet, politico, is reporting that Obama is already feeling the heat from moderate Democrats in Congress for the pressure he is placing on Israel. See here: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0609/23207.html

The correct strategic move vis a vi American public opinion is for BB to call Obama's bluff and force the issue to be debated in Congress, where pro-Israel forces are much stronger than in the administration. The Palestinians make no concessions up front (indeed they make no concessions ever) and Israel should reasonably demand that any action taken on its part will be met with an act of reciprocal difficulty by the Palestinians. This is a reasonable demand and one that the American public will support.

InternetFred said...

Israelis shouldn't give up something for nothing. The idea that giving up a little will calm things down, doesn't seem to match historical experience.

A smarter approach probably would be to always answer a question with a question: "What will the Arabs give up in return?". That is, trade, but never give.

The other theme is the linkage of the Arab-Israeli dispute with Iran. This error might just dissipate in a month or so, otherwise we have to be asking the tough questions: "Do you mean the Arabs will only look out for their own interests if the US pushes Israel?", and "When would the Arabs prefer to go up against Iran without support from the US?".

joseph said...

Dr. Lozowick,

The experience in Gaza proved the fallacy of a withdrawal in the absence of an agreement. The problem with reaching an agreement is explained by this letter to Juan Cole:


So what about the Palestinians and allies of Palestinians who genuinely do not accept that Palestine has ever a suitable place to put a Jewish homeland?

There was a non-Jewish majority when Herzl wrote that should have been able to veto the idea, there was a non-Jewish majority in 1948 that should have been able to veto the idea. Today, including refugees and Palestinians under Jewish control, there is a non-Jewish majority that should be able to veto the idea.

Given sovereignty, they will be able to effectively veto the idea of a Jewish state - which from there point of view would serve the cause of justice.

This is a serious structural problem with any conception of a two-state solution.

Further:

What does "great friend" mean? Israel makes the US position in Iraq more difficult. If not for Israel, a stable pro-US government in Iraq likely could have been accomplished without sanctions, an invasion or occupation. Israel convinces mainstream Muslims that harboring enemies of the United States is justifiable - which makes the US missions in Pakistan and Afghanistan vastly more complex and expensive. Israel causes the US to publicly support dictatorships in Egypt, Jordan and elsewhere. Israel's security needs drive the US position that Iran cannot be allowed to enrich uranium, despite Iran's clearly legal right to do so. And drives other costly anti-Iranian measures by the US.

It seems to me that Israel unambiguously makes US policy more difficult throughout its region, and nowhere makes it less difficult. "Friend" has a connotation of mutuality, but the US relationship with Israel is one in which the US devotes a huge amount of resources in many ways to its continuation and in return is given the opportunity to direct more resources towards Israel's continuation.

If the US recognizes a Palestinian government as a state, what would that change on the ground? Entry and exit would still be controlled by Israel both in the West Bank and Gaza. Water resources would still be under Israeli control. Israel would still hold Hamas elected parliamentarians in prison. Palestine would still be as powerless as now to protect Palestinians interests from either the Israeli government or Jewish settlers.

Other than one state, there is no solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict. If the US insists that there must be a Jewish state, then US policy will face the difficulties it faces today.

The US problem in the region has never been that the US had taken the wrong tone in supporting a Jewish state. The problem has always, from the modern inception of Zionism, been that a Jewish state in Palestine is incompatible with the rights of the Palestinians and thereby the sensibilities of Arabs and Muslims throughout the region and the world.

The point is that the Arabs have not reached the stage where they will accept a Jewish State. Until they do, no agreement is possible.

Joe5348

joseph said...

Dr. Lozowick,

The experience in Gaza proved the fallacy of a withdrawal in the absence of an agreement. The problem with reaching an agreement is explained by this letter to Juan Cole:


So what about the Palestinians and allies of Palestinians who genuinely do not accept that Palestine has ever a suitable place to put a Jewish homeland?

There was a non-Jewish majority when Herzl wrote that should have been able to veto the idea, there was a non-Jewish majority in 1948 that should have been able to veto the idea. Today, including refugees and Palestinians under Jewish control, there is a non-Jewish majority that should be able to veto the idea.

Given sovereignty, they will be able to effectively veto the idea of a Jewish state - which from there point of view would serve the cause of justice.

This is a serious structural problem with any conception of a two-state solution.

Further:

What does "great friend" mean? Israel makes the US position in Iraq more difficult. If not for Israel, a stable pro-US government in Iraq likely could have been accomplished without sanctions, an invasion or occupation. Israel convinces mainstream Muslims that harboring enemies of the United States is justifiable - which makes the US missions in Pakistan and Afghanistan vastly more complex and expensive. Israel causes the US to publicly support dictatorships in Egypt, Jordan and elsewhere. Israel's security needs drive the US position that Iran cannot be allowed to enrich uranium, despite Iran's clearly legal right to do so. And drives other costly anti-Iranian measures by the US.

It seems to me that Israel unambiguously makes US policy more difficult throughout its region, and nowhere makes it less difficult. "Friend" has a connotation of mutuality, but the US relationship with Israel is one in which the US devotes a huge amount of resources in many ways to its continuation and in return is given the opportunity to direct more resources towards Israel's continuation.

If the US recognizes a Palestinian government as a state, what would that change on the ground? Entry and exit would still be controlled by Israel both in the West Bank and Gaza. Water resources would still be under Israeli control. Israel would still hold Hamas elected parliamentarians in prison. Palestine would still be as powerless as now to protect Palestinians interests from either the Israeli government or Jewish settlers.

Other than one state, there is no solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict. If the US insists that there must be a Jewish state, then US policy will face the difficulties it faces today.

The US problem in the region has never been that the US had taken the wrong tone in supporting a Jewish state. The problem has always, from the modern inception of Zionism, been that a Jewish state in Palestine is incompatible with the rights of the Palestinians and thereby the sensibilities of Arabs and Muslims throughout the region and the world.

The point is that the Arabs have not reached the stage where they will accept a Jewish State. Until they do, no agreement is possible.

Joe5348

Michael Kania said...

It would be the wrong way either to make good-will offers just because the Americans require it...

and as well it would be a mistake to think from a diffuse feeling of a bad conscience that was solely due to the existing bad opinion about Israel in the world media that it would be necessary to be a "good" to prove even more to come forward to the Palestinians and to make further concessions.

That would surely lead to unrest again even if you as a negotiating Leading the actually in the stronger position, it is believed that it should do so.

I believe it is necessary – while respecting all the historical facts which have come reality – to begin these negotiations with a "fresh mind" and in view of this media world, where anyone anywhere can watch everything, as it is today, now the literally truthfullness is imperative.

Good-Will offerings should and would have actually given the existing situation only from the Palestinian side. With all good intentions but we must - even if it is stronger - never make offers, unless the facts have become so historically corresponds: to avoid that Israel could again be accused that his government speaks with Forked Tongue -- bringing Israel into the subsequent period in which it is certainly hard to re-comment controversy will again be accused of wrongdoing, which is in turn the displeasure of the Palestinians are preparing for violence would increase immediately.

Perhaps it is helpful - with all due respect to the seriousness of the situation - all under strict purely communicative point of view to see and handle.


After all it is so easy to lose oneself in deceptive images if one is in the midst of a conflict lasting now 60 years and the people who live there, it is obviously difficult to define a clear vision to keep than it is by a larger distance out is possible.

Michael Kania

Sujan Patricia said...

successfully implementing a two-state solution is the key to solving all the other issues of the Middle East. ... It would be difficult to oppose a prime minister who is facing what is viewed in Israel as a true crisis of national security.