Sunday, February 14, 2010

Even Informed, There's Perspective

Unlike Andrew Sullivan, Jeffrey Goldberg is informed about the Middle East. Far more than most observers, what with his full control of Hebrew and Arabic and his constant following of the story. Yet for all that, living in Washington DC eventually gives him a perspective of someone who lives in Washington, not Jerusalem. This isn't necessarily good or bad, but after a while it shows. His take on the NIF story last week looks at the American side of the NIF, less the Israeli NIF NGOs and their malice... which after all was what the story was all about.

Even more pronounced was his post citing one Blake Hounshell in the aftermath of last week's events (Sullivan and NIF, all). Titled How the Likud's Agenda Alienates Americans, Jeffrey approvingly cites an item by Hounshell.

Here's Hounshell:
Sullivan's criticism of Israel ought to worry defenders of the Jewish state, then, because he is a bellwether for a broader shift in American media and society that has happened over the last few years. Israel is using up a lot of the goodwill it had built up in the 1990s, when eminent statesmen like Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres made good-faith efforts toward peace with the Palestinians. Since then, the country has been governed by a series of unimaginative right-wing leaders who have pandered constantly to their settler base and chosen to solve political problems through the use of force. Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party may have their fingers on the pulse of their public right now, but their agenda is not one that appeals to most Americans, who strongly support Israel's right to exist but have little interest in underwriting the permanent occupation of the West Bank.
And here's Jeffrey filling out the thought:
What Israel needs is a leader who will step forward and say, "Here is the way things should look," and then present an outline for the creation of a viable Palestine. The settlers will go nuts, but that's what they do. Hamas will go nuts, because that's what it does. But Hounshell is right: What is needed is a Rabin. I tend to think that Netanyahu has the potential to be this leader. Maybe it's more a hope than a reality at this point, but only someone from the right can bring the majority of Israelis to the painful compromises that are obviously necessary. And, to make the obvious point, one of the reasons this compromise is necessary is because American public opinion is one of Israel's most important battlegrounds.
Well, no.

Since Rabin in the 90s, Israel has had the following prime ministers, who had the following take on how the conflict with the Palestinians might be either resolved, or at least managed if resolution is impossible, as most Israelis are convinced, even though this means it's they (and the Palestinians) who aren't going to have peace:

Shimon Peres, 1995-96. Considerably more dovish than Rabin, and elected out of office because he was refusing to recognize that the Palestinians weren't using the same rulebook.

Binyamin Netanyahu, 1996-1999, elected only after changing the Likud's platform to acquiesce in partition as the way to resolve the conflict (i.e repudiating Greater Israel).

Ehud Barak, 1999-2000, elected on the clear platform of negotiating a partition with the Palestinians, he offered to dismantle some 80% of the settlements in the summer of 2000, and was praised for this by Bill Clinton.

Ariel Sharon, 2001-(Dec) 2005, initially elected to defeat the 2nd Intifada, not negotiate with Arafat, in 2005 Sharon unilaterally pulled out of Gaza while dismantling 23 settlements, then split the Likud and set up Kadima so as to continue the partition on the West Bank.

Ehud Olmert, 2006-2009, Olmert was elected in 2006 on an explicit promise to disband settlements and evacuate Israel from most of the West Bank, even if the Palestinians wouldn't give peace in return. This intention was derailed by the 2nd Lebanon war, yet by September 2008 Olmert was offering the Palestinians more than they had ever been offered, including an effective 100% of the West Bank or adjacent areas and partition of Jerusalem.

2009-- Binyamin Netanyahu indeed doesn't look like your run-of-the-mill NIF activist, yet he has openly accepted partition as the way to reach a two-state solution.

The way I see it, Mr. Hounshell, you've got the Israeli electorate exactly wrong; meanwhile, Jeffrey is suggesting an Israeli leader do what almost all of their elected leaders of the past decade-plus have already done. Moreover, they've been repeatedly endorsed in doing so by the electorate.

Things look different from Jerusalem, you see.

On a resigned note: if Hounshell and Goldberg are right that the differing perspectives are eroding American support for Israel, it looks like Israel will have to figure out ways of replacing the eroding support. Given that we're already doing what they say we must do, and it's not being seen.


Victor said...

The last polling I saw, from September, showed support for Israel dropped to mid-50s during Cast Lead and had rebounded to the mid-60s by the end of summer.

The "erosion of support" is being felt only among the intelligentsia of realist and liberalist Washington think tanks, which are trying very hard to make peace with the Arab world by using Israel as a sacrificial lamb.

Even among them, it is not so much an "erosion of support" as despair that they are failing, despite bending Israel to their will. Nothing is working, and someone must be blamed.

Anonymous said...

in 2007 Commentary Magazine offered a whole pile of reporting out of Israel from 1967 (before, after? and during) - I was especially impressed by the Red-Sea-Part of the drama, it was guaranteed yes but kind of inconvenient and then in principle yes and so on and so on. It was an endless back and forth much much more than one would probably read in any history book. That reading bonanza convinced me that Israel in the end may only rely on itself because all we others will have very very good reasons to not stand by our high minded promises.
I hope that one day I find the print-outs of those articles somewhere - I have tried looking for them on the website but they do not show up in the normal search results - they are very instructive as to the amount of outside help Israel may hope for.

But when it come to dispensing outside advice on how to become the NEW Israel there is a lot of reliability and steadfastness ;)


David Boxenhorn said...

You know what drives me crazy? It's the idea that we Israelis have nothing better to do with our time than come up with endless new peace plans to try to coax peace out of our unwilling neighbors. Well, we do have better things to do. We have lives, families, pleasures. We want to work on improving our economy. We want to advance the high-tech state of the art and cure the world's illnesses. None of these things are easy, and all of them require some attention from our politicians. After twenty years of hard work and abject failure, we'd like to concentrate our energies somewhere else. Meanwhile, we have some existential problems coming out of places like Iran that demand our attention. Even so, if the Palestinians ever decide they want peace, we're still here willing to make it. We'd just like to concentrate our energies somewhere where we're likely to have some success.