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« Liberty And Justice For Some | Main | Snow in Jerusalem »

13 February 2004

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Jonathan Edelstein

Interesting post. A few points:

First, at least two of the Israeli political platforms you quoted aren't "posturing and religious rhetoric." The National Union and Mafdal mean exactly what they say; what's keeping them from putting their platforms into effect is their lack of anything resembling majority support rather than desire. If Mafdal could, it would set up a theocracy with Arabs having a status roughly equivalent to dhimmi; if the National Union could, it would impose Serbia-style ethnic nationalism. The behavior of these parties' supporters when they think they can get away with it - e.g., the olive wars and village raids in the West Bank - is evidence of the seriousness of their intentions. So if you want to make the point that Hamas doesn't mean what it says, then analogizing its rhetoric to that of the Israeli far right doesn't really support your point.

The Likud platform is more complicated; to some extent it expresses the views of the Netanyahu wing of the party, but it's also "red meat" that isn't really binding on the Likud Knesset delegation. Your analogy to Hamas' charter holds up a bit better when you compare it to the Likud. The difference is that Likud operates under much greater institutional restraint both from within and without Israel; in contrast, Hamas and IJ are largely independent actors who can (and have) given greater effect to their rhetoric.

Getting to your main point, I'm both more and less sanguine than you are about the prospects of Hamas and IJ accepting Israel. At one point, the purely nationalist Palestinian factions - the PLO, for instance - were as implacably opposed to Israel's existence as Hamas is now, but they've come to accept it as a fact of life. I don't think Hamas will ever concede Israel's legitimacy, any more than Fatah does now, but I also don't think its religious ideology will prevent it from coming around to pragmatic acceptance. Also, if Hamas becomes a governing party or a member of a coalition government, the responsibilities of politics will act as an institutional restraint. I can't imagine Hamas or IJ negotiating an actual peace treaty, but I could see a Palestinian government that includes one or both of them coordinating a unilateral Israeli withdrawal and subsequently losing interest in fighting. That's probably all we can ask for right now; as in Cyprus, real peace will likely require thirty years of walls.

BTW, I notice you have me blogrolled, which surprises me somewhat. Given your Support Sanity icon, my guess is that we both support a viable two-state solution, but our views of history and moral responsibility in the I-P conflict has major differences. I suspect that, being a Zionist, I piss you off a fair amount. Still, if we can agree on the future, disagreement as to who bears moral responsibility for the past and present doesn't really matter.

Lawrence of Cyberia

Hi Jonathan, thanks for your comments which gave me a lot to think about. I’d like to give few clarifications, hopefully without descending into nitpicking.

1. re: "posturing and religious rhetoric”. I don’t doubt that the National Union and the NRP would like to do exactly what they say they want to do; I do however doubt their prospects of being able to implement their platforms as serious government policy, precisely due to what you said: their lack of anything resembling majority support . I call that “rhetoric” because, IMO, campaigning on political positions knowing that you realistically are not going to get them implemented in the real world is, I think, a fair use of the term.

I appreciate that this is a different kind of rhetorical usage to that in the rejectionist plank of the Likud platform, which as far as I am concerned is more representative of Netanyahu’s desire to succeed Sharon, than a definitive policy for government.

2. On Hamas and Jihad accepting Israel, I don’t disagree with anything you say. I think of them accepting Israel in the sense of coming to terms with it, or maybe being resigned to it. I didn’t mean to suggest that they had accepted the legitimacy of its establishment. I’m sure they don’t; but I also don’t think that’s a prerequisite for making peace. I don’t think the Israelis have to accept the legitimacy of the Palestinians’ national mythology any more than the Palestinians have to accept the Israelis’: they do have to come to terms with the right of the other to live in security in their own respective independent states. I think that’s a realistic goal, and I think it’s the best that can be hoped for in anything other than the very long term.

3. I have you blogrolled because I read your blog daily, find it informative and inherently reasonable, and enjoy it. I’m not sure I could give you a more analytical answer than that. I don’t post on I-P history or moral responsibility for the past because – from seeing other peoples’ efforts - that seems to descend invariably into a black hole of mutual deafness, and I don’t see the point. I started blogging partly because of a comment in Support Sanity’s mission statement about “affirming the humanity of both sides”, which made me realize how hard it is to affirm the humanity of the Palestinian side except in a most abstract way when – from popular coverage of the I-P conflict – we don't really learn the first thing about the Palestinians and what they believe, beyond the most basic stereotypes. I try to blog now on what Palestinians say their positions are, not what Israelis, Americans or anyone else says Palestinian positions are, because I find that viewpoint lacking.

If you find a dearth of postings here from a Zionist perspective, perhaps that’s because I don’t find popular coverage of the pro-Zionist (indeed the Right-leaning pro-Zionist) perspective to be lacking, nor the humanity of the Israeli side to be open to question. I couldn’t say the same thing for the Palestinians. I think the absence of the Palestinian narrative in US discourse of the I-P conflict helps to create skewed foreign policy that harms the Palestinians, harms the US and is not in the long-term interests of Israel either. In fact, I think we might just be enabling Israel down a slow descent into national suicide. As far as I am concerned, the most pro-Israel thing you can do is support a solution based not on the US’ strategic interests but on international law, with mutually acceptable exceptions. I don’t know what kind of –ist all that makes me! Maybe a pragmatist.

Jonathan Edelstein

I don’t doubt that the National Union and the NRP would like to do exactly what they say they want to do; I do however doubt their prospects of being able to implement their platforms as serious government policy, precisely due to what you said: their lack of anything resembling majority support.

All right then; we're on the same page. At the same time, I'm not sure that the rhetoric of a political party that works within a constitutional system can be compared to that of a militant faction that is effectively unaccountable. Fringe political parties can be irresponsible in their rhetoric precisely because there is little chance of their views being enacted; those who back up their words with guns deserve to have those words taken more seriously.

All this could change if Hamas and IJ become political parties - that is, if they are subjected to the same institutional restraints as the National Union and Mafdal. This would require (1) participation in a political system with constitutional limitations, and (2) disarmament or at least merger of Hamas/IJ forces into a security force under PA command. The trouble is that this brings us back to the Middle East catch-22: structural change is necessary to create a climate where peace can develop, but peace is necessary to give the Palestinians a real chance at structural change. This is one of the reasons why I'm guardedly hopeful about unilateral withdrawal; it won't be a real peace or a final settlement, but it might provide enough breathing space for Israeli and Palestinian governments to change and create a more favorable climate for final-status negotiation in the future.

I appreciate that this is a different kind of rhetorical usage to that in the rejectionist plank of the Likud platform, which as far as I am concerned is more representative of Netanyahu’s desire to succeed Sharon, than a definitive policy for government.

I basically agree; the Likud platform does represent the views of a significant number of party activists, but not those of a majority of Likud voters. Sometimes I think Likud might be headed for a split between the Netanyahu and Olmert/Sharon wings, but I've been predicting that for more than a year now, so I'd take myself with a grain of salt.

I don’t find popular coverage of the pro-Zionist (indeed the Right-leaning pro-Zionist) perspective to be lacking, nor the humanity of the Israeli side to be open to question. I couldn’t say the same thing for the Palestinians.

I've heard many people say this, but I'm not sure I agree. Even in the United States, where the media are arguably more pro-Israel than the Israeli media, there is no shortage of Palestinian viewpoints in newspapers, college campuses and bookstores. There's also the Internet, through which anyone who wants to hear Palestinian voices can find many at the click of a mouse. It doesn't seem to me that Palestinian views are silenced in American discourse or even that they are significantly outside the mainstream.

What I do see in short supply is what I sometimes refer to as "militant moderation." As you say, right-wing Zionists get a great deal of play, as do Palestinian militants and Tikkun-style post-Zionists. I see less of the Sari Nusseibehs and Khalil Shikakis on the Palestinian side and of the people like me on the Zionist side - i.e., those who share the Herzlian vision of Arab-Jewish partnership and don't interpret Zionism as an ideology of exclusivity. I support Palestinian self-determination precisely because I am a Zionist. A Zionist state should affirm Jewish values, including (as Levinas teaches) respect for the moral rights of the other, and Palestinian freedom is a Zionist concern because it is within the power of a Zionist state to grant. I'll admit that part of the reason I started blogging was to help reclaim the word "Zionist" from the right by showing that there are Zionists who care about a fair two-state solution and minority rights in Israel. But my views, like yours, are probably better represented than I realize; it seems to be human nature to underestimate support and overestimate opposition.

At any rate, thanks for the kind words. I'll add you the next time I update my blogroll; this post alone is more than enough reason.

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