Post by Lazar and RL:
Nicholas Kristof illustrates nicely how he belongs on the pages of the NYT: despite paying attention to the negative feedback his previous postings on the Arab-Israeli conflict have elicited, he has a flat learning curve… which means that he has an old answer, no matter how inadequate, for every new objection.
Many bloggers have already responded more rapidly than we have.
Tough Love for Israel
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Published: July 24, 2008
On his visit to the Middle East, Barack Obama gave ritual affirmations of his support for Israeli policy, but what Israel needs from America isn’t more love, but tougher love.
Oh would I love to hear what Kristof prescribes as “tough love” for the Palestinians. Let me just list a couple of immediate ones:
- no more hate-mongering and hero-worship of child killers
- genuinely amend the PLO charter unambiguously to recognize the right of Israel to exist — without preconditions
- remove the genocidal and paranoid elements from the Hamas Charter
- protect the rights of your Christian minorities
I’m not holding my breath.
Particularly at a time when Israel seems to be contemplating military strikes on Iranian nuclear sites, the United States would be a better friend if it said: “That’s crazy” – while also insisting on a 100 percent freeze on settlements in the West Bank and greater Jerusalem.
What is crazy is the Western allies so unable to coordinate policy that it’s come down to an Israeli strike — which it never should have. What’s crazy is the idea that not opposing a nuclear Iran is an option.
But Kristof assumes the classic argument from liberal cognitive egocentrism — of course you don’t bomb Iran. The consequences of an Iranian bomb are apparently “not a problem.” A flatter, less nuanced view of what’s at stake and what the (diplomatic) options are would be hard to find. And of course the idea that the West should use Israel’s desperation to pressure Iran wouldn’t occur to such a shrewd analyst. It’s like playing Bridge with someone who doesn’t even know who is partner is, a mouth-breathing hope addict who figures things will somehow work out if he isn’t too aggressive.
As for the settlement freeze, if Kristoff thinks that would encourage peace, then he has not been paying attention for the past decade. Would Palestinians stop attacking Israelis? No. Would Hamas stop smuggling weapons into Gaza? No. Why? Because Palestinians would take it as a sign of Israeli weakness and the success of their ability to pressure Israel through the West, rather than as a step towards peace.
On the contrary, without major concessions from the Palestinians, any freeze on settlements would, like so many previous Israeli concessions, lead to more rather than less violence. Kristoff is like a new driver who’s learning to back up, and still hasn’t figured out that you need to turn the wheel in the opposite direction.
Granted, not everybody sees things this way, and discussions of the Middle East usually involve each side offering up its strongest arguments to wrestle with the straw men of the other side.
No, Nicholas, this is not what happens. Yes, the Palestinians and their Muslim allies build up straw men — the Israelis want to conquer the land from the Nile to the Euphrates, they want to destroy Islam, they want to commit genocide. But alas, when the Israelis claim that the Palestinian irredentist position is the real position of their leaders — destroy Israel, wipe out its inhabitants, establish an Islamist state — they are not exaggerating, not creating straw men.
So let me try something different.
After I wrote a column last month from Hebron in the West Bank, my blog, nytimes.com/ontheground, was flooded with counterarguments – and plenty of challenges to address them. In the interest of a civil dialogue on the Middle East, here are excerpts from some of the readers’ defenses of Israel’s conduct in the West Bank and my responses:
Jews lived in Hebron for 1,800 years continuously … until their community was murdered in 1929 by their Arab neighbors. The Jews in Hebron today – those “settlers” – have reclaimed Jewish property. So I don’t see what makes them illegitimate or illegal. (Irving)
True, Jews have deep ties to Hebron, just as Christians do to Jerusalem and Bethlehem, but none of these bonds confer any right to live in these places or even visit them.
They don’t? What happened to human rights? What happened to property rights? What gives the Muslims, who took Hebron by force and kicked out/massacred a large Jewish community the right to deprive Jews of their rights? Why are you so cavalier with the rights of Jews and Christian? I suspect you would be far less cavalier with Muslim rights. Which raises an interesting question: Are you so breezy about renouncing Jewish and Christian rights to holy places because you are afraid of the Islamic reaction?
If Israel were to bar American Christians from Jerusalem, that would not be grounds for the United States to send in paratroopers and establish settlements.
That was not the reason Israel took Hebron in 1967. But what on earth should prevent them, once they controlled the territory, from stopping Jews from living there? Should Israel be expected to enforce Islamic intolerance? I can’t believe that you would argue the same if the shoe were on the other foot — and, of course, you don’t (below).
Taken realistically, Kristof’s bizarre formulation actually buttresses Irving’s argument. Christians indeed have strong ties to Jerusalem, but Israelis allow them to live and worship there freely. If Israel were to bar all Christians from Jerusalem, the harshest of vituperation and sanctions would follow. Israeli religious apartheid is intolerable; Islamic religious apartheid — the legal norm of Sharia — is taken for granted.
And if Israel insists on controlling the West Bank, then it needs to give citizenship to Palestinians there so that they can vote just like the settlers.
Why does Kristof adopt the Palestinian demand for a Judenrein [ethnically cleansed of Jews] West Bank? Why does he assume that the Palestinians would not be capable of “granting citizenship” to the Jewish settlers “so they can vote just like the” Palestinians (presumably would)?
Or are we dealing with classic double standards (the “Human Rights Complex“): Kristof has no expectations of a Palestinian democracy, and certainly not one that could grant an Jewish minority any rights. But he has no problem demanding that Israel live up to the highest standards of democratic principles with people who have a) declared merciless enmity, and b) have no record of aptitude for democracy.
So what’s up?
One side is a beautiful, literate, medically and scientifically and artistically an advanced society. The other side wants to throw bombs. Why shouldn’t there be a fence? (Mileway)
So, build a fence. But construct it on the 1967 borders, not Palestinian land – and especially not where it divides Palestinian farmers from their land.
What makes the 1967 borders sacrosanct? Certainly, when they existed, neither the Arabs nor the “leaders” of the Palestinians recognized them as legitimate. Now, having tried to wipe out Israel in 1967 and 1973, and losing even these territories, they want to go back — or say they do. But any attentive ear — clearly not in Kristof’s head — knows that the same people who clamor in English for a return to 1967, speak in Arabic of Palestine from the River to the Sea. Kristof is a classic dupe, fooled by demopaths who complain about “loss of human rights” (that their own culture never granted them), about an “occupation” that the dupe hears as the “Green line” when the demopath means the “shoreline.”
And of course, even that doesn’t acknowledge that this barrier is not a border but a defensive shield against Palestinian aggression. Why Israel should have to make the kinds of concessions that Kristof thinks they ultimately should, at this stage in the game makes no sense… except as a liberal demand that Israel make unilateral concessions. Why is Kristof not telling the Palestinians that if they don’t like where the fence is going, they should be putting an end to their own culture’s manufacture of hatred and suicide terror?
While I do condemn this type of violence, it pales in contrast to Palestinian suicide bombers, rockets and other acts of terror against Jews. (Jay)
B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization, reports that a total of 123 Israeli minors have been killed by Palestinians since the second intifada began in 2000, compared with 951 Palestinian minors killed by Israeli security forces.
This is nothing short of moral idiocy. Every one of the 123 Israeli minors killed were targeted specifically by hate-driven monsters. None of the “951” Palestinian minors — which includes a large number of 16- and 17-year olds — was specifically targeted by Israeli troops. On the contrary, while over a hundred were engaged in violence, like Samer Abu Mialeh, a 14 year-old resident of East Jerusalem, killed on 08.02.2002 in West Jerusalem, after he stabbed Moran Amit to death. Others were used as human shields by Palestinian gunmen – the tragic product of a war the Palestinians have conducted with the aim of producing the maximum number of civilian casualties on both sides. And how many dupes have been played by this technique into moral indignation against the Israelis for having the nerve to kill more of their enemy than they allow their enemy to kill them.
And if the Palestinians complain about their civilian casualties, let Kristof and others concerned with the rules of warfare point out to them that using civilians as shields is a war crime. Israel has plenty of self-critical organizations using every aspect of law and public opinion to control the behavior of their troops. Not only don’t the Palestinians have many — with the admirable exception of Bassam Eid — but they don’t have any “friends” in the progressive West who will give them the tough love they need.
Remember, Samir Qantar was 16 when he smashed a four-year old girls brains out with his rifle butt; had he been killed by the Israelis, in these statistics, he and his victim would be one on each side. For someone who knows what real violence against civilian children is like in Darfur, this remark is staggering — either dishonest or stupid… not a choice I think Kristof would like to be forced to make, but one his own writing demands.
To withdraw from the West Bank without a partner on the Palestinian side will find Israel in the same fix it has once it withdrew from Gaza: a rain of daily rockets. Yes, the security barrier causes hardship, but terrorist attacks have almost disappeared. That means my kids can ride the bus, go to unguarded restaurants and not worry about being blown up on their way to school. Find another way to keep my kids safe, and I’ll happily tear down the barrier. (Laura)
This is the argument that I have the most trouble countering. Laura has a point: The barrier and checkpoints have reduced terrorism. But as presently implemented, they – and the settlements – also reduce the prospect of a long-term peace agreement that is the best hope for Laura’s children.
If Israel were to stop the settlements, ease the checkpoints, allow people in and out more freely, and negotiate more enthusiastically with Syria over the Golan Heights and with the Arab countries on the basis of the Saudi peace proposal, then peace might still elude the region. But Israel would at least be doing everything possible to secure its long-term future, rather than bolstering Hamas.
Wow. First, thank you, Nicholas for having the honesty and modesty to admit that you don’t have a good answer. Now let me suggest the flaws with your poor attempt at a reply. You have essentially repeated the position that you admit is inadequate. This is standard PCP: if it didn’t work the first (ten) time(s), then try more. If concessions didn’t work, make more concessions. Maybe they’ll work, and if they don’t, at least you can claim you’ve tried.
Get “more enthusiastic about making concessions to the Syrians”? I’m sure they’ll appreciate it.
There are two major interlocking problems with this position.
1) You assume that what Palestinian spokesmen complain about to you is what really grieves them — settlements and checkpoints. Now granted these two items do grieve them, but the real issue is, how central to their grievance are these two items. If they were the core of the problem, then what Israel had to offer in 2000 would have been more than enough to settle the problem.
But they weren’t. On the contrary, the offer to dismantle all but those settlements closest to the Israeli border (with exchanges to make the deal as evenly balanced as possible) and to completely evacuate the West Bank and the Gaza Strip — hence no more internal checkpoints — actually provoked a violent response, namely the second Intifada, which acknowledged no border, no Green line, in its assault on Israeli civilians everywhere.
So what you need to do is honestly ask yourself if you might be mistaken in assuming that what the Palestinians want is a homeland where they can live unharassed, rather than a homeland that destroys Israel. I know you prefer to believe the former, and there are many Israelis who would like to believe that as well, but if you’re wrong, then your concessions backfire. And there’s the rub. Who do you think you are that you can arrogate to yourself the right to make judgment calls like this when so much rides on whether you’ve got it right or not, and you apparently know so little about the Palestinians with whom you side in this conflict?
Which brings us to:
2) All the evidence from Palestinian leaders, whether Fatah or Hamas, “secular” or Islamist, suggests that the irredentist position of wiping Israel off the map is so important that they will sacrifice their own well-being to attain it (i.e., say “No” to Oslo and start a war that immiserates them much worse than they were before, a fortiori than they would be if they had gone ahead with statehood). The checkpoints you want Israel to open up did not exist in their current form — ubiquitous and tightly run — before 2000. They are, like the barrier, a direct response to Palestinian hate-mongering and its monstrous child, suicide terrorism.
The Palestinians have primarily themselves to blame for their current misery, and when you tell them differently, when you insist that Israel make concessions to them, you only make things worse for them and for Israel. This is not tough love, this is sadistic “love.”
And the first victims are the Palestinians because, in confirming their complaints, you allow them (really their predatory leaders) to reverse historical causality — suicide terrorism destroyed the opportunity to clear the settlements by making a negotiated accord impossible, and created the checkpoints that stifle Palestinian life. Rockets on Sderot made the option of unilateral disengagement unthinkable.
In other words, Nicholas, when you blame Israel’s defensive measures for “bolstering Hamas,” rather than give some tough love to the Palestinians and tell them that in choosing Hamas they immiserate themselves, you are reinforcing the very travesty of history that the Palestinian leadership — ever ready to sacrifice their people’s well being if it helps them intensify hatred of Israel — needs in order to stay in power. In other words, you bolster Hamas.
Do you care? And if you say you do, don’t you owe it to everyone to understand the situation much better than this superficial, second-hand, deeply outdated analysis suggests you have?
Let me suggest you engage in a thought experiment. What if the Palestinian leadership was like the Janjaweed in Sudan, only frustrated because they are trying to commit genocide against people who can defend themselves. I know it’s hard for you because the Israelis are not weak victims like the Darfurian farmers, but the issue here is not the victim, it’s the perpetrator — or the would-be perpetrator. Keep your eye on the ball.
A quick visit to PMW would confirm this hypothesis on a wide range of issues — irredentist Islamist ideology, hate-mongering rhetoric, genocidal intent. So play out the hypothesis and ask yourself if you would ask the people of Darfur to make concessions to the northern Sudanese Arabs lest in preventing them from access to Darfur, they frustrate them and encourage support for the Janjaweed.
If there is no two-state solution, there will be a one-state solution – and given demographic trends, that will mean either the end of Israeli democracy or the end of the Jewish state. Zionists should be absolutely clamoring for a Palestinian state.
More superficial analysis. There’s no good reason why Palestinians, under current conditions, should have a state of their own, or why Israel should be forced to grant them the kind of civic liberties to a population that has been fed with hatred and irredentist Islamist imperialism since Kindergarten. I presume you would not want yet another government like that of the Sudanese to exist. So why a Palestinian one? And if your answer is, “to solve the conflict,” you must answer the question, “what if such a move makes things worse… much worse?”
Now, I’ll grant you that this makes a mess of all our liberal assumptions, but in this particular case, liberal assumptions seem to make things worse. Again, it’s precisely because good liberals can’t say to the Palestinians, “You know, if you keep up the hate-mongering and the worship of terrorists, you may forfeit your support from liberals for your own state. There actually are more requirements for statehood than merely clamoring for it.” My sense is that, only when Palestinians understand that there are consequences to their deeds, and especially negative consequences to their evil deeds, that those among that immiserated people who want to escape the grip of their leaders’ talons, will find some purchase in a public which has, until now, been indulged literally to death by well-meaning progressives like you.
Laura is right about the need for a sensible Palestinian partner, and the failures of Palestinian leadership have been legion. At the moment, though, Israel has its most reasonable partner ever – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas – and it is undermining him with its checkpoints and new settlement construction.
Now you reach the depths of your superficiality. What on earth makes you think that Abbas is a “reasonable peace partner”? Have you even checked to see if what he says in Arabic has any correlation with what he says in English? Are you aware of what he said about Samir Qantar, the child murderer? Or is your anwer, “well, he has to appeal to the hardliners among his people in order to maintain support.” If so, is this a people deserving of statehood?
Do you care if you’ve got him wrong? Or is it just too satisfying to grab on Abbas’ “moderate” image, so pervasive in the Western media, and then scold the Israelis for not supporting him?
Peace-making invariably involves exasperating and intransigent antagonists and unequal steps, just as it did in the decades in which Britain struggled to end terrorism emanating from Northern Ireland. But London never ordered air strikes on Sinn Fein or walled in Catholic neighborhoods. Over time, Britain’s extraordinary restraint slowly changed attitudes so as to make the eventual peace possible.
This is breathtakingly fatuous. I’m unaware that Sinn Fein ever conducted suicide bombings, much less a wave of them. I’m unaware that they had an genocidal ideology that demanded the destruction of Protestant England. I’m unaware that Sinn Fein was lobbing bombs into Protestant neighborhoods from their own civilian centers. And I was under the distinct impression that walls were part of what made the peace work in Belfast. And as far as the latest news is concerned, this ain’t over yet.
Are these insignificant differences in your mind? Or did they even occur to you as you made this comparison. In fact, given the vicious provocation, Israelis have been far more restrained — under Sharon, they waited over a year of constant suicide terror attacks before striking back. I’d like to see any country hold back under that kind of provocation.
Nothing shows how little you understand than this analogy. These are radically different conflicts, with radically different stakes and players.
I hope Mr. Obama, as a candidate or as a president, will be a true enough friend of Israel to say all this, warmly but firmly.
I hope that Obama is considerably more serious in examining the problem than you are, including his awareness of how the Palestinian leadership contributes to its own people’s suffering. In the meantime, can we expect a column entitled “Tough Love for the Palestinians” from you? Or would that tax your courage too greatly.