Edward R.F. Sheehan, a former fellow of Harvard’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, had an op-ed in the Boston Globe recently that illustrates everything that’s wrong with the kind of “policy” thinking that emanates from both Washington and the major academic institutions. It also represents the kind of editorial the Globe will run, ad infinitum, because it articulates liberal cognitive egocentrism to perfection.
This has taken me some time to fisk because it is so relentlessly, discouragingly wrongheaded. Not knowing Sheehan’s other work, I don’t know if it’s stupidity or dishonesty. But it most surely is the kind of advocacy for the Palestinians — indeed for the most irredentist and extremist of the Palestinians — one can find. The Globe should be proud; it has upheld its editorial tradition.
PRESIDENT BUSH does not seem to know it yet, but his peace plan for the Middle East is moribund. That is my chief impression from a recent three-month journey through the troubled region. A viable Palestinian state will not exist by the time Bush leaves office. Nor will one exist, probably, in the predictable future – not least because of the failures of US policy.
Of course, many of us who know what the Palestinian agenda is — secular and religious — have known that this round is moribund. My guess is, many of the Bush administration have also known that. Sheehan, on the other hand, is playing naif and doesn’t even waste a sentence on the Palestinians’ contribution to their own failures. That might confuse the reader with complexity. Go straight after Bush. I wonder if, during his three months in the Middle East, Sheehan spent any time in the hate factories (mosques, schools, TV stations) — or was he ushered around by his “contacts.”
Cynicism prevails among Palestinians, and Israelis also. Azmi Bishara, a prominent Palestinian intellectual, decries what he calls “the Palestine settlement industry – that inexhaustible source of quasi-initiatives [and] pseudo-dialogues” that after 41 years of harsh Israeli occupation have led nowhere. To virtually every Palestinian I talked to, Bush’s peace process has become a black comedy.
Well they would complain about all that, but as a journalist, one would have expected you to know a bit more about this and maybe ask them some hard questions rather than take dutiful notes and report back to your public as if this were the story. For example, it might be nice to acknowledge that before the first “intifada,” Israeli rule was hardly “harsh occupation.” On the contrary, modeling themselves on the Marshall Plan, the Israelis succeeded in helping a Palestinian economy which, in the 1970s, was among the fastest growing economies in the world.
To them, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has become a forlorn figure, frequently flying to Jerusalem to entreat the Israelis to remove roadblocks and cease building settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and then the Israelis blithely do the opposite. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in his grandfatherly (?!) way has become a nearly pathetic figure – regarded by his own people as an American stooge, dependent on the United States to pay his huge bureaucracy, and constantly disappointed by Bush’s refusal to pressure Israel.
Of course, there are reasons for those roadblocks. What have the Palestinians done to reduce the dangers that emanate from their territory? Will we get anything in this analysis other than the Palestinian narrative of innocent victimhood? The reason Abbas is a pathetic figure — as was Arafat — was that he could not and would not make the moves necessary to change the dynamic and permit the Israelis to ramp down the checkpoints: to wit, kill the hate industry and crack down on the Palestinian addiction to terror.
The Israeli government is split between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, the stronger of the two. Olmert fears for the future of Israel as a Jewish state under Palestinian demographic pressure and favors some sort of peace deal, but he will soon resign from office on accusations of corruption. Barak is leisurely in cracking down on settlements and wants to delay a final deal indefinitely.
Israeli peace advocates complain that the army in effect has a veto over Olmert and slows down or sabotages civilian orders to remove roadblocks and settlement outposts. Even if an accord is achieved before Bush leaves office, it will probably be no more than a cloudy declaration of goals that would take many years to implement. Olmert has admitted that no agreement on the division of Jerusalem can be reached this year.
Ah yes, we get an analysis of the Israeli point of view, the so-called “peace advocates.” First a breakdown of the contrasting tendencies of the two principle players in the current government — something we did not get in terms of Palestinian politics, say, the prevalent Palestinian postion of opposition to any negotiations whatsoever, and, of course, then a more detailed perspective from the Israeli “peace” advocates. The reader would not have a clue as to how deeply discredited they are as a result of the behavior of the Palestinians since 2000.
Bush has done little to satisfy the Palestinians who entrusted their fate to November’s Annapolis declaration, which promised “every effort” to conclude an agreement on a two-state solution before the end of 2008.
The Palestinians did nothing of the sort. They made no efforts to fulfill their part of the bargain. To call their behavior “entrusting their fate” to the Annapolis declaration is a bad joke.
At the White House in April, Abbas told Bush that when the Palestinian negotiators saw the latest Israeli proposals, they laughed.
They laughed because they wanted a full withdrawal, which they would take as a sign of Israeli weakness. The ones who should have laughed were the Bush administration officials, who should have informed the Palestinians that, if they want independence, they should take what they can get, show their good faith in state building, and gain the trust of the Israelis who have every reason to fear Palestinian goals.
According to the eminent Israeli analyst Akiva Eldar, Olmert and his foreign minister Tzipi Livni demanded all of East Jerusalem except the Temple Mount, much of the Jordan Valley except for a walled enclave around Jericho, and the retention of all settlement clusters, such as Ariel in the heart of the West Bank.
Now whenever a reporter from the West starts quoting an “eminent Israeli analyst,” watch out. No, better yet, google the person, and check with an organization like CAMERA for a profile to see what his record is. In this case we find out that Eldar is not only a reporter for Haaretz, but one of the most advocacy-driven specifically on the subject of settlements. Indeed, in an article he wrote in the Nation, he proudly lines himself up with his colleagues at Haaretz, Gideon Levy and Amira Hass, as among those who fail the “lynch test” proposed by Israeli journalist Nahum Barnea — i.e., who have no difficulty making the most odious comparisons of Israel’s misdeeds with some of the great criminals of all time, but cannot bring themselves to describe the barbarous murder of two Israeli reservists by a mob in Ramallah as a lynch. Eldar notes proudly that he is driven by his moral conscience.
I admit to being guilty as charged. I am a journalist with a mission, and also no small amount of passion. Every Israeli with a conscience, in particular one who watches reality from up close on a daily basis, cannot write about the occupation from an objective observer’s neutral point of view.
Advocacy journalism is not where one goes for reliable information, especially when the standard to which these zealots — admirable in a vacuum — would literally short-circuit if applied to Israel’s neighbors. But living in a vacuum created by their autistic morality — I don’t care what my neighbors do, I want Israel to live up to my standards — these zealots have completely lost any sense of the kind of common sense that a journalist is expected to have.
The territory reserved for the Palestinians would be a patchwork of Bantustans cut off from Jerusalem with no continuity, no sovereignty, and subject still to incursions by the Israeli Army. A referendum containing such limitations would inevitably be rejected by the Palestinian population.
Shades of the Oslo negotiations. In fact the Palestinians were not offered “Bantustans” in 2000, but the advocates for Palestinian demands, always eager to protect their right to every inch of the territory they despised when they had it (i.e., the 1948-67 borders), described it that way. One would never imagine from the above, that the Israeli offers contain security concerns that are eminently justifiable. In the hands of Sheehan and his “sources” it just seems like mean-spirited expansionism.
A struggle resumes?
When the peace process collapses, as seems so likely, the broad Palestinian struggle will probably resume. Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, the dynamic physician who heads the Palestinian National Initiative, told me in Ramallah that he hopes the struggle will be Gandhian and peaceful. But Nasser al-Qudawi, Yasser Arafat’s nephew, thinks not.
Don’t forget that Arafat himself was the nephew of the Nazi collaborator Haj Amin al Husseini. One gets the impression from this formulation that Ghandi-like peaceful opposition is a serious option. It’s a little like Hamas leader Mahmoud al Zahar telling Ted Sebastien that Hamas had tried “two peaceful intifadas” before, alas, being forced to resort to a violence they would prefer not to have to use.
Bernard Lewis once compared Western journalists trying to make sense of the Arab-Israeli conflict with a Cricket announcer trying to describe a baseball game. Here, it’s worse. It’s a golf announcer trying to describe a gladiator match.
“The resistance will resume,” Qudawi told me, “but it will bring more splintering of Palestinian society, more extremism, and more blood.” In the West Bank, Hamas and Islamic Jihad may flourish. Will Hamas fire rockets at Israel from the West Bank?
And for all these dysfunctions within Palestinian society, Israel is implicitly responsible because… if she only would make concessions to the Palestinians than these violent factions would settle right down to the business of civil society?
Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants have launched thousands of primitive Qassam rockets from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel since 2000, killing 17 Israeli civilians, wounding scores, and destroying much property. Yet more than 2,000 Palestinian civilians, many of them children, have been killed by Israeli retaliatory attacks, and it is heart-rending to tour tiny Gaza and witness the devastation.
Heart rending… but not enough to convince Hamas to stop the rocket attacks. Indeed, they prefer to continue those attacks, provoke the responses and then turn to useful idiots like Sheehan to bewail the terrors the Israelis inflict on their population. Every Palestinian casualty is “cash in the bank” for Hamas, especially when they can get people like Sheehan to blame the Israelis. The fundamental advocacy hiding behind this “heartbreaking” prose will only become apparent below, when Sheehan lauds Hamas’ ability to “teach Israel a lesson.” It’s the quintessential negative-sum mentality: “I’ll poke out two of my own eyes if only I can poke out one of yours (and get you to take the blame for my blindness).” It makes a tragic kind of sense for honor-shame Palestinians, but none whatsoever for a serious Western journalist interested in peace.
In the north of the Gaza Strip sits a lake of human waste. It exudes the stench of excrement and is threatening to burst because the Israelis have rationed the importation of cement. The waste seeps into the ground of Gaza and pollutes the aquifers, causing rampant diarrhea and infestations that afflict children most.
Now either Sheehan has no knowledge of Hamas’ role in the sewage tsunami of 2006, or he doesn’t care who’s responsible as long as he can blame Israel. I dealt with that situation at the time, and the political cartoon of Cox and Forkum caught the pathetic and outrageous nature of Hamas’ behavior — obsession with attacking the Israelis no matter what the cost to their own people — perfectly. He also does not seem to know that the cement the Israelis did let in went to building tunnels for smuggling weapons rather than for sewage disposal.
At Khan Younis near the sea, buildings chopped in half by Israeli bombs are still inhabited, and laundry hangs from the ruins. A man named Ahmed, who has lost a leg, invites me upstairs into his flat to meet his wife and 10 children. The ceiling sags. “Aren’t you afraid it will collapse?” I ask. “We have nowhere else to go,” he answers.
Since Hamas chased Abbas’s secular government out of Gaza in June 2007, it has governed the Strip untainted by the Fatah faction’s corruption and with modest benefits to the population of 1.5 million. Women feel compelled to wear the veil, the sexes are rigidly separated, and the judiciary can be severe. Sharia law has not been officially introduced, but the trend is toward more Islamization.
The Internet is monitored for pornography, but Hamas has cracked down on more radical Islamist groups that have attacked Internet cafés. The police seem everywhere, but they have generally imposed order. Hamas’s rivalry with Fatah remains savage. Despite recent efforts at reconciliation, blood continues to be shed between them.
Shades of Randal on the Syrians at Hama: sure Hamas is tyrannical; sure they kill men, women and children; sure they’re religious fanatics who oppress women; but, hey, there’s order. That’s good isn’t it? You wouldn’t know, reading Sheehan, just how Hamas “imposed order”:
The Hamas regime in Gaza decided recently to show the world what it knows what to do. Not that we did not know, but the timing was important. Let’s remember how it all began. During the violent and brutal [takeover] of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the Hamas hooligans forced their prisoners to lie down and massacred them. If someone raised his head they shot him again to make sure he was dead. Most of the leading television channels in the world did not screen these pictures. Wonder why. The sequel was in the same vein. Hamas turned out to be an exact copy of the Taliban. Women were forced, under threat, to wear the burka, more men are bearded. Christian institutions were attacked.
If there are still pockets of resistance, Hamas knows how to deal with them. The last wave of violence included gas treatment. Pipes were thrust into intimate parts of the body, and gas was pumped in through the pipes. Nine people were killed, some undoubtedly in cold blood. [Note: This refers to the recent fighting involving the Hilles Clan. The gas treatment was related by members of the clan and reported in the Hebrew press, but not elsewhere AFAIK. -Solomonia] It can be assumed that there were many more, but under the oppressive control of the Hamas, no one can know for sure. Massacre for its own sake — for that is what Islamic extremism knows what to do. That is what happened in Algeria, where 100,000 people were slaughtered. That is what is happening in Darfur, where 400,000 people have already been killed. That is what is happening in Somalia, where the number of victims is unknown. That is what happened under the Taliban regime. Hamas is acting according to the same rules. That is what political Islam knows. That is what Hamas is doing.
Does Sheehan know about this? Does he care? Is he a closet racist who believes that Arabs are so ill-suited to civil polities that they need this kind of force to have order?
Imagine Sheehan saying,
Sure the Israelis rule the occupied territories; they imprison radicals and terrorists; sure they ban anti-semitic Arab versions of Shakespeare; but hey, under their rule the occupied territories are one of the ten fastest growing economies in the world!“
So it’s an honor-shame calculus. As Churchill noted, “the Arabs don’t mind being oppressed as long as it’s by one of their own.” So for Sheehan, real oppression at the hands of their own is preferable to economic well-being without self-rule. Damn the results in terms of how toxic the region when groups like Hamas, Hizbullah, and Shiite Clerics in Iran have power. Just how much collateral damage is acceptable to bring down the Israelis? And why is it so important to people like Sheehan?
The role of Hamas
Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the mystical quadriplegic who founded Hamas, said that the fate of Israel must be left to the will of God and future generations of Palestinians.
What does that mean (especially the “future generations”), and where and when and in what language did Yassin say that? And what makes Yassin a “mystic”? The only link between mysticism and Yassin is a pathetic Israeli mystic’s attempt to open a dialogue with him.
But in June 2006 Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh declared Hamas’s willingness to sign a document jointly with all Palestinian factions that it accepts Israel’s existence. Hamas will not formally recognize Israel, preferring to offer only a hudna, a truce of 10 or even 30 years. But Hamas would accept a negotiated settlement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that produces an independent Palestinian state on the pre-1967 borders.
Now this is choice. Hamas, whose charter includes a citation from the paranoid Protocols of the Elders of Zion as a genuine document (# 32), a invocation of a genocidal apocalyptic hadith about wiping out the Jews at the End of Time (# 16), and multiple references to the “fact” that all of Palestine from the river to the sea is holy Muslim land/Waqf (# 11), has never made any gesture towards Israel that suggests even the vaguest intention of living at peace with her inside pre-67 borders. Only a congenital naif, or a determined and dishonest pro-Palestinian advocate could write these lines.
In fact, this is precisely what the “Commodore Batallion” did for Yassir Arafat back in 1982, when they managed to blame Israel for the PLO’s refusal to show any flexibility (Double Vision, pp. 150-55); and what the likes of Robert Malley and Charles Enderlin tried to do for him after he walked out of Camp David in 2000. It’s a tradition of advocacy that has badly served the Western public for decades.
Israel and the United States have shunned Hamas until it explicitly recognizes Israel, and they have discouraged Abbas from negotiating with it. Bush regards Hamas not as a government but as purely a terrorist organization, as if any peace could be achieved by excluding more than a third of the Palestinian people. Barak believes that in good time and by brute force he can emasculate Hamas and crush its governance of Gaza.
Having presented Hamas as quite reasonable, Sheehan now presents those who view Hamas as a terrorist organization to be shunned and cut off, as unreasonable. One would have no idea, reading Sheehan, that Hamas is indeed a terrorist organization; that they are the primary purveyors of suicide terror attacks; that they have every intention of destroying Israel if it takes every last Palestinian life to achieve that goal; that they preach hatred and love of death as a religious vocation. They’re not a terrorist organization; they run nursery schools.
But it’s actually worse than that. Rather than having a third (or more) of Palestinians supporting a genocidal party of religious fanatics leading Sheehan reconsider his ideas about either two states — i.e., creating a Palestinian state alongside Israel — or a single state — i.e., a combined “democratic” state of Palestinians and Israelis — Sheehan merely treats this choice of Palestinians as perfectly legitimate, something Israel should have to live with. (More on these choices below.)
Yet in mid-June, Israel accepted a cease-fire of six months in Gaza mediated by the Egyptians. The agreement won Israel a reprieve from Qassam rockets, and Hamas a suspension of Israel’s military attacks and an easing of its economic blockade of Gaza. The deal was acclaimed in the Arab world, and deplored in Israel, as a victory for Hamas.
Hamas did not surrender in Gaza; its crude rockets forced Israel to sue for calm. To Palestinians, Hamas proved its creed that Israel understands only the language of force. Not only have Israel and the United States failed to topple the Hamas government, but Hamas has forced Israel to deal with it – even as President Abbas has achieved so little in his negotiations with Israel.
Although he puts the key phrases in the mouths of “Palestinians,” the opening sentence makes clear that Sheehan shares the point of view. “Hamas did not surrender in Gaza; its crude rockets forced Israel to sue for calm.” What does this mean? In this sentence, surrender means ceasing to bomb Israeli civilians randomly and constantly, an act that even traditionally anti-Israel NGOs have deplored. So Sheehan presents the Palestinian projection — Israel only understands force — as a legitimate perspective when his own reading of Hamas’ contribution to “order” offers the best evidence that Palestinians understand only force.
Moreover, this strategy of attacking Israeli civilians randomly is also the classic act of victimizing one’s own people for irredentist claims that so often marks the behavior of the Palestinian leadership. “Democratically elected” Hamas, instead of developing the well-being of its citizens, prefers to bomb Israel from the very places that need major projects to deal with sewage disposal. It’s bombing of Israel, which has no other function than to show it hates and wants to destroy its neighbors, forces its people live in even more duress — slowdowns and blockages of the support from the outside that they can no longer produce from the inside.
(Nothing better illustrates the dynamic of self-destructive “pride” — we kick Israeli butt — and the dynamic of economic responsibility than the fate of the Beduoin and Palestinian inhabitants of the town of Massawi in Gaza. Once part (by far) the most productive agricultural projects in Gaza — the Israeli settler greenhouses — themselves owners and tillers of productive soil, the region is a wasteland like the rest of Gaza, filled with unemployed, dependent on UN handouts.)
But in Sheehan’s world, somehow firing rockets at Sderot is a Hamas “right” which they are correct and brave in not conceding without concessions. Indeed, Sheehan almost seems to share Hamas’ pride at resisting the Israelis; which raises the obvious question, how has Israel wounded his pride that he would pick some of the nastiest proxies to do his (tacit) dirty work. (If someone has a better explanation for this stunning identification with Hamas vs. the Israelis, I’d be interested.)
Imagine had he added,
To Israelis, Hamas proved its mad creed that confrontation with Israel at all costs, will get results, no matter how much their own people suffer. Not only have sane governments and public opinion around the world, and restrained israeli countermeasures (compare with Assad at Hama), failed to topple the predatory and fanatic Hamas government. On the contrary, because both Western governments continue to support Hamas economically, Olmert’s regime has been hesitant about responding forcefully, and the media cover Israeli-caused damage ten times as often and as intensely as Hamas-caused damage, Hamas has forced Israel to deal with it. As a result the “attack Israel to destroy her” approach of Hamas has gained greater credibility than the “negotiate with Israel to destroy her” approach of Fatah. The forces of war and misery have won another victory in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Note that the “Israeli” perspective in this “even-handed” approach which Sheehan does not do, actually corresponds with the perspective of an “advocate” of civil society.
The Israelis fear that Hamas will use the calm to regroup its militia of perhaps 15,000 men and import more arms, and they may be right. The asymmetrical warfare between Israel and Hamas may continue in cycles, periods of quiet interspersed with periods of great violence and attrition, for many years. The Palestinians of Gaza have proved their capacity to absorb suffering. Though the West Bank is more bourgeois, it may come to do likewise under the banner of resistance.
Wow! So what Hamas does is “resistance,” and the insane misery of its population proves the people’s capacity to “absorb suffering.” What happened to the “heart-rending” devastation? Now, all of a sudden it’s noble resistance? Or, like Hamas, is this suffering only heart-rending when you can blame Israel? Just how much has Sheehan “gone native?”
You can’t be more partisan for Hamas than this formulation, and you can’t have more contempt for human suffering than to describe the victimization of their own people by a bunch of violent and hateful religious fanatics as a noble act of resistance. So Sheehan dismisses moderate Palestinians on the West Bank as bourgeois? Hopefully soon, it too will melt down into wretched hatreds? How much do you have to hate the Israelis to hope such a miserable fate on the Palestinians?
Many secular Palestinian intellectuals have despaired of a two-state solution and have resumed their old dream of a unitary, democratic state for Jews and Arabs in all of historical Palestine. But there might still be a meager chance of achieving a two-state solution, depending on the will of the next US president.
This was entirely predictable — more Walt-Mearsheimer logic. As if there were real “secular” Palestinian “intellectuals.” Does secular mean that they hate Israel because it is a humiliation to Arab cultural dominance rather than Muslim religious dominance. Does that have anything to do with what we in the West consider “secular”? What evidence is there that any significant players ever wanted a two-state solution? The “secular” Arafat who turned down offer after offer? The current “secular intellectual,” Abu Mazen? (After all he has a PhD in holocaust denial from a secular institution in Soviet Russia).
If Abbas dreams of independence, why did he turn down the latest offer? Let me guess… bantustans, honor, must get all his demands. But of course if they really dream of their own nation, as the Zionists did, they’d take what they can get. The Zionists took three Bantustans in 1947 in the bat of an eyelash, just to get a shot at self-rule
Amichai wants to use the landscape and history for his own benefit, based on my destroyed identity. So we have a competition: Who is the owner of the language of this land?
Notes Jonathan Speyer:
Note well – not a competition between poets of rival nations. Rather, an argument between destroyer and destroyed. The idea – to which Amichai was committed – that both Israeli Jewish and Palestinian Arab/Muslim identities might contain genuine cultural roots and content did not feature as a possibility.
On the contrary, Palestinians are just one of the most egregious examples of a political culture that breeds genocidal impulses — not just against religious enemies like the Jews, but against each other. The notion that the “secular” Palestinians have hoped for a two-state solution and now despair because of Israeli intransigence is the product of demopaths manipulating liberal cognitive egocentrists, with the media and academic policy experts like Sheehan playing central roles.
But the duping here is too pervasive and obvious to be the product of sheer naivete. On the contrary, by adopting the demopathic discourse of the Palestinians, some commentators get to play out some decidedly vicious moves against the Israelis. And that’s just how Sheehan will end his editorial essay:
Will he exert effective pressure not only on the Palestinians to end all violence, but on Israel to evacuate the settlements and retreat substantially to the borders of 1967? Should he do so, he will need also to create a formula to include Hamas in the solution if he truly wants peace. Paradoxically, the key to peace may be held by Hamas.
The balance is admirable: pressure the Palestinians to end all violence, and pressure Israel to evacuate settlements and retreat substantially to the borders of 1967. It even leaves some wiggle room by not insisting on all settlements and by allowing substantial but not total withdrawal. But whereas the pressures to get Israel to withdraw are fairly clear, the pressures to get Palestinians to “end all violence” are utterly obscure.
No one would know, reading Sheehan, that the origins of Palestinian violence are precisely in the elements he most earnestly encourages: the notion that attacking Israeli civilians is “resistance”; blaming the suffering of the Palestinians on Israel; and cheering on the irredentist Palestinian leaders who use their own people as sacrificial pawns. And all of those contradictions are bundled up in his final sentence: “Paradoxically, the key to peace may be held by Hamas.” It’s precisely the opposite. The key to war is held by Hamas, and when twisted thinkers like Sheehan pretend they’re working for peace, they actually unleash the dogs of war.
Which brings us to the final question: Why would the Boston Globe publish an editorial as profoundly dishonest, misinformed, and misleading as this? And why do they not publish editorials that tell the story from the other paradigm?