I guess I’m like Charlie Brown with Lucy’s football. I am continuously amazed at how foolish our pundits are and how ready major newspapers are to give them full rein on their editorial pages.
I’ve already fisked Roger Cohen before for his naïve PCP1, but this surpasses credulity (his and mine).
Middle East Reality Check
By ROGER COHEN
Published: March 8, 2009
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton grabbed headlines with an invitation to Iran to attend a conference on Afghanistan, but the significant Middle Eastern news last week came from Britain. It has “reconsidered” its position on Hezbollah and will open a direct channel to the militant group in Lebanon.
Like Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah has long been treated by the United States as a proscribed terrorist group. This narrow view has ignored the fact that both organizations are now entrenched political and social movements without whose involvement regional peace is impossible.
So were the Nazis an entrenched part of political and social movements in Germany and Austria. Including them in diplomacy didn’t make peace possible, it made it impossible. What on earth makes someone like Cohen think that by “including” a group that has a virulently anti-semitic platform and calls on its people to commit genocide, that somehow that will lead to peace?
Britain aligned itself with the U.S. position on Hezbollah, but has now seen its error. Bill Marston, a Foreign Office spokesman, told Al Jazeera: “Hezbollah is a political phenomenon and part and parcel of the national fabric in Lebanon. We have to admit this.”
This “Hallelujah,” more than anything else in the article, has me slackjawed. It’s one thing to clench your teeth and take your medicine like a man, it’s another thing to cheer as your being rearended by roadrage. The only reason I can come up with for such an extraordinary show of joy is double: 1) Cohen has no knowledge of what Hizbullah and Hamas are really about (how characteristically inappropriate for a pundit), and 2) he’s so convinced that being nice will work that, now that we’re being nice, it’s time to cheer because everything is about to work. I hate to say it, but I’m beginning to agree with oao and cynic here, we’re in deep doodoo.
Precisely the same thing could be said of Hamas in Gaza. It is a political phenomenon, part of the national fabric there.
One difference is that Hezbollah is in the Lebanese national unity government, whereas Hamas won the free and fair January 2006 elections to the Legislative Council of the Palestinian Authority, only to discover Middle Eastern democracy is only democracy if it produces the right result.
And here I thought that that kind of nonsense was going to disappear quietly as Hamas showed its true colors. Apparently, not to the color-blind. What drives me crazy about these kinds of formulas is that they at once grant the status of “democracy” at the same time as they fail to hold the population responsible for their vote. “What, you have a problem with the Nazis? They were fairly elected.” The superficiality of such formulations, combined with the joy of ceding to the perverse choices of the Arab electorates in question, strike me as sure signs of a massive loss of common sense.
The United States should follow the British example. It should initiate diplomatic contacts with the political wing of Hezbollah. The Obama administration should also look carefully at how to reach moderate Hamas elements [sic!] and engineer a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation.
A rapprochement between the two wings of the Palestinian movement was briefly achieved at Mecca in 2007. The best form of payback from America’s expensive and authoritarian allies — Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan — would be help in reconciling Gaza Palestinians loyal to Hamas with West Bank Palestinians loyal to the more moderate Fatah of Mahmoud Abbas.
Because that will result in a non-authoritarian state?
Resolve is not the most conspicuous characteristic of those three allies. But Obama must push them to help. As long as Palestinians are divided, peace efforts will flounder.
And when they’re “united” with Hamas in the picture, peace will be impossible… unless the peace one imagines does not include a state of Israel. What kind of bizarre mantras have Mr. Cohen and his friends hypnotized themselves with. Instead of new thinking this is just a repetition of the worst of old thinking. And it’s all predicated on this bizarre notion that the Palestinians want peace. Where does that come from? Certainly not empirical evidence.
With respect to Hamas, the West has bound itself to three conditions for any contact: Hamas must recognize Israel, forswear terrorism and accept previous Palestinian commitments. This was reiterated by Clinton on her first Mideast swing.
The 1988 Hamas Charter is vile, but I think it’s wrong to get hung up on the prior recognition of Israel issue. Perhaps Hamas is sincere in its calls for Israel’s disappearance — although it has offered a decades-long truce — but then it’s also possible that Israel in reality has no desire to see a Palestinian state.
There’s something really frightening about seeing this man think outloud. He’s read the charter, and, hey, they might be serious (there are ways to keep track), but they have offered a decades-long truce (so they can prepare for the final battle), but, whatever, Israel might not be in favor of a Palestinian state, so it’s all the same, no?
One view of Israel’s continued expansion of settlements, Gaza blockade, West Bank walling-in and wanton recourse to high-tech force would be that it’s designed precisely to bludgeon, undermine and humiliate the Palestinian people until their dreams of statehood and dignity evaporate.
The argument over recognition is in the end a form of evasion designed to perpetuate the conflict.
This is presumably Cohen’s view. It puts all the agency with the Israelis; none with the Palestinians (and is, I would argue, unconsciously racist as a result). It assumes that the Palestinians are like us: they want dignity and statehood. The problem is, if that’s what they wanted, they’d have had it long ago. Instead they tried to destroy Israel, forcing Israel to build the security fence just to keep their mad youth from suicide terror attacks. And Cohen turns this into a plan to rob the Palestinians of what they have despised. As I asked with Tony Judt: Is this stupidity or malice?
Israel, from the time of Ben Gurion, built its state by creating facts on the ground, not through semantics. Many of its leaders, including Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni, have been on wondrous political odysseys from absolutist rejection of division of the land to acceptance of a two-state solution. Yet they try to paint Hamas as irrevocably absolutist. Why should Arabs be any less pragmatic than Jews?
This is close to unbearable. The Palestinians (and their Arab “allies”) have tried repeatedly to create “facts on the ground” (wiping out Israel) and failed. Their idea of how to do so is so extreme that they don’t know how to be “pragmatic.
The Israelis have repeatedly accepted compromises and shown pragmatism. And in Cohen’s analysis, it’s “same-same.” This column is an intellectual drive-by.
Of course it’s desirable that Hamas recognize Israel before negotiations. But is it essential? No. What is essential is that it renounces violence, in tandem with Israel, and the inculcation of hatred that feeds the violence.
Good luck with that. How about starting there.
Speaking of violence, it’s worth recalling what Israel did in Gaza in response to sporadic Hamas rockets. It killed upward of 1,300 people, many of them women and children; caused damage estimated at $1.9 billion; and destroyed thousands of Gaza homes. It continues a radicalizing blockade on 1.5 million people squeezed into a narrow strip of land.
At this vast human, material and moral price, Israel achieved almost nothing beyond damage to its image throughout the world. Israel has the right to hit back when attacked, but any response should be proportional and governed by sober political calculation. The Gaza war was a travesty; I have never previously felt so shamed by Israel’s actions.
Well, I guess we know where all this deranged “reasoning” is coming from. He’s taking vengeance on Israel for embarrassing him. Shame, as any Arab will tell you, leads to rage. No wonder we get the drive-by. Cohen isn’t thinking, he’s spewing.
No wonder Hamas and Hezbollah are seen throughout the Arab world as legitimate resistance movements.
It’s time to look at them again and adopt the new British view that contact can encourage Hezbollah “to move away from violence and play a constructive, democratic and peaceful role.”
Ah, the liberal regains his composure as he puts a sheep’s skin on the wolves, and talks peace.
The British step is a breakthrough. By contrast, Clinton’s invitation to Iran is of little significance.
There are two schools within the Obama administration on Iran: the incremental and the bold. The former favors little steps like inviting Iran to help with Afghanistan; the latter realizes that nothing will shift until Obama convinces Tehran that he’s changing strategy rather than tactics.
That requires Obama to tell Iran, as a start, that he does not seek regime change and recognizes the country’s critical role as a regional power. Carrots and sticks — the current approach — will lead to the same dead end as Hamas and Hezbollah denial.
The Neville Chamberlain award of the day to Roger Cohen. And leave it to the NYT to have someone like this on its editorial page.