Caroline Glick at the Jerusalem Post writes a wonderful article that aims to delegitimize every Palestinian political group, no matter how prepared it is for peace. The standard is always the same: nothing short of total acceptance is okay, and nothing short of total obsequity is peaceful. I see it among pro-Palestinian extremists who portray Israelis as uniformly oppressive, and among pro-Israeli extremists who portrays Palestinians as uniformly pro-terror.
Glick’s first contention is that Fatah is just a kinder, gentler terrorist organization than Hamas. Presumably, that Fatah is prepared to recognize Israel and focuses on nonviolent resistance to the Occupation is not enough; as long as it doesn’t tell Olmert, “Sir, you’re allowed to arrest and kill any of our citizens at will without due process,” it’s a terrorist organization.
And, of course, there’s the ridiculous attempt to delegitimize half of the debate on the I/P conflict. The gamut of views ranges from wanting to wipe out Israel and wanting to keep Palestinians subjugated indefinitely. It’s possible in principle to exclude people who advocate violence against civilians, but that will leave maybe 20% of people in, which is of course futile. But it’s never sensible to exclude people whoadvocate violence only on one side.
Israelis like to believe that the first approach to the debate must be recognizing the validity of basic pro-Israeli promises: Israeli life is inviolable (while Palestinian life isn’t necessarily), Zionism is good, non-obsequious criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, and so on. So Glick makes the incredible assertion that calling Israel an apartheid state is somehow anti-Semitic because it denies Jewish self-determination.
Look, if you want to argue that every nation deserves self-determination, go ahead. Even the most extreme pro-Palestinian intellectuals in the West – Chomsky, Judt, Said – are officially left of Fatah, to say nothing of Hamas. The people who criticized South African apartheid didn’t ever advocate killing off white South Africans, even when they supported the African National Congress’s violent activities.
If you think the debate on abortion is marked by preaching to the choir, read some magazines that deal with the I/P conflict. On that issue preaching to the choir is not only normal but also seen as the mark of good citizenship. An Israeli who doesn’t refuse a priori to talk to anyone who’s more pro-Palestinian than Peace Now is seen as a traitor; a Palestinian who doesn’t refuse a priori to talk to anyone who’s more pro-Israeli than Rachel Corrie is seen as a collaborator.
Of course, different sides have different premises. Fortunately, the world tends to offer enough facts that anyone who’s sufficiently intelligent, sufficiently familiar with the other side’s contentions, and sufficiently right can make headway. Retreating to shrill papers like Z, the Jerusalem Post, Counterpunch, and National Review, and insisting on ridiculous ground rules is the mark of the intellectual coward.
The real danger here is of course not about relatively insignificant writers on partisan papers. Rather, it’s that governments will heed those writers’ requirements and stop negotiating. As Rabin and Peres emphasized time and time again in the wake of the Oslo Accords, peace is something you make with enemies. At the time, the Hamas bombings seemed to belie that saying; now that Palestinians are ready to move on and Fatah is no longer pro-terror, it makes perfect sense.
A pro-Palestinian purist would see Rabin as an oppressor. Why wouldn’t he? During the first Intifada, Rabin didn’t pledge support for the Palestinians, but rather said that the IDF should “Break their arms and legs” (variant quote: “break their bones”). He made peace not because of humanitarian concern with Palestinian suffering but because he realized it was in Israel’s best geopolitical interest. Fortunately, Arafat had other concerns, so he negotiated.
It’s attractive for the purist to look for like-minded idealists on the other side, but it’s not happening. There are no Zionists anywhere in mainstream Palestinian politics. Likewise, there are no heavyweight pro-Palestinians in Israeli politics, or any anti-Americans in American politics, or British patriots in French politics. In realist politics, each side’s politicians are concerned with their own country’s well-being no matter what side they’re on; those on the left just see peace as more beneficial than war.
But for negotiations to go anywhere, the governments need to make sure these purists who legitimize the peacemakers have no power. Palestine is trying to do that by ensuring that the people Israel negotiates with are Fatah members; but in Israel, where the nationalist parties are more popular, it’s impossible at this stage.
The only serious solution within Israel is to delude the Likudniks into thinking they have any power while shafting them in practice. Unfortunately, there are no sufficiently skilled politicians in Israel who can do that. Sharon could and for the most part did, but he’s incapacitated now.
To paraphrase Churchill, Fatah is the worst government the Palestinians have had and the worst negotiating partner Israel has had, except for all the other alternatives. Delegitimizing that party for no good reason is not something any responsible columnist who favors peace would do.