Jeffrey Goldberg and Hussein Ibish published an absurd op-ed in today’s N.Y. Times touting the ‘radical’ idea that the peace process isn’t dead, just sleeping. Given the release of the Palestine Papers over the past few days and their profound impact, signalling the entombment of the current process, they bring to mind two guys sitting on a lawn chair before Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, watching the streaming line of humanity fleeing the advancing storm. When asked why they didn’t join in the flight they looked up at the sky and said: “Doesn’t look like rain to us.” Their lawn chairs, without them in them were last seen floating just offshore in the Gulf of Mexico a few days after Katrina blew in.
Readers of this blog will know that I rag on Ethan “Eytan of Arabia” Bronner quite often here. But Goldberg and Ibish are in a class by themselves. The sheer delusion and nonsense spouted in this column boggles the mind. I would wonder at the editor who commissioned this piece if I didn’t recall that likely the same editor published similarly wishful nonsense by Benny Morris and others about the Israeli-Arab conflict. It seems to be a requirement of the position that the op-ed editor periodically has to publish a few embarrassing pieces in order to satisfy the pro-Israel powers that be.
Personally, I wonder whether the idea of publishing this monstrosity came from the authors or the editors; or perhaps they were spurred to do it be some desperate souls in the State Department, Israel’s foreign affairs ministry, or PA headquarters in Ramallah begged them to.
The basic premise of the piece is this: we two moderate, sensible observers of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one Palestinian, one Jewish, are saying to you that all is not lost. That the two-state solution is not dead. The two sides can still salvage this thing. And now we’re gonna tell you why things are better than you think. In reality (as in the actual peace process itself), the Goldberg-Ibish proposals tilt very heavily toward Israel and its interests. Ibish, who is a strong Fatah man, gets very little from his Jewish interlocutor. In fact, the article appears from its tone and frame of reference to be more the work of Goldberg, with a few concessions to Ibish and the Palestinian cause thrown in for good measure.
To get a real sense of the nonsense, I’ll quote the more egregious passages and then offer a response. Get a load of this sunshine oratory:
…We have recently seen startling shifts in both Israeli and Palestinian attitudes on the need for compromise. The Palestinian Authority government, led by President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, two of the most conscientious and sober-minded leaders the Palestinian people have had, continues to push forward a remarkable state-building program, and has been innovative in working against violence and incitement.
These two guys have had three days to read the damning evidence exposed by the Palestine Papers (which interestingly they call “alleged diplomatic documents”) and yet they still attempt to palm off Abbas as “conscientious” and “sober-minded.” What are they thinking (if anything)? Have they been in a Tibetan monastery for the last three days cut off from their Blackberries and PCs? Or more likely, are they like the little boy who doesn’t like what his mommy is saying, so they just put their hands over their ears and hum loudly so they don’t have to listen to what they don’t want to hear?
Interesting also, that they tout the PA’s “remarkable state-building program,” while ignoring the fact that there is no state, no likelihood that there will ever be a state, no inalienable territory that will comprise this state, no borders recognized for this state, and–given Tzipi Livni’s touting of contemporary Nakba as a solution to Palestinian “overpopulation” within the Green Line–not even a clear notion of what population will comprise this state. So one might ask: what sort of state are they building? Where will that state be? Who will live there? Who will run that state? How will they run it?
Goldberg-Ibish reinforce that tired hoary meme that Bibi has done a remarkable turnabout in “embracing” the two state solution:
In Israel, the shift is also startling. Prime Minister Netanyahu — the leader of the Likud Party, which was previously the guardian of the ideology of territorial maximalism — has openly endorsed the creation of an independent Palestine. A majority of Knesset members plainly realize the necessity of a two-state solution. (Even Israel’s truculent foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has said that he was “ready to quit my settlement home to make peace.”)
It’s rather laughable to claim that Likud was “previously” the guardian of territorial maximalist ideology. Of course, it still is–in spades. This passage ignores the fact that Bibi in one speech which was forced upon him by the Obama administration, spoke of the need for a two state solution. But frankly, I don’t think I’ve ever heard him repeat himself on this subject (except in front of microphones and in the presence of the U.S. president) and he has done absolutely nothing since that vaunted speech to bring such a vision into reality. Bibi supports the two state solution in the same way that the closet alcoholic swears to his loved ones that he’s sober as a judge. In other words, he’d like to be sober and he knows that being sober is the healthiest way for him to live. But he just can’t do it because deep down he’s an addict. Neither the leopard nor the son of Ben Zion Netanyahu changes his spots.
This is, after all, the same man who in 1995 egged on a crowd that bayed for Yizhak Rabin’s blood shortly before his assassination. A man who as a junior minister in 1987 publicly advocated expulsion of Israeli Arabs from Israel. If you believe Bibi supports two states I have a bridge in Brooklyn and ocean front property in Florida to sell you.
Let the nonsense continue:
Mr. Netanyahu, in a quiet way, has also encouraged a greater normalization of life on the West Bank. On his watch, the overall pace of settlement growth has slowed, especially when compared with previous Labor Party-led governments during the years of the Oslo peace process. He allowed the Palestinian flag to be raised in his private residence during a formal meeting with Mr. Abbas, and now employs the diplomatic term “West Bank” instead of the biblical term “Judea and Samaria.” He has also condemned an initiative offered by a group of Orthodox rabbis that sought to forbid Jews from selling or renting homes to non-Jews.
Jeff Goldberg here is simply pimping for Bibi Netanyahu. There’s no other proper way to describe it. He’s been doing this for a long time in The Atlantic. Now he brings it to the august pages of the Grey Lady. Settlement growth has slowed? With thousands of new units both being built and in the approval process, Goldberg has the chutzpah to try to pass this off as reasonable? And Bibi raised a Palestinian flag and used the term “West Bank?” Got news for ya Jeff. This is known as a ‘gesture.’ Gestures aren’t meaningful unless accompanied by substance. In this case, the gestures are devoid of meaning because there is no substance. As for Bibi’s criticism of the rabbi’s letter…that and a few bucks will buy you a cappuccino at Starbucks. I can show you 50 equally noxious racist acts or statements that Bibi ignored, including an editorial by three prominent religious nationalist rabbis calling for the creation of extermination camps for Palestinians. What does this prove? That Bibi all of a sudden has become an anti-racist? Or a peace campaigner? Or even a two-state advocate?
There are, in the column claims presented as established wisdom, which go unexamined. Like this one:
…No peace treaty will end the conflict so long as Hamas is in power.
What proof do they offer? None except to say that Hamas adheres to the “uncompromising” Muslim Brotherhood ideology, meaning peace can never be possible. I guess that neither Ibish nor Goldberg read this week’s eye-opening profile of the contemporary Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt which presented the movement as extremely solicitous of the political establishment to the point of being disdained by the Young Turks who’d left the movement for its vacillation. In other words, a statement regarding Hamas that may’ve held true in years past doesn’t necessarily hold true today. Hamas has, in fact, publicly stated that it would allow the PLO to negotiate a peace deal with Israel and that it would accept such a deal if ratified in a national referendum. That means that Goldberg is willfully falsifying the public record while presenting no evidence that his claim is correct.
Get this spin on the Palestine Papers, which note the almost Quisling-like collaboration between PA negotiators and Israel even in the assassination of Fatah’s own fighters in Gaza:
It is, in part, the high level of Palestinian security cooperation with Israel — involving intelligence sharing and on-the-ground measures — that has reduced violence so significantly.
Well, that’s one way of putting it. But actually even this claim is false because Israel only cooperates with the PA to the extent that it can enforce Israel’s needs in the West Bank. When Israel feels the need to go it alone, it simply busts into West Bank villages and cities and carries out security operations that often involve assassinations or even the killing of innocent Palestinians. So in fact, Israel does what it wishes in the West Bank, the erstwhile home of this new Palestinian state which Goldibish claim Fatah is a-building. Israeli forces ignore Palestinian sovereignty even in areas where Israel officially concedes that the PA is the sovereign authority.
Now let’s deal with the “galvanizing” steps Bibi could take to open Palestinian eyes to the beneficence of their Israeli neighbor. I swear to you this is what Goldberg is claiming will flood Palestinian hearts with gratitude: allowing Palestinian security forces to develop “advanced counter-terror” capabilities. And he has another remarkable suggestion: Bibi should actually allow the PA to rule territory that Israel itself has conceded it will control in a future peace settlement. Wow, I stand humbled before the brilliance and self-evidence of this proposal. That Goldberg should have the temerity to incorporate this into his column as something that would make Israel look like good guys to Palestinians is astonishing.
There are something like two, maybe three serious, even shocking points in this essay which actually criticize Israeli policy and attitudes. They should be noted both in being fair (or as fair as possible) to the authors and in marking how even an Israel partisan like Goldberg can sometimes (though rarely) embrace surprisingly progressive positions. Goldibish actually warn Bibi that his “economic peace” proposals for the West Bank are insufficient because they don’t address political dimensions of the conflict. This point is actually so spot-on that I’m half-tempted to attribute it to Ibish rather than Goldberg. But who knows where wisdom comes from these two?
Notable too is that the two seers also call for an attenuated (they call it “modified and limited,” whatever that means) settlement withdrawal:
…No Palestinian state will emerge on a West Bank blanketed with settlements…A modified and limited, but very public and systematic, withdrawal of settlers from remote or particularly confrontational settlements, especially from the so-called outposts that even Israel considers illegal, would have a powerful effect on Palestinian perceptions about Israel’s long-term intentions.
…We believe even a modest effort by Israel to reverse the pattern of settlement growth could strongly improve conditions for negotiations — and improve Israel’s sinking image.
So Goldibish would have us believe that Palestinians will shower Israel with rose petals if it would forcibly remove a few Hilltop Youth and their settlements, all the while building thousands of new housing units in East Jerusalem and environs? As for Israel’s “sinking image,” it will take a lot more than cosmetic gestures to improve that.
In the following passage, the two begin with a remarkable (for Goldberg) admission that the theft of Palestinian land in East Jerusalem is inadmissible. But they end on a note that is so weird and discordant as almost to wipe out the benefit of what they wrote first:
…The forced removal of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem to make way for settlers simply cannot continue….Israel has no future as the occupier of Palestinians who don’t agree to be occupied. One hopes that Mr. Netanyahu shares that insight, although one must also recognize that politically he has every incentive to remain ambiguous.
What in heaven’s name does this mean? In one breath you call on Bibi to recognize that Israel cannot be an occupier or thief of Palestinian land and in the very next one you say that it’s understandable that Bibi remains ambiguous on this score. Why? Even Ariel Sharon told the Israeli public that Israel had “conquered” the Territories, a term the far-right NEVER uses. If the Israeli right’s patron saint can say it why can’t its junior pledge?
I think it’s awfully rich that Ibish, who is pro-Fatah through and through, actually signs onto an op-ed which criticizes a policy of the Fatah-led PA. Not only that, but he criticizes davke a PA initiative that is one of the more promising it has attempted–securing recognition of an independent Palestinian state from other nations. Ibish actually and astonishingly calls that a bad idea:
Things have been further complicated in recent weeks as several Latin American states have recognized the Palestinians and upgraded the diplomatic status of their missions. Many Israelis are discomfited by this. The P.L.O. should be as clear as possible that these efforts do not constitute an end-run around an American-brokered negotiated agreement, but are an adjunct to both negotiations and the state-building program.
Oh the poor, poor Israelis who’ve been ‘discomfited’ by other nations recognizing Palestine. Doesn’t your heart just go out to them? Actually, very few Israelis I know or have heard from are discomfited by this. What Goldberg really means to say is that his buddy Bibi and the latter’s government has gotten its nose way bent out of joint by this. It’s a big slap in the face to them. You see, they thought they could stick it to the Palestinians and that the ol’ geezers would have no recourse but to grin and bear it. Bibi didn’t reckon that there was still an ounce of fight in the old dogs in Ramallah. And it irks the Israeli prime minister that he can’t get his way and stop this nonsense.
So someone tell me why these acts of recognition shouldn’t be an end run around the dead U.S. brokered peace negotiations? Is there any sentient being besides these two who believes there even is such a process extant?
I think it’s mighty white of Goldberg to tell us what the Palestinians believe about any number of issues, including this one:
Palestinians understand, of course, that at the end of the day, their independence depends on one country, Israel, more than any other, since it is Israel that controls the land that would comprise their state.
You know, something tells me that the notion that the fate of Palestine or the Palestinian people depends on Israel may just be part of what got Palestinians into the mess that they’re in in the first place. That’s why Palestinians and the rest of the peace movement are moving to alternate forms of resistance like BDS and the diplomatic recognition campaign. Forms that don’t depend on Israel for anything. Forms that demand that Israel change and impose penalties if it doesn’t.
You didn’t think we’d get out of this thing without the required denunciation of BDS did you? What surprises me (but only a bit) is that a Palestinian would actually attack BDS. But I guess this tells you something about Hussein Ibish and his bona fides:
THERE are…Palestinian initiatives that are completely counterproductive. Continued threats to unilaterally declare independence are pointless and provocative. Support for boycotts against all Israeli products and companies also serve only to convince Israel and its supporters that the Palestinians seek its elimination.
You almost want to give Goldberg credit for embracing at least one small part of BDS with the following statement, until you realize that it’s formulated in such a way that Goldberg actually doesn’t have to embrace what he appears to embrace:
It is understandable that Palestinians are supporting boycotts of products made in settlements, however, since the settlements are illegitimate and must not be legitimized.
In other words, this sophistry allows Goldberg to say that he understands Palestinians who resort to settlement boycott, but he doesn’t himself. How’s that for weaseling?
The touching conclusion of this bi-national manifesto calls for a “softening of hearts.” I really had to take out a handkerchief and dab my eyes it was so moving:
The other step is even more difficult to achieve, because it requires the softening of hearts…
Imagine, then, what would happen if Mahmoud Abbas were to visit Israel and tell Israelis he acknowledges that they have national and historical rights on the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea, and that he understands their suffering. And imagine what would happen if Benjamin Netanyahu were to visit Ramallah, acknowledge Palestinian suffering and also Palestinian national and historical rights, particularly to a country of their own, on their native land.
Parse this carefully now. He’s expecting Abbas to go to Israel and tell Israelis that they have the right to realize the Betar dream of a Zionist state between the Jordan and the Sea. Note that Goldberg doesn’t say here that Abbas should recognize Israel’s right to exist within the Green Line or 1967 borders, but within the expanded Greater Israel borders of the Jordan to the Mediterranean. Why again (sorry for invoking the deity twice in this post) in heaven’s name would any Palestinian leader endorse the views of Jabotinskyian Revisionism?
Again, the fact that a Palestinian-American who supposedly supports Palestinian national rights would sign on to such an articulation boggles the mind. But I don’t pretend to understand what may be going on in Hussein Ibish’s mind.
Finally, note what Goldberg asks Bibi to do: he would go to Palestine and tell the natives he’s mighty sorry for their suffering, but that if they expect any relief they’ll have to get it from the other guy, and not him. In other words, no mention of Nakba (God forbid). No mention of Return. Yes, you guys suffered. And here’s what we Israelis are prepared to do for you: drumroll please…You go live with Abbas over there and leave us alone.
Again, that’s mighty white of him. But somehow I have a sneaking suspicion it ain’t gonna mollify anyone. So there you have it. What passes for wisdom from the greatest Palestinian and pro-Israel minds the NY Times op-ed page can muster.