Trapped

Via Andrew, Chris Hitchens has some harsh words for Israeli settlers in the West Bank:

Peering over the horrible pile of Palestinian civilian casualties that has immediately resulted, it’s fairly easy to see where this is going in the medium-to-longer term. The zealot settlers and their clerical accomplices are establishing an army within the army so that one day, if it is ever decided to disband or evacuate the colonial settlements, there will be enough officers and soldiers, stiffened by enough rabbis and enough extremist sermons, to refuse to obey the order. Torah verses will also be found that make it permissible to murder secular Jews as well as Arabs. The dress rehearsals for this have already taken place, with the religious excuses given for Baruch Goldstein’s rampage and the Talmudic evasions concerning the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.

It’s wonderful to hear this sort of thing from Hitchens because few people could question whether or not he’s a friend to Israel, though quite honestly this sort of essay could blacklist him fairly quickly, especially if he were to follow up with repeated criticisms of the far-right Israeli setters and the crazy religious leaders who are quite single-handedly making an Israeli push for a two-state solution look less and less likely daily.  The same is true, of course, of the crazy religious and nationalist Palestinians, though there is quite a bit more press on that front, and a rather more widespread agreement that their tactics are wrong.  People have less knowledge and thus less opinion or investment in the subject of radical Israeli settlers.

It’s time Americans began to learn about the settlements and how very un-American they are.  After all, the thing that unites us most closely with Israel is our affinity with that country.  But settlements and apartheid are not things Americans generally approve of – or at least not since the days of Indian killing out West.

The new Israeli government is more hawkish than the last, and things are looking more and more grim in the region, as new settlements are planned; Turks and Egyptians both begin shuffling their feet and questioning, sometimes quite publicly, why their governments are allied with Israel.  Should those allies fail the Jewish state, things will continue to grow darker for the Israeli people.

What needs to happen is this: Israel needs to commit to dismantling the settlements, and the sooner the better because the settlers and their cohorts in the IDF are getting stronger and more radical.  Meanwhile, Arab states – not the Palestinians – need to come up with a unified security deal for Israel to gaurantee their security in the event of an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank.  In good faith, Israel needs to come to some sort of renewed ceasefire and drawdown of sanctions over Gaza.  Likewise, Arab governments need to publicly voice support of a lasting peace with Israel.  One important thing to note is that it will be much easier for these states to do this than it is or ever has been for the stateless Palestinians.  A state actor can come to consensus merely because there are leaders with legitimate and tested authority who can create that consensus.  Ironically, the very stateless nature of the Palestinians makes coming to a two-state solution and security gaurantee that much more difficult.

Ben Smith thinks it’s likely that we’ll see a collision between the Obama and Netanyahu administrations, and I agree.  It’s almost inevitable given the nature of Netanyahu’s government and the inclusion of Avigdor Lieberman.  Despite Netanyahu’s claims to support a peace process, the Prime Minister has a track record of extreme hawkishness.  It’s doubtful that we’ll see anything but expanded settlements and more dead ends.  Obama will be sorely tested.  Perhaps if an Israeli leader actually committed to the peace process had been elected alongside the new Obama administration, some ground could be covered.  As it stands, I see the entire peace movement headed toward a crash.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch….

Take it away, Roque….

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9 thoughts on “Trapped

  1. Excellent post. If reason, as opposed to religion, held sway the Israel Palestine question might have been settled long ago.

    Just a bit of history, trivia. This next July will mark the 42nd anniversary of the first Israel settlement, Kibbutz Merom Hagolan, in the Golan following the Six-Day War.

    Things that make you go hmmm.

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  2. “few people could question whether or not he’s a friend to Israel”

    Actually, in his pre-neocon days Hitchens was one of Israel’s harshest critics. He co-authored a book with Edward Said about the Palestinian plight, and he wrote extensively on the subject in the Nation and elsewhere in the 80s and early 90s.

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  3. That is interesting, Bob. I like me some trivia!

    Stardust – m’lady – I think the moral, then, is that one can at the same time be a great friend to Israel and write of the plight of the Palestinians. In fact, that may be one of the most valuable ways to be a friend to our little ally…

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  4. Take it away, Roque….

    Thanks for calling my name, even if it’s so sarcastic. I don’t see much to argue about here though. Did you think I supported the settler movement for some reason? My only point about the settlements is that they are not the main obstacle to a peace agreement. That would be the Arab refusal to recognize the Jewish state. That’s why there has been war since the founding of the state of Israel when there were no settlements at all. Once again, there could have been a Palestinian state in 1948 or in 2000 but for this.

    I think you’re exaggerating when you say, “this sort of essay could blacklist him fairly quickly.” You think that writing about “the plight of the Palestinians” or criticizing the settlers is somehow taboo and will get a writer “blacklisted.” I have to at least give you the benefit of the doubt here, because if you believe that the Israel Lobby can “blacklist” writers, then you’re more paranoid than I am. I’m assuming that this was just an unhappy choice of words and you really don’t mean it. I personally don’t care who writes about the “plight of the Palestinians” or who criticizes the settlers, but I do care who weaves conspiracy theories involving Jews and blacklists.

    The US government is opposed to the settlements as the article you link to makes clear:

    For this reason, the United States has strongly opposed this sort of Israeli construction for more than a decade. Israeli governments have avoided construction in this area, mostly because of U.S. pressure.

    I can’t see much to argue about insofar as your “policy” suggestion:

    What needs to happen is this: Israel needs to commit to dismantling the settlements, and the sooner the better because the settlers and their cohorts in the IDF are getting stronger and more radical. Meanwhile, Arab states – not the Palestinians – need to come up with a unified security deal for Israel to guarantee their security in the event of an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. In good faith, Israel needs to come to some sort of renewed ceasefire and drawdown of sanctions over Gaza. Likewise, Arab governments need to publicly voice support of a lasting peace with Israel.

    If only it were so easy. For example, Israel is already committed to dismantling the settlements and has been since the ’90s. Ariel Sharon’s plan was to unilaterally withdraw from the West Bank like they did in Gaza in 2005. I find it hard to imagine a “unified security deal” that would satisfy Israelis in the absence of peace treaties. How could Arab states possibly guarantee Israel’s security? Do you seriously want us to believe that Israelis would trust Arab states to guarantee their security? If you were Israeli, would you trust them rather than your own army?

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  5. That was affection, not sarcasm – or rather, both. Quick thoughts and then to bed: I know you’re critical of the settlers Roque, I only called you out because this was an Israel/Palestine post and you always comment on those ;-) … I realize also that my policy prescription is much easier said than done. Totally.

    Regarding the “Israel Lobby” look – I don’t hold much stock in the lobby as the mover and shaker of all things Israel. Quite frankly a more accurate thing to say would be the “Israel movement” within the “conservative movement” and, I suppose, within the neo-liberal movement as well. This goes way beyond a simple lobby, and into the territory of conviction and ideology. And yes, a writer that goes too critical of Israel can be blacklisted – not by the nefarious “lobby” boogeymen, but simply by the larger movement, blogosphere, intelligentsia etc. etc. etc.

    It’s not a conspiracy or anything. It’s just ideological warfare, plain and simple. And I did say that if he “continued” writing in this vein, not that this would happen should he simply post this one thing. Look at Sullivan though – he’s been widely derided ever since he began taking a critical stance against Israel. He’s being effectively blacklisted over that topic and numerous others. Blacklisting can be a good thing, though. It can give you an even better pedestal….

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  6. Roque writes, “For example, Israel is already committed to dismantling the settlements and has been since the ’90s.” Well that is certainly the stated policy of Israel but facts on the ground seem to belie that.

    Even today, 3/26/09, the BBC is reporting:

    “An unauthorised Jewish settlement in the West Bank, illegal even under Israeli law, appears to benefiting from state funding, the BBC has uncovered.

    “A road is being built from the established settlement of Eli, near the Palestinian city of Nablus, leading east to the illegal outpost at Hayovel.”

    And last year there was a flap over the building of, or expansion of, Maskiot in the West Bank. Which lead to “a June 24 [2008] statement, [by] the so-called quartet of Middle East peacemakers — the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia — ‘reiterated its deep concern’ over Israel’s continued settlement activity, calling for a complete settlement freeze.” New York Times, July 25, 2008.

    The BBC’s Tim Frank, author of the above article, notes that actions like these occur under an Israel government committed to a Palestinian State. The incoming Netanyahu government makes no such commitment.

    In short the settlement question seems more nuanced than Roque suggests.

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  7. Thanks for the info, Bob. I couldn’t agree more – the settlement question is much, much more complex than Roque suggests, and the idea that Israel is “committed” to the dismantling of the settlements is akin to someone claiming to be committed to losing weight while gorging themselves on cake and spending all day watching tv on the couch. You can say it all you want, but it doesn’t make it true.

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  8. So: I’m glad you cleared up your “blacklisting” comment. Like I said, it was just an unfortunate word choice: you’re confusing simple criticism with “blacklisting,” which is shown by your saying, “Blacklisting can be a good thing, though. It can give you an even better pedestal….” If this were true, then everyone would want to be blacklisted. A “Blacklist” is a list of people to be boycotted somehow. Just because someone is “widely derided” doesn’t mean that they’re on any “blacklist.” Calling simple criticism “blacklisting” is typical of leftist discourse.

    As for Sullivan, he’s widely derided because he’s just risible. I quit reading him long ago, even to deride him. He brings holier-than-thou to a whole new level. Therefore I have no idea what his opinions about the Israel/Palestine conflict are. I assume he’s “shocked to the core” about it, though.

    The following is from the Haaretz report about Danny Zamir that Hitchens refers to [http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1072475.html]:

    Yossi: “I am a platoon sergeant in an operations company of the Paratroops Brigade. We were in a house and discovered a family inside that wasn’t supposed to be there. We assembled them all in the basement, posted two guards at all times and made sure they didn’t make any trouble. Gradually, the emotional distance between us broke down – we had cigarettes with them, we drank coffee with them, we talked about the meaning of life and the fighting in Gaza. After very many conversations the owner of the house, a man of 70-plus, was saying it’s good we are in Gaza and it’s good that the IDF is doing what it is doing.

    “The next day we sent the owner of the house and his son, a man of 40 or 50, for questioning. The day after that, we received an answer: We found out that both are political activists in Hamas. That was a little annoying – that they tell you how fine it is that you’re here and good for you and blah-blah-blah, and then you find out that they were lying to your face the whole time.

    The report goes on to say that the soldiers were ordered to clean up the house upon leaving.

    So: the Israeli atrocities are more “nuanced” than people want to realize. Can anyone honestly imagine that the situation would have been the same if the roles were reversed?

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  9. & ED Kain:

    I’m sorry I gave you the impression that I thought the settlement issue was simple. I’ve tried to make the opposite point every time I’ve mentioned it. My main point about the settlements is that they are not the main obstacle to peace. The main obstacle to peace is Arab and Palestinian rejectionism. I can support this by referring to the situation 1947-1967, when there was a state of war between Arab and Muslim states and Israel and there were no settlements.

    Above, I was speaking of official state policy, like Bob realizes. There are certain laws that regulate the settlements and I really don’t know anything about them so as to be able to judge which settlements are illegal and which are not. I realize it’s a complex situation.

    It’s interesting that ED Kain accuses me of over simplifying the settlement question and then over simplifies it with his analogy. Bob has come up with an example of settlement expansion—which is only reported by the BBC and not proven—and ED Kain takes this as a complete betrayal of Israel’s commitments. One would have to show that unbridled settlement construction is taking place throughout the West Bank for his analogy to ring true. As it is, it’s more accurate to say that

    the idea that Israel is “committed” to the dismantling of the settlements is akin to someone claiming to be committed to losing weight while having a Coke once in a while and missing a gym workout on Saturday to go on a picnic.

    I repeat: my point is not to defend any settlement construction at all or to minimize it. I quite agree that they’re illegal and that they must be dismantled as part of a final peace agreement. But they are not the main obstacle to peace. The main obstacle to peace is Arab and Palestinian rejection of the state of Israel.

    Plus, Bob’s comment also shows why it’s false to say that the US gives its unrestricted support to any Israeli policy.

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