The New York Times editorial this morning “explaining” the British Parliament’s recent vote to recognize a Palestinian state is striking for several reasons. Perhaps first among them is the cowardly way the editorial board manages to signal its endorsement of that vote without the integrity to say so directly. Appeasement comes in many varieties and forms. Courage comes in one. It is clear even to a casual reader of the Times over the course of the summer and fall that its editorial board is no friend of Israel. Who do they think they’re fooling by this editorial?
So, I was going to rant, but I’d rather stick to facts. Let me say at the outset that I don’t see any real solution to the problem without a two state solution, so I guess I endorse that idea. And I have no intention of praising Israel’s sometimes bad behavior. But to recognize a Palestinian state at this moment in time is effectively to endorse Germany’s annexation of the Sudetenland, or Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In order to understand why, I am going to provide here some of the facts that the Times editorial board seems happy to overlook, and also try to show how empathy for both sides would lead to a different conclusion.
For the facts, I will draw not only on my own knowledge but also on the excellent Kol Nidre sermon delivered by Rabbi Laurence Groffman of Temple Sholom of West Essex. (You can read the piece yourself, here: http://http://www.sholom.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Rabbi-Groffman-RH.pdf.) For empathy intellectualized, I will of course draw upon my blog’s eponym, David Hume.
First, as Rabbi Groffman points out, Israel is at war with Hamas — a terrorist organization sworn to destroy it — rather than the Palestinian people. One in five Israelis is an Arab. (Just by contrast, only one in 50 Americans is Jewish, and one in 500 people in the world is Jewish.) Israeli Arabs serve as judges and in the Knesset, they own property and businesses, they work with Israeli Jews, their children play together. Hamas is a terrorist organization — an entirely different story. (And let’s remember that the recent unpleasantness began with the kidnapping and murder of 3 Israeli boys, an event celebrated by Hamas, where by contrast the awful retributive murder of a Palestinian boy was condemned in Israel).
As far as the conduct of the war is concerned, it is becoming tiresome to repeat to no avail that Israel takes precautions — that are extraordinary for any country at war — to avoid civilian casualties, while Hamas deliberately places military and strategic installations in civilian centers and encourages the civilians to remain while Hamas’ leaders hide. Rabbi Groffman quotes one former high Hamas official as saying: “Hamas wanted us butchered so it could win the media war against Israel showing our dead children on TV and then get money from Qatar.” The Palestinian civilian causalities were horrible. I don’t know how many could have been avoided had Israel been even more careful. But a failure to defend itself and its people against Hamas rocket and terror attacks is not an option, nor is it reasonable for anybody to expect it to be.
Israel voluntarily left Gaza in 2005. (Two state solution, anybody?) What did Hamas do with the hundreds of millions of dollars of foreign aid it received? (Global aid to Gaza has been over a billion dollars.) It bought missiles and built terror tunnels, spending $90 million on tunnels alone. What was stopping it from investing in Gaza infrastructure and industry, education and commerce? Israel wasn’t bombing Gaza or engaging in terror attacks but instead left it at peace. Yes, Israel blockaded Gaza — two years after leaving, when Hamas was raining down rockets on Israel from Gaza. If this is what Hamas did with its opportunities as an outlaw organization, imagine what it might do as a powerful player in a world-sanctioned state, knowing that it had already been rewarded for its bad behavior?
Lost in the debate, quite conveniently, is the manner in which the occupied territories came to Israel. The united Arab states of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan attempted to annihilate Israel in 1967. Well, Israel won, and the territories were the result. Israel promptly offered the territories back. The Arab states said “no,” until the 1979 — and enduring — Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty which returned the Sinai to Egypt. I can’t think of any nation — certainly not our sanctimonious British friends — who acquired their territories in defensive war and voluntarily returned them. (Indeed, as Rabbi Groffman points out, Israel has returned 90% of the territory it acquired in 1967. And, as he notes, Israel either returned or offered to return territory in 1993, 1994, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2005, and 2008.) In 2000, you will recall, Prime Minister Barak made a breathtaking offer to Yasser Arafat which would have given the Palestinians almost everything they wanted. Arafat walked away and began new terrorist assaults. Now, as I noted, I believe in a two-state solution. But until Israel can be guaranteed the kind of relationship it has maintained with Egypt, it is unfair of the rest of the world, sitting securely at home, to press the matter.
There is so much more to say — so many more facts — that I haven’t the space here to elaborate. (Do read Rabbi Groffman’s piece.) But I think the facts I’ve laid out are sufficient to call into question the idea that the world can impose a two state solution when the parties are not ready for it. And, by the parties, I mean Hamas and the Palestinians. Israel has already demonstrated its willingness to accept that solution in exchange for adequate security, as the 2000 offer and the 2005 Gaza withdrawal proved.
Now, back to the Times. Besides encouraging the editorial board to write with integrity and not cowardice, I want to commend to it some empathy. It is easy to empathize with the Palestinians of Gaza after the last and terrible war. And Israel has grown reasonably powerful, and has been reasonably effective in its own defense. But Israel remains a tiny country, surrounded by large and powerful neighbors, most of whom are sworn to its destruction or at the very least would be happy to see it dead. It is a country containing about 43% of the world’s decimated Jewish population of 13.75 million people, surrounded by much of the world’s Muslim population of 1.6 billion people. In case there were any doubt about the need for a Jewish state, this summer’s disturbing resurgence of European anti-Semitism (including in Sweden which recently announced its recognition of a Palestinian state) is a potent reminder. It is the only democracy in the Middle East, and the only country that not only is tolerant of difference and diversity but protects it. (I suppose another way of saying this is that it is the only country in the Middle East with Western values.) It remains a country in which parents sending their children off to school in the morning cannot be sure they will return.
I would invite the Times editorial board, before sanctimoniously opining on what others should do, to try to imagine themselves living in Israel. Yes, Israel today, but also in 1948, 1967, 1973, 2000, etc. Put yourself in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s place. Put yourself in the place of kibbutzniks on the Syrian border, citizens of Haifa within easy rocket fire of Lebanon, of Jerusalem hard against the West Bank, of Ashdod and Tel Aviv. Picture yourself as Israeli parents, whether of military-age children or younger. (Ask your columnist, David Brooks, for help if you need it. http://http://www.jewishjournal.com/articles/item/david_brooks_son_is_in_the_israeli_army_does_it_matter.) Really engage in this exercise. And then ask yourselves whether you would be so eager for a two-state solution without meaningful security guarantees and, for that matter, a little more assurance that the world would come to your aid if those guarantees failed.
Do that. Then write your editorials.