P.S. Can They Meet the Minimal Conditions?
Israel's first duty to its citizens is survival
Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Dear Ambassador Lauder,
If you remember, I wrote to you recently in these pages, responding to your New York Times op-ed, "Israel's Self-Inflicted Wounds," in which you attempted to explain the growing alienation of American Jewry. I argued that the framework for analyzing the distancing of the American Jewish community from Israel is in fact the rapidly decreasing importance most American Jews place on their own Jewishness — and the declining concern for their Jewish brothers in Israel that follows.
I did not take up your charge that Israel is missing an opportunity for peace — the "two-state solution" — because of its settlement policy, as I knew that others would do so. And your statement that ruling over millions of Arab non-citizens threatens Israel's status as a democracy and comes with a heavy cost cannot be dismissed out of hand.
Micah Goodman and Yossi Klein Halevi, among others, have long argued that both the left and right in Israel are right. The left is correct that Israel cannot remain a Jewish and democratic state while ruling over 2.5 million Palestinians, who lack voting rights. But the right is also correct that Israel cannot return to the pre-1967 borders, or anything roughly like them, without jeopardizing its very existence.
Faced with this quandary, the consensus of Israeli Jews today is that Israel's first duty to its citizens and to the Jewish people is survival, and that there is at present no Palestinian partner for peace. Yet you, like perhaps the majority of America Jews, by implication, place the onus on Israel for the failure of the "peace process" and would have Israel take far greater risks.
As I see it, at least two differences would flow from greater American Jewish concern with the lives of their fellow Jews in Israel: First, that concern would lead them to be far better informed about the history of the Israeli-Arab conflict. That greater knowledge would, in turn, lead them to better appreciate the quandary described above and cause them to question the narrative of Israeli culpability for the lack of peace.
Second, a greater identification with their fellow Jews would make American Jews more inclined to give their Israeli counterparts a greater benefit of the doubt, and less eager to accept the charges that Israeli Jews do not seek peace or are oblivious to Palestinian suffering.
Nearly 20 years ago, a friend of mine who does Israeli advocacy on American college campuses told me that within five to ten minutes of any presentation, he can always count on a Jewish student stopping him and demanding to hear the "Palestinian narrative." I doubt that too many Arab or Muslim speakers have been similarly asked to provide the Jewish "narrative."
Giving us — i.e., Israeli Jews — the benefit of the doubt might start by asking the following question: Why have Israeli Jews, who, in the main, greeted the 1993 handshake on the White House lawn with near messianic enthusiasm, come to believe that there is at present no partner for a two-state solution?
Do American Jews remember March 2002, in which 139 Israelis, the equivalent of roughly 50,000 Americans, were killed by terrorists in a single month? Do they remember what happened in 2005, when Israel withdrew entirely from Gaza, while leaving behind highly profitable hothouses paid for largely by Jewish philanthropists? Within days the hothouses were gutted, and Gaza turned into a launching pad for rockets on Israel that have necessitated at least three full-scale military intrusions since.
Before placing the blame on Israel for the lack of a two-state solution, the question that must be asked is: Are the Palestinians more interested in the destruction of Israel than in their own state? How many young American Jews are aware of the facts that might bear on that question?
The Jews accepted a UN partition plan that left them with a sliver of a state in 1948; the Arabs rejected out of hand any partition. Little more than two months after the 1967 war, the Arab League responded to Israel's overtures to negotiate with respect to the territory captured in the war with the infamous Three No's of Khartoum: no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with Israel.
In 2000 at Camp David, Yasser Arafat walked away from Prime Minister Ehud Barak's offer of Palestinian state, without even making a counter-offer. Mahmoud Abbas did the same thing in response to an even more generous offer by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2008.
WHY DID ARAFAT AND ABBAS FLEE from offers of statehood? Because neither had done anything to prepare their people for peace. That is what Arafat meant when he told President Clinton that any response to Barak's offer would leave him a "dead man walking," i.e., a sure target for assassination.
Nothing has changed. Palestinian textbooks and official media continue to promote the goal of Arab rule over the entirety of Israel. Streets, schools, and summer camps continue to be named after the "martyrs" who have killed the most Jews. And the Palestinian Authority insists that it is a national imperative to pay rewards to the families of terrorists killed by Israel, with additional bonuses according to the number of Israelis they murdered.
Nowhere is the goal of destroying Israel, rather than building a state, clearer than in Gaza under Hamas rule. Contributions from the international community are largely diverted to the building of underground tunnels into Israel, even as the government complains of an ongoing humanitarian crisis.
You write, Mr. Ambassador, that the air is rife with opportunities, that anonymous Arab leaders have assured you that they are at last ready for negotiations. Do you recall how at the outset of the Obama administration, Abbas came to Washington, and candidly admitted he had no interest in negotiations with Israel, but would prefer to rely on American pressure?
What evidence can you cite that Abbas, who is now nine years further into his presidency for life, has changed his mind? Have the refugee camps used for 70 years to nurture an embittered, permanent attack force against Israel been dismantled? Has the Palestinian Authority media stopped its non-stop incitement against Israel and Jews? Have terrorists ceased to be rewarded by the PA as holy martyrs?
I ACKNOWLEDGED THAT RULE over more than two million Arabs comes at a cost to us. But those who would place the highest priority on moral purity have to answer a few questions first: Have you shown the same concern with the self-determination of the Kurds or the Tibetans, who unlike the Palestinians constitute as distinct people, both historically and linguistically?
And what do you imagine would happen were Israel to withdraw from the so-called "territories"? Would those areas under Palestinian control become thriving democracies? Not likely, particularly as it is hard to point to even one such democracy in the Arab world. Moreover, neither the PA nor Hamas have invested in developing the institutions of civil society that must precede democracy. Indeed, they have stymied the development of those institutions.
Far more likely, those areas would become failed states torn by civil war and would serve as magnets for terrorist groups. Think Gaza after the Israeli withdrawal; southern Lebanon, from which more than 100,000 missiles are currently aimed at Israel, again after the Israeli withdrawal; Iraq after the withdrawal of American troops, into which vacuum ISIS poured; and Libya and Syria today.
How much thought have American Jews alienated from Israel given to these issues? From what territory do they imagine Israel could afford to withdraw, given that it would likely be left facing a multitude of terrorist groups and non-state actors?
Israel's pre-1967 borders were called "Auschwitz borders" because they left Israel so vulnerable to annihilation. And that was not just the judgment of Israeli leaders and generals, but of the American Joint Chiefs of Staff in the wake of the 1967 War. Pre-1967, Israel's most populous area and economic center was only nine miles across at its narrowest point, its major highways vulnerable to attack from the high ground of the West Bank. To return to that situation today, with terrorist groups able to command far more powerful and mobile weapons than ever before, would be tantamount to putting the cat in the chicken coop.
So before we Israeli Jews are judged and found morally wanting, we want to know that our accusers have some knowledge of the history of the Israel-Arab conflict, of the Palestinian preference for the destruction of Israel over the creation of a State, and of Israel's vulnerability and dangers it would face under any conceivable peace treaty acceptable to the Palestinians.
Do you think American Jewry can meet that basic condition?