Monday, September 20, 2010

MJ Rosenberg Weighs In On "Obstacles" To Peace

Our old buddy MJ Rosenberg is back again with his weekly blog post, and this time he is talking about obstacles to achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians. His article appears to be more balanced than I might have expected, but as it turns out he comes to the conclusion that everything is Israel's fault

He begins by using another analogy to describe the problem of the settlements. In this case he is saying that the Palestinians are a "landlord" and the Israelis are a "tenant," and that the tenant is building something in the apartment while discussing that building with the landlord. The problem, of course, is that there is no landlord, there are two people who want that apartment to belong to them. As flawed as it is, Rosenberg should stick with the "pizza" analogy. It is slightly more accurate.

However, he then gets to a discussion on which I agree: That the borders should be decided first, before arguing about settlement freezes. However, Rosenberg says that while they are deciding this that they should "freeze the status quo." I don't agree only because of "political capital" reasons: If Netanyahu lets the settlers build now they will be more likely to agree to smaller borders than if the settlements had remained frozen. That being said, if Abbas walks, the whole issue is moot anyway, so it probably makes more sense to freeze as much as Netanyahu conceivably can to keep the talks moving.

But then Rosenberg says something completely untrue when he moves onto his next topic:
"This is not to say that some formula cannot be worked out to address the Palestinian homelessness that was produced by the establishment of Israel. Simple justice requires it because the creation of Israel created the refugee problem. It should not even be necessary to write that. But Israeli propagandists like to insist that this is a myth and that the Palestinians simply decided to up and leave their ancestral home after a thousand years or so because, I don't know, they were bored"
Sorry Mr. Rosenberg you can call me an "Israeli propagandist" all you like but I am still going to call you on your distorted history. Israel's creation did not displace anyone, historians agree that it was the very avoidable war that prompted the move of hundreds of thousands of Arabs. Israel did not have the power to displace anyone beyond the 1948 lines and would not have been able to do so during peace time. Remember the Balfour Declaration?

The Economist reported on October 2, 1948: "Of the 62,000 Arabs who formerly lived in Haifa not more than 5,000 or 6,000 remained. Various factors influenced their decision to seek safety in flight. There is but little doubt that the most potent of the factors were the announcements made over the air by the Higher Arab Executive, urging the Arabs to quit....It was clearly intimated that those Arabs who remained in Haifa and accepted Jewish protection would be regarded as renegades." If you are going to strawman, Mr. Rosenberg, try to make it a little less obvious. No one is saying the Arabs left because they were "bored." Saying that only spotlights your ignorance, not mine.

Rosenberg continues with talking about how "the right of return" is not really an obstacle, only that Israel makes it one:
"Fortunately, polls show that most Palestinians insist only on the "right of return," but only a very few actually want to exercise that right. In fact, the Arab League Initiative (formerly called the Saudi initiative, the best peace plan out there) stipulates that the issue of Palestinian return would have to be agreed upon by Israelis and Palestinians. No Palestinian would return to Israel without Israel's consent."
Really? That's fascinating. I would like to see those polls. I would also like to know if they looked at Palestinians from the territories or if they polled those in Lebanon, Yemen, etc as well. Further, the Arab League Initiative, in my understanding, is not the same thing as "the right of return." Rosenberg then moves on to say that the refugee problem will be solved by the creation of a Palestinian state and nothing more. There would then be compensation. As HPers go, that's a pretty moderate position. But then he says this:
"So what's the problem? Why is "return" such an obstacle?
It probably isn't, except for those who want it to be."
 Gee, I wonder who he could be referring to there. His next topic is the requirement that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a "Jewish state." As you might not be surprised to hear, he sides with the Palestinians:
"This demand was designed to torpedo any agreement because those who came up with the idea knew that Palestinians would never accept it. After all, for almost 60 years Israel has insisted only that it be recognized as Israel, with the right (guaranteed in any treaty) to secure borders and therefore a secure population."
I think it is interesting that Mr. Rosenberg seems to think that because the Palestinians are unwilling to accept this demand, that it (a) is an unreasonable demand and (b) should be dropped. And it is true that before this Israel has not required that the Palestinians recognize her as a Jewish state, but that is because Egypt, Syria, etc, all want Israel (the state) to be destroyed. The Palestinians are the only ones who want to keep Israel around but flood it with Arabs so as to destroy the "Jewish character" of Israel. Recognizing Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state would mean that they have given up this strategy.
"Anyone who understands anything about Jewish history would understand the Jewish peoples' need for sovereignty, a state for Jews, but would also understand that the "as a Jewish state" demand jeopardizes the whole Zionist enterprise."
I am not an expert on Zionism but I would be curious to know how Rosenberg came to the conclusion that the "as a Jewish state" would jeopardize Zionism. He attempts to here, in his next paragraph: "Demanding that non-Jews determine Israel's identity is not only insulting, it is the antithesis of Zionism which is all about Jewish self-determination." Okay? So what does self-determination mean? It means that the Jewish people identify as a nation of Jews. And that is what Israel did. And they want the Palestinians to affirm that. So what's the problem? Maybe Rosenberg will make that clearer in his next paragraph:
"Palestinians, in particular, cannot recognize Israel "as a Jewish state" because that formulation essentially declares that non-Jewish Israelis (a million Palestinians who are Israelis) are second class citizens."
Gee, he sounds exactly like Mahmoud Abbas there. This flimsy excuse for holding up peace talks doesn't work for one simple reason: If Israel is already a Jewish state, and if non-Jews are being treated like second class citizens, then it doesn't matter what the Palestinians do. Why should the Palestinians delay their own gratification for the sake of some people in Israel? This paragraph only makes it obvious what we have already known: That the Palestinians are just looking for an excuse not to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and the Rosenberg is willing to apologize for them.
"Imagine how American Jews or other non-Christians would feel if the United States was recognized by the world "as a Christian state" although it is possible to make the case that we are that."
Heard this one before. America isn't the world, Mr. Rosenberg. In fact what makes America so great is that it is a country for the peoples of the world. A better question would be if Israel asked the Palestinians to make a state that wasn't an "Arab state" or a "Muslim state." Do you think they would be receptive to that idea?

One last thing:
"The "as a Jewish state" concept is also a terrible idea for Jews. Even without Israel's recognition "as a Jewish state," the power of the Orthodox Jewish establishment over Israeli life is out of control....The Orthodox rabbinate decides who is Jewish and who isn't, based on bizarre racial criteria. Those deemed not Jewish are burdened with obstacles at every milestone in life: birth, marriage, divorce, death."
Good gravy. Okay, Mr. Rosenberg, I'm going to make this simple: The idea of Israel as a state for the Jews (i.e. a Jewish state) and the idea of Israel being ruled by religious law are two completely separate issues. In most areas Israel is governed by secular law and somehow it remains a state for the Jews just fine.

It seems incredibly dishonest to me that Mr. Rosenberg is trying to cloud the argument by blending two separate discussions into one. It appears that he is trying to recruit people to his point of view that Israel should not be recognized as a Jewish state, which in itself would be acceptable. The trouble is that he is trying to set up a false dilemma where a Jewish state must be ruled by Jewish law.  This is also a strawman because he knows that the idea of a state ruled by religious law is not one that will find acceptance on the HP, not even by the most hardcore Zionists. Weak, Mr. Rosenberg, very weak indeed.

1 comment:

  1. Israel's demand to be recognized as the Jewish State is nothing more than the demand the Arabs acknowledge the Jewish right to national self-determination.

    They have rejected it for a century and they keep rejecting it today because they don't want a Jewish State in the heart of the Arab World.

    That appears too hard a point for gool ol' MJ Rosenberg to grasp.

    Israel wants to really make sure the Palestinians have no excuse to make further claims upon Israel once peace is made.

    This is entirely reasonable position and its hard to see why any one would object to it unless they agreed the Arabs should have the option in the future to continue their war against Israel by other means.

    I don't see Israel ever dropping that demand just because MJ thinks its only purpose appears to be to torpedo peace talks. Its real purpose is to ensure that there are really two states for two peoples - a concept the Two State Solution Crowd would want to embrace.

    The real question is why MJ doesn't want to do so here.


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