Monday, May 27, 2013

Why Israelis Have Moved On

by Jonathan S. Tobin

Former New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Ethan Bronner returned to the country after a year away and is confounded by the change in the political atmosphere. The journalist takes the temperature of the Jewish state and finds it almost completely disinterested in the issue that drove most of his reporting and, indeed, was the overriding issue in every Israeli election up until the one conducted this past January: the peace process with the Palestinians.

Though a few old political warhorses claim the peace process must remain the country’s priority, most Israelis are having none of it. The guests at a wedding Bronner attended comprising a surprisingly broad cross-section of society had many differences but all were united on one point: they never even mentioned the Palestinians. While Bronner devotes considerable space in his Sunday review column on this situation to explaining why he thinks this is troubling or wrong, he gives short shrift to the reason for it. If, as one of his sources noted to Bronner, “debating the peace process to most Israelis is the equivalent of debating the color of the shirt you will wear when landing on Mars,” then his readers deserve more than a throwaway line about Israelis thinking the Palestinians have no interest in peace.

Presented without even a smidgeon of historical context or even a brief summary of a strategic equation that leads Israelis to think this way makes the widespread indifference to peace negotiations seem callous at best. If Americans are to understand the shift in Israeli politics that led to an election fought on domestic issues or why most there think Secretary of State John Kerry’s effort to revive the peace process is a fool’s errand, then it is incumbent on the Times to lay out the facts about the Palestinians’ consistent rejection of peace offers and the inability of either Fatah or Hamas to recognize a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

Journalists rightly complain that it is unfair to expect short articles about complex subjects to encompass the entire history of their topic. But if you are going to write a piece whose sole purpose is to illustrate the fact that the overwhelming majority of Israelis have given up on the peace process for the foreseeable future, you are obligated to give at least a thumbnail sketch of the events that created this consensus.

That doesn’t mean that Bronner has to go back through 100 years of conflict between Jews and Arabs to detail every event that showed how Palestinians “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity,” as Abba Eban summed it up. Nor did he even have to note that prior to June 1967 — when the borders of Israel were exactly as the Palestinians and their supporters claim they ought to be — there was no peace and the whole country was considered to be the “occupied territories,” not the West Bank.

All Bronner needed to do was to note that Israeli governments offered the Palestinians an independent state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem in 2000, 2001 and 2008 and were rejected. As I wrote on Friday about Ehud Olmert’s recollection of the failure of the Palestinians to answer a proposal that would have led to Israel not just agreeing to a partition of Jerusalem but one in which it would have abandoned sovereignty over the Old City and Jewish sacred places including the Western Wall, if the Palestinians wouldn’t take that deal, what exactly are they asking for short of Israel’s complete dissolution.

Bronner could have also mentioned, at least in passing, the spectacle of Israel’s complete withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 which led not to peace but the creation of an independent Palestinian state in all but name there run by Hamas and which is little more than an Islamist terror base.

Contrary to his assertion, outsiders don’t want peace more than the Israelis. They want it very much. But unlike na├»ve or ill-intentioned Westerners they have paid attention to what has happened in the 20 years since Oslo and recognized that what has actually happened. They haven’t traded land for peace as they hoped. Instead, they have traded land for terror. Should a sea change in Palestinian political culture ever occur that produces a leadership ready to permanently end the conflict and live in peace alongside Israel, they will discover the Israelis willing to do whatever is necessary to secure the agreement. But until then, most Israelis are not going to waste their time or endanger their lives on a futile quest.

Far from Israel being a Titanic waiting to hit the next iceberg, the changes Bronner describes illustrates that most there have their eyes wide open and are determined not to let their country be sunk by a foolish and blind attachment to a peace process that has no chance of success. Briefly explaining why that is so shouldn’t be too much to ask of a piece that is more than 1,200 words in length. 

Jonathan S. Tobin


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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