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November 21, 2010
NY Times clings to 'peace process' with a bundle of grand illusions
In the Sunday, Nov. 21, edition of the New York Times, Jerusalem bureau chief Ethan Bronner pens a lengthy article on the Obama administration's belief that an Israel-Palestinian peace agreement would greatly reduce anti-Americanism in the Middle East -- one of many "illusions at work in this region."
But it turns out that Bronner himself, not just Team Obama, falls prey to such illusions, principally by turning a blind eye to Palestinian/Arab refusal to accept a secure, viable Jewish state ("When Illusions Are All -- Why America Continues to Chase the Dream of an Israeli-Palestinian Peace" front page, Week in Review section).
"The United States," Bronner writes, "believes that if it can end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, its fraught relationship with the Muslim world will greatly improve, thereby allowing America to accomplish much that is currently eluding it in places like Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.
"The idea is that if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were resolved, anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world would diminish, American prospects in its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would brighten, and Arab governments would find it easier to cooperate with Washington as it seeks to blunt Iranian ambitions."
That, of course, is a well-trod "linkage" theory that the path to peace in the Arab/Muslim world goes through Jerusalem. To his credit, Bronner injects a note of skepticism about this particular wishful scenario, quoting a Tel Aviv University researcher as asking whether, following an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, "Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq suddenly start making love? (Or) will the Sunnis, Shiites and Christians in Lebanon get together? Will it end the oppression of Christians in Egypt? It's a total illusion."
But having distanced himself from this particular illusion, Bronner embraces one of his own -- that come what may the "peace process" and U.S.-mediated negotiations must go on at all costs because the alternative is worse. Or in Bronner's words: "While these negotiations may carry a real risk of failure, taking that risk seems far preferable to giving in to the fear that the conflict has no end."
Never mind that perhaps there might be a third alternative -- a partial agreement that leaves ultimate stumbling blocks like the status of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees to another day. Bronner remains gung-ho for resumption of those elusive negotiations.
So, to burnish his illusion, he plays the equivalence game -- that Mahmoud Abbas and his prime minister, Salam Fayyad, are just as credible peace partners as Netanyahu -- "Both have repeatedly renounced violence."
Really? What about Abbas's constant glorification of suicide bombers as "holy martyrs"? Does that qualify as renunciation of violence? Or what about Hamas, which rules Gaza, remaining true to its charter to wipe Israel off the map? Is that bankable renunciation of violence? Or what about Fatah, the political party of Abbas, repeatedly threatening Israel with a return to "resistance" (Palestinian lingo for terrorism) if Israel doesn't cave to Abbas's maximalist demands?
Bronner himself seems to cast some doubt on his own illusion of a Palestinian embrace of pacifism when he subsequently acknowledges that the failure of Bill Clinton's 2000 Camp David summit was followed by the second intifada.
But even then, Bronner wraps history in his own illusions -- no mention that it was Yasser Arafat who torpedoed the Camp David summit by rejecting generous two-state initiatives by Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. No mention that Arafat, with a wink and a nod, gave the signal to start the second intifada.
Bronner, ever bending over backwards to give Palestinians a PR assist, writes that the intifada "led to exploding buses, suicide bombings and harsh Israeli countermeasures. Thousands -- most of them Palestinians -- were killed."
So, in Bronner's illusory history, it was the Palestinians who were the greater victims of Palestinian terrorism -- not the thousands of murdered and injured Israelis.
What Bronner fails to tell NY Times readers is that Israeli fatalities were preponderantly civilians, while Palestinians fatalities were preponderantly terrorists. In his peculiar illusory history, the death of a Palestinian terrorist is accorded the same weight as the death of an Israeli civilian.
Finally, to buttress his thesis that pursuit of negotiations, come what may, remains imperative, Bronner trots out the demographic card -- "when so many Israeli settlers are spread over so much West Bank land that it will simply no longer be feasible to carve out a viable state" for the Palestinians.
Actually, the amount of land of Jewish settlements is less than 2 percent of the West Bank. Also, Israel, under recent prime ministers including Netanyahu, have barred any and all geographic expansion of West Bank settlements. So there's no prospect of any further acquisition of land by any settlements.
Plus, as recently as two years ago, Prime Minsiter Ehud Olmert offered Abbas a peace deal that envisaged a Palestinian state on 95 percent of the West Bank, plus land swaps to make it 100 percent, plus all of Gaza, plus all Arab areas of Jerusalem -- and Abbas turned him down. Again a bit of real history conveniently overlooked by Bronner.
A far better answer to lack of progress in the "peace process" than the illusions of Obama and Bronner can be found in a new book by Martin Gilbert, the Churchill historian, about the history of Jews in Muslim lands, titled "In Ishmael's House." Gilbert recounts the conclusions of a 22-year-old traveler, Robert F. Kennedy, in an article in the Boston Globe written after his return from a visit to Palestine in early 1948 just before Israel declared independence.
Kennedy wrote about the Arabs of Palestine: "They are willing to let Jews remain as peaceful citizens subject to the rule of the Arab majority just as the Arabs are doing in such great number in Egypt and the Levant States, but they are determined that a separate Jewish state will be attacked and attacked until it is finally cut out like an unhealthy abscess."
Even today, 62 years later, Kennedy remains a more astute observer of the Israeli Palestinian conflict than Obama and Bronner with all their illusions.