10 November '15..
Can you condemn terrorism while at the same time rationalizing it? Not in a moral or logical argument. But that’s what liberal author Peter Beinart is doing when he said in a speech to a Los Angles synagogue that the current surge of bloody Palestinian terrorism is a direct product of Israel’s “moral darkness” and that “the Israeli government is reaping what it has sowed.” Beinart, whose remarks were highlighted by the anti-Zionist Mondoweiss site, thinks the stabbing intifada is a “monstrous, demented response” of the Palestinians to their plight in much the same way that 9/11 was a “monstrous, demented response to American foreign policy, a foreign policy of support for Arab dictatorships and Israeli policies which produced tremendous suffering in the Arab world.” In other words, the self-proclaimed spokesman for what he calls “liberal Zionism” believes Americans had it coming to them on 9/11 and the same is true for Israelis now. In doing so, he not only discredits himself but also shines a harsh light on the dubious efforts of many on the left to claim they support Israel while trashing it.
As much as Beinart wants to have it both ways — to condemn terrorism while essentially justifying it — he can’t. Beinart may think his is a morally nuanced approach to these crimes, but all he’s done is to prove that he is morally obtuse. That is true because saying al-Qaeda and Palestinian terrorist are wrong in their methods but right in their sense of grievance blurs is a profound misunderstanding of the point of such terrorism. More than that, assumptions about the guilt of the United States and Israel are not merely wrongheaded judgments but a deliberate effort to avoid the truth.
Beinart’s strong words about blowing up the World Trade Center and random stabbings represent an attempt on his part to establish his moral bona fides before turning to the thing he really dislikes: American support for Israel and Israel’s refusal to make suicidal concessions to the Palestinians without even a flimsy promise of peace.
The notion that American policy in the Middle East was ant-Muslim or in any way responsible for the existence of Arab dictatorships is a risible fiction. The Islamist ideology of al-Qaeda — like that of ISIS today — was not a response to specific American policies, be it the support of the Saudi monarchy or of Israel — but to Western civilization as a whole. The goal of al-Qaeda was not animus toward Israel or an end to dictatorships so much as the imposition of an even more draconian one in the form of an Islamist caliphate. It was just the latest manifestation of a conflict in which some Muslims believe they are locked with the non-Muslim world. While a clash of civilizations between the West and all Muslims is not inevitable or necessary, al-Qaeda represents just such an approach. It was not a protest movement gone bad, but the manifestation of an Islamist war on the West that had nothing to do with anything the U.S. had or had not done.
While the Palestinian war on Israel is not quite the same thing, it is similar in its absolute nature. There is a strong case to be made that the ideal solution to the conflict would be a two-state solution, assuming the Palestinians were willing to accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn. But whatever one’s opinions about settlements or the rights of the Palestinians, the idea that the “occupation” is what motivates Palestinians to launch rockets at Israeli cities, blow up buses or pizzerias, or to stab random Israelis on the street is a pernicious myth.
As we’ve seen in the last month, the driving force behind the stabbings is not abstract arguments about settlements, frustration with the peace process but religious hatred incited by the Palestinian national movement. As they did in the 1920s and 1930s, the current generation of Palestinian leaders has played the Islam card by seeking to convince their people that the Jews intend to destroy the mosques on the Temple Mount.
But even if we leave aside the question of whether Abbas’s call to arms for Palestinians to embrace martyrdom in order to prevent “dirty Jewish feet” from polluting holy places, the real lie is the notion that Israel has “encouraged” violence or not repeatedly offered the Palestinians what their apologists claim is their end goal: an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza, and a partitioned Jerusalem.
Beinart’s case for Israel’s guilt revolves around the charge that it has suppressed peaceful Palestinian protests and undermined the sole Palestinian politician who was interested in peace. This is an absurd argument since there has never been any non-violent Palestinian protest movement worthy of the name. The one individual he mentioned as the would-be Palestinian Gandhi — Mubarak Awad — had no following other than the foreign press corps and even he was not opposed to stone throwing and other forms of protest that would be considered highly violent in any context other that of the Palestinian culture that honors terrorism.
As for Salam Fayyad, the former Palestinian prime minister, Beinart is right that he was a serious partner for peace. But he was also a man without a constituency who was deeply unpopular among supporters of both Fatah and Hamas. Fayyad was a party of one, and there is nothing that Israel could have done to make him succeed when virtually every Palestinian faction wanted him to fail.
Beinart is right that life for Palestinians has gotten worse since Oslo, but the fault for that belongs to Fatah and the Palestinian Authority it runs. Perhaps Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres should have tried harder to ensure that the PA didn’t turn into a violent kleptocracy, but they correctly intuited that Israeli interference wouldn’t have helped and would, at any rate, have been interpreted as a blow to peace rather than an effort to help the people that Yasir Arafat and his successor Mahmoud Abbas have oppressed.
But the most important point about the PA is the one that Beinart leaves out altogether. It is that if independence and the dignity of the Palestinian people were their true priority, they might have made peace and ended the occupation at any point in the last 15 years. Arafat turned down Ehud Barak’s two offers of statehood including almost all of the West Bank, a share of Jerusalem, and Gaza in 2000 and 2001. Abbas fled the negotiating table when Olmert made an even more generous offer in 2008, and refused to talk seriously with Benjamin Netanyahu when he offered statehood and most of the West Bank.
Why? Because from its inception as a national movement, Palestinian identity has been inextricably tied to the war against Zionism. No Palestinian leader dares to recognize Israel’s legitimacy because to do so under any circumstances is considered a betrayal by most Palestinians. As Daniel Polisar noted last week in his comprehensive study of Palestinian opinion over the last two decades, overwhelmingly large majorities consider Jews to have no right to any part of the country and consider terrorism not only an acceptable response to Israel’s existence but an activity worthy of honor.
So what is needed here from Beinart isn’t the empathy for Israeli victims of terror but honesty about the Palestinians with whom he sympathizes. If there is no Palestinian state now other than the independent state in all but name that is run by Hamas in Gaza, it is because of decisions taken by the Palestinians. Though he denies them agency in their fate, it has been their choice to eschew compromise throughout the history of the conflict.
Reasonable persons may differ about the wisdom of specific Israeli policies. But there is nothing reasonable about telling Israelis that, while those who seek to butcher them are wrong, they nevertheless had it coming. An Israeli people that has repeatedly taken risks for peace that have been paid for in the blood of the many innocents slain by terrorists who were empowered by Oslo and Ariel Sharon’s retreat from Gaza do not deserve to be told that they deserve their fate. The same is true of the victims of 9/11.
In spite of his repeated distortions about the peace process and his inability to understand the thinking of ordinary Israelis who would happily give up more territory for genuine peace, Beinart has achieved some prominence as a writer about Israel. But his Los Angeles remarks betray the truth that Beinart’s pose as a “more in sorrow than in anger” Jewish critic of Israel that has gained him a perch in the mainstream media is fraudulent.
There’s no having it both ways about terror. The problem with the Palestinians isn’t their tactics but their refusal to make peace because they desire Israel’s elimination. Anyone who is unwilling to say this truth and then compounds that by saying Americans and Israel are asking to be murdered isn’t telling the truth to their community. They are, instead, engaging in a disgraceful manner that deserves the harshest condemnation. For all of his preening about his honesty and his concern for victims of terror, Beinart deserves to be reminded of this reprehensible speech wherever he goes. As the blood of Jewish victims continues to flow, Beinart ought never to be allowed to live down his saying that 9/11 and anti-Israel terror is understandable even if it isn’t commendable.