Ron Radosh

With Friends Like These....

My wife Allis and I have just returned from the start of our book tour, which interfered with my ability to blog the past week.  We spoke at the YIVO Institute for Jewish History in New York City. Our talk will eventually be shown on C-Span’s Book TV. Waiting for us in the mail when we returned home was the news that The American Conservative will not fold, as their editor previously announced. Instead, it will become a monthly.

In the current issue is yet another contribution to their never-ending assault on Israel, once again by John J. Mearsheimer, co-author with Stephen Walt of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.  Mearsheimer’s new essay is particularly disingenuous, since it is couched in the language of supposed friendship, and is titled “Saving Israel from Itself.” As Mearsheimer sees it, Israel needs a two-state solution to survive. He assumes that Israel is in fact against such a solution, and only American pressure on Israel will lead to peace. He calls for an end to the “special relationship”  that exists between the two democracies, Israel and the United States. It  only exists, he argues, (as one would expect of him)  because of the overpowering effect of the “Israel lobby.”

Much of Mearsheimer’s critique is the usual repetition of the “realist” argument he and others have presented many times. But if one reads the piece carefully, it is easy to detect scores of falsehoods. Here are some of them.

 1. Mearsheimer repeats the already disproved argument that Charles Freeman lost his appointment as head of the National Intelligence Council and “was forced to withdraw” because he questioned Israeli policies. Ignored are all the reasons others cited, such as Freeman’s ties with the Chinese government, his position of the Tiananmen Square massacre, the opposition to his appointment by Nancy Pelosi, etc.  

2. Mearsheimer argues that peace has never taken place because of Israeli settlements, particularly those occurring during the Oslo peace process in the 1990s. He completely ignores what Greg Sheridan, in the article I cited last week, pointed out. Sheridan writes:

The assumption that Israel does not seek peace and a just solution for the Palestinians is flawed. Again,[Martin] Indyk is most instructive on this. He provides the crispest account so far of the 2000 Camp David peace conference and the offers that Israel’s prime minister Ehud Barak, under Clinton’s influence, made to Yasser Arafat. It is clear that Clinton and Barak offered Arafat a Palestinian state on more than 95 per cent of the West Bank and all of Gaza, as well as a territory transfer from Israel proper to make up for the less than 5 per cent of the West Bank that would be taken in the main Jewish settlements. The Palestinian state was to embrace all the Palestinian suburbs of East Jerusalem and even have a form of sovereignty over the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.

It may be a long time before Israel feels enough confidence in a Palestinian interlocutor to make such an offer again, as such a settlement would involve grave risks to Israeli security.

Whatever the reasons for Arafat’s blanket rejection, the offer flatly rebuts the idea of Israel as determined never to make peace. Since 1977 Israel has given up territory equivalent to three times its size in exchange for peace with various neighbours. This was land acquired in defensive wars that made a contribution to Israeli security. Israel may be guilty of many things but a refusal to compromise is not one of them.

3. Mearsheimer argues that the US has “a serious terrorist problem in good part because of its unconditional support for Israel’s policies in the Occupied Territories.” He even argues that Khalid Sheik Muhammed planned the 9/11 attacks because of his disagreement with U.S. policy towards Israel, and that Osama bin Laden also shared hostility to America because he has “been deeply concerned about the Palestinian situation since he was young.”  Instead of appeasing Israel, which he believes every President has done, the U.S. should instead appease the likes of bin Laden, thus proving to them that the United States does not welcome an alliance with the only democracy in the Middle East. Terrorism , he claims, will not end until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved. Force Israel to give in to demands that will harm its security, and he evidently believes that all will be well. The U.S. will then have no more terrorist problem.

4. He argues that today, many American Jews, especially younger Jews, are willing to be more critical of Israel than their elders. He writes “Americans of all persuasions are becoming increasingly aware of what Israel did to the Palestinians in 1948….Israel no longer looks like the victim; it looks like the victimizer, and a ruthless one at that.”

Examine the above sentence. Mearsheimer is talking about 1948!  In 1948, he should know, the  people called Palestinians were the Jews living in Palestine. The other residents were then called Arabs, not Palestinians. And in 1947, when the UN voted on behalf of partition and the creation of two entities, a Jewish and Arab Palestine that would lead to the creation of two independent states, the Arab League and the Arab Higher Commission rejected the UN vote completely and the Arabs living in Palestine went to war against the Jews to prevent them from having their state. 

The only acceptable situation for them was for Palestine to be an Arab State where they would allow the Jews to live as a minority.  Harold Frangie, Foreign Minister of Lebanon, went further. He claimed that all the Jews who had come to Palestine since 1917 were illegal immigrants, and once an Arab state was created, 400,000 of them would have to be deported.  And as an Arab League publication of the time put it: “The whole Arab people is unalterably opposed to the attempt to impose Jewish immigration and settlement upon it, and ultimately to establish a Jewish State in Palestine.” The Arabs, the pamphlet said, would drench the Holy Land “with the last drop of our blood in the lawful defense of all and every inch of it.” Their slogan was “No partition, no further Jewish immigration and no Jewish State.”

This was the reality, and as we know, when the state of Israel was proclaimed in May of 1948, it was faced with an invading force of five Arab nations. And yet Mearsheimer can write about what “Israel did to the Palestinians in 1948.”  The Arab nations did not push the Jews into the sea and put an end to the fledgling Jewish State, but they did leave the Palestinians in disarray, without a State of their own, and dependent on foreign charity.

Finally,  Mearsheimer writes as if Israel has not been trying for years to have a two-state solution. The problem has been not Israel’s desire, but the Palestinian leadership’s desire to have anything but that. How can one have a two-state solution if the other side rejects any compromise, even ones as generous as offered the Palestinians by Ehud Barak in the Clinton years?

The real problem, as Daniel Pipes so ably writes, is that “the [two-state] plan rests on two assumptions: (a) that the Palestinians can construct a centralized, viable state and (b) that attaining this state means the abandonment of their dreams to eliminate Israel.” So far, neither has been the case. And Israel cannot and will not accept a Hamas created state whose leaders reiterate time and time again that their main goal, as expressed in their own charter, is to destroy Israel.  So Benjamin Netanyahu’s desire to focus instead on the need for economic development in the Palestinian areas, institution-building and a better quality of life first makes perfect sense.  Then, and only then, can real movement towards a two-state solution that is a real possibility can take place.

One can only hope that Pipes is correct, that in the short term, there will be more continuity than change in the U.S.-Israeli relationship. The last thing Israel or the United States needs is to heed the advice “friends” of Israel like Mearsheimer.