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Friday, October 07, 2005

Don't defend Israel if your name is Cohen

'Please don't tell me that it helps the Palestinians to give the far right the time of day, or pretend that Palestinian liberals, socialists, women, gays, freethinkers and Christians (let alone Israeli Jews) would prosper in a Palestine ruled by Hamas. It's not radical, it's barely political, to turn a blind eye and say you are for the Palestinian cause. Political seriousness lies in stating which Palestine you are for and which Palestinians you support. The Palestinian fight is at once an anti-colonial struggle and a clash between modernity and reaction. The confusion of our times comes from the failure to grasp that it is possible to have an anti-colonialism of the far right. '

Nick Cohen writes on left anti-Semitism in the New Statesman. Read it (hat tip: Harry's Place).

3 comments:

Neal said...

Regarding Mr. Cohen who writes "It's not radical, it's barely political, to turn a blind eye and say you are for the Palestinian cause":

Which "Palestinian cause," praytell, does Mr. Cohen believe represents the views of typical Palestinians? Somehow, I bet, that the view of average Palestinians are a lot closer to those of HAMAS than to Mr. Cohen's notions.

Whenever I have a discussion with an otherwise rational European who claims to favor the "Palestinian cause" - and in this case I am picking on Mr. Cohen who wrote a relatively intelligent article -, I am always amused because of the remarkable distance between what Westerners think Palestinians want and what Palestinians pretty much all say they want. And, whether it is right now (ala HAMAS) or in stages (ala Palestinian liberals), the answer is pretty much always the same, Palestinians say they mean to replace Israel with a Palestinian - likely Muslims - dominated state in which Jews may or may not be welcome and, given the large percentage of HAMAS supporters involved, most likely unwelcome. In such a state, needless to say, within short order, Christians would be unwelcome as well.


The fact is that Mr. Cohen does not actually favor the Palestinian cause - if that means the cause favored by Palestinians -. Rather, he favors a cause of interest primarily to Europeans. And, more than likely, the reason he has come to his insight is the propaganda which serves for news in the UK which, more than likely, is bought and paid for by oil interests, the univerities which adopt the Palestinian cause because they are paid to hold such views and the governments which, accross the EU including in the UK, have entered into a series of agreements with the Arabs by which Israel's interests are sold out in favor of uninterrupted oil and fat contracts to sell goods to the Arabs.

Now, one can say that a two state solution is one - perhaps the only - way to solve the dispute. That is an honest position and one I, in theory, support. But to claim that such is the "Palestinian cause" is to fool oneself as the evidence does not remotely support such a view.

Cyrus said...

Neal,

I think, with respect, that you've missed a crucial point in Nick Cohen's article - that there is no such thing as THE Palestinian cause. Palestinians are not ideological clones any more than Israelis are. Support for Hamas is worryingly strong but far from universal.

I think also that it's unrealistic to expect the mass of Palestinians to be over the moon about the existence of Israel. Is it really surprising that they aspire to regain the territory they lost in 1948? The point is that it is possible to hold this aspiration and at the same time accept that Israel is a reality which has to be dealt with, and that Israelis have expectations of self-determination and security which are non-negotiable. If there are enough Palestinians who see things this way, the two sides have something to talk about. So it's vital that this current of Palestinian opinion gets maximum support both from Israel and the rest of the world. The sections of the western left which fellow-travel with Hamas just aren't helping. Not least, they aren't even helping the ordinary Plaestinians who are suffering real oppression.

Neal said...

cyrus,

For what it is worth, I think I read the Cohen article very carefully. You will note my comment about picking on him.

Be that as it may, I want to address what you write. You write: "The point is that it is possible to hold this aspiration and at the same time accept that Israel is a reality which has to be dealt with, and that Israelis have expectations of self-determination and security which are non-negotiable."

On this point, we part company. The land is sufficiently small that it is really not possible to address settlement unless both sides' aspirations entail ending the dispute on the terms ultimately reached. The Israelis thought that such was possible but if there was any lesson from Oslo, it is that both sides have to have finite aspirations that entail the existence of the other party. They do not.

It is, I think, necessary to consider just how strongly held the Palestinian and, for that matter, Arab and Muslim position is to eliminate Israel. That such passion has a strong religious component - one that is entirely consonant with traditional Islam, so it is not really possible for religious, but more peaceful Muslims, to challenge - makes the issue ever so much more difficult.

Consider the HAMAS covenant. It renders the destruction of Israel a sacred cause - a tradional Jihad -. While most Palestinians do not belong to HAMAS (i.e. the Muslim Brotherhood's Palestinian franchise), that organization represents the view of orthodoxy - in the religious sense - and will not go away by a compromise settlement where the Palestinian side continues to view Israel as illegitimate. And there is no reason to believe that settling the dispute will even abate the number of members. If anything, it will enlarge HAMAS' membership as they will have a strong argument that Israel can be forced to make further compromises.

Which is not to say that efforts to settle the dispute should not be made. Instead, it is a plea to accept reality as it is, not as we hope it to be and to understand what is necessary to settle the dispute - that is, acceptance by both sides of the other's legitimacy and necessity -.

You also write: "I think also that it's unrealistic to expect the mass of Palestinians to be over the moon about the existence of Israel. Is it really surprising that they aspire to regain the territory they lost in 1948?"

Well, if the Palestinians really want to settle the dispute, they should, in fact, hold fast to the idea that Israel's existence and security is as important as their own. You will note that many, many Israelis hold to the view that a viable and secure Palestinian state is necessary for Israel. So, I think you ask much too little of the Palestinians.

Consider: the Palestinians are hardly the only people who have been displaced by war - especially a war they were direct party to -. However, other displaced groups are, in fact, expected to accept, as legitimate, the realities of the world. The Palestinians are told exactly the opposite, namely, that if they refuse reality, they will recover their land - a land which, in the past, they did not hold (consider it as a Ottoman land and then a British land) but which they now dream for -. So, on my view, you are perpetuating a myth about a future which necessarily leads only to violence. In fact, the Palestinians must, if there is to be peace, end their dream to destroy Israel.

You also write: "If there are enough Palestinians who see things this way, the two sides have something to talk about. So it's vital that this current of Palestinian opinion gets maximum support both from Israel and the rest of the world. The sections of the western left which fellow-travel with Hamas just aren't helping. Not least, they aren't even helping the ordinary Plaestinians who are suffering real oppression."

But there are not enough Palestinians ready to accept the reality of Israel, much less its existence as a legitimate state. That, in fact, is the point and is why Oslo failed.

Consider: as reported by Prince Bandar, the former (but very long standing) Saudi ambassador to the US, the Israelis actually met Arafat's stated redline for settling the dispute when the Israelis accepted Clinton's December 2000 settlement proposal. Why, then, did Arafat allow the violence to escalate when the dispute was really settled, by his own terms? Was it a mere miscalculation? Or, as he stated repeatedly since 1993, was his entire goalto create a divide in order to undermine Israel's existence? I take him at his word when he stated that his goal was to create an all Arab Muslim state in place of Israel. And I take Abbas at his word when he says that the actual - not to be substituted by compensation (and the Israelis offered to pay 30 billion US dollars as compensation with no compensation for the 856,000 Jewish refugees on the Jewish side) - settlement of refugees and their offspring in Israel is non-negotiable. I have no evidence to suggest that such positions are anything but real rather than negotiating clubs.

If the world wants to help the Palestinians, the most important thing they can do is make it clear to them that the world expects them to accept Israel's legitimacy as it is just as legitimate as any other country. Acceptance of Israel's legitimacy is not something that will come in time. It is a prerequisite to reaching a settlement. It is what was missing in Oslo.