Tuesday, February 12. 2008
Last few months I've been collecting links to interesting pieces, adding comments, and posting them once-weekly. Some lose their timeliness. Sometimes I lose track. The Tom Lantos bit below is a good example of something that should come out sooner, and in general I don't see much value in collecting longer posts without common threads. So we'll try this change. I'll probably queue up and post at the end of the day. (That at least was the theory last night, but I didn't quite get this done then.) And I'm not likely to have things every day (although I do feel a tinge of gratification when I manage to fill in a monthly calendar). But here's a start.
Steve Clemons: Tom Lantos' Israel-Palestine Shift. Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA) died today, age 80. For decades, at least on matters relating to Israel, he has been one of the most intransigently hawkish members there, pretty much AIPAC's man on the House floor. Clemons argues here that lately Lantos has moderated his positions -- e.g., arguing for diplomatic efforts to reduce tensions with Iran. I can't tell you whether there's any truth to that, let alone whether it might have made any difference. But one thing that strikes me as a repeated theme in Israeli history is how many key Israeli figures seemed to be moving toward some sort of peace position as they faded from the scene and died off. David Ben Gurion, who created the conflict by driving 700,000 Palestinians into exile and establishing the policies preventing their return, had by 1967 opposed any further expansion of Israel, and would certainly have traded the territories captured then for political recognition by the Arab states -- the current official position of the Arab League. Moshe Dayan, who led the expansion in 1967, was key to returning the Sinai to Egypt in 1979, and would have gone further if he had the power (by then Menachem Begin was Prime Minister; by then even Begin had moderated from his 1948 position when he was responsible for the worst massacres of Palestinians). Yitzhak Rabin, who had key roles in 1948 and 1967, was working towards extending his possibly cynical Oslo Accords when he was assassinated. I'm not certain that one can add Ariel Sharon to this list, although he had withdrawn from Gaza before his stroke, and it's unlikely that he would have stupidly invaded Lebanon in 2007 like his successor (or like he himself did in 1982). I suppose this could be taken as evidence that there is a God and that God wants Armageddon. Personally, I'm not so pessimistic about the universe. But it does make me pessimistic about human nature. One thing all of these oldtime warriors believed was that time was on the side of Israel, that all they had to do to win was wait. They were wrong. They waited, they died, they got bupkes, or worse: their lot was inherited by people who would fair even worse.
On the other hand, while Israel may keep drifting to the right, it's unlikely that Americans (Democrats anyway) will keep drifting with them. One reason Lantos was so effective was that no one wants to fight with a Holocaust survivor. The Republican right has its own reasons for supporting the Israeli right, and those reasons are increasingly inimical to values more and more Democrats (more and more Americans) are holding. It's still de rigeur for Democrats to support Israel, but it will make a world of difference whether you support Israel for peace and justice or you support Israel for nationalist domination and war. As such, the idea that Lantos was becoming more moderate may further realignment of the Democrats, whereas the moderation of the Israelis I referred to were literally dead ends.
David Grossman: The blind giant of the Middle East. Actually, I found Grossman's diatribe against Ehud Olmert over the Lebanon war that killed Grossman's son too turgid to get into -- I don't doubt that Israel has lost its way, but I also don't think it was on the right road in the first place. Rather, I want to point out one of the "choice" letters, by Chad Bagley. The other, by Gadi Ben-Yehuda, isn't bad either, but appeals to idealism where Bagley cites good old fashioned pragmatism (I was tempted to say American, but I don't see much of it hereabouts any more):
Two or three points I'd like to add to this. The first is that Israelis are themselves divided over what to do, so the problem is less getting the US to tell Israel what to do than to get the US to line up in ways that support Israelis who are willing to live peaceably and equitably with non-Jews in the region. The US is not sending the right message by structuring so much aid for military purposes, just to take the most obvious example. The US has a bigger problem in understanding that the occupation or any institution of unequal treatment will never solve and will only cause conflict. This should be easy enough to understand: all people can agree to equal treatment; only a part of the people will ever agree to unequal treatment. One need only ask oneself why.
Another point is that the root cause of Israel and all of the strife that has come out of it was the unwillingness of world powers and the world in general to settle displaced Jews in their own lands. In order for Israelis to accept equality Jews must be treated equitably elsewhere. Zionism depends on antisemitism. Take antisemitism away and Zionism has no rationale to exist. It should be quite practical to monitor both that non-Jews in Israel and its subject territories are treated equitably and that Jews outside Israel are also treated equitably, with the powers of the world united to reinforce such behavior. To make that happen the US would have to commit to equal treatment (which is, after all, a fundamental principle of American law) and to build cooperative world organizations to work through (forsaking our own selfish interests for common goals -- aye, there's the rub: the American national religion, after all, is the resolute belief that our pursuit of our individual and national self-interests is ultimately best for everyone).