Assessing past blame & what to do now

Assessing past blame & what to do now

Gary Rosenblatt
I’ve just had a polite exchange of emails with Gary Rosenblatt, the editor and publisher of the largest circulation Jewish newspaper in the United States, the New York Jewish Week.  Sadly, this outlines a chasm between progressive pro-Israel opinion and the mainstream of the organized Jewish community.  Instead of writing a standard letter to the editor, I directly sent him the following regarding the tail end of his column (“Fulfilling The Promise“), in which he reflects (not without eloquence) as the current Jewish year comes to an end.  This is how I began our dialogue:
Dear Gary:
I respect that you must maintain a diplomatic posture as editor of a community newspaper representing a diversity of views.  And I know that your tone generally seeks the middle of the road; to wit:

Jerusalem is not blameless. It could have taken a proactive stance, charting a course of compromise rather than appearing passive, if not helpless, as the Palestinian Authority set its sights on statehood by bypassing the Israelis.

But the central problem is and always has been the refusal of much of the Arab world to accept a Jewish state, a condition that pre-dates settlements and border disputes. And it is time for those who love Israel — its history, land, people and aspirations — to speak as one voice in support. If not now, when?

Israel had varying levels of relations with about a half dozen Arab states in the 1990s.  The violence of the 2nd Intifada and its aftermath were mostly not Israel’s fault, but weren’t the televised visuals and the real fact of Palestinian suffering at the hands of IDF action in the last decade the primary reason that Israel now has formal relations only with Egypt and Jordan (neither looking very solid right now)?

And why do you never make a reference to the Saudi/Arab League peace initiative of 2002, reaffirmed a couple of years ago?  My understanding is that it promises Israel peace and normalized relations if an agreement is reached with the Palestinians for two states.   There is some ambiguity in its phraseology, but shouldn’t it be incumbent upon Israel to seek clarity on its terms instead of ignoring it? 

L’Shana Tova

Since Rosenblatt marked his response as confidential, I will not quote his reply.  He was polite but misinterpreted what I meant about “the televised visuals” of Palestinian suffering; I was not blaming the media, as he went on to do, but rather saying that these very real pictures could not fail to stir international (and especially Arab) public opinion against Israel.

What most drew my attention was his rather facile understanding (without factual confirmation) that the Saudi/Arab League peace initiative demanded a full “right of return” for Palestinian refugees.  My reply was as follows (with some slight copy editing and bracketed amplifications):
Thanks for responding.  Having studied and confronted this conflict for several decades, I generally think of the “blame” as approximately 50-50, and I allow for the possibility that it’s more like 60-40 in one direction or the other.  In other words, I think that both sides have a large measure of justice in their cause, but the point is to try to solve the conflict rationally and humanely, while minimizing violence. 

Israel is hardly the devil in all this, but it’s also far from angelic.  And there have long been things it should be doing that could help itself immeasurably. 

The notion that the Saudis and the Arab League insist upon a wholesale right of return is precisely what Israel should engage with them about.  If it demands an unlimited right of return, then it is a non-starter and needs to be exposed as such.  But Israel also needs to engage with them to gain clarity on this point, and I have no notion that it’s ever tried to do so.  Do you know anything on this that I don’t know?

This reminds me of what happened in the early ’70s when Anwar Sadat offered a “full peace” in exchange for a “full withdrawal” from the Sinai.  Golda Meir said this was “nothing new” whereas her UN ambassador Gideon Rafael called this public offer of a peace treaty with Israel as “unprecedented” and worthy of investigating [I believe that Yitzhak Rabin and Abba Eban voiced a similar view to Prime Minister Meir].  I clearly remember Amb. Rafael’s statement and other news broadcasts at the time, and thinking how could Meir be so sure [not to mention deaf and blind]?  Failing a response from Israel, Sadat publicly declared that the status quo of “neither peace nor war” was intolerable and prepared what became the Yom Kippur War.  Israel had failed [to live up to] its own self-image of turning over every stone in search of peace. 

It’s also worth noting that King Hussein, a secret ally of Israel after the latter saved his throne from the PLO and Syria, offered a peace treaty in the early ’70s that Meir turned down because she wanted to retain all of East Jerusalem.  A window of opportunity had been opened that could have returned most Palestinians to Arab rule (ending Israel’s noxious and self-destructive burden of occupation) while simultaneously building peace with Egypt and avoiding another war. 

The situation of the Arab League initiative seems but another instance of ignoring a possible game-changer for the good, without seeking a clarification from the other side. 

Even with the current effort by the Palestinians at the UN, it seems to me that a resolution can be crafted which would produce a win-win for Israel and the Palestinians: one that recognizes that a Palestinian state is being created, in line with GA Resolution 181 [the 1947 UN General Assembly vote for the partition of the Palestine Mandate] for an Arab state to exist alongside a majority-Jewish state, with its exact borders and other issues to be determined in peaceful negotiations with Israel.  Instead of geshrying, this is what Israel and the US should be working to extract from the Palestinians [a recognition of Israel as the “Jewish state” and a new Palestine as the Arab state envisioned by the UN back then].  I’m not the only one who feels this way. 

For example, I recommend this by journalist Gershom Gorenberg, in The American Prospect.

By | 2011-09-22T13:29:00-04:00 September 22nd, 2011|Blog|0 Comments

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