Haaretz columnist, Bradley Burston, spoke in New York on March 10 for the US Labor-Zionist affiliate, Ameinu. He’s a middle-aged American, who made aliya as a young person in the Habonim youth movement. I’d characterize his perspective today as that of a moderate liberal in Israel.
He’s an engaging speaker and not doctrinaire in any way, but his views disappointed me because they are devoid of hope regarding the prospect for peace. He’s really in protective mode rhetorically for Israel, something that I appreciate as a Zionist, but cannot endorse if absent a sense of a plan or at least of urgency regarding the need to work toward peace.
This is a problem with most Israelis today – including most liberals – that they’ve been disappointed so much that they’ve lost a sense of even the possibility of peace. They tend to see Israel as having tried the peace process of the 1990s only to see it come crashing down in flames with the Intifada that began in 2000. They generally blame this failure entirely, or more, on the Palestinians than Israel’s flawed policies or negotiating postures. This is something on which I fall in between: I see tragic errors, bad faith and bad luck (e.g., the 1994 murder spree by Baruch Goldstein in Hebron, the 1995 assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the ill-timed Shin Bet killing of the Hamas “engineer” followed by the wave of suicide revenge attacks early in ‘96) on both sides as having led to failure in the 1990s.
Then there was the illusory path of disengagement and unilateral withdrawal led by Ariel Sharon and anticipated for the West Bank under Ehud Olmert. This strategy came crashing down as a result of the unfortunate choice of a plurality of Palestinian voters (44 percent) to elect a Hamas-led government in 2006, in the wake of Israel’s complete and total withdrawal from Gaza. And Hamas has intermittently fired rockets and mortars into Israel, or allowed other factions to do so.
Yes, I know about the six month cease-fire that held up fairly well until November 2008, but use of this tactic at any time after Israel’s withdrawal was wrong and has only invited endless trouble and the understandable Israeli perception – especially when coupled with the attacks on Israel in the north despite Israel’s complete withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000 – that they cannot withdraw from Arab territories in the near-future without them becoming a new base for attack.
So Burston characterizes Israel’s support for its wildly destructive campaign in Gaza, the electoral turn to the right that followed, and the rise of Lieberman’s party on a wave of Arab-baiting rhetoric, a result of “rockets, not racism.” I know what he means. And Israel’s people do not deserve the one-sided condemnation coming from so many avenues today.
Burston mentioned the failure of the Hamas “spider web” theory, that Israel is as fragile as a spider web that would break with the suicide terror campaign. Now he sees a new strategy by Hamas and other enemies of Israel, that they hit Israel intermittently with rockets, and wait for some years until they can appeal internationally for their right to Israeli citizenship, and then vote Israel out of existence. Yet this is precisely why Burston should be more energetic in seeking strategies for peace.
Burston actually thinks that Israel’s recent military campaign was excessive, but he says so only in passing and doesn’t adequately focus upon how much damage the Gaza episode has done to Israel’s interests, let alone the human toll it exacted. When I asked him what Mideast policies he would like to see from the Obama administration, he jokingly spoke of the need for an “ideal” but highly unlikely scenario in which both Israel and the Palestinian Authority had national unity governments committed to the principle of two states. His unspoken assumption is that without such a development among both populations there is nothing significant that the Obama administration can do.