Partisanship misreads Mideast complexity

Abraham Foxman ()

Abraham Foxman ()

NEW YORK, Nov. 22 (JTA) — At a time when it faces challenges from many directions, Israel has difficult decisions to make regarding how to proceed with the Palestinians. It’s important and legitimate that all options be explored, and it’s natural and inevitable that American Jewish organizations will enter the discussion. Unfortunately, as evidenced by David Elcott’s Op-Ed entitled “In Mideast, Time for White House to Push for New Negotiations,” often a subject that requires the most thoughtful and serious exploration is treated in a simplistic and partisan manner. It’s a reminder that partisan attacks, whether from the left or the right, are not helpful in sorting out the major challenges Israel faces. Coming from a left-wing perspective and critical of Israel, the Bush administration and organized American Jewish policies and approaches, Elcott’s assessment is reminiscent of right-wing critiques of Yitzhak Rabin’s Oslo Accords and Ehud Barak’s offer at Camp David. Those on the right cited ongoing Palestinian terrorism in criticizing what they considered naive initiatives for peace, ignoring the complex question as to how Israeli leaders respond to public demands for both peace and security. In truth, Israeli leaders cannot afford to ignore opportunities for peace. When they pursue peace and the Palestinians reject it and turn to violence, as happened in 2000, the Israeli public — unlike during the first intifada in the early 1990s — unites in supporting the government. These are elements in the complexity of governing that the ideological right ignored. Similarly, Elcott’s partisanship from the left leads to distortions and caricatures about Israel’s policy, where the Palestinians are, what the Bush administration’s role should be and what role American Jews should play. The last three Israeli prime ministers have all committed themselves to the goal of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Not only have they made peace offers, but when they were convinced there was no partner for peace they tried unilateral withdrawal, hoping that would change Palestinian minds and create incentives for constructive Palestinian decision-making. Neither the peace proposals nor unilateral Israeli withdrawal penetrated the self-destructive Palestinian perspective. Indeed, the election last January of the terrorist group Hamas to head the Palestinian Authority deeply reinforced this perspective. For Elcott to ignore this aspect of policy is to divorce his analysis from reality. As to American policy, it’s simplistic for Elcott simply to say that because there is still terrorism, rocket attacks and the Iranian nuclear threat, Israel is not better off because of the Bush administration and Congress’ “powerful support for Israel.” The implication is that other approaches by Washington would have dealt with these problems, but there’s simply no evidence to sustain that. The Palestinians were offered plenty, including by President Bush in a landmark June 2002 address in which he called for an independent Palestinian state. The Palestinians’ turn to extremism can’t be blamed on either Israel or Washington. Elcott’s charge simply ignores the fact that things would have been far worse had the administration not stood with Israel in this difficult period, whether it was defending Israel at the United Nations, isolating the late P.A. President Yasser Arafat, preventing Europe from recognizing a Hamas-led government or taking the lead against Iran’s nuclear aspirations. Elcott also misrepresents the organized American Jewish community. It’s true that there are a range of viewpoints in the community, but the mainstream, non-ideological organizations have been clear in advocating a two-state solution. We have supported all Israeli initiatives for peace, including the Gaza withdrawal. But we also understand the realities of the region and the need for the West to stand firmly against extremism and educate the public about Israel’s desire for peace and the obstacles it faces. Yes, American Jews very much want peace and are ready to advocate risks for peace. But it has to be based on some evidence, some movement from the other side. Electing Hamas, launching rockets and kidnapping Israeli soldiers do not exactly provide reassurance. That’s not to say that all parties shouldn’t seriously consider different options. But Elcott’s one-sided presentation does not do justice to the seriousness of the problems. While we may not have all the answers, we have an obligation to ask questions responsibly, and to commend our friends who stand with Israel in the toughest times. Abraham H. Foxman is national director of the Anti-Defamation League and author of “Never Again? The Threat of the New Anti-Semitism.”

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