AJC v. APN, “Myths” v. “Straw Men”


 At the Huffington Post,  American Jewish Committee director David Harris takes aim at what he sees as three myths about the Middle East: That confronting Iran hinges on progress on Israeli-Palestinian peace; that peace talks hinge on freezing settlement in eastern Jerusalem; that Israel lies at the root of all problems in the Middle East.

Harris uses, respectively, the WikiLeaks cables, the "Palileaks" internal Palestinian accounts of Israeli-Palestinian dealmaking and the Egyptian protests to bolster his arguments.

Also at HuffPo, Lara Friedman, the legislative director for Americans for Peace Now, says Harris’ myths are straw men, and not really central to arguments advanced toward pressing Israel to freeze settlement and make serious moves for peace.

Isolating Iran and advancing Israel-Palestinian peace are not mutually dependent, Lara says, but advancing peace is a factor that would facilitate unanimity on Iran.

The straw man she sees in Harris’ second "myth" — that building in eastern Jerusalem hinders peace-making — is in the conclusion Harris draws from the "Palileaks." David argues that the closeness of the sides to a deal that encompassed Israeli sovereignty over Jewish neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem proves that complaints about building in those neighborhoods was a feint:

The documents showed there was indeed tacit agreement on certain land swaps, including, yes, Jewish areas of eastern Jerusalem. The papers showed that the gap between the two sides was less than imagined, but, sadly, the uproar over the leaked documents proved that the Palestinian Authority has failed even to attempt to prepare its population for the concessions needed for an end of conflict and lasting peace.

Lara counters that the issue in Jerusalem was not over the neighborhoods encompassed in such agreements, but in building that expanded those neighborhoods — or outside those neighborhoods.

What the Palestine Papers actually reveal is that East Jerusalem settlement activity matters even more than many people realized. Why? Because the leaked documents confirm that an agreement on Jerusalem, consistent with the Clinton Parameters and the Geneva Initiative, could be acceptable to the Palestinians. This is an opportunity Israel cannot afford to squander. But current expansion of some East Jerusalem settlements, and settlement activity inside Palestinian neighborhoods, could soon do just that — undermining the credibility of Palestinian officials who could come to such an agreement and changing the facts on the ground to the point where such an agreement will be, in any case, impossible. And if an agreement is impossible on Jerusalem, the two-state solution is dead.

Finally, Lara says that David comes up with only one real, not straw, man for his third myth, that Israel is blamed for everything in the region — Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The reaity that more serious critics posit is more complex, she says: As the Egyptian upheaval demonstrated, the Israel-Palestine divide does not inform all regional strife. However, she argues, it informs Israel’s relations with its neighbors, and by extension the relations between the United States, Israel’s principle backer, and regional powers.

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