Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Jeffrey Goldberg's mistake

Here is the crux of a column by Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic:
Peace will not come without the birth of a Palestinian state on the West Bank which has its capital in East Jerusalem. I'm as sure of that as I am of anything in the Middle East. Of course, peace may not come even with the birth of this state -- I'm no longer quite so sure in the possiblity, or at least in the availability, of peace -- but it will surely never happen without it.
What is peace?

If peace means the settlement of all conflict with everyone living happily side by side and the lion lying down with the lamb, then perhaps Goldberg has a point - Palestinian Arabs will not be happy or satisfied without Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian Arab state, and, by definition, there will never be peace.

From a purely logical perspective, there is no reason Jerusalem must be the capital of "Palestine." Ramallah is fulfilling the role nicely. The only reason it supposedly must be their capital is because they assert it, repeatedly. Together with that demand is their implicit threat that peace will never happen without dividing Jerusalem. Goldberg, for good reason, believes them.

There is a major flaw with this thought process, though.

There are a number of other demands that the Palestinian Arabs have that are equally critical if you believe their statements. First and foremost is the "right to return" - to destroy Israel demographically by forcing Israel to accept millions of so-called "refugees" within its borders. They have been just as adamant and intransigent concerning that demand as they have been towards Jerusalem. If you take their statements at face value, the two are equally important.

And if you are taking their demands at face value, there will never be peace without the "right to return" just as there will never be peace without their control over what Goldberg mistakenly capitalizes as "East Jerusalem."

So why is the demand for Israel to capitulate on Jerusalem considered by Goldberg a pre-requisite for peace, while their demand for the right to return is not?

The reason is obvious. Goldberg doesn't believe that Israel would ever accept the right to return, and therefore it is, to his mind, off the table. He is making an assumption that in any final peace agreement, the Palestinian Arabs will drop their demand for "return."

(The correlary to this is that if Israel had been adamant about a united Jerusalem, and if Barak had never put it on the table, Goldberg would not be writing this column today. It is Israel's lack of fortitude on the Jerusalem issue that makes Goldberg believe that Jerusalem is negotiable while "return" is not.)

So we have seen that the only reason to believe that Jerusalem is a non-negotiable demand is because Palestinian Arabs say it is. But they say that the "right to return" is just as non-negotiable. Goldberg's assumption that the latter demand will somehow not be an impediment to peace while the former would be is based on nothing more than wishful thinking and a belief system wedded to the idea of "everyone knows what a final agreement will look like."

But has Goldberg heard a single word from any Palestinian Arab leader, ever, that they would be more flexible on "return" than on Jerusalem? If they are equally important to the Palestinian Arab mind - and they are, undoubtedly - then Goldberg must admit that his vision of "peace" is impossible. While he uneasily admits that peace may not be possible even with splitting Jerusalem, the fact is that his own logic shows that it is impossible without "return" - which means that a real permanent peace is, literally, impossible.

This is not the only unstated assumption that Goldberg makes about what Palestinian Arabs will compromise on. It was only a couple of months ago that the Palestinian Ministry of Information posted a paper on their website asserting that there was no Jewish connection to the Western Wall. Even though that paper was removed under pressure from the US, it has been repeated in the official Palestinian Arabic media since then. This was Arafat's position and it is, today, the position of the "moderate" PA. Goldberg assumes what "everyone knows" - that the PLO would allow Jewish holy places would remain under Israeli rule. But that assumption is also belied by the facts, facts that Goldberg is unwilling to consider.

It is very distasteful for most people to contemplate that "peace is impossible." Americans especially are brought up to believe that all problems are solvable, and we have a blind spot to accepting that some problems cannot be solved. It is this blind spot that Goldberg is falling victim to. He believes, passionately, that peace is required, and that the only way to peace is with Israel compromising on the spiritual soul of its nation. And while he admits that it may not be enough, the very chance for peace is worth the sacrifice in his mind.

What is that sacrifice? At the very least, it means the forcible removal of hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. As Yaacov Lozowick points out (follow the links as well,) it also means some very bizarre choices must be made in dividing Jerusalem. We are in a strange world where dividing a city that has always been unified with the exception of 19 anomalous years is considered a sine qua non for peace.

But what if peace, in the sense that Goldberg uses the term, is impossible? What if the "right to return" is non-negotiable as well? What if significant swaths of Palestinian Arab society do not accept any negotiated agreement? What if the Kotel once again becomes a battleground as it was in 1929?

Now, let's consider what kind of peace Jerusalemites would have under a divided city. It would be dangerous for Jews to visit their holy places. It is easily conceivable that instead of rocks, the Arabs who are a bit more extreme would be able to bring in RPGs and small rockets into their areas. (Only last week was the plot to shoot a missile to an Israeli sports stadium foiled - what would stop that from having been successful if Jerusalem was divided?) Today's sense of security would be instantly replaced with fear and uncertainty for all of Jerusalem's residents, and the city would suffer greatly as people are forced to leave.

The new "peace" would be worse than what we have today.

If we change our definition of "peace" from the fantasy idea of everyone in the Middle East living happily together to a more pragmatic "absence of conflict"," then we are suddenly given far more options than what "everyone knows."

Even with the tensions in the Shimon HaTzaddik neighborhood now referred to as Sheikh Jarrah, Jerusalem today is largely peaceful. It is certainly far more peaceful than it was seven years ago during the height of the intifada - a war that was the result of a "peace process" failing, it will be recalled. It is certainly more peaceful than it was in 1948 or 1936 or 1929. Only since Israel reunified the city has it been possible for Jews to walk to their holiest places without fear of being beaten or killed.

If this sort of peace is the goal - if we accept that the comprehensive peace that would make everyone happy is literally impossible, and we decide we want to manage conflict rather than eliminate it - then Jerusalem must remain undivided. It must remain under Jewish control. Only under Jewish rule has there been truly free access to the holy places (with the ironic exception of Jews being able to visit their own holiest spot on the Temple Mount.) Only under Jewish rule has Jerusalem grown and thrived.

It is not a huge surprise to find that under Jewish rule there is a museum of Islamic art in a unified Jerusalem. Can one imagine a similar museum of Jewish art under an Arab-controlled portion of Jerusalem?

Only under Jewish rule can there be a reasonable peace for the residents of Jerusalem, Arab and Jew alike.

Too many people are ready to sacrifice the lives and safety of thousands of people for the tiny chance for a "peace" that will never be. Set your sights a little lower and try for a realistic alternative, and peace is not only possible - it is here, today.

It would be the height of folly to create a city that would inevitably be at war with itself in the name of  "peace."