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Tuesday, July 05, 2011

When Jewish leaders fall for the Arab "all or nothing" fallacy

Robert K. Lifton, former president of the American Jewish Congress, wrote an article in the Huffington Post that shows that even committed Zionists can find themselves believing the "all or nothing" fallacy that the Palestinian Arabs try to push.

He describes the fallacy well, without realizing it:
The alliance of aggressive nationalists and religious expansionists is endangering the dream of Zionism as conceived of by Theodore Herzl and shared by millions of Jews. Through their overzealous efforts toward expansion, in which they seek to extend Israel's jurisdiction over the biblical "whole land of Israel" -- the Territories gained in the 1967 Six-Day War -- they are endangering the Zionist foundations of that land.

For many years, I have been concerned that Israel not put at risk its Zionist purpose in an effort to expand its reach into the Territories. During my tenure as President of the American Jewish Congress, starting in 1988, we argued that in view of the demographics of Palestinian and Israeli population growth, among other factors, Israel would not be able to continue as both a Jewish and a democratic state if it attempted to annex the Territories as part of the state of Israel.
And also without realizing it, he describes why it is a fallacy:
It is in the hands of Mr. Netanyahu and his government to take the actions that save Zionism. He has said that he supports a two-state solution. His nationalist and religious coalition will be difficult to carry along to a two-state solution that is within the range of acceptability to the Palestinians.
Here is the crux of the issue. Because of years of the world accepting Palestinian Arab intransigence as a given, the former head of an unabashedly Zionist organization has accepted that a Palestinian Arab state must be within the parameters that the Arabs insist - and Israeli Jews are the ones who must do all the compromising.

Lifton uses the straw man that Thomas Friedman, Jeffrey Goldberg and others use: that the only choice is between Israel annexing the entire West Bank and Israel giving up the entire West Bank (with minor land swaps.) Yet this is not even close to true.

The concept of a Palestinian Arab state is not identical to the demand that Israel withdraw from all the crucial lands needed for defensible borders and to to maintain a Jewish presense in historically and religiously significant areas.

When Palestinian Arabs insist that the two are congruent, the Western reaction should be that, in that case, the demand for an independent state must not be all that important to the Palestinian Arabs.

A people that cry for independence and the dignity that comes with it are not usually in a position to make demands on the parameters of that solution. A people who acquired land in a defensive war are not usually the ones who are desperate to get rid of that land. This fun-house mirror situation exists only because of the combination of Arabs who refuse to compromise - and Westerners (including clueless Jews) who are frightened of words like "apartheid."

Because of the misguided policies of previous Israeli governments and the US, the Palestinian Arabs now feel they have nothing to lose - and therefore, no incentive to negotiate. That is the reason they have refused to hold talks - because they already have a functioning government, land under their control, billions of dollars of aid coming in to prop it up, full support by the West of their negotiating position, plenty of Jews willing to do their arguing for them -  and no threat of losing their gains. Only when they are frightened will they finally start to take negotiations seriously.

Netanyahu's idea of a Palestinian Arab state that takes up less than 100% of the equivalent of the West Bank and Gaza should not be considered outlandish. On the contrary, it would completely destroy the "demographic threat" that so frightens Jews like Lifton. Palestinian Arabs who pretend to want a state so much should realize that they have something to lose by not compromising. By telling the Palestinian Arabs that they are in the right and Israel must be the only party to compromise, Lifton and his cohorts in the "peace camp" are feeding the intransigence of the enemy - and making peace that much more remote. 

Lifton is also claiming to represent a large swath of American Jews. While it is unclear why American Jewry's opinions are more important than that of Israeli Jews in making decisions that only affect the lives of the latter, Lifton may want to revisit the results of a recent poll of American Jews - one that was done by his former group, the American Jewish Congress, only last autumn.
In the framework of a permanent peace with the Palestinians, should Israel be willing to compromise on the status of Jerusalem as a united city under Israeli jurisdiction?
Yes 35
No 60
Not sure 5


As part of a permanent settlement with the Palestinians, should Israel be willing to dismantle all, some, or none of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank?
All 6
Some 56
None 37
Not sure 2

Do you agree or disagree with the following statement? “The goal of the Arabs is not the return of occupied territories but rather the destruction of Israel.”
Agree 76
Disagree 20
Not sure 4

Should the Palestinians be required or not be required to recognize Israel as a Jewish state in a final peace agreement?

Required 95
Not required 3
Not sure 2
It sounds like Lifton is not speaking for as many American Jews as he is pretending to.