THE SPINE JULY 26, 2008
At least, Boris Christoff pretended neither love nor tough love. But his soppy landsman Nick Kristof traffics in both, "love" for humankind and the Palestinians but what he calls "tough love" for Israel. I've noted here several times, however, that even his unabashed love for the people of Darfur, when joined to his favored political contrivances (Security Council resolutions, African Union peacekeeping, pressure on the Chinese, other blah, blah) leave them as immiserated victims of Arab racism. The fact is that one wouldn't ordinarily match Kristof's writings against the standards of sound analysis, which is what I suppose he means by "tough love." After all, he is a professional whiner, and maybe even the best in the business. But since he now purports to answer a chosen four of his critics -- one of his columns was apparently "flooded with counterarguments" -- he has opened himself to more careful standards.I'll begin with a general observation which Kristof and multitudes of others never make. Yet it is the foundation of the current controversy about Israel and the supposed rights of the Palestinians. Many assume that the 1967 borders (actually the cease fire lines of 1949) are the sine qua non for peace. I myself am not so sure. After all, the Six Days War was initiated by Egypt, Syria and Jordan (plus Iraq, yes Iraq!) when Israel was cooped up behind these fragile and routinely besieged frontiers. Nonetheless, it never attacked anyone to expand those lines, although its troops did retaliate and sometimes ferociously, God bless them. Moreover, the Palestine Liberation Organization was founded in 1963, and the Jewish part of Palestine that the organization intended to liberate was entirely situated with in the aforementioned, somehow now sacred boundaries. Similarly, the objectives of other terrorist groups of various ideological colorations--'liberation fronts," as they were then headily labeled--was not to free the West Bank, which had long ago been annexed by the Hashemites, but Tel Aviv and Beersheva, Haifa and Eilat.
To be perfectly frank, my own sense is that Palestinian ambitions are still to "liberate" all of Palestine. Which means that retrieving the West Bank for the Palestinians is only the first chapter of their desire. We already have the example of Gaza which Israel relinquished on its own. What happened? Rockets and missiles targeted southern Israel for nearly three years. What would occur if Israel withdrew from the West Bank to the 1949/1967 lines? Rockets and missiles would target Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and Ben Gurion Airport. And, believe me, another war would start with yet another high-cost victory for Israel.In any case, to my basic point: Everybody writes that, with regard to the West Bank, Gaza and (the old hoary and finally irrelevant references to) east Jerusalem, "Israel captured these territories in the 1967 Mideast war." No more, no less, when it should be clear from the above that much more is needed for the sentence to be even minimally truthful. This happens to be a citation from the Associated Press about the approval by Israel of a "new settlement' in the Jordan valley rift. Alas for the AP, stories in todays New York Times and the FT note that Maskiot has been a small village for decades. This raises two matters. One is whether the Palestinians can impede by their prevarication and endless foot dragging the natural and, in fact, biological growth of settled Jewish communities in the West Bank that will not be given up. Yes, many will be and some won't. That is just a fact. Grow up and face the truth.The other matter is the differences among Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria, which constitute the West Bank. Most of these are, for all intents and purposes, already given up. They were surrendered by Ehud Barak in the negotiations at the end of 2000, when suddenly Yassir Arafat walked out of the conference never to come back again. Had the post-script to the Gaza disengagement not been as continually bloody as it was Israel would long since have begun the retreat of Jewish settlers from the West Bank where, after all, the history of Abraham's children began. Does Nicholas Kristof know any of this history? If he does he has buried it in his cheery assessment of Palestinian intentions.The Jordan River is no place from which Israel should withdraw at all. It is the separation line between a future Palestinian state, inshallah, and the eastern half of the Arab world: Jordan, Syria, Iraq. Israeli presence on the Jordan is a guarantee to the monarchy that havoc among its Palestinians will not be joined by the West Bank Palestinians. And that West Bank Palestinians would be curbed in fomenting an insurrection in the kingdom. In 1970, Israel was able to abort a Syrian invasion of Jordan in some measure because of its abutting presence on the river. Ask King Abdullah whether he really wants Israel to vacate the other side of the river.The environs of Jerusalem are a slightly different matter. There has been a demographic struggle for Jerusalem for centuries. Jews have had the predominant numbers at least since the early nineteenth century, and probably earlier. Christians no longer figure in the competition, there being only 14,000 of them in a city of some 700,000 and growing fast. Moslems by the tens of thousands smuggle themselves in from the West Bank so that they can live under Israeli control rather than any form of Palestinian rule whatever. This is what fuels some of the resentment of the separation barrier in Jerusalem. Palestinians want to be Israelis, with social and economic privileges that come with being residents of the Holy City but without citizenship in the Jewish state.The race for population mastery continues. It will also be won by Israel, and this outcome will be guaranteed by securing contiguity of Jewish neighborhoods in the city and linking the capitol to the largest Israeli community in the West Bank, Ma'aleh Adumin and its offspring. The Palestiniams may whine about this but the wise among them have no illusions. The necessity of such outcomes was set when the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem was utterly demolished and Jews were kept from the Western Wall of the temple and other holy places for two decades. History also makes its claims in such circumstances: you gamble and lose then you really lose. When and where has it ever been different?So to Kristoff's own four concrete cases. The first: Hebron. "The Jews have deep ties to Hebron, just as Christians do to Jerusalem and Bethlehem, but none of these bonds confer any right to live in these places or even visit them." Forget about Hebron's historic Jews for a moment. But notice how casually Kristof has vacated the right of Christians to reside (or even visit) Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Probably without knowing it, he is actually alluding to a real situation in Bethlehem. Not so long ago, Bethlehem's proportion of Christians used to be some 75%. It is now roughly a quarter, maybe a tiny bit more. Bethlehem's Christians were and are Arabs. No matter. The Moslems wanted them out, and over the decades the Moslems pushed them out. But this is the place where Jesus was born and where the Church of the Nativity (Armenian and Greek Orthodox) sanctifies his arrival. Surely, the remaining Christians deserve some protection of their historic presence in the place where their religious journey began.A logical corollary to Kristoff's indifference to the fate of Christians in Bethlehem (or, for that matter, Jerusalem) is his utter indifference to the fate of of Arabs in Palestine. But, of course, he's not indifferent, and I'm not either. I believe that there are solutions to what is tiresomely called the refugee problem. The Arabs who left their homes in 1948 were not properly refugees because they did not leave historic Palestine (which encompasses Jordan, southern Lebanon and southern Syria), and they certainly weren't expelled from historic Palestine. Why would anyone call someone living 10 miles (or even 40) from their initial homes "refugees?" So Kristoff wants justice done for the Palestinians but not for the Christian Arabs of Bethehem.Now, Hebron is an especially intricate case. I've written about the Jews of Hebron, and I did not especially like them. But everybody knows (except apparently Kristoff) that Hebron is on the withdrawal agenda of any Israeli government. It was part of the plan offered by Ehud Barak in 2000. It was intrinsic to both Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert's scheduled disengagement from the West Bank which was supposed to follow the Gaza withdrawal. Alas, something happened in Gaza that--how shall I say this?--mucked up the entire Israeli disentanglement from the West Bank. Even Bibi Netanyahu gave up parts of settled Jewish Hebron when he was prime minister, as a "confidence building measure." Yes, there are many Israelis who sympathize with the settlers and settlements. But they are a small minority. If Gaza had not ended like it did Hebron would now be in Palestinian hands, with maybe a pocket of life for Jewish memory and Jewish devotion, which goes back to Abraham and was still vibrant and alive when an Arab massacre took some 80 lives in 1929.His second case is "the fence." And he says, "So, build a fence. But construct it on the 1967 borders, not Palestinian land." If only these lines had been borders recognized by the Arabs. And what kind of borders are these? Happenstance results of a cease fire, cutting across villages and fields themselves. To make a religion of these fragile places where armies ended up facing each other is nonsense, and it is interesting how Kristof has bought into it. Kristof's third point about the difference between terror and retaliation -- or rather the similarity -- is also inane. Less Israeli minors have been killed than Palestinian minors. And, if counting minors is the point, how many of the Palestinian minors were fighting? And how many of the Israelis not? For the latter, I'd bet none. But this is an inane calculus, as if a just war would require the winning side to artificially keeps its casualties up to match the casualties of the losers. His fourth point is a pastiche. Yes, security controls and travel checkpoints do impede and even prevent terrorism. But, on the other hand, they harden the hearts of the Palestinians. So, by Kristof's logic, Israel should cut these measures out. Of course, he also has unlimited confidence in Mahmoud Abbas who, again according to Kristof, must be Israel's last hope. He does not grasp that Israeli society is a coherent whole, its peoplehood vibrant, its economy on the cutting edge of modernity, its civil liberties more secure than even America's. And what of the Palestinians? They are not yet a nation. They can be relied on for nothing, like most of their neighbors.