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Thursday, September 18, 2014

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‘Better a bitter conclusion’

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The new year begins with an old story: Israel’s ability defend itself so well is upsetting to some people.

Thomas Friedman, in a Dec. 5 New York Times column, and Scott Wilson, in the Washington Post on Dec. 9, bemoan what they perceive as adverse implications from Israel’s highly effective Iron Dome anti-missile system. 

“The wall [security barrier] plus the dome are enabling Israel’s leaders to abdicate their responsibility for thinking creatively about a resolution of its own majority-minority problem with the Palestinians in the West Bank and east Jerusalem,” wrote Friedman. “I am glad,” he meekly adds, “that the wall and the Iron Dome are sheltering Israelis from enemies who wish to do them ill.” However, he does not budge from his central opinion: “But I fear the wall and the Iron Dome are also blinding them from truths they still badly need to face.”

Wilson echoed Friedman’s worries. Neither, however, wrote a word about the effect of Palestinian policies on the peace process.

Many people responded to this absurd Friedman/Wilson line of thinking. Leo Rennert, Washington bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers, and Barry Rubin, director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center in Herzliya, were the most effective. Their responses appeared in the American Thinker blog and in the Rubin Reports blog, respectively.

But perhaps the best response of all to Friedman and Wilson came from Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion. 

On March 4, 1958, Ben-Gurion delivered an in camera assessment to members of his party, Mapai (Workers’ Party of Israel), of the country’s political situation in the world.

The wise and wizened prime minister reported on and analyzed the Jewish state’s relations with various countries and regions in the world. The first part of his report dealt with Israel’s prospects for peace with its Arab neighbours. His remarks were reproduced in the spring edition of The Jerusalem Quarterly, 1984. 

“So, after I had gained some experience in this matter [how the Arabs regard the Jews in the Land of Israel] 25 years ago, I went to the Arabs of Palestine and to their leaders, to Musa Alami, to Awni Abd al-Hadi, to George Antonius and later to leaders in the neighbouring countries, to [Syrian leader] Jamal Mardam, to [Lebanese leader] Riyad al-Sulh, to Ibn Saud’s emissary, to the [Syrian-Palestinian] Arab committee in Geneva, and I met with them in London at the [1939] St. James Palace Conference convened by Malcolm MacDonald [the British colonial secretary]. There we met with all these Arab countries. Before that they had not wanted to sit with us. Malcolm MacDonald made a great effort to arrange a meeting; the Arabs of Palestine remained adamant in their refusal. So we met only with Arab rulers of neighbouring countries, with the rulers of Iraq, Egypt and Saudi Arabia [Lebanon and Syria were still under French Mandate at that time].

“I thus came to a bitter conclusion: at this time there is no prospect of a Jewish-Arab peace…

“I cannot forget how when [American journalist J.] Alsop entered my office in the Prime Minister’s Bureau and saw the map on the wall, he asked: ‘How will you survive?’

“Only afterward does the question arise: is there any prospect of peace? I believe that the two questions are intertwined. Only the forces that help us survive may bring about a situation in which the Arabs are forced to acknowledge that we cannot be annihilated; and it is my profound belief that peace cannot be reached without the Arabs first recognizing that there is no possibility of annihilating us. (My emphasis) Since this is the only way to peace, concern for our survival and for our strengthening becomes the true concern for peace.”

Ben-Gurion’s conclusion still stands today, some 54 years after he spoke them. And no one can say of Ben-Gurion that he was a maximalist in any respect in his approach to seeking peace with the Arabs.

The reason his conclusion still stands today is quite simple, although it appears to have escaped Friedman and Wilson. Palestinian leaders have not changed their thinking since 1939. They simply refuse to accommodate a State of Israel alongside a State of Palestine.

Even if we only look at the record since 1993, the evidence is overwhelming and inescapable. Former Palestinian Authority president Yasser Arafat and current PA President Mahmoud Abbas turned their backs on the various Israeli prime ministers who sat with them, negotiated, bargained and pleaded for a treaty of peace between the two peoples. (And it must be added, Arafat and Abbas sat with them while even Jews were building homes, roads, schools and communities in the West Bank.)

The extent to which individuals such as Friedman and Wilson are willing to ignore history, distort logic and undermine values of decency and morality in order to indict Israel is a sorrowful commentary on the place of truth in modern political discourse – at least when it comes to Israel.

The last word must go, again, to Ben-Gurion. 

“Better a bitter conclusion which is the truth than sweet-seeming self-deception.”

                                    – MBD

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