Yesterday I wrote about Michael Oren’s piece in the LATimes bemoaning how terrible it is to live in Israel, all thanks to those rotten Palestinians. I maintain that anyone who has spent time in 99% of Israel recently would agree that life in the Jewish state is doing quite well for itself; conversely, anyone who has spent anytime in Palestine would agree that the occupation has beaten the Arab society and economy down to a level incomparable to that of Israel’s. Likewise, the dangers of the continued occupation and settler violence – not to mention living anywhere in Gaza – makes the security of Palestine infinitely more fragile than that of Israel. Indeed, while many have lauded the recent period of relative calm and peace for Israel, many more have completely ignored the fact that such a peace is completely one-sided. From Fair Blog:
It really is offensive for commentators to use the word “violence” to mean “violence against one side in a conflict.” As in Martin Indyk’s op-ed in the New York Times yesterday (8/27/10), which argues that there is “For Once, Hope in the Middle East,” because, “First, violence is down considerably in the region.” Here’s his complete explication of this point:
Throughout the 1990s, Israel was plagued by terrorist attacks, which undermined its leaders’ ability to justify tangible concessions. Israelis came to believe that the Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat was playing a double game, professing peace in the negotiations while allowing terrorists to operate in territory he was supposed to control.
Today, the Palestinian Authority is policing its West Bank territory to prevent violent attacks on Israelis and to prove its reliability as a negotiating partner. Hamas–mainly out of fear of an Israeli intervention that might remove it from power–is doing the same in Gaza.
These efforts, combined with more effective Israeli security measures, have meant that the number of Israeli civilians killed in terrorist attacks has dropped from an intifada high of 452 in 2002 to six last year and only two so far this year.
Missing, of course, is any mention of violence against Palestinians. According to the Israeli human rights group, there have been 100 Palestinians killed by Israelis in the time period following Israel’s December 2008 assault on Gaza; the assault itself killed 1,397 Palestinians, a large majority of whom were either minors or non-combatants.
It’s difficult to be hopeful about peace in the Middle East when major U.S. news outlets treat Palestinian deaths as absolutely irrelevant.
Meanwhile, Oren was challenged by another blogger who questioned Oren’s description of life. Matt Duss of Think Progress’s Wonk Room replies, Oh Come On!
Oren acknowledges, “Yes, many Israelis are skeptical about peace, and who wouldn’t be?”
We withdrew our troops from Lebanon and the Gaza Strip in order to generate peace, and instead received thousands of missiles crashing into our homes. We negotiated with the Palestinians for 17 years and twice offered them an independent state, only to have those offers rejected. Over the last decade, we saw more than 1,000 Israelis — proportionally the equivalent of about 43,000 Americans — killed by suicide bombers, and tens of thousands maimed. We watched bereaved mothers on Israeli television urging our leaders to persist in their peace efforts, while Palestinian mothers praised their martyred children and wished to sacrifice others for jihad.
I understand that it’s Oren’s job as ambassador to offer the Israeli point of view, but framing the issue as “Israeli mothers want peace/Palestinian mothers want death for their children” is pretty disgusting. Is there a deeply objectionable culture of martyrdom rooted in Palestinian society? Yes, there is. It’s amazing what decades of being treated like cattle can do to a people. Oren asks us to sympathize with the Israeli experience of living under terrorist threat, and I completely agree that we should, but so should we try to understand the Palestinian experience of having their daily lives prescribed by a brutal and byzantine system of military law designed specifically to divest them of their land and prevent them securing their national rights.
As for the idea that Israel withdraw from Gaza “in order to generate peace,” this claim has been so conclusively discredited that I’m actually stunned that Oren thinks he can get away with it. Ariel Sharon withdrew from Gaza explicitly in order to forestall peace. Or, as his senior adviser Dov Weisglass put it to Haaretz, “The significance of the [Gaza] disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process”:
“And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda. And all this with authority and permission. All with a presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress.” […]
“The disengagement is actually formaldehyde,” he said. “It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians.”
So, either Weisglass was lying then, and the Gaza withdrawal was actually a clever triple-bank shot attempt by Ariel Sharon, a lifelong opponent of the peace process, to move the peace process forward, or Oren isn’t being straight now.
As to the larger issue of Israel attitudes toward peace, Coteret’s Didi Remez cites an article and poll in leading Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot. Compare these two answers:
Q: Do you believe that a resumption of construction will derail the negotiations with the Palestinians?
Believe construction will derail negotiations: 68%
Do not believe construction will derail negotiations:24%
No response/don’t know: 8%
Q: Should Netanyahu extend the settlement construction freeze after September 26, or should construction be resumed?
Extend construction freeze: 39%
Resume construction: 51%
No response/don’t know: 10%
According to this poll, a majority of Israelis believe that resuming settlement construction will derail the peace talks. A majority also think that settlement construction should be resumed anyway. Would it be fair to surmise, based on this, that a majority of Israelis are against peace? Yes, it would. Would it be correct? Probably not. What I think the poll (reproduced in full below) shows, as others have, is that Israelis are deeply ambivalent about the prospects for peace, and unenthusiastic about making what they see as big sacrifices for as yet intangible benefits. This goes both ways, and there’s no point in pretending otherwise. But it’s also important to note the continuing and fundamental imbalance here — Israelis have the luxury of acting as if the conflict and the occupation don’t exist. Palestinians do not.
Photo from NJ blog