OxBlog

Monday, February 12, 2007

# Posted 6:52 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHY AM I PRO-ISRAEL? That question has been put to me with great seriousness by a colleague of mine, to whom I shall refer as 'P'. As I've mentioned before, she and I are in the midst of an ongoing discussion about the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. In fact, she has been considerate enough to carry the discussion here to OxBlog, where she has explained her position in great detail in the comments section.

If I understand the thrust of her question correctly, P wants to know how I can identify so unambiguously with one side in a conflict that is so complicated and so brutal. In addition, P wants to know how I can identify so unambiguously with one side in a conflict about which I am not an expert. I will answer that question first.

When it comes to political judgment, it is always very hard to know how much knowledge is enough. For example, even though I am no expert on immigration, I feel very strongly that we need to provide the millions of illegal immigrants now in the United States with a path to citizenship (or a path to amnesty, if you that is the phrasing you prefer).

I feel this way because my judgment rests not just on knowledge of the current state of immigration, but on a set of values and principles that reflect what I believe to be the purpose of American democracy. When it comes to Israel, my judgment also reflects a combination of knowledge and principles. Which is not to say that my judgment is fixed and permanent. I try to be open to new information and I am willing to debate my principles. But for the moment, I am pro-Israel.

And now back to the question of why. Perhaps the place to begin that question is with history. Although the history of this conflict is constantly disputed, the following judgments seem credible to me.

I am not sure that the Jewish people had an unequivocal right to establish a Jewish state in the historic land of Palestine. But I believe that by 1947, the only way to avoid a prolonged and bloody conflict was to embrace partition -- or what we now call a two-state solution. Israel accepted that partition. The Arab population rejected it and neighboring Arab states launched an invasion.

Many atrocities were committed during this war, by Israelis as well as Palestinians. By the war's end, approximately 700,000 Palestinians fled their homes. Israel does bear responsibility for this tragedy, but so do the Arab states and the Palestinians themselves.

At the end of the first Arab-Israeli war, a two-state solution remained the best hope for peace, yet the Arab world rejected it. Refusing to accept Israel's existence, its neighbors launched additional wars of aggression in 1967 and 1973.

In the late 1970s, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat indicated that he preferred peace to war and would accept Israel's right to exist. Israel made peace with Sadat, in spite of being led by the hawkish and stubborn Menachem Begin. The Arab world ostracized Sadat for recognizing Israel's existence.

Before moving on to the 1990s and the present decade, I just want to state for the record that I recognize the potential for an intelligent counterargument to be made to absolutely every sentence in the four paragraphs above. So let me be clear: the purpose of those paragraphs is not to persuade anyone that my interpretation is the most correct. Rather, it is to elaborate the conclusions that have led, in part, to my self-identification as pro-Israel.

Throughout the 1990s I supported the Oslo peace process. Although some suggest that being pro-Israel entails, ipso facto, supporting illegal settlements and ignoring Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights, I was no less pro-Israel back then than I am now. I was ashamed of Sabra & Shatilla and I believed that the occupation of the West Bank in Gaza brought Israel down, far too often, to the level of its most vicious enemies. Being pro-Israel meant supporting a two-state solution that I hoped would be no less pro-Palestinian and pro-human rights than it was pro-Israel.

There is considerable debate about why the peace process failed after Camp David and Taba. I accept the argument, often made by Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak, that Yasser Arafat walked away from a very good (although not perfect) two-state solution without offering any meaningful alternative. And then Arafat launched the violence of the Al Aqsa intifada. I interpret these events in the light of (my version of) history. A preference for war instead of compromise was too deeply ingrained in the Palestinian leadership.

Before making a transition from the discussion of history to the discussion of values, I want to address the problem of circular logic, better known as the question of the chicken and the egg. In other words, might one say that I subscribe to this verion of history because I am pro-Israel, rather than insisting that I am pro-Israel because I subscribe to this version of history? According to one comment on a recent post:

[You write that] "I am firmly pro-Israel."

This may invariably hinder you in your quest [for the truth]...Afterall, if one wants "truth", either factual or moral, you ought not to start with certainties; or, if you do, make sure you leave room for doubts.
In theory, I agree. Yet in practice, none of us is ever able to start with a blank slate, especially with regard to those issues about which we are passionate. And leaving room for doubts doesn't do all that much to mitigate the problem.

Almost everyone is committed in principle to self-awareness and open-mindedness. However, there is no formula for turning this principle into a practice. I like to think I am open-minded, but I can never prove that I am.

In any heated political debate, both sides can always level the accusation that the other is being closed-minded. But that tends to accomplish nothing. Instead, I prefer to admit my allegiances and debate the issues on their merits.

To be continued...

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Comments:
There's something very funny about how you're going about this. By demanding everything of yourself and nothing of her, you're making her sound like an infant or an idiot. It's subtle but effective as, while she never appears in your account, the reader gets a very clear impression of the sort of person she's likely to be.

Whatever sort of person that is, it didn't make me want to go and read what she had to say in the comments.
 
I can assure you she is neither infant nor idiot. She is very capable of making strong arguments on her own behalf. But the purpose of these posts is to help me clarify my knowledge and beliefs about Israel and the Palestinians, so I make demands primarily of myself.
 
"Although the history of this conflict is constantly disputed, the following judgments seem credible to me."

Wrong. There is a general consensus among the serious and noted Israeli scholars as to the history of the conflict. I don't feel a need to mention who these people are, I've gleaned from your comments here that you're aware of them. (Although I'm not so sure you've read them.)

"But I believe that by 1947, the only way to avoid a prolonged and bloody conflict was to embrace partition -- or what we now call a two-state solution. Israel accepted that partition. The Arab population rejected it and neighboring Arab states launched an invasion."

You conveniently fail to mention *why* they rejected it. As if it is of no significance whatsoever. Are they just murderous, unreasonable people?

"At the end of the first Arab-Israeli war, a two-state solution remained the best hope for peace, yet the Arab world rejected it. Refusing to accept Israel's existence, its neighbors launched additional wars of aggression in 1967 and 1973."

Amazing. That's quite a falsification of history. Aside from you again failing to mention why the Arabs rejected the plan of partition. True, the Arabs states did launch a war of aggression in 1973, but you can't possibly be unaware that it was Israel who launched the war of aggression in 1967. We can evaluate it, debate about whether or not it was justified, but there is no dispute about who initiated armed attack. In Carter's new book he characterizes what the Arab forces were doing prior to the June 67 war as "menacing moves". I think that's accurate. Right now the US is making menacing moves in the Persian Gulf toward Iran. Would we say that the US has launched a war of aggression against Iran? Would we think it justified if Iran were to respond by attacking the US? Of course not.


"There is considerable debate about why the peace process failed after Camp David and Taba. I accept the argument, often made by Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak, that Yasser Arafat walked away from a very good (although not perfect) two-state solution without offering any meaningful alternative."

No, there is not considerable debate, except among those unaware of facts. Of course Clinton and Barak - two heads of state - would claim something that makes themselves look good. That's universal. Among the rest, the facts are not disputed, although they are certainly hardly known in the US, thanks to our wonderful media. Regarding Camp David 2000 - Shlomo Ben-Ami, who was then the Israeli Foreign Minister and one of the lead negotiators, has said, "If I were a Palestinian I would have also rejected Camp David.". He makes that clear in his recent book. As for Taba, he also explains why the negotiations ended. He points out Arafat's "unyielding positions", obviously slowing down the process, but as to why the negotiations were called off and ended, it had everything to do with the pending Israeli elections. Let me just quote what Ben-Ami has to say about it:

"Now, with regard to Taba, you see, we were a government committing suicide, practically. Two weeks before general elections, the chief of staff, General Mofaz, who is now the Minister of Defense, comes and in a — I say that in the book — in something that is tantamount to a coup d'etat, comes and says publicly that we are putting at risk the future of the state of Israel by assuming the Clinton parameters, and we accept them, we assume them. ... Now, this was the end. We saw that we are not reaching an agreement, and we need to go back, even if for the electoral campaign. I mean, we were a week before the elections. I mean, we were practically nonexistent. Our legitimacy as a government to negotiate such central issues as Jerusalem, as Temple Mount, the temple, etc., was being questioned, not only by the right that was making political capital out of it, but by the left, people from our own government."

Then you state: "And then Arafat launched the violence of the Al Aqsa intifada.".

Unbelievable. The falsifications just don't stop! Everyone who has paid 5 minutes of attention to the issue knows exactly why the 2nd intifada started. Again, it appears that you would just have us believe that these Arabs are just murderous, unreasonable people. This is open-minded, objective argument?

"In any heated political debate, both sides can always level the accusation that the other is being closed-minded. But that tends to accomplish nothing."

You're absolutely right. Anyone can make accusations, they are cheap, and easy. And they do accomplish nothing. That is why we can and should use our capacities to demonstrate when someone is being close-minded. That's where argument comes in. Sometimes it's very easy to demonstrate.
 
He points out Arafat's "unyielding positions", obviously slowing down the process....

Slowing down the process??

(On the other hand, at least we got that straightened out....)
 
re:menacing moves against Iran
I was not aware the US was blockading Iranian shipping and massing troops on their border in preparation for an invasion. Both of which are acts of war, and would make the US the aggressor. Source?
 
Nike Air Max. I have written longer blog posts on specific soap nut usage issues with more substance.
 
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