By Barry Rubin
I hate to spend time discussing U.S. media coverage of Israel. It should be clear by now that it is not very good, balanced, accurate, or fair. Yet there are examples which are irresistible to discuss because they are so revealing of the political as well as media assumptions made about Israel that so mislead the Western publics and policymakers.
The Washington Post has a major article explaining that while, on one hand, the Iron Dome missile defense is a good thing because it blocks missiles that would otherwise kill and injure Israelis as well as cause damage it is also a bad thing. Tom Freedman made similar claims. Why?
“For a nation that longs for normalcy and acceptance, one question being debated here is whether Iron Dome will motivate Israel’s leaders to pursue peace with the Palestinians and the wider Arab world or insulate them from having to do so.”
In other words, if a lot more Israelis were being killed and wounded by attacks then Israel would have more incentive to make peace with the Palestinians and Arabs. But since they are only being attacked and their lives paralyzed but not killed, Israel just isn’t interested in making peace.
And who is debating this idea that only if they are more bloodied will their hearts be softened and they will prefer peace to endless conflict? Supposedly Israelis are saying: “Wow, we wish our leaders tried harder to make peace with the Palestinians. Maybe it’s because we are too strong and secure.” Well, basically the Post comes up with one person, left-wing author Tom Segev. Nobody is interviewed who ridicules this bizarre thesis.
Just to make the situation completely clear let me be very explicit: In the 1980s and in 1993 at the time of the Oslo agreement many Israelis argued that because Israel was more secure it could take risks and make concessions to try to achieve peace. A number of specific steps, including Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, were based on this same stance. Israel could pull out of the Gaza Strip, uproot all of the settlements there, and not suffer any decline in security. That’s the historic argument: the more secure Israel was, the more it could offer the Palestinians in the hope that they would make peace. Is that clear?
When a country becomes less secure it must increase its ability to protect itself, including by retaining territory useful for that defense, spending more on military equipment, and not making concessions and taking risks. The only exception is that if people feel certain that such concessions and risks would definitely bring a full response from the other side and thus lead to a secure and lasting peace.
Now even leaving aside the Palestinian Authority’s intransigence and desire–clearly visible for the last twelve years–to avoid a compromise two-state solution, Israel also faces the following new regional features:
–Hamas, which constantly attacks Israel and would continue to do so (indeed escalate attacks) if Israel did reach an agreement with the PA.
–An Islamist Egypt whose ruling Muslim Brotherhood group daily speaks of genocide against Israel and Jews, plus not accepting the 30-year-old peace treaty, not to mention the even more extreme Salafists.
–An Islamist-ruled Lebanon, where Hizballah, the ruling group, constantly threatens to attack and also daily calls for Israel’s extinction.
–A hostile Turkey whose rulers support Hamas and Hizballah.
–A Syria where radical Islamists seem poised to gain power. They cannot possibly be more anti-Israel than the current regime but they are willing to make the anti-Israel war a higher priority for direct action.
So this is an era where Israel clearly needs to defend itself. Compare this to the early 1990s. Saddam Hussein had been defeated in the 1991 war; the radical Arabs main ally, the USSR, had fallen; America was the sole superpower; the PLO was so weak and depressed that it seemed conceivable it might be pushed into peace because it had no other alternative (in contrast to the contemporary Palestinian Authority which just got recognition as a state and is feeling very confident); and other factors.
That was a moment when Israel could take risks and did so with the Oslo Agreement. And yet, of course, we know–like it or not–that this “peace process” made things worse, another lesson not processed by the hegemonic political forces in much of the West today.
So how do we get from here to demands that Israel must keep doing what has failed and the claim that the weaker is Israel’s strategic position the more it can and should make concessions and take risks? Such a stance is just about equivalent to saying that it is a pity that U.S. counterterrorism measures are working because if there were more September 11 type attacks that succeeded the Americans would be nicer to Muslims. Or if the British air force had only not defeated the Luftwaffe perhaps Prime Minister Winston Churchill wouldn’t have been so insulated from the need to make peace with the Axis.
Special categories are constantly created to bash Israel. Has the concept of “proportional response”–that if defending yourself you shouldn’t do too much–ever been applied to anyone other than Israel? Can you imagine an American journalist writing an article suggesting that if only England got hit harder by IRA terrorism it would treat the Irish better in Northern Ireland?
What’s most infuriating about all of this is not just that Israel has tried so hard to make peace–including risks and concessions–but the precise attacks referred to in the Post article were made possible only because Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in an attempt to promote peace!
Yet the essential insanity of the kind of thinking epitomized in this article is shielded when it comes to Israel by the media’s bias and sense that it can get away with any nonsense when it comes to discussing Israel.
Meanwhile, there is some concern by Israeli intelligence officials of a new intifadah on the West Bank. This would be due to new confidence created by the UN’s decision to make Palestine a non-member state (the UN’s contribution to peacemaking); a rapprochement between the Palestinian Authority, which rules the West Bank, and Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip; and the Palestinian Authority’s wish to compete with Hamas in attacking Israel and trying to kill Israelis.
Following the logic of the Washington Post we should hope that lots of Israelis are killed by terrorists as a way to pressure those obdurate Israelis to make peace.
The Post article basically follows the same Palestinian political line that has prevailed since the 1960s: forget about a negotiated compromise, Israel must be defeated; Israelis made to suffer. The main goal is to get Israelis to give up altogether and abandon having a state; the shorter-term goal is to get Israelis to accept a Palestinian state unconditionally so it can get on with the task of finishing that job.
Before around 1980, the above analysis would have been considered a normative Israeli analysis. Between the 1980s and 2000, when there was a rising hope of a compromise peace with the PLO and its child, the Palestinian Authority, it would have been considered a right-wing view. Since 2000, however, that assessment—based on evidence and experience—has again become that of the overwhelming majority across almost all of the political spectrum.
Internationally, the refusal to face the fact that the Palestinian side is responsible for the failure of peace leads to such bizarre theories and blinds people to the actual situation.
And here is the speech by Hamas’s leader to mark the organization’s twenty-fifth anniversary. See for whom the Washington Post is suggesting that greater military success will lead to Middle East peace.
Regarding Friedman’s article, here’s a response from Dan Margalit.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.