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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Foxman's Sour Grapes

If you want to know what's wrong with much of the current discourse on Israel, you could do worse than looking to Abe Foxman's recent Jerusalem Post op-ed patronizingly entitled, "Why Unilateral Statehood is Bad for the Palestinians, Bad for Peace." I'm sure the Palestinians have been waiting for Foxman to share his counsel with them for quite some time and are posting his piece on their Facebook pages right now. But then again, Foxman wasn't really writing for a Palestinian audience was he. Which raises the question -- when did we stop asking, "Is it good for the Jews?" (Sure by the time he concludes his piece, Foxman does recognize that unilateral statehood would be bad for Israel. But that's merely an afterthought in his argument.)

At a moment when Israel is speeding toward the edge of a cliff, all Foxman can do is offer his unsolicited advice to the Palestinians, or alternatively, to point the finger of blame at them. Putting aside the question of whether he is right (he's half right - there's enough blame to be apportioned to all concerned), I wonder what he is going say if Israel drives off that cliff, destroying its future as a Jewish and democratic state. Will he write another op-ed telling us that it was Arafat's fault Israel drove of the cliff? Will that be enough to assuage the loss of the Zionist enterprise, "knowing" that the Palestinians had their chances for peace but blew it? Will it be enough to "know" that had only Abbas uttered those six words - "I will accept a Jewish state" --  that Netanyahu demanded in his speech before Congress the Jewish and democratic state of Israel would have been around for our grandchildren? And incidentally, does Abbas's refusal to speak the magic words justify Israel's continued occupation, a word he dare not mention, of the Palestinian people? How exactly does one go around assigning blame here without addressing the occupation?

Let me back up a bit and offer that Foxman deserves some credit here. He does not recite the old canard that the 1967 borders are indefensible. Nor does he repeat the mantra that Jerusalem must remain the "eternal and undivided" capital of Israel. He recognizes that Israeli prime ministers have negotiated on both of these points. Foxman dispels the notion, though perhaps not intentionally, that Barak offered Arafat everything the Palestinians could ever have hoped for. He says Barak offered more than 90% of the West Bank and Gaza and Olmert offered even more, which of course is true. (Foxman asserts that Abbas never got back to Olmert, but fails to mention the reason - Olmert under investigation for bribery resigned two weeks after making the offer. Not so much credit here.)

But it's not nearly enough to move away from the long debunked talking points of the rejectionistas (Hebrew pl. rejectionistim) only to peddle their latest ploy, the Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Foxman argues:
Because the truth is today (and I would argue, going back over 64 years) the key ingredient for ending the conflict and bringing a two-state solution into reality is the need for the Palestinians finally to recognize the fundamental right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state.
Funny, but I'm old enough to remember when the demand for the Palestinians to recognize Israel had nothing to do with its Jewish character. All the way back during his first term Netanyahu was quite satisfied to have the Palestinians accept Israel's right to exist. Period. No mention then of the Jewish state. But now that the Palestinians have done that, as the result of negotiations mind you, not as a precondition for the privilege of sitting at the table, Netanyahu and Foxman want more -- a Palestinian hechsher on Israel as a Jewish state. Is the utterance of the six words really of existential magnitude? 

Foxman apparently accepts a two state solution as being in Israel's interest. But then he hands the Palestinians, who he has accused of making one classic mistake after another, a poison pill to kill it. The same Palestinians who he says are trying to delegitamize and destroy Israel. So the question I have is this: why would you create an obstacle to acting in your own self-interest, and then count on your "enemy" to remove it? With Israel failing to attain a two-state solution, has Foxman convinced himself that it was not worth it in the first place, at least not without those six words. Read this line from Foxman and you tell me: "I said that Israel saw such a [Palestinian] state as 'a goal of negotiations.' I emphasize the word 'a, not 'the' key ingredient."

The larger point here is that nowhere in his op-ed does Foxman impute any responsibility (other than "recognizing Palestinian claims") on Israel to act in its own self-interest by restarting negotiations. Having recounted past missed opportunities, Foxman feels he has the luxury of assigning blame and throwing his hands up until the Palestinians choke out those six words. But taking Foxman at his word, how about Israel "recognizing Palestinian claims" by agreeing to negotiate on the 1967 borders and freeze settlement activity for two or three months. That's the way leadership that believes in a two-state solution would act. And that's what people who understood what's good for the Jews would demand.

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