March 28, 2012
Embattled but resolute, Beinart responds to his critics
(Page 2 - Previous Page)
“However simple and clear-cut things may seem from his Upper West Side perch, these are immensely complicated issues,” American Jewish Committee Executive Director David A. Harris told Gary Rosenblatt, editor and publisher of The Jewish Week of New York. “A consistent majority of Israelis wants nothing more than to extract themselves from an unsought occupation for the sake of peace,” Harris said, “but it just can’t be done unilaterally. The Palestinians have not been prepared to do their part, irrespective of what they might say to some all-too-receptive Western ears.”
Harris spoke after Beinart’s op-ed appeared, but before the release of “The Crisis of Zionism”; it’s unclear whether he had read the book (in which his name appears on three separate occasions) when he made those comments.
Now that the book is out, one might also wonder whether the conversation sparked by Beinart’s boycott proposal will actually give way to a discussion of the subjects that make up the bulk of “The Crisis of Zionism.”
The book relies in some measure on anonymous sources, and it paints a picture of the events leading up to the current impasse between the Israelis and Palestinians that breaks significantly with the American Jewish establishment’s narrative of Israeli generosity met by Palestinian intransigence.
In two chapters that form the heart of “The Crisis of Zionism,” Beinart tries to mount a case against the arguments that Harris and other establishment leaders use against American Jews who criticize Israeli governmental policy.
The American Jewish establishment, to hear Beinart tell it, insists that American Jews refrain from weighing in on “immensely complicated” matters between Israel and the Palestinians and thereby promotes a narrative that lays the blame for the stalled peace process solely at the feet of the Palestinians. They also attempt to silence, he believes, anyone who blames Israel for the impasse, even in part. Beinart, meanwhile, presents an account of recent Israeli history that holds Israel accountable, along with the Palestinians.
Many of Beinart’s critics allege that he does not assign enough blame to the Palestinians. That accusation “baffles” him, he said.
“If you look at the narrative that I write about Oslo and Camp David and Taba,” Beinart said, referring to three successive rounds of talks between Israelis and Palestinians, “I say that the Palestinians didn’t effectively fight terrorism as they were obligated to; that Arafat’s reaction to the Clinton parameters was terrible; that his acquiescence to the Second Intifada was, I say, not just a mistake, but a crime.
“I give the details of the gruesome Itamar massacre,” he continued, “and also of the lynching of the Israeli reservist near the beginning of the Second Intifada, so no one will be able to say that they read my book without having some actual, tangible description of what Palestinian terrorism is actually like.”
Despite being assailed by both the right and the left, Beinart said he is heartened by those who find his arguments convincing.
“Nobody likes being criticized,” he said, “but I’ve also had some really moving and powerful experiences, sometimes with surprising people, I think, who agree with what I’ve written, or at least think that the conversation is an important one.”
But though he helped to instigate an earlier round of this conversation two years earlier, Beinart acknowledged it was tough to identify signs of improvement.
“It’s hard to see that it’s gotten better,” he said. “You don’t have a meaningful peace process going on. You have growing settlement growth, which I think is dangerous to Israel’s democratic future, and, I think, to the dynamics on the Palestinian side. They [the Palestinians] are also becoming more inimical to a two-state solution.”
And, for Beinart, maintaining the feasibility of a Palestinian state alongside a smaller state of Israel is essential; that’s why he talks so often about Ariel, a 34-year-old settlement with a population of 20,000 located 13 miles east of the green line.
“Inside the American Jewish community, people often say that Israel only wants to retain settlements that are right on the green line,” Beinart told me. “And Ariel, whatever you want to say about it, is not on the green line. It really stretches very deep in to the West Bank.
“I don’t know whether Israel can dismantle Ariel, but I also know that the Palestinians have real, legitimate concerns about Ariel,” Beinart continued, noting that its relatively remote location made the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state difficult.
“The reason I mention it,” Beinart said, “is to try to ask people to see the danger of what’s happening, and then to think about whether continuing to subsidize people to move to a place like Ariel is a good idea.”
1 | 2