How much blame does Israel deserve for the tragic situation it finds itself in? If you listen to thinkers like celebrated author and peace activist David Grossman, quite a bit.
“Why, for these past few years,” Grossman asks in the New York Times, “has Israel avoided judicious negotiations with the moderate and more conversable sectors of the Palestinian people — an act that could also have served to pressure Hamas?”
The implication is that through good intentions and “judicious negotiations,” Israel could have positively influenced what Grossman calls Israel’s “explosive reality.”
I love this sentiment of taking responsibility — every good therapist in Los Angeles preaches it. Don’t blame others, own your life, take control and so on. It’s very empowering.
In fact, Israel was built on just that kind of can-do attitude. Instead of wallowing in victimhood after the atrocity of the Holocaust, Zionist pioneers got down to business and built one of the great nations of the world.
But there was one thing Israel could never build — acceptance from its Palestinian neighbors.
Every time Israel tried to be accepted, it got rejected. On a number of occasions, Israel offered to give up more than 95 percent of its biblical homeland of Judea and Samaria, but Palestinian leaders just said no and pocketed the concessions.
The Palestinians could surely have seized the moment when Israel evacuated Gaza nine years ago. But instead of building a network of schools, hospitals and recreational centers, Hamas built a network of terror tunnels designed to infiltrate Israel and massacre hundreds of Jews.
But what about Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, you ask? Before this war, didn’t he fail to make a genuine attempt to negotiate with his Palestinian neighbors?
That may be the conventional wisdom, but it’s not very accurate.
During his last term, Bibi agreed to a 10-month settlement freeze — something no other Israeli leader had ever done — during which Mahmoud Abbas completely refused to negotiate.
Here’s how U.S. special envoy George Mitchell later described it: “The Palestinians opposed it [the freeze] on the grounds, in their words, that it was worse than useless. So they refused to enter into the negotiations until nine months of the 10 had elapsed. Once they entered, they then said it was indispensable. What had been worse than useless a few months before then became indispensable, and they said they would not remain in the talks unless that indispensable element were extended.”
Then, in his current term, Netanyahu embarked on nine months of talks during which he demonstrated enough flexibility that even former U.S. peace envoy Martin Indyk, who’s no Bibi lover, later admitted that he was in “the zone of a possible agreement.”
Meanwhile, according to a senior U.S. official, “In February, Abbas arrived at a Paris hotel for a meeting with Kerry. … He rejected all of Kerry’s ideas. A month later, in March, he was invited to the White House. Obama presented the American-formulated principles verbally — not in writing. Abbas refused.”
In short, Netanyahu was in the “zone of an agreement” while Abbas rejected every U.S. proposal. Israel is hardly blameless, as Indyk himself has intimated, but can you blame Bibi for being cautious at a time when the whole Middle East is blowing up?
And if you want to get into the issue of settlement construction, here’s something you rarely hear: Under Netanyahu — unlike previous prime ministers — construction has been almost entirely in the settlement blocs everyone knows Israel will keep under any agreement, blocs that make up less than 2 percent of the West Bank.
Yet critics never stop wailing that Jewish settlement construction is the major “obstacle to peace.”
You want major obstacles to peace? How about a Hamas charter that calls for destroying Israel, or a West Bank that could turn into 20 Gazas after Israel leaves, or a Palestinian leadership that glorifies terrorists and has mastered the art of saying no?
I know, it’s painful to hear all this. No one likes to hear that they can’t change their reality, especially an “explosive reality.”
But humble people, just like humble nations, know their limitations. You can criticize Israel for a lot of things, but not for the inferno in the Arab world, the Jew-hatred in the Hamas charter or the refusal of the Palestinians to make peace with a Jewish state.
My ultimate response to critics is not just intellectual, it’s personal. Vote with your feet, they say, and nothing shows support like being there. It’s true when a friend is sick, and it’s true when a country is being barraged, not just with rockets, but also with criticism. So by the time you read this, I’ll be on an El Al flight for Ben Gurion Airport.
David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.