Thursday, December 4, 2008

In a Nutshell

The confrontational and needlessly abrasive correspondence between myself and Doron Isaacs should not detract from the central issue – finding a way to bring about a sustainable peace between Israel and her neighbours in such a way as to preserve the existence of a viable Jewish State.

It is mistakenly believed that those of us who steadfastly support Israel, in a climate characterised by the stupid extremism of the anti-Israel petitions which appeared in the Mail and Guardian and The Citizen, wish to preserve the status quo there. It is ignorantly thought by our self-appointed moral guardians that we’re blind to the dangers of the status quo or that we have no regard for the rights or suffering of any other than Jews or Israelis.

Such embedded ignorance is difficult to dislodge, but it should not distract us from clarifying the issues involved and acting to promote the kind of resolution which so far as humanly possible is sustainable and just.

I use the word “just” with some caution, since one of the less attractive features of human behaviour is moral grandstanding on the basis of a conveniently selective morality. I do not support Israel because of some grand law of universal justice. I support her mainly because I’m Jewish and, in the context of recent world history, that requires me to support the creation of the Jewish State.

I do not believe that Israel has some absolute right to her present borders, to larger borders or for that matter to any land at all in the Middle East, or indeed elsewhere. Nor do I believe that the Palestinians or any peoples or nations have such abstract rights.

I believe that a consideration of history and human psychology, especially in its collective form, indicates that those collections of people who see themselves as a definable collective almost always seek out land on which they can pursue their collective interests and social-political life. This inevitably brought peoples into conflict with others seeking also to maximise their claim to land and the resources contained on it.

At the risk of stating the obvious, much of history is the story of the conflicts engendered by this process and the various regulatory instruments and norms developed to render the process less destructive, more in keeping with the interests of the ordinary folk most at risk and in maintaining a stable global system.

Putting it this way, takes some of the ideological and moral fervour out of the equation and allows us to seek pragmatic solutions to human needs. There is no simple formula to this. It will inevitably require a rather subtle blend of power, feasibility and basic principles of equity.

In the context of the Middle East, it is generally agreed that the most pragmatic solution (in the sense spelt out above) would be the creation of two states, one Jewish and the other Palestinian, living side-by-side in a state of peace and preferably active cooperation. So what’s stopping it?

One could point to many factors indeed and I have alluded to some of these in previous articles and am reluctant to go over all this ground here. I am not an expert in any event.

Most of them come down to this: it is politically possible to create within Israel a strong majority opinion in favour of just such a settlement provided that genuine peace and security can reasonably be assured.

For good reasons of history and context, “reasonably” in this case means a very high level of assurance. Without that, it is unlikely that a strong peace movement can be sustained within Israel. But with that, as indicated in poll after poll, such a movement undoubtedly could be created and could prevail.

It is this fundamental fact, which is continually missed by the so-called “left”. They believe they can bully or shame Israel into doing the “right” thing as defined by them. They vilify and demonise those who oppose their view and some seek to do the same to Israel as shown in the repugnant adverts taken out in our local newspapers.

The most important actions they could undertake, if indeed the fate of the Palestinians were as an important concern as they claim, would be to drum this fact into the heads of those who currently seek to bully, threaten or destroy Israel. It would be to assure Israel of their loyalty and commitment. It would be to publically defend Israel and to attack those who seek to delegitimise (subtly or blatantly) or undermine her through boycotts, the promotion of single state solutions and a selective and dishonest media focus on Israel’s shortcomings and the “suffering” of her neighbours.

Only when Israel is no longer scared (legitimately scared) that relinquishing strategic resources as part of a peace process will not be met by further hostility, strengthened both psychologically and tangibly by various kinds of strategic gain, can the prospects of a sustainable and reasonably just settlement become a reality. Only then will she be able to realistically confront the maximalists in her ranks playing the high-risk game of a zero-sum outcome.

Why does this argument not apply equally to the other side? For a host of reasons:

• Israel does not threaten its opponents with extinction.
• Israel has an unruly and potentially dangerous settler movement; it does not have tens of thousands of well-armed militants ready to invade or bomb it’s neighbours and undermine its own government.
• Its demographic and geographic position (and other factors) puts it at a serious strategic disadvantage vis-à-vis its neighbours – only offset by a strong military backed up by a strong economy and a committed population and diaspora.
• Its recent and long-term history makes security and top priority.

Thus it is Israeli security which is the chief issue. When that is understood and implemented, then it will be possible to bring the political process forward. We are not there yet. Though there have been some useful moves forward, with Iran and other extremist entities still very much alive and kicking it is premature to start “pressurising” Israel, the preferred tactic of the left.

Creative ways need to be, and are being, sought to advance the security of the region and with it, Israel. This cannot be achieved overnight, but also should not be put on the back-burner. It requires realistic political nous and the right blend of economic, diplomatic and military incentives – not public posturing.

This, put as simply as possible, is the absolutely central issue. Anything else is simply a call for Israeli surrender with all the enormous risks that would entail. Most of us will never become part of that campaign directly or indirectly. There are ways of conveying real concerns to Israel which do not involve some form of betrayal. If necessary these should be used.

Mike Berger


Solar Plexus said...

Doron's descent into personal abuse was disappointing, especially given his own issues about being victimised for his opinions. It is indicative of more than thin-skinnedness on his part, I believe, but of a more fundamental lack of tolerance for opposing views, certainly when those are strongly argued. I was rather shocked in this connection to read how, on Supernatural, he concluded that support John McCain precluded one from speaking with any authority on human rights issues. Apart from the sweeping dismissal of the moral credentials of nearly half the American electorate, it is further evidence of how some automatically assume that real commitment to human rights is exclusively a left-wing preserve.

That being said, Doron argued his case clearly and on the whole civilly in his exchange with Joel. It was a valuable exercise, and I was reassured that unlike Kasrils, he does have a genuine commitment to Israel's well-being. This is despite his being clearly shaky on a number of crucial points. He signally failed to answer, for example, Joel's question as to why equal rights for Jewish West Bank residents in a Palestinian state is not an option. This ties in with his unwillingness to acknowledge the extent of anti-Jewish racism amongst the Palestinians as an obstacle to peace. It leads in turn to his conclusion that Jewish 'settlers' are the real obstacle and that therefore, a peace deal necessitates their state-enforced mass removal. This seems to me to be an expedient caving in to Palestinian racism at the expense of hundreds of thousands of Jews who will lose their homes - homes that are in the heartland of ancient Israel.

Joel, as ever, was impressively cogent, moderate and well informed. Kol Hakavod to him.

from David Saks

Solar Plexus said...

Dear Mike
In my view this is excellent. I fully agree with it.
Giddy (Shimoni)