On Israel, the truce and U.S. presidential candidates

(The Nation) — “John McCain says he won’t talk to Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas. Barack Obama might talk to Syria, but he’s having nothing to do with Hezbollah and Hamas. I guess they know something that the Israeli government doesn’t. Over the past couple weeks, it’s become increasingly clear that Israel is simultaneously, but separately, conducting talks with Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas… Hamas’ prime minister says that he expects the talks to succeed. Though neither McCain nor Obama will endorse the Egyptian-sponsored talks, the Israeli national security cabinet has backed them. I guess it’s a good thing those militant, pro-Israeli Jewish voters in Florida can’t vote in Israel…” Click for full article

Comment: The real experts, who have lived and breathed this conflict up close, have noted for years that American-Jewish supporters of Israel (though well-intentioned) are often more militant, unrelenting and naive about the depths of the Israeli-Arab conflict than Israelis themselves. Fouad Ajami, in his book The Dream Palace of the Arabs, similarly observed that many Arab expats and intellectuals living abroad often latch on to the most radical pro-Palestinian positions as a manifestation of their frustrations about the region they left, the failure of progressive movements (which they had supported) to materialize, and of their dreams which never came true.

The fact of the matter is that AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee), is a right-wing organization with a more extreme agenda than the Israeli government. When John Mccain and Barack Obama spoke at AIPAC earlier this month they treaded carefully within boundaries acceptable to them.

But Israel is the country at war with Hamas. It fought a brutal war with Hizbullah two years ago, and faced off with the group during the drawn out occupation following the first Lebanon War. Israel fought three wars with Syria (including many more skirmishes and large-scale battles over the years) and the two countries have never been at peace. So as a matter of principle, if talking to these foes is good enough for Israel, why can’t it be good enough for John Mccain and Barack Obama? Somebody should ask them that in their next debate. It’s difficult to talk with such vile organizations, but, unfortunately not talking to them doesn’t make them go away.

Both presidential candidates and “still president Bush” as Jon Stewart hilariously calls him, could learn a lesson in tough love from French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who spoke before the Israeli Knesset this week with nothing but love and admiration for the country, but included important criticisms (over borders, settlements etc.) as one friend to another. In the United States the framework for debate is far more limited and lacks sophistication. It’s best summed up by our two choices; whether to align ourselves with Norman Finkelstein or Alan Dershowitz. I’ll take none of the above please. Mild criticism, friendly criticism, constructive criticism i.e. anything less than total support for the Israeli right wing (or to the right of the Israeli right wing) gets warped into being anti-Israel. Sarkozy is (rightly) credited with being the most pro-Israeli French president since pre-Charles de Gaulle days, but he didn’t shy away from criticizing the behavior of the Israeli government, the way Bush did in his pandering speech before the Knesset weeks earlier, which drew widespread condemnation.

It’s doubtful whether Israel’s truce with Hamas, set to begin on Thursday, will resolve anything in the longterm, but it seems like a step in the right direction at least. Historically, truces between the two sides have only resulted in temporary lulls in fighting. Then again, if violence could solve this problem there would have been peace years ago. Those opposed to the truce may take comfort in the fact that’s its failure will mean a return to the status quo. For an opposite point of view, Guy Bechor has written a quite convincing op-ed in Ynet in which he examines the geopolitical implications of the truce, ultimately concluding that Israel has made a historic mistake that will keep the burden of Gaza on its shoulders forever. Pessimists like myself don’t expect that there will ever be peace between Israelis and Palestinians. The best we can hope for are long periods of calm. A truce is a good example of that.

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4 Responses to “On Israel, the truce and U.S. presidential candidates”

  1. Dovaleh Yehudi Says:

    Another insightful commentary! This is what we, the fervent and faithful readers of this blog, have come to expect from Dan. My only wish is that he publish more commentary more regularly!
    I would have to agree with the assesment of Jewish-American naivete on many issues and fronts when it comes to Israel.

    Fortunately, for this Jewish-American commenter, I feel that I (rightly) allow my militancy to be tempered by my simultaneous desire to be informed (correctly) on all angles and sides of an issue.

    The worse thing in the world, in my mind, is acting or speaking led by false or misguided information.

  2. Dan Says:

    That is because the noble Dovaleh Yehudi always balances out his passion for the subject matter by carefully following news from the region daily, along with reading a healthy dose of Israel’s finest historians. Woot wooooot!

  3. Dovaleh Yehudi Says:

    “noble” Lol. Woot! Wooooot!

  4. Mohamed Says:

    First visit to your blog and am liking it! I agree with (most of) that article. I will add that the more extreme Jewish-American position actually poisons the debate and discussion between Israel and its neighbours, both at the national – as was demonstrated by the future presidential policies crafted within AIPAC’s, not Israel’s, limitations — but also on an individual level.
    Until grad school I had no direct contact with Israelis and the American media gave me a quite skewed image of Israel and its positions. I discovered, when I lived in the US, that the most reasonable and well-thought conversations I could have on the Arab-Israeli conflict(s) were with the Israelis themselves.

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