To be a member of the Israeli left who believes that all Jews should have a voice in shaping Israel’s future is to repeatedly witness good intentions yielding perverse outcomes.
In his New York Times piece “To Save Israel, Boycott the Settlements,” Peter Beinart offers a path forward to liberal Jews which is both noble and dangerous. Beinart’s proposal is noble in its call for greater demonstration of Israeli and Jewish responsibility. This is the essence of Zionism. Beinart’s proposal is dangerous in the complete absolution it gives to Arabs and Palestinians. This is the essence of colonialism. In Beinart’s world, Arabs and Palestinians are evidently not so advanced as to be held accountable for their actions.
At a time when the prospects of a negotiated settlement to the conflict between Jews and Arabs in Palestine are dim, the desire of liberal Jews outside of Israel “to do something” is understandable. But the desire to do something cannot justify doing something wrong.
The Zionist left should focus on keeping the conditions for a two-state solution alive. But to do so, all the major obstacles on the road to peace need be addressed. The settlements in the West Bank are an obstacle to peace but, as far as obstacles go, the settlements rank a distant fifth to Arab rejection of the legitimacy of the Jewish claim to any part of the land of Israel, to the systematic inflation of the number of Palestinians refugees, to the hawking of illusion of a “right of return” and to shameful Arab incitement.
Zionists have consistently demonstrated responsibility. The settlements in the West Bank are deeply disputed within Israeli society and among Jews. Israeli governments effectively and ruthlessly uprooted settlements in Sinai, Gaza and the West Bank in the name of peace and keeping the two-state solution alive. Nothing of the kind can be said about the Arab side: There is no Arab Peter Beinart calling to boycott the institutions that deny Israel’s right to exist, manufacture new refugees from an old war, demand a ‘right of return’ into Israel for people who were never born or lived there, or teach Palestinian children to hate.
The Zionist left has long accepted that the claims of the Jews and the Arabs to the area between the Jordan River and theMediterranean are both legitimate and so supported a just solution to the conflict based on two states for two peoples — a Jewish one and an Arab one. There is no parallel Arab and Palestinian left that calls for partition on the same grounds of two legitimate claims to the land — Arab and Jewish. Whatever willingness to compromise exists is the result of reluctant recognition of Israel’s might, not its right. There is no recognition of the legitimate claim of the Jewish people to live in their own sovereign land on at least part of the area in which they were ever sovereign. This is the essence of the Arab tragedy: the Jews have a state because they recognized the legitimate claims of the Arabs in Palestine. The Arabs in Palestine don’t have a state because they are yet to recognize the legitimate claims of the Jews in Palestine.
By conceding to a boycott of the settlements, Beinart hopes to salvage the notion that Zionism west of the green line is legitimate. He is willing to hurt fellow Jews and to speak of “systematic oppression” and “nondemocratic Israel” in the vain hope that it will serve “the greater cause” of a democratic Israel that is accepted and recognized west of the Green line. This distinction is of no consequence to the Arab world and the anti-Israel left. The Arabs in Palestine have repeatedly forfeited the dignity of statehood and systematically oppress their own people in refugee camps to avoid lending even a shred of legitimacy to the Jewish claim to Israel. No Palestinian is a partner to the idea that Zionism is legitimate as long as it stays west of the Green line.
All that will remain of Beinart’s article, as much as he might protest it, is that liberal Jews should boycott undemocratic Israel. Beinart’s insistence that undemocratic Israel is his way of isolating the West Bank from Israel within the Green line will be drowned in the cheers of those who seek to undermine Israel’s legitimacy — west or east of the Green line.
Beinart’s road is paved with good intentions. Liberal Israelis whose quest for peace is devoid of delusions should be excused if they don’t wish to follow this road to its inevitable destination.