Answering Yaacov Lozowick on Israel as a Jewish state and much more

I don’t usually respond to other bloggers commenting on my work, but in this case the question was put to me directly by someone called Yaacov Lozowick, who wrote a response to my recent blog posting about PM Netanyahu’s ridiculous demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish state,” whatever that means, in return for an eight week extension of the temporary, partial settlement moratorium. I guess it’s worth responding to somebody once in a while just to clear things up, so here goes.

The first point of contention is his claim that there is no one even muting (I’m sure that’s what Mr. Lozowick means, even though he wrote “mooting”) Palestinian incitement against Israel. This is completely wrong. There has been a great deal of effort on the part of the PA to clean up the education and clerical systems under their control and to promote a discourse that celebrates diplomacy, state and institution building, boycotts of settlements and settlement goods but not Israel, nonviolent resistance against abusive occupation practices such as the wall, and security cooperation where reasonable and appropriate. There is no doubt there is a long way to go on containing incitement, but similarly there is an intense amount of Israeli incitement against Palestinians. Perhaps the most shocking recent version was the call by Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Youssef for God to wipe out Pres. Abbas, and all the rest of the Palestinians for that matter. Some Israelis speak as if incitement were a cause rather than effect of the conflict (in classical rhetoric this is known as a metalepsis, which typically functions as the substitution of an effect for a cause), and as if it were a Palestinian problem exclusively and not a major problem among Israelis.

Mr. Lozowick mistakenly identifies me as a Palestinian (I am, in fact, a Lebanese-American, but I work for a Palestinian-American organization and largely on the Palestinian-Israel conflict). I do not argue that the right of return or anything else connected to the refugees is an issue to be discussed at the end of any negotiating process. On the contrary, I think all four of the major permanent status issues identified by Pres. Obama at the UN in 2009 should be on the table right away. On this score, it would appear that I take a very different view than that of PM Netanyahu, who seems to only want to discuss security at present. Mr. Lozowick falls into a rather typical trap of suggesting that because Palestinians haven’t accepted some Israeli proposals in the past, they never will in the future or that they somehow turned their back on peace or negotiations. There have been many proposals from both sides, and none of them with regard to permanent status issues have been accepted by the other side in toto. That’s why we don’t have a peace agreement yet. This ruse relies on people not being aware of the numerous Palestinian proposals that Israel has rejected out of hand over many decades. At the moment, the PLO through Yasser Abed Rabbo has proposed recognizing Israel as a “Jewish state” in return for a commitment to return to the 1967 borders. Israel, naturally, rejected this counter offer just as swiftly and categorically as the Palestinians rejected Netanyahu’s latest cynical maneuver.

For the record, I do not think the Jerusalem either must or should be divided again. I think the city should be shared, open and freely accessed by both parties and by adherents of all three major monotheistic faiths. I’ve got no interest, and I don’t think the Palestinian or Israeli peoples do either, in the city being re-divided with barbed wire fencing, checkpoints and so forth. What we are talking about is the city serving as a capital for both Israel and a new Palestinian state, with divided sovereignty in different areas. How that sovereignty is administered is another matter, and obviously a complex formula is going to be required to solve this conundrum. There has been a great deal of very significant research done on how to manage this problem by many different institutions and think tanks. It’s a complex problem that requires a very creative solution. Most crucially, I think it’s obvious that a special regime for the holy basin and/or the old city would be required. It would be a sui genris arrangement for a sui genris place, and I think that’s what’s going to be required.

One final point for Mr. Lozowick: he’s quite wrong that Palestinians have never discussed the question of return, or other refugee issues. On the contrary, they were heavily discussed at Camp David in 2000 and agreement was apparently quite close some months later at Taba. I think Palestinian negotiators and all serious observers have understood for a long time that there simply will not be a mass return of Palestinian refugees to Israel because for Israel this is a bottom-line and a dealbreaker. I think, similarly, all serious Israelis and other observers have understood that there cannot be a peace agreement that does not provide for East Jerusalem to serve as the Palestinian capital, because for Palestinians this is a bottom line and a dealbreaker. These are, reciprocally, the most difficult political issues facing both societies, and leadership from both sides can be fairly accused of feeding their people large doses of political narcotics about the “sacred, inviolable right of return” which encourages Palestinians to imagine will actually be exercised sometime in the foreseeable future by large numbers of people, and “Jerusalem, the eternal undivided capital of the Jewish people,” thereby encouraging Israelis to imagine that a peace agreement can be achieved without a compromise on Jerusalem. One of the most important building blocks for a successful peace agreement would be much more honesty in the public discourse, and especially from political leaders, on both sides regarding these two very difficult issues.

It’s because of their reciprocal character that Palestinians, or anyone else, shouldn’t have seriously considered Netanyahu’s proposal for exchanging recognition of Israel’s “Jewish character” for an eight week extension of the temporary, partial moratorium. It’s widely reported that Patrick Crowley, the State Department spokesman, backed Israel’s demand at a recent press conference. I think that’s completely false. If you read what he said, it most importantly begins with, "It's not for us to endorse this idea or this idea.” So much for an endorsement. Just like President Bush he referred to Israel as “the homeland of the Jewish people,” language, as I have noted in the past, that is pulled directly from the Balfour Declaration and lacking any great political or legal significance. He said Israel was “a state for the Jewish people,” but also “for other citizens of other faiths as well,” an important addendum that has been downplayed if not ignored by the media, especially the Israeli press. Crowley urged the Palestinians to make a counteroffer, and now they have. Israel, naturally, isn’t interested.

There’s a great deal of shameless spinning going on in the media these days, for example the idea that one of the inducements being offered by the Obama administration for a temporary extension of the temporary, partial moratorium is American support for long-term Israeli security presence in the Jordan Valley following Palestinian independence. No one outside of official circles really knows for certain the substance of the proposed inducements, but even what has been leaked, assuming it’s at all accurate, strikes me as quite vague in this regard and requires a good deal of creative interpretation to come to that conclusion. Obviously some people have an interest in spinning it that way, but it doesn’t make it true.

UPDATE: Mr. Lozowick has responded on his own blog and clarified that he did mean mean “mooted” and not muted. Fair enough. (Obviously I do know the difference between the two terms, in spite of an obviously racist comment on his posting by somebody else, but frankly muted makes much more sense in his sentence than mooted, so I was being charitable.)