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Place Onus f​or Peace Where It Belongs -- on Palestinians

September 11, 2008 By:
David A. Harris
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In an exchange between British blogger Joy Wolfe and leaders of the "Free Gaza" campaign -- which recently sent two boats to Gaza in the hope of garnering media attention -- an Israeli-based member, Angela Godfrey-Goldstein, condemned Israel for "collective punishment of 1.5 million people," "war crimes" and "crimes against humanity," and described Gaza as "an open prison, a sort of concentration camp -- most of those people are perfectly innocent, ordinary human beings who want to be at peace with us."

All this, she argued, "is about as far from Judaism as I can imagine."

Of course, these comments are not unique. They reveal a certain mindset among those who profess friendship and concern for Israel, yet are incapable or unwilling, or both, to grasp two central points.

First, the vast majority of Israelis desperately yearn for peace and would support a deal tomorrow with the Palestinians (and Syrians), entailing major territorial concessions, if they believed such an accord were possible -- and durable.

Second, those who place the onus for peace entirely on Israel do a disservice to the truth, not to mention the quest for a settlement. By lifting responsibility from the shoulders of the Palestinians and their supporters, they reinforce the notion that it is the Israelis, not the Palestinians, who must change their behavior -- or face condemnation.

Israel faces an unprecedented security environment. Yet, despite seemingly obvious threats to Israel from Lebanon, Syria, Gaza and Iran, there are those who would ignore them and harp instead on what they believe to be the true obstacles -- Israeli settlements, governmental hesitation and military repression.

I'm not a fan of most settlements, but Israel has shown that, when it believes the price worth it, it will do what's necessary with settlements that stand in the way, be they in Sinai, Gaza or the northern West Bank.

Moreover, if anyone believes this Israeli government is hesitant to make peace, then we're living on different planets. It speaks openly of a two-state settlement, discusses the most sensitive issues with its Palestinian counterparts and acknowledges the suffering that Palestinians have endured without a state of their own.

And while Israel doesn't have easy choices in the Gaza cauldron, it has shown remarkable restraint in the face of endless provocation. I don't know of many other nations that would have endured daily barrages without a robust military response.

The real reasons for the absence of peace lie elsewhere.

Too many in the Arab world have been fed a steady diet of Israel as an illegitimate nation. In this view, Israel has no right to exist. It is simply a colonial project of Western nations that must be eliminated. Few Arabs have ever visited Israel, met Israelis (or Jews), or studied the Israeli, and not just the Arab, narrative of Israel's history, including the Jewish people's age-old link to the land.

To make matters worse, Israel has damaged the self-image and self-respect of the Arab world by refusing to be defeated in battle. How can it be that this tiny nation, deprived of any significant natural resources, has withstood the Arab onslaught for six decades and emerged not only as the strongest military power in the region, but also the most politically and economically advanced?

Too often the Palestinians have gotten a pass on the need to accept responsibility for their own actions. An entire web of validators, enablers and advocates -- from the United Nations to individual governments, from non-governmental groups to the chattering classes -- stands ready to justify, rationalize or defend Palestinian actions, and to quickly turn the spotlight on every alleged Israeli misdeed. That's not a formula for progress, but paralysis.

I believe in a two-state settlement as the only possible political outcome with a chance of success. I travel regularly to Arab countries and seek to contribute to a climate of mutual respect, and reject those Jewish messianists who would prevent coexistence.

Still, call me what you will, but I cannot accept those who, in the name of alleged concern for Israel, would tarnish its good name and, however unintentionally, jeopardize its future.

David A. Harris is executive director of the American Jewish Committee.


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