It's been taken for granted for years - in journalism circles and in a good percentage of the Jewish world - that David Brooks, The New York Times opinion columnist, was meant to replace William Safire, who was, until his recent retirement, the only conservative and pro-Israel voice who remained. Some have said that Brooks is a liberal's idea of a palatable conservative, but he's been a conservative presence nonetheless.
As for his pro-Israel credentials, they've been less evident ever since this Philadelphia-area native joined the paper of record.
That, however, came to an end in the Nov. 17 issue when he published a column titled "What Palestinians?" It was a muddled piece of work, at best, and if it was meant to be pro-Israeli, then we're all in trouble.
"Every few years I fly to Israel and Palestine and I get out my notebooks," Brooks wrote, "and every time I go the experience is the same. Some world leader will have proposed a peace plan. Some set of lines on a map will be debated. Some elaborate procedure to get both sides to the table will be in the process of being hammered out."
First of all, where is this place called Palestine? Or has Brooks, like the Times, decided that, ipso facto, it exists, despite the fact that no treaties have been signed, no lines drawn?
There are other problems. What is so confounding about the article is that Brooks appears to be describing reality, but his conclusions haven't any connection to what exists.
Brooks argued that, for decades now, the Palestinians and Israelis have been deeply engaged in a "chess match." But what the writer discovered on his most recent trip to the Middle East is that the Israelis have lost interest in this particular game. "They have become desensitized," he wrote, "to the thoughts and actions of their dysfunctional neighbors, the Palestinians, with whom they used to share such an intimate feud.
"The second intifada, coming on the heels of Yasir Arafat's rejection of a deal at Camp David, cut some visceral bond that used to join the two peoples. The Israelis are separating themselves from the Middle East, emotionally and psychologically, and with a security barrier.
"The dream of peace has been replaced by another dream, the dream of disengagement. Until I spoke to people here, I thought the Gaza disengagement might lead back to the peace process, but now I realize it's a replacement for that process. It's a step toward a new (and even more illusory) dream: the dream of disengaging Israel from its geographic and historical situation."
Chess match? Visceral bond?
To some of us, Israel's withdrawal - and its security barrier - embody realistic thinking, not dreams. In fact, this is the height of realpolitik. When a peace partner arises who will insist on sheltering innocent Israelis from terrible harm and death, then the road to the peace process will be cleared. It is the Palestinians, and not the Israelis, who must wake up from their delusional and illusory dreams. u