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To 'Honest Brokers,' Be Honest: Who's Blockading Peace?

April 5, 2007 By:
Saul Singer
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How much further must our politics turn upside-down for some to notice that the Israeli public and leadership want a Palestinian state more than the Palestinian leadership?

Yet the assumption remains -- and not just among Israel's harsher critics -- that the Palestinians want a state, and Israel is the one standing in the way.

The persecution complex of Israel critics is essentially a sympathy-grabber. Their more serious contention is that United States policy has become too pro-Israel for its own -- and Israel's -- good.

This is another idea strange to regard as endangered speech. Even in the United States, most Americans want a pro-Israel policy, but I bet a poll would show that very few Americans believe that the United States is not pro-Israel enough, while a significant number -- even among those who support Israel -- worry that excessive American support for Israel may harm its role as an "honest broker."

They shouldn't worry. The truth is that the peace process is stymied by too much evenhandedness, not too little. This is not just because Israel is the only democracy and real U.S. ally in the Mideast, but because of the logic of peacemaking.

If country X attacks country Y, it does not make a lot of sense to try to make peace between them by being completely evenhanded, thereby precluding any distinction between aggressor and victim. When Japan attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor, would it have made sense for England to call for "restraint from both sides"?

This, however, is essentially how the West, including the United States, approaches the Arab-Israel conflict. Every statement or proposal must list what Israel and the Palestinians must do, and these lists, according to the "honest broker" paradigm, must at least seem to be balanced and tough on both sides.

The problem here is that automatically acting as if "both sides" are equally to blame for a conflict provides a huge incentive for aggression.

Why not attack, when not only will you not be blamed for it, but your victim will get the flak?

This is exactly what happened during the waves of suicide bombings against Israel, when escalating Arab aggression not only failed to produce more pressure on the Arab side, but actually resulted in increased pressure on Israel.

What can be done to fix this? Actually, some baby steps have been taken in the right direction, along with much effort wasted in pointless evenhandedness.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's press conference during her visit to Israel last week centered on an announcement of biweekly meetings between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. This idea has a certain surreal quality, since Abbas cannot speak for the Hamas government he has joined -- and if he can, what is there to say?

The other, much more promising, side of her latest swing through the region was a new emphasis on pressing the Arab states to pitch in.

"Applause at the end of the road will be welcome, but help now ... is far more important," Rice said in her closing press conference.

"Just as Israelis and Palestinians must clarify a political horizon together, the Arab states must clarify a political horizon for Israel," she continued. "The Arab states should begin reaching out to ... reassure Israel that its place in the region will be more, not less secure, by an end to the occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state; to show Israel that they accept its place in the Middle East; and to demonstrate that the peace they seek is greater than just the absence of war."

But why not go further?

It would be better yet if Rice credited Israelis for demonstrating that they are more than ready to live next to a peaceful democratic Palestinian state, and that the principal obstacle to peace is the Palestinians' demand of a right to move to Israel -- a demand that is obviously inconsistent with Israel's right to exist.

This would be better not because it is more "pro-Israel" per se, but because you can't end a conflict before you can speak honestly about its cause.

The irony is that if there is self-censorship in the debate, it is not being exercised by Israel's critics, but exists in the refusal to assign blame where it belongs, and to speak clearly of the glaring asymmetry in responsibility for the conflict's perpetuation.

Saul Singer is the editorial-page editor of The Jerusalem Post.

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