I have a fair amount of respect for Jeffrey Goldberg, now of the Atlantic, who has done some first-rate reporting on the Middle East. So I was all the more shocked at the slippery reasoning of his New York Times op-ed: “Israel’s ‘American Problem.'” He argues that it is imperative for Israel’s long-term safety
to create conditions on the West Bank that would allow for the birth of a moderate Palestinian state. Most American Jewish leaders are opposed, not without reason, to negotiations with Hamas, but if the moderates aren’t strengthened, Hamas will be the only party left. And the best way to bring about the birth of a Palestinian state is to reverse – not merely halt, but reverse – the West Bank settlement project. The dismantling of settlements is the one step that would buttress the dwindling band of Palestinian moderates in their struggle against the fundamentalists of Hamas.
So not only is it imperative for Israel to make concessions in the West Bank to the Palestinians–regardless, it seems, of whether they make concessions in response–but, he goes on to argue, it imperative for America to have a president “who prods the Jewish state” in that direction “publicly, continuously, and vociferously.” And why won’t America’s current president prod Israel in that direction? According to Goldberg,
[t]he leadership of the organized American Jewish community has allowed the partisans of settlement to conflate support for the colonization of the West Bank with support for Israel itself.
Although he goes on to criticize the Mearsheimer-Walt thesis that this nefarious “Lobby” holds hostage American policy toward Israel, Goldberg concedes most of their substantive case. Which is crazy, because nearly every strand of his argument is deeply flawed.
How can he argue with a straight face that more territorial concessions on Israel’s part will “buttress” Palestinian moderates when we’ve seen just the opposite happen in the recent past? Israel unilaterally evacuated southern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, in the latter case dismantling settlements as Goldberg urged. (I was in favor of this move, too.) The result, as we all know now, was to empower Hezbollah and Hamas–not the “moderates.” Why Goldberg thinks the result of a West Bank pullout would be any different is not readily apparent from his Times essay.
In fact, it is the failure of past concessions to win peace from the Palestinians that makes Israel wary today of further concessions in the West Bank. The influence of the American pro-Israel lobby has little or nothing to do with it. The lobby, after all, was just as powerful in 2000 as it is today. Yet then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak was willing to concede more than 95 percent of the West Bank and Gaza to the Palestinians. And, lobby or no lobby, President Clinton was happy to prod Israel “publicly, continuously and vociferously” in that direction.
No doubt the prime minister of Israel will be willing to make such concessions again at some point–with the full support of America’s President–if it appears that the Palestinians are serious about peaceful co-existence. That isn’t the case today. It is, therefore, positively perverse to blame the current impasse in the Middle East “peace process” not on Palestinian terrorists but on the leaders of American Jewish organizations.