Commentary Magazine


The Economist vs. Israel

I’m sure those at The Economist believe its current cover story and lead editorial, “The hundred years’ war,” is a balanced appraisal of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Gaza, we learn, “is only one item in a mighty catalogue of misery, whose entries are inscribed in tears. The Jews and Arabs of Palestine have been fighting off and on for 100 years.” We learn, too, that “[t]he fact that the Arabs rejected the UN’s partition plan of 60 years ago has long given ideological comfort to Israel and its supporters.” And “Israel’s story” is that the Arabs have “muffed at least four chances to have a Palestinian state.”

“This story of Israeli acceptance and Arab rejection is not just a yarn convenient to Israel’s supporters,” we are informed. So it turns out the case for Israel hasn’t been constructed entirely out of straw.

Yet in trying to recapitulate the history of the Middle East, The Economist succeeds in distorting issues through its effort for “balance.” Take, for example, this claim:

After the ignominious defeat of 1967, the Arab states again rejected the idea of peace with Israel. That was, indeed, a wasted opportunity. But even though the Israel of 1967 discussed how much of the West Bank it was ready to trade for peace, the Likud governments of the late 1970s and 1980s wanted it all. For Israel fell in love with the territories it had occupied.

This was the period of Israel rejection. Israeli prime ministers such as Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir asserted a God-given right to a “greater Israel” that included the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in which Israeli governments of all stripes continued to plant (illegal) settlements.

Now what two words might be missing from this account? How about “Sinai Desert”? This was the oil-rich land which Israel, under the leadership of Likud’s Menachem Begin, returned to Egypt in 1978 in exchange for Egypt’s recognition of Israel and normalized relations. For those keeping track, the Sinai desert is three times the size of Israel and accounted for more than 90 percent of the land Israel won in a war of aggression by Arab states against Israel in 1967. In fact, Israel offered to return all of the land it captured during the 1967 war in exchange for peace and normal relations; the offer was rejected in August 1967, when Arab leaders met in Khartoum and adopted a formula that became known as the “three noes”: no peace with Israel, no negotiation with Israel, and no recognition of Israel.

So this was not, in fact, a “period of Israel rejection.” And the Likud governments of the late 1970s did not “want it all.” And Israel had not “fallen in love with the territories it had occupied.” Beyond that, The Economist has things just about right.

Over the years, The Economist has come back, time and again, to the issue of the West Bank. In its current editorial, for example, The Economist writes:

Israel must show not only that it is too strong to be swept away but also that it is willing to give up the land — the West Bank, not just Gaza — where the promised Palestinian state must stand.

Once again, a bit of history is in order. For example, if Arab nations have such a deep, abiding interest in a Palestinian homeland, why didn’t they grant one to Palestinians when they had the opportunity? During their 19-year-rule (1948-1967), neither Jordan nor Egypt made any effort to establish a Palestinian state in either the West Bank or the Gaza strip. Palestinian self-rule seemed less of a priority back then. Perhaps that’s because governments of nations like Jordan, which in the early 1970s the Palestinians wanted to overthrow, were busily engaged in armed conflict with the Palestinians.  (The PLO terrorist group “Black September,” which killed Israeli Olympic athletes in 1972, took on that name in memory of thousands of Palestinians killed by King Hussein in 1970.) And for those who maintain that the engine of animosity against Israel is the “occupied territories” and settlements, there is this inconvenient fact: The PLO was founded in 1964, three years before Israel controlled the West Bank or Gaza. And what explains the 1948 and 1967 wars against Israel, before the occupied territories and settlements ever became an issue?

In any event, in 2000 Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered almost all of these territories to Yasir Arafat. Arafat rejected the offer and began a second intifada (The Economist ludicrously cites the intifada of 2001-2003 as part of an effort to “convince Israel that this [the notion that Palestinians are a non-people to be fobbed off with self-government under Israeli or perhaps Jordanian supervision] was an illusion”). And in Gaza in 2005 Israel did what no other nation–not the Jordanians, not the British, not anyone — has ever done before: provide the Palestinians with the opportunity for self-rule. In response, Israel was shelled by thousands of rockets and mortar attacks. Hamas used Gaza as its launching point. In the wake of this, The Economist informs us that–you guessed it–it is Israel that must give up more land.

At some point, under the proper conditions, such a thing might well happen. Most of the citizens and political leadership of Israel are certainly open to allowing it to happen; all they ask in response is a Palestinian state that has made its own inner peace with the Jewish state and can ensure that the land won’t be used as a nerve center for attacks against Israel. That is certainly a reasonable, and even de minimus, requirement.

Yet The Economist ends up where it always does: placing the burden on Israel to cede ever more land in order to move the “peace process” forward. It would be nice if critics of Israel recognized more often than they do just how much land Israel has already given up in its search for peace and that, when it is able to deal with Arab nations not committed to its destruction, Israel will go to great lengths to both return territory and enter into peace agreements.

Those interested in authentic peace in the Middle East ought to put the pressure where it belongs: on terrorist groups like Hamas, which are committed to eviscerating the Jewish state, rather than on Israel. She has done quite a lot already, and deserves credit rather than condemnation, to say nothing of a fair recounting of history.

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