The most frustrating thing about being a liberal critic of Israel these days is the fact that the generally fractious people of the Jewish state are more or less united behind their government as it attempts to defend the country against terrorist assaults from Hamas. This consensus is rooted in the knowledge that neither the Islamist-controlled enclave in Gaza nor the supposedly more moderate Palestinian Authority in the West Bank has the faintest interest in peace. Left without any peace partners, Israelis understand their nation’s only choice is to do what it must to lessen the peril from rocket attacks while preparing for even greater threats such as that of a nuclear Iran.
The need to take a realistic approach to an intractable problem is merely common sense, but it still grates on Israel’s critics who still prefer to blame the victim rather than the aggressors. A classic example of such thinking was found in the form of an op-ed masquerading as a news analysis on the front page of the New York Times yesterday. Writing by former Times Jerusalem Bureau chief Ethan Bronner, the piece took as its premise that Israel was stuck in an outmoded mindset that refused to take into account the changing circumstances of the Middle East. Instead of realizing that the rise of a new wave of Islamist sentiment in the wake of the Arab Spring meant they should be more accommodating, Bronner wrote that the foolish Israelis are simply doubling down on their old tactics of being “tough” with the Arabs.
As Bronner writes:
What is striking in listening to the Israelis discuss their predicament is how similar the debate sounds to so many previous ones, despite the changed geopolitical circumstances. In most minds here, the changes do not demand a new strategy, simply a redoubled old one.
But what Bronner fails to comprehend is that the changes in the Arab world are exactly why Israel’s policies are correct.
At the heart of this critique is a belief that Israelis don’t care about peace. This is ridiculous since, even now, it is probable that a comfortable majority could be found for even the most far-reaching land-for-peace deal with the Palestinians if it could be reasonably asserted that such a treaty would actually end the conflict rather than merely continue on terms that are less advantageous for the Jewish state. Unfortunately, that is all the Oslo peace process turned out to be. Both the collapse of Oslo in the terror of the second intifada and the transformation of Gaza after Israel’s complete withdrawal from that territory in 2005 into a missile launching pad has convinced the overwhelming majority of Israelis that peace is not possible in the foreseeable future.
That leaves them with no choice but to hang tough until a sea change in the political culture of Palestinians enables them to produce a leadership that might dare to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders are drawn.
That angers deluded observers who cling to the idea that the only real obstacles to peace are those created by Israeli policies. But unless you believe, as one Arab academic quoted in Bronner’s piece asserts, that Israel’s creation was a “crime” that must be rectified for there to be peace, the only rational response to Hamas attacks is a periodic effort to “cut the grass” that will make it harder for the terrorists to kill more Jews.
Taken out of the context of Arab intransigence and a fanatical Islamist determination to continue the conflict until Israel is weakened and ultimately destroyed, talk of “cutting the grass” in Gaza seems cynical and hard-hearted. That depiction dovetails with a mindset that views Israelis as military aggressors and out of touch with their neighbors. But it is Bronner’s piece that is detached from reality, not the Israeli grass cutters.
Israel tried repeatedly to make peace in the last 20 years, but only a tiny minority in the country has failed to comprehend that all they accomplished was to trade land for terror and to empower Hamas in the process. The decision of Turkey to abandon its alliance with Israel in pursuit of pan-Islamic glory and the transformation of Egypt from cold peace partner to active ally of Hamas (as well as the tacit acceptance of these developments by the United States) has rendered talk of more concessions even more absurd.
Most Israelis understand the choice facing their country is not between holding onto territory or settlements and peace. It is between death and survival in a war with Palestinian Islamists that has no end in sight. That is a reality that Israel’s liberal critics at the Times and elsewhere haven’t yet come to terms with.