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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

Palestine: Darkening horizons? « Previous | |Next »
April 4, 2004

This report is a good account of the way the western media currently represents the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. It highlights the difficulties of reporting from the Palestinian side, and it says that most of the critical insights rely on the critical voices in the Israeli media.

We need to distinquish critical insights or criticism from anti-Semitism. As Dershowitz says in his book, The Case for Israel, not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic. As Dershowitz points out there "is a difference between mere criticism of Israel and signaling it out for unique sanctions such as divestitture or boycott." To say otherwise, he says, is to engage in the big lie.

Given the difference between criticisms of the Israeli state and a singling out the Jewish people based on ancient sterotypes and bigotry, we can outline the above report. It says that there seems to be:

..."three major paradigms that appear in the opinion pages or programmes of the western media with regard to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict:
a) Israelis have the right to security and Palestinian violence against Israel is illegitimate;
b) the conflict represents a vicious circle of violence that has to be broken down through negotiations and mediation;
c) the conflict is essentially one between an unlawful occupation and an occupied, unprotected people. "

The reports says that "most western opinion...can be placed, with fluctuations, within the continuum between a and b, whereas opinions on the continuum between b and c are less available, especially in the US."

Public opinion is located on the bc continuum. At the moment it does not hold much chance of success for b. Hence the polarization of a & c, and the erosion of the common ground of the two state solution. Yet a Palestinian state does need to be established to preserve a Jewish majority in Israel.

The media prism makes this report by Helena Cobban important. After a visit to the occupied territories she says the outlook for Palestinian-Israeli peacemaking over the next twelve months is extremely grim, and that this does not bode well for Palestinian independence.

Helena comments on Ariel Sharon's withdrawal strategy as follows:

"I think his main goals have been to destroy all of the PA's capabilities; and beyond that, to stamp out both any possibility of the emergence of governance institutions for the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza that are independent in any way from the will of Israel, and any hope the Palestinians might have that they could ever have such institutions. Obviously what he does not want to do is to stamp out the PA, only to have it replaced by a far better organized, far better motivated Islamist leadership. I think he probably now feels that he has Yasser Arafat where he wants him, holed up and becoming increasingly isolated and delusional inside the muqata. So he may well feel it is time to move on to battling the Islamists-and the place to do that is in Gaza."

This is not a strategy designed to bring about a two state solution or Palestinian self-governance. Why?

Helena says that Sharon's strategy keeps open the possibility that once the Gaza settlers have been removed to "safety" elsewhere, then Sharon might well hope to be able to treat Gaza in 2004-2005 like Beirut in 1982.

Maybe Helena has got this wrong? Maybe Ariel Sharon is genuine about pulling the Jewish settlements out and not treating the West Bank and Gaza as he did Beirut. We can only watch and see and listen to critical Israeli voices.

And maybe the Palestinans will be able to rebuild their civil institutions that would support the re-emergence of citizen-based, mass nonviolent actions and help build a genuine coalition between the secular and Islamic wings of the national movement? It is a tough ask.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 6:38 PM | | Comments (3)


Helena has got it absolutely right, I wish I could read the entire article but the server is very busy at the moment. And thanks for that other link, the article is very enlightening with regard to how we come to think the way we do.

As for Sharon... he's not about to give the occupied territories away. He's up to something. Unfortunately we won't know what it is until after it happens, and whatever it is, its going to look like the PA started it.


Your ability to read a book like The Case For Israel, yet to cherry pick those bits and pieces that serve your purpose, even though your point is diametrically opposed to Dershowitz' argument, is truly impressive.

As for Helena Cobban, she is a writer with a long track record of anti-Israeli extremism. She has, as usual, gotten it completely wrong.

The analogy between Lebanon in 1982 and current events is so forced and factitious that is can only fairly be described as truly asinine.

Within a few months, Ariel Sharon will order a withdrawal from almost all of Gaza, and the evacuation of almost all Jewish settlements in Gaza.

The only parts of the Strip that will be retained will be the "Philadelphia Axis" at the southern end along the border with Egypt, and three Israeli settlements along the northern end immediately adjacent to the Israeli border.

The Israeli army will retain control of the "Philadelphia axis," a narrow band of territory, in order to prevent the smuggling of heavy weapons into Gaza. The three settlements adjacent to Israel's border in the north will be retained as negotiating cards for any future peace talks. But, this withdrawal will revert over 95% of Gaza to Palestinian control.

The IDF will attack the Islamist groups that are conducting a war of terrorism against Israel. A withdrawal from Gaza does not obviate Israel's right to self-defence. But, the security barrier that surrounds Gaza has proved very successful in preventing terrorist incursions into Israel from the Strip. This will substantially reduce the need for the IDF to strike into Gaza, although if Hamas and Islamic Jihad insist on firing their "Kassem" rockets at towns and kibbutzim in Israel, the IDF retains the right to respond.

So, how this in any way relates to events in Lebanon beggars any cogency or comprehension. The massacres in Sabra and Shatilla were carried out by Lebanese Christian militia who by killing civilians violated the orders they had been given by the Israeli army. They were allowed to enter the camps in order to kill or capture armed PLO stay behind elements that had remained in the camps after Arafat's withdrawal. When the scattered disjointed reports of unauthorized and illegal killings finally reached critical mass and the IDF command realized what their "allies" were doing, the Phalange forces were pulled out of the camps and the massacre brought to a halt.

In retrospect, it was a stupid mistake on Israel's part to have relied on the Maronite Christian militia in any way, shape or form. The record of all parties to the Lebanese civil war (Christians, Palestinians, Shia and Sunni Muslims) was one of mutual massacre of civilians. And, the Israelis should have realized that employing the Christians in any way to conduct combat operations would bring about a continuation of that long established intra-Lebanese pattern. But, that is 20/20 hindsight. It was a stupid mistake on Israel's part. One that was never repeated.

But, that's a far cry from the accusations of intentional Israeli massacre that are an integral part of Cobban's fare. Radical leftwing anti-Zionists like Cobban are constitutionally incapable of believing that Israel is anything other than a collection of murderers. To her and her ilk, nothing that Israel does will ever be viewed in positive terms. Her current screed. Israel is about to withdraw from almost all Gaza, and she turns it into some silly Protocols of Zion plot of Machiavellian proportions. Her argument is absurd. Pure and simple.

Now, as for your Israeli "critical voices," Gush Shalom is a miniscule organization that represents a miniscule far-left fringe of Israeli public opinion. These guys are the "John Pilger wing" of the Israeli political spectrum. Now, you might think that Pilger is the greatest thing since canned beer. But even his biggest fans must, in all honesty, concede that Pilger's views are way, way, way out of the Australian mainstream, and that they are shared only by a very small minority on the far left of the Aussie political spectrum.

The same holds true for Gush Shalom and its fellow travellers, some of whom write for the lefty Israeli broadsheet Ha'aretz (Amira Haas, Gideon Levy, etc...)

Sorry, Gary, but these people ARE NOT representative of anything that would even remotely resemble a substantial constituency in the Israeli body politic. In fact, the Israeli peace movement has dwindled over the past 3 1/2 years because those who believed that a peaceful solution was feasible with Arafat in charge have been mugged by the reality of 40 months of terrorist attacks. Exploding commuter busses tend to clear the mind of most utopian minded people.

Which brings me to my final response to your post. As I have previously demonstrated rather comprehensively, the Palestinians have consistently rejected two state solutions from 1937 right up to the Camp David/Taba proposal of 200-2001 that would have given them a Palestinian state on the entirety of Gaza plus 97% of the West Bank. That would have been a viable Palestinian state with contiguous borders. Not at all the "bantustan" charge that Palestinian apologists today use in an attempt to rationalize their rejection of peace.

But, this plan, like all the others before it, was rejected by the Palestinians. Why? Because the Palestinians have not reconciled themselves to Israel's right to exist as a sovereign Jewish state. Arafat realized that he would be taking his life in his hands if he returned from Camp David/Taba and tried to sell a plan that included a formal end to the conflict that included recognition of the Jewish state of Israel.

Let me remind you, once again, of that polling from December '03 that shows 3/4 of Palestinians unwilling to relinquish their "right of return" to pre-1967 Israel. This is a clear demonstration that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians reject any two state solution that includes a sovereign Jewish Israel. THAT is why there is no peace today. THAT is why there is no Palestinian self-government.

If the Palestinians want peace in Gaza after Israel's withdrawal, that will be very easy to arrange. Let them dismantle and disarm the Islamist terrorist organizations that have rejected peace with Israel because they refuse to accept Israel's right to exist. If there are no further attacks from Gaza into Israel, and the terrorist command and control structure is destroyed, then Israel will have no call to engage in any military operations in that area.

Believe me, the Israelis would like nothing more than to relegate Gaza to the status of a bad memory. But, unfortunately, the Palestinians have not yet demonstrated th will to make the hard choices that will enable them to live in peace with Israel.

VOS, you wrote:

"Your ability (ie Gary's) to read a book like The Case For Israel, yet to cherry pick those bits and pieces that serve your purpose, even though your point is diametrically opposed to Dershowitz' argument, is truly impressive."

Cherry pick?
Dershowitz had a chapter on the topic of criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism towards the end of the book that related to my concerns in the post.That post involved a criticism of Sharon by Cobban

Diamentrically opposed?

I agreed with his argument. I made the common ground explicit.

You miss the point of the post entirely. I was saying that the media prism made it difficult for people in my position to asssess what is going on in the occupied territories. So I am forced to rely on critical voices in Israel and visitors to the territories to assess wteh interpretations of what was going on.

I never said that Cobban was right. Nor did I say that Sharon was not genuine. I simply raised questions for debate.