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Peace: More than a Slogan

Peace: More than a Slogan

A New York Times columnist's blind spot on Israel.


Nicholas Kristof is a respected iNew York Times columnist. He has highlighted critical issues in the developing world, and earned acclaim for focusing our attention on the unfolding tragedy in Darfur. But when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict, he has a blind spot.

In his most recent Times column (March 18), which was reprinted in the International Herald Tribune the next day, Kristof went after Israel with a two-by-four and chastised elected leaders in the US for uncritically embracing Israel. He sanctimoniously lectured Israel on what he called "the best hope" for the country, namely, "a peace agreement with Palestinians," and lambasted "hard-line Israeli policies." And he accused American politicians of having "learned to muzzle themselves" regarding Israel policy.

Israel doesn't need lectures from well-intentioned journalists on the need for peace. Israel needs well-intentioned partners for peace.

Most striking about the column was what was missing. There wasn't a single reference to the unenviable situation in which Israel finds itself. Frankly, Israel doesn't need lectures from well-intentioned journalists on the need for peace. Israel needs well-intentioned partners for peace.

Three consecutive Israeli prime ministers, including Ehud Olmert, have called for a two-state settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Indeed, at an Israeli cabinet meeting on March 18, commitment to a two-state solution was reaffirmed. And each of those Israeli prime ministers has acknowledged the painful territorial concessions required to achieve an accord.

Israeli rhetoric has been matched by performance.

Prime Minister Ehud Barak withdrew unilaterally from the security corridor in southern Lebanon, first established to keep terror groups operating in Lebanon out of shelling range of northern Israeli towns and villages.

The result? Hizbullah stepped into the vacuum and built a sophisticated command-and-control operation, fortified bunkers and, courtesy of Iran and Syria, accumulated thousands of missiles and rockets intended for use against Israel.

Moreover, Prime Minister Barak, in cooperation with US President Bill Clinton, offered Chairman Yasir Arafat a tantalizing deal for a two-state settlement, including compromise on Jerusalem, previously a red line for Israeli leaders. Arafat's response? President Jimmy Carter's distorted version of history notwithstanding, the Palestinian leader triggered a new intifada and once again chose the path of war over peace.

Following Barak, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon broke with his previous views and spoke of a two-state deal. When he concluded that there was no credible partner on the other side, he stared down his own party loyalists and pushed through a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, giving local Palestinian residents their first opportunity in history to govern themselves. The result? More Somalia than Singapore, shall we say. In other words, destruction rather construction.

And now Prime Minister Olmert, elected on a platform that called for unilateral Israeli withdrawal from much of the West Bank because of the lack of a Palestinian negotiating partner, is faced with an untenable situation.

There's no partner because in the January 2006 elections the Palestinians elected Hamas, a terrorist group dedicated to Israel's annihilation. The Hamas Charter spells that out clearly and unambiguously. Given the reality on the ground, and after the Gaza and Lebanon experiences, Olmert can't risk further shrinking Israel without a negotiated deal and solid international guarantees.

Is Israel simply supposed to bide its time, waiting around for a Palestinian leadership to emerge capable of delivering its half of the bargain, while neglecting the arms build-up and daily threats, as if they don't have consequences? Should it sit down and talk with Hamas, which controls eleven of the seventeen cabinet posts in the new government, about the timetable for Israel's own destruction?

Peace has been central to Jewish aspirations since time immemorial.

Let's be clear. Israel has sought peace and coexistence with its Arab neighbors since its establishment in 1948. Indeed, peace has been central to Jewish aspirations since time immemorial. Peace is not a slogan or tagline picked up along the way, but rather the essence of the Jewish quest, as embodied by the vision of the prophet Isaiah.

But peace doesn't come by waving a magic wand or wistfully projecting one's aspirations on others.

In addition to the long-resident Jewish community, the three building blocks of Israel's Jewish population are survivors of the Holocaust and their descendants, refugees from Arab countries-the forgotten refugees of this conflict-and refugees from the endemic anti-Semitism of the communist world.

Most have endured enough pain and suffering to wish for nothing more than a life of tranquility, security and normalcy. But they've also come face to face with man's capacity for evil-and experienced the sense of loneliness, even abandonment, which accompanied their ordeal.

Poll after poll underscores Israelis' deep yearning for peace, willingness to sacrifice territory for a settlement, and discomfort at being in the unsought position of an occupying power. Yet those same poll results repeatedly call into question Palestinian intentions. Jewish history reminds them that when a Hamas or Hizbullah (or Iranian) leader calls for destroying Israel, he might actually mean what he says.

In the real world, where President Mahmoud Abbas has not been able to fulfill his early promise as a peace partner; where Gaza has become a magnet for increasingly sophisticated weapons-including anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles-smuggled across the Egyptian border; where southern Israeli towns like Sderot have endured more than four thousand rockets fired from Gaza; where Hizbullah is rearming; and where the margin for error is tiny because of Israel's small size (one-fiftieth the territory of Egypt and two-thirds the size of Belgium), Jerusalem has no choice but to hang tough, even as its outstretched hand awaits a credible peace partner.

And all power to the United States if the elected leaders of both major parties understand what is truly at stake and stand by Israel (even if Kristof ignores some important disagreements between Washington and Jerusalem, such as American determination to proceed with the Palestinian elections in early 2006, including Hamas, over Israeli objections).

When a serious and determined Palestinian peace partner emerges as the examples of Egypt's Anwar Sadat and Jordan's King Hussein amply prove, the Israeli people will not need coaxing from an American journalist. Rather, they will embrace that partner in their deep and abiding quest for peace and an end to the decades-long conflict. This blog originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post.


March 24, 2007

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Visitor Comments: 11

(11) Leila, December 5, 2007 3:55 AM

"Israel needs well-intentioned partners for peace." Well written and straight-to-the-point article.

After 67 war, Gamal Abdel Nasser stated before the parlaiment and the Media that "Israel proposed to withdraw from all conquered Arab territories for a Peace agreement with Egypt. To that we say no. And if Israel is ready for [another] war, we [Egyptians] are too". concluded Gamal Abdel Nasser.

The majority of Arabs, who make the Israeki-Palestinain peace-talks very hard on Palestinians themselves, are in fact looking at/dreaming of destroying Israel as a state and [most importantly], as a Jewish state.
The suffering of Minorities in general,Jews in particular [IL + the forgotten [and refugees] jews of the Arab World] amidst their sick-hatred-education-and-culture-environement i.e. the Aab World is unbarable. To all Jews in MENA, I say: DO NOT GIVE UP.
To Foreign journalists/lecturers like Nicholas Kristof, I would geniunely invite them to come and live in the Region so they could stop their non-sense and misleading reports/lectures that lack [a great portion] of truth.
Living a situation/case is the central difference. Therefore, "Peace is more than a slogan", indeed.

Thank you David Harris for your [another] great article.


(10) Anonymous, April 29, 2007 12:20 PM

History of Israel's quest for peace

I once heard a speech in which the history of Israel's numerous pacts with their arab neighbors were enumerated. He included dates and agreements - including those in which israel gave up land for peace. I wish I had a print out of these attempts by Israel to secure peace. It would be good to be able to more intelligently respond to ill informed journalists like Kristof and to do so succinctly so that he and others can understand that Israel is not the obstructionist in the search for peace.

(9) Barry Penchansky, April 12, 2007 7:02 AM

amen to that

well written and to the point

(8) Gary Katz, March 26, 2007 7:50 PM

The one false assumption that people like Kristof make

Nicholas Kristof and those of his ilk are well-meaning, but they make one false assumption: that Palestinian society is normal. Palestinian society has become warped by hatred, both political and religious. Half or more Palestinians endorse terrorism as "resistance," and only abandon it because it doesn't improve their lot, not because they realize it's immoral. What normal society would elect a Hamas? What normal society would venerate Arafat and Sadam? What normal society would have large groups celebrating 9-11 and the last Space Shuttle disaster? Unfortunately, this sickness is spoon-fed to the children, ensuring another generation of functional failures. They will fester in their "refugee camps," making no social progress, while they stew in their hatred.

(7) Sonia, March 26, 2007 3:50 AM

Did you say the NYTimes?

Hello out there - to those among us who see the NYTimes as their Bible - please note - it is not!

Indeed, the demonstrable decades long biased reporting hurtful to the Jewish State and Jewish interests, as conduit for propaganda and slanderous campaigns against Israel by our enemies, NYTimes distortions on Middle East reality that daily confronts the tiny State of Israel, its biased reporting as phenomenon remains unaddressed as long as Jews and others of consciousness and concern for truth, continue to purchase not objecting, not protesting such NYTimes practice discriminating against the Jewish People's inalienable right not only to our Biblical homeland, but life itself! The stakes are too high to ignore those whose lot is cast with those against the safety, security and rights of Jews in Israel and in the rest of the world to live in peace!

Those who bless Israel are blessed!
May we be a blessing unto our own by how we lead our lives
And in do doing be a blessing unto the world!

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