In my latest piece for Zeek magazine, I take on the absurd argument for granting exceptions for “natural growth” in a settlement freeze. I also discuss what it will take for President Obama to take such a freeze and make it something significant in the long term. This is crucial, because there is a serious danger that all a freeze will be is a brief stoppage in construction, causing a lot of tension between the US and Israel, expending a great deal of political capital and
ending up with little gain.
But I want to mention one more point. In today’s New York Times, British historian Tony Judt, who has come under frequent criticism for his support for a single state solution in Israel-Palestine, has an op-ed arguing that Israel will not remove any settlements, ever and a freeze is in fact a defeat for American efforts for peace.
I don’t want to spend much time deconstructing Judt’s argument. He’s made some interesting ones in the past, but this one is pretty weak. The op-ed betrays a lack of understanding of modern Israel (Judt seems stuck in an image of Israel that is nearly 50 years out of date), and of the settlement issue. Judt uses Ma’ale Adumim as emblematic of settlements and why they will not be removed.
And here is the point. Ma’ale Adumim, like Ariel and the Gush Etzion region are the built-up “blocs” that are generally referred to as possibly remaining in Israeli hands in the event of a peace deal. Gush Etzion is both the most likely to remain Israeli and the least problematic geographically. Ariel and Ma’ale Adumim both extend well into the West Bank and it will take some creativity to figure out how to reconcile a contiguous and viable Palestinian state with those settlements becoming part of Israel.
It may not work. There may be more tough choices around those two settlement blocs. But there are more than 100 other settlements legally sanctioned by Israel (and another 100 that are not), and all of them are understood to be removable by most Israelis. Judt’s defeatism is badly misplaced, all too emblematic of the left today and actually constitutes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The Zeek article explores the steps that need to come on the heels of the freeze in order to make it useful. These matters can be discussed. But surrender to the forces that oppose peace without even trying to struggle to support the current American direction, as Judt suggests and as Noam Chomsky has often posited since Obama’s inauguration, is unacceptable.
It’s true that after 16 years of administrations repeatedly called “the most ‘pro-Israel’ ever” the left doesn’t quite know what to do with itself. It doesn’t know how to support a president who is actually trying to resolve the conflict in a workable, sustainable and practical way. The bankruptcy is evident in Judt’s inability to articulate any suggestions for what he would see as positive movement. The left is perpetually stuck in a choice between the roles of aggrieved victim and self-righteous outsider.
But it’s high time the left learned how to operate in a more constructive vein, one which seeks to accomplish more than making activists feel good about their own nobility in the face of oppression. Because time for resolving this conflict is running out, and the Obama administration may be our last opportunity to see the United States play the role of honest broker and powerful friend who can actually bring matters to a close. He needs all the support he can get, and the left needs to wake up and start giving it to him.