Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said professor of
Modern Arab Studies at my alma mater, Columbia University, had this to say on
the pages of The New York Times (March 12) before Barack Obama arrived in
Jerusalem: “For Mr. Obama, a decision is in order. He can reconcile the United
States to continuing to... bankroll an unjust status quo that it helped
Or he can begin to chart a new course based on recognition that
the United States must forthrightly oppose the occupation and the
There is no middle way.”
Mr. Khalidi is wrong.
There is, in fact, a middle way. It is the way that the Obama administration
should have adopted long ago. In this middle way, Israel makes concessions, but
Palestinians formally accept the permanence of a Jewish State in the Middle East
and own up to their role in the creation of their miserable
Israelis, sadly, are infinitely more likely to do their share.
When Khalidi writes that the United States is “continuing to uphold and bankroll
an unjust status quo that it helped produce,” he conveniently omits any mention
of how Israel’s presence in the West Bank began. He says nothing about Jordan’s
foolish decision to join the losing fray in 1967 and omits entirely the famous
Khartoum Conference at which the Arabs responded with “no peace, no recognition
and no negotiations.”
That, I assume, is also the fault of the US? And of
Israel? The middle way, which Khalidi would have us believe does not exist,
begins with adults taking responsibility for their past actions and saying what
has to be said so that life can move forward. How does the following quote by
Nabil Shaath, head of foreign relations in the Fatah movement, which aired on
ANB TV in July 2011, move us forward? “The story of ‘two states for two peoples’
means that there will be a Jewish people over there and a Palestinian people
here. We will never accept this – not as part of the French initiative and not
as part of the American initiative.
We will not sacrifice the 1.5 million
Palestinians with Israeli citizenship who live within the 1948
We will not accept this, whether the initiative is French,
American, or Czechoslovakian.”
So there, we have it. No Palestinian
responsibility for 1967, no Palestinian willingness for there to be a Jewish
state. That is what Khalidi would like Obama to endorse? Those who care about a
better future in this region can only pray that Obama had the sense to tell the
Palestinians, in no uncertain terms, that there is always a middle way, and it
is never too late to grow up.
Behind the closed doors that have had
Jerusalem traffic snarled these past few days, one can only hope that Obama
might also have said something along these lines to the Palestinians: “Mr.
Khalidi and Mr. Shaath, we Americans hear you. We understand that you would like
a better life, and we’d like you to have one. But not only do we hear you, we
also see you. And what we see, we don’t like so very much. America stands for
certain things, and quite frankly, the society in your region that embodies the
values which we consider sacred is not yours, but Israel’s.
for example. Israel has again proven that its democratic system is robust and
energetic. When was the last time you had a real election, with real opposition?
Or how about freedom of the press? You still believe that jailing people who
poke fun at Mahmoud Abbas on Facebook does your society credit? We don’t. And
why is it that gay Palestinians are desperate to get into Tel Aviv? Have you
considered staying out of people’s private lives and protecting them rather than
tormenting them? How about freedom of association? Can you imagine protests in
Ramallah anything like those that regularly take place in Tel Aviv? Why not? “Or
freedom of religion. Even if life as a Muslim is not ideal in Israel, it’s
infinitely better than life as a Christian in Gaza or the West Bank, isn’t it?
Why is that? And why does ‘Palestine’ still insist on becoming a Jew-free state?
Do you really think that America can, in good conscience, promote the creation
of a state that does not want Jews as citizens? And what about the rights of
women and the ongoing phenomenon of family honor murders [in which fathers have
their adult daughters executed for having sex outside of marriage] that still
take place in both Gaza and the West Bank? You’re not ashamed? Well, we, for our
part, are horrified.
“Mr. Khalidi, when you wrote in the Times that ‘An
even bigger obstacle is Mr. Netanyahu’s right-wing government, hellbent on
territorial expansion,’ did it not make any impression on you that despite the
rants of people like Mr. Shaath, Israelis just voted en masse for the center and
clipped Netanyahu’s wings? Does that tell you anything about them? It’s
beginning to tell us quite a bit.”
Sadly, we’re not terribly likely to
hear anything like that from President Obama, now or in the near future. But
it’s the only thing that would work.
Calm (not a treaty to which so many
are addicted, but enduring calm) will come to this region when the Palestinians
recognize that time is not on their side, that the world will help them create a
state when they embrace the values that the West believes make for human life
with infinitely greater dignity.
When, in our “debate” a couple of weeks
ago, I asked Jeremy Ben-Ami, of J Street, why he does not believe Nabil Shaath
and why he continues to think that Israeli departure from the West Bank would
change anything, he had no answer. He simply refused to address that issue.
Obama is thus in good company.
Too many people, including politicians,
some American rabbis, Jeremy Ben-Ami and others, are so fixated on a “deal” that
they’ve forgotten entirely about values and fairness.
It’s time for a
middle way. Netanyahu said again this week that he’s ready for a historic
compromise. Is Shaath? Is Khalidi? Why is there no middle way? Because Khalidi
and the Palestinians reject it: “The overwhelming dominance of Israel over the
Palestinians means that the conflict is not one that demands reciprocal
concessions from two equal parties,” Khalidi wrote in the
“Reciprocal concessions” are out of the question? Then so, too, is
any hope for progress.
One can only hope that behind all of this week’s
gridlock, the Americans were clear and that they said something akin to: “There
is a middle way, even though you reject it. And when the Palestinians begin
embracing it, they’ll have a future. Until they do, however, they won’t. And the
responsibility will be exclusively theirs.”
What are the chances that
anything like that actually happened? CORRECTION: In my previous column about
Rabbi David Stav, I wrote that Tzohar rabbis have performed 3,000 weddings in
Israel. But that is their annual number. They have actually performed over
40,000 weddings for Israeli couples. ■
The writer is senior vice president and
Koret Distinguished Fellow at Shalem College, Israel’s first liberal arts
college, in Jerusalem.
His newest book, The Promise of Israel: Why Its
Seemingly Greatest Weakness is Actually Its Greatest Strength, was recently
named by Jewish Ideas Daily as one of the best Jewish books of 2012.