Peter Beinart meets students at J Street conference 370.
(photo credit: J Street)
I have always felt more out of place in the Arab-Israeli conflict than author
Edward Said felt out of place in his life, the title of his brilliantly written
The difference, though, is that I use my circumstances to push
for compromise while Said, who was a close confidant of my mentor, Ibrahim Abu-
Lughod, eventually used it to push hard against Israel. Clearly, as he moved
away from the peace process that he and Abu-Lughod were in a large part
responsible for launching in the 1980s, Said found himself more and more in
conflict with peace based on compromise.
A brilliant theorist and writer,
Said was the most misunderstood Palestinian since Jesus, in a large part because
his writings became the foundation of Palestinian activist ideology but failed
to reach the public masses in the West that needed to better understand
The failure of the peace process has driven many Palestinian
activists to irrationality, fueling their anger. Many Israelis have found
shelter from the failure of peace by burying their heads in the sands of moral
challenges of their occupation policies.
After years of failed peace,
Palestinians and Israelis are left in a purgatory of anger, failure and flashes
of violent conflict. That doesn’t create an environment that encourages harmony
or understanding. Last week I wrote about how I distinguished between boycotting
the settlements and boycotting Israel, the core of the argument that writer
Peter Beinart has made so clearly.
I did so because that argument about
the issue of boycotts is essentially the essence of the obstacles standing in
the way of Palestinian-Israeli peace. The moderate middle ground has become that
place where the irrationality of Palestinian and Israeli reality is exposed for
what it really is: a destructive desire for vengeance and
Finding that moderate middle ground is not easy because people
on both sides spend so much time responding to each other in anger. A letter
writer asked me in The Jerusalem Post to identify the products from the West
Bank settlements that I would boycott so he could go out and buy them. I am sure
he is already buying those products, but his ability to make that statement in
response to a reasoned moderate middle ground perspective shows you how
desperate the situation has become for a secure Palestinian and Israel
There were no letters supporting my view that boycotting Israel
was wrong while boycotting the settlements was right.
of how we engage the conflict has risen. The most recent example is the
accusation that Israel is an “apartheid state.” Palestinian activists are
hosting “Israel Apartheid Week” events, although it is lasting longer than one
Technically, Israel is not engaged in apartheid, the system of
separating people based on race. In reality, Israel discriminates against its
citizens based on their religion: non-Jewish Israelis who are Palestinian Arab
are routinely victimized by discrimination and even racism.
It’s worse in
the occupied West Bank, which haters and deniers of Palestinian rights
disrespectfully refer to as “Judea and Samaria.” Calling the West Bank Judea and
Samaria in the face of collapsing peace based on two states is the equivalent of
describing the Jewish state as “the Zionist entity.”
Despite all the
grievances that Palestinians have against Israel, calling Israel an apartheid
state is wrong. It’s an example of throwing kerosene on an already raging fire.
It references some similarities involving legitimate grievances by Palestinians
against Israelis while ignoring legitimate grievances of Israelis against
And in a way, exaggerating a legitimate grievance
delegitimizes that grievances.
The Palestinian activists who push
Apartheid Week don’t really use the term because they care about addressing the
grievances accurately. These exaggerations are quite common on both sides. The
real challenge of Israelis and Palestinians who share a sense of moral justice
and embrace principle along with peace based on compromise is to overcome these
Rather than exaggerating the conflict, we should be
reinforcing the peace.
Each side deals with the conflict in different
ways, neither of which help.
When I was a student at the University of
Illinois, I noticed Israelis, who had a state, would organize celebrations of
Israel. In contrast, the Palestinians, who did not have a state, spent most of
their time protesting against the Israeli state.
while Palestinians “protested.” The celebrations and the protests were both
provocative to the other. Israelis can’t celebrate while closing their eyes to
the discrimination that exists. And Palestinians can’t protest against Israel’s
bad policies without acknowledging their own bad policies.
polarity only inflames the conflict and reinforces irrational behavior on both
sides. It encourages violence. It provokes normally rational human beings to do
Of course, we wouldn’t be humans if we were always
rational. I think, though, that we must continue to try.The writer is a
Palestinian American radio talk show host.