West Bank outpost 311.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Harvard law professor and noted Israel advocate Alan Dershowitz has said that
the best way to win over the ‘undecideds’ when he’s speaking in universities on
‘the case for Israel’ is to show that the ‘pro-Israel’ crowd are also in favor
of a two-state solution to the conflict, whereas the ‘pro-Palestinian’
supporters are not. In other words, whereas the Jewish students are willing to
see a Palestinian state established alongside Israel, the collection of
far-leftist, (allegedly) liberal and Muslim students who support the Palestinian
cause cannot reconcile themselves to Israel’s existence.
involved in Israel advocacy in universitiesin Britain (a country where the
campus anti-Zionism makes the average US university look like an AIPAC
conference), I broadly agree with Dershowitz. There is no question that the best
hasbara tool Israel has is the Arab world’s history of rejectionism and its
repeated preference for continuing the fight to eliminate the Jewish state,
rather than compromising and finally giving the Palestinians a state of their
own alongside Israel.
HOWEVER, WHAT happens if it’s Israelis who are the
rejectionists? What happens in a debate if the Palestinian speaker says he
accepts Israel’s right to exist but that the Palestinians should be freed from
Israeli occupation, and the speaker on behalf of Israel says that he thinks
Israel should remain in control of the entire West Bank? This scenario is not
far-fetched. Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad are both on record as supporting a
two-state solution. And even if you don’t believe they are genuine, this Israeli
government is full of ministers – not to mention other MKs – who don’t even try
to hide their opposition to it.
It is relatively straightforward to argue
that a military operation against Hamas in Gaza is legitimate – it is a
terrorist organization committed to Israel’s destruction. The same goes for
Hizbullah in Lebanon. It is also possible – and, I believe, right – to justify
refusing to withdraw to the pre-1967 borders.
They were never a formal
border, just an armistice line, and even the drafters of the relevant UN
Security Council resolutions understood that the “green line” is not a
defensible border for Israel.
So yes, Israel can say it will keep Ma’aleh
Adumim and Gush Etzion, and that it will require some kind of military
arrangement in the Jordan Valley, and the Palestinian state must be
demilitarized. All these demands are fully justifiable, given the Palestinians’
historic hostility to Israel’s very existence, and the experience of withdrawal
from southern Lebanon and Gaza – both resulted in a huge upsurge in rocket
attacks and the abduction of Israeli soldiers.
There are sound security
arguments for keeping anything from five to 30% of the West Bank (depending on
your school of thought), but the building of dozens of settlements on the
hilltops of Judea and Samaria was fueled by a messianic religious ideology, not
a dispassionate assessment of Israel’s security requirements. And it is an
ideology that will not wash in the democratic West to which Israel professes to
be a part. Just as no Saudi will convince an American or European that women
should not be allowed to drive cars just because (his version of) Islam says so;
no Israeli will persuade the same audience that it is ok to control a territory
in which the Jews have full democratic rights and Arabs do not, just because
(his version of) Judaism says so.
Of course that comparison can only go
so far; Saudi Arabia does not define itself as a democratic state.
the next time an Israeli leader holds a press conference with an American
official. It is guaranteed that he will stress the shared democratic values of
the two countries. Similarly, at an AJC conference or any large gathering of
American Jews, the visiting Israeli VIP will talk about the love of democracy
and liberty that unites Israel and the US.
LET US be clear. Israel is a
democracy. With free elections, a free, (hyper-) critical press, and frequent
public dissent. But there is no getting away from the fact that a democratic
state cannot permanently rule over another people who are denied the basic
rights of citizenship.
It can’t be spun and it can’t be brushed under the
Yes, Netanyahu has said he supports two states for two peoples.
And he has talked euphemistically about being willing to make “painful
concessions,” but the freeze on building in settlements ends in September, and
the signs are that it will not be continued.
If he renews construction in
the settlements beyond the blocs, the very existence of which would make a
contiguous Palestinian state impossible, the occupation which threatens the
Zionist dream of a Jewish democratic state will just become further
Hasbara is important. Fears about the de-legitimisation and
demonization of Israel on university campuses, in newspapers and, of course, in
Orwellian bodies like the UN Human Rights Council are all too justifiable. But
pro-Israel activists and diplomats should not be expected to defend the
indefensible.The writer worked for two years in the Hasbara Department
of the Embassy of Israel in London, and as the Ambassador’s speechwriter, before