Ass-Backwards in the Middle East

bibi and barackTuches aufn tish: Buttocks on the table. That’s the colorful way my Yiddish-speaking ancestors said, “Let’s cut the BS and talk about honest truth.”  It seems like a particularly apt expression after a week watching the shadow-boxing between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that brought no tangible progress toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace.

The truth, like the table, is usually hard and uncomfortable.  President Obama’s carefully hedged public call for a two-state solution along Israel’s 1967 borders may indeed represent a new step.  Maybe it will even prove part of some long-range game plan that will eventually pay off.  But here’s the problem: as of now, Obama shows no inclination to back his words with the power the U.S. government could wield.  Until he does, those words won’t provoke any change in Israel’s domination of the Palestinians.

And there’s a deeper issue.  The influential Israeli columnist Sever Plocker pointed to the heart of the matter:  the American president has “unequivocally adopted the essence of the Israeli-Zionist narrative.”  Plocker might have said the same about all top American political leaders and the U.S. media as well.  The American conversation about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is dominated by the story that most Israelis tell.

Ass-Backward Realities

Tuches aufn tish.  Let’s be honest.  The Israeli story doesn’t merely distort the truth, it turns the truth ass-backwards.  Eerily enough, its basic claims about the Palestinians more accurately describe the Israelis themselves.

The Israelis might as well be looking in the mirror and talking about themselves when they say things like “They are the aggressors; we’re the victims just defending ourselves.”  That’s part of an Israeli-generated myth of insecurity whose premise is that Israel bears all the risk in the conflict with the Palestinians.  Obama fed into that myth in his recent “Arab Spring” speech when he called, in effect, for an even swap:  the Palestinians would get a state and the Israelis would get security, as if the massively stronger Israelis are the main ones suffering from insecurity.

In the process, he repeated a familiar mantra, “Our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable,” and offered a vague warning that “technology will make it harder for Israel to defend itself.”  Perhaps that was a coded way of hinting that someday some other Mideast nation might have a handful of nuclear weapons—as if any of them could threaten Israel, which already has as many as two hundred nukes and can surely build more.

Obama did make one reference to what he called “the assumption of Palestinian security.”  That’s how the Israelis typically phrase their long-standing hope that the Palestinian police will become what Netanyahu once called Israel’s “sub-contractors,” taking over from Israeli soldiers the job of quashing resistance to Israel and its policies.  Again, the premise is that Israel bears all the risk.

Yet the Palestinians are far more insecure than the Israelis.  Like any victims of colonial military occupation, they’re constantly subject to the threat of death and destruction without notice, at the whim of the Israeli military, and increasingly from Israeli settlers as well.  Over the last quarter-century, the conflict has killed roughly eleven Palestinians for every Israeli who died.  And yet you’ll never find this line in the speech of an American politician:  “Our commitment to Palestine’s security is unshakeable.”

bibi sneezingObama did declare that “every state has the right to self-defense.”  In the next breath, however, he demanded that a new Palestinian state must have no army.  Would any sovereign nation accept such a demand, especially if its closest neighbor had dominated and pummeled its people for years and possessed by far the most powerful military in the region?  Yet the idea of a “demilitarized” Palestinian state is a given in the U.S. and Israel, as if the only conceivable future threat could come from those occupied, not from the former occupier.

The staggering power imbalance between occupier and occupied points to another looking-glass-style distortion that dominates America’s conversation about the issue: the absurd idea that the two parties could negotiate as equals, that the weaker of the two, which has already given up approximately 78% of its territory, must be the one to make the major compromises, and then operate as a nation from a position of utter weakness.

Obama told a meeting of Jewish leaders in private that he knows the truth of the situation:  “Israel is the stronger party here… And Israel needs to create the context for [peace] to happen.”  But as long as his public words reinforce the myth of Israel’s insecurity, the Israelis can safely resist any demands for change.


  1. says

    ‘Ass-Backwards’ so well describes the article’s implicit premise: that Israel’s ‘domination’ of the Palestinians is somehow a big problem, compared with alternatives. But the only reason that Israel yet exists at all, given the hostility of her enemies, is that Israel IS the stronger of the two parties west of the Jordan. Obviously this situation is the lesser evil for the Israelis. (The greater good would be a situation of mutual acceptance and coexistence, but that’s the first thing rejected unconditionally by Hamas – now the PLO’s full partner.) Compared with the alternatives Israel’s strength is not the biggest problem for Palestinians either. Absent the Israelis, they would most likely be fighting themselves more violently – or the existing Arab states.

    ‘Ass-Backwards’ is true also of depiction of the situation as primarily a conflict between Israel and Palestinians. The prime overall conflict has been not between Israel and Palestinians but between Arab states and Israel, the former using ‘the cause of Palestine’ as an excuse. In 1948, even as the Palestinians themselves failed to create their UN-authorized state, seven Arab states used their ’cause’ as an excuse to seek to extinguish Israel and capture Israel-Palestine lands. Three of those states DID capture such land. Not one of them sought to help set up an independent Palestine state. Of the original seven states, only two have signed peace treaties with Israel; the remaining five claim still to be at war with her, and yet more have on occasion joined in at least verbally.

    ‘Ass-Backwards’ applies especially to Obama’s take. Contrary to his quoted remarks, it’s not democratic Israel that ‘needs to create the context’ for peace. It’s the ‘leadership’ of the two Palestinian thugocracies, and even more so the leadership of neighboring Arab and Islamic states.

    It’s these guys who now – 63 years late – seek UN recognition of a Palestinian Arab state. They do so not as a necessary end toward a peaceful and better life for its citizens but as a tactical tool toward the same objective that in 1948 was the reason their predecessors rejected the UN’s recognition of such a state: namely, in order to extinguish Israel. As the PLO’s Abbas wrote recently in the NY Times, the PLO-Hamas quest for a UN-recognized Palestine state is intended above all as a weapon for more effectively fighting Israel.

    Ironically the author claims that the party who has already given up 78% of former land and moreover was victimized shouldn’t be the one who is being asked to make concessions. That claim might seem to vindicate Palestine Arabs vs Israel, but in fact it vindicates Israel vs her neighbors. The original British mandate for Palestine, to include a Jewish national home, included what is now Jordan – 78% of the area of the mandate. The British lost little time acting to exclude – ethnically cleanse – Jews from that 78% of the potential homeland, and to immediately set up an Arab monarchy there. Had they proceeded with equal dispatch to honor their commitments to the Jews – and to the remaining Arabs of Palestine – ensuing history might have turned out far happier.

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