Not futility; honesty

Matthew Yglesias misunderstands my recent post on “solving” the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying that I make a “futility argument” and believe we should “throw up our hands” concerning it. And in my view, it reveals a deeper unwillingness on his and others’ part to look at the implications of what they are saying.

Folks like Steve Clemons and Daniel Levy seem to believe that if we just put more pressure on the Israelis, then we could solve the conflict. Matt himself suggests as much (although he usually hedges at the end.) In my view, this is absurd.

Consider Matt’s suggestion that we “press Israel — hard –to stop expanding settlements in the West Bank and start dismantling them.” I actually think that this suggestion, as vague as it is, is constructive. But this is more because it helps Israel in the long run. If the Palestinians ever accept Israel’s existence, then dismantling settlements will help because it will stabilize the country demographically. And morally, as a believer in a two-state solution, I believe it’s the right thing to do, and since I believe Zionism has moral content, it is required by Zionist principles.

But does anyone really believe that this will go anywhere toward solving matters? If they do, then they just haven’t done their homework.

The settlements are a moral cancer in Israeli society, and a bone in the throat of peace, but they are most assuredly not the cause of the conflict.

How do we know this? Because Bill Clinton offered to get rid of them in December 2000, Barak accepted it, and Arafat rejected it. To this day, as I mentioned in my post, not a single Arab leader of any stripe (outside of Sari Nusseibeh) has accepted the Clinton parameters. Not a single one has endorsed the People’s Voice. Not a single one has said, “we will accept Israel if they withdraw to the 1967 borders.”

Josh Marshall tut-tuts that this is all complex, and that we don’t need “to get into all the nitty-gritty of it.” No it isn’t, and yes we do. These proposals are out there. Thousands of people have signed onto them. Israeli leaders have endorsed them. They have been greeted with stony silence or outright rejection by the Arab side.

And this is why I continue condemn the vapid claims of those such as Clemons and Levy who say that we need to solve the conflict and that it’s Israel’s fault that we haven’t, as well as pressing Matt — hard — about what he actually means.

Because if they believe that the Clinton parameters/People’s Voice is a good solution, they should advocate a UN resolution based upon it (as Shlomo Ben-Ami has and as I do). And when it is rejected by the Palestinians and the entire Arab world, then will they have to admit that, in fact, this is not Israel’s fault, and that more pressure on Israel won’t solve the conflict.

Unless, of course, they want to destroy Israel as a Jewish state (since the basis of the rejection is the right of return). If that happens, Israel will become an Arab state, and thus, like every other Arab state, it will cease to be a liberal democracy, at least for the foreseeable future. If that’s what they believe, then they should say so.

Then we could have an honest debate. I would take the position that it is important enough for the United States to support liberal democratic Zionism even if it hurts us in other aspects of foreign policy, and they would argue that throwing Israel over the side might be regrettable, but it would be worth it. We could even have an honest debate about whether Israel’s existence supports concrete, non-ideological American interests.

But that’s the debate to have, not vaguely suggesting that greater American “involvement” relying on “tenacity and bold ideas” will somehow “solve” the problem.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.