Israel-Palestine

03.19.12

The Beinart Solution: Punish the Israelis to Change the Palestinians

In this morning's New York Times, my Daily Beast colleague Peter Beinart urges a global economic boycott of Israel. Peter draws a distinction between a boycott of "Israel" and "the occupied territories," but as his new associates in the anti-Israel boycott movement understand better than he does, such a distinction is unworkable in fact and unsustainable psychologically.

The good news is that a global boycott of Israel is in no way imminent. Neither the United States nor the European Union will stand for it. Those governments recognize what most people of discernment recognize: that the anti-Israel boycott movement is only the latest iteration of the decades-old clamor for the destruction of the Jewish state.

Peter himself does not join that clamor. He says that he offers his recommendation with a heavy heart and with nothing but good wishes for the Israeli state. I believe him when he says this. I know and like Peter, and I respect his sincere feeling for the state of Israel. His acumen, however, leaves something to be desired.

Peter opens his article with the mournful statement, "To believe in a democratic Jewish state today is to be caught between the jaws of a pincer." The jaws, he says, are these: While some (few) in Israel demand all the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River, (many) others in the Palestinian and pro-Palestinian world wish to "dismantle Israel as a Jewish state."

The solution Peter offers to this dilemma: punish Israelis in order to change the Palestinians. It's not a very good plan. 

If the Israeli-Palestinian dispute were a dispute over borders, it would have been settled long ago. The dispute never has been about borders, and it is not about borders now. The spread of Jewish settlements in the West Bank is not a cause of Palestinian rejectionism. It is a consequence of Palestinian rejectionism. It's tiresome to repeat the history. Peter knows it as well as I do. Has there been a moment since 1936 when a majority of Jewish opinion would have rejected a peace based on partition and mutual recognition by a Jewish and Arab state? Has there has been a moment since 1936 when the Palestinian political community would have accepted such a peace? 

The true pincer squeezing those who think in the way Beinart describes is the pincer that always pinches liberals who join movements led by illiberal radicals: it is the pinch of exploitation by people with clearer-eyed purposes. It's the old familiar trap of the popular front—a trap whose plot and outcome you'd expect by now to have become ominously familiar to everyone who calls himself or herself a liberal.