Don’t Be Greedy. There’s Enough Fault for Everyone.

Long ago and far away, when I was a college student in Santa Cruz, I wrote a paper on the reasons for the Palestinian exodus of 1948. Benny Morris hadn’t yet written his multiple studies of the subject. But buried in the UC Berkeley library’s vast stacks was plenty of material, including Rony Gabbay’s 1959 work “A Political Study of the Arab-Jewish Conflict: The Arab Refugee Problem,” which foreshadowed much of what Morris found, and which taught me to toss many myths, Arab and Israeli, on the ash-heap of history.

An friend who’d traded her high school liberalism for doctrinaire sophomore leftism asked to read my paper. She got upset that I had criticism of the Arabs as well as of the Jews. She told me my paper was racist.

I said, “J—ie, do you think you can write history so that one side is right and one side is wrong?”

She stood on the asphalt footpath through the Santa Cruz forest and looked at me in shock. “How else would you write it?” she said.

I don’t know where J—ie is today. I hope she’s happy, and that she hasn’t become a historian. Thanks to the internet and blog comments, though, I still hear echoes of her question. For instance, after MJ Rosenberg kindly quoted a recent post of mine, a commenter seized unhappily on a passing criticism I directed at the Palestinians:

In the article MJ references, Gorenberg says (italics mine):

“I don’t say this to relieve the Palestinians of responsibility for the corruption and infighting that culminated in the split between Fatah and Hamas, between the West Bank and Gaza. They’ve managed to achieve a failed state before independence.

Why is it that Jewish advocates for peace can’t refrain from making denigrating comments about Palestinians? It betrays a great deal of disrespect and is one reason the Palestinians don’t trust them.

I’d add that if the Palestinians have achieved a failed state, they probably couldn’t have done it without all the help they’ve had from the occupying power.

I don’t think I can be accused of ignoring the Israeli role in what has gone wrong on the way to a two-state solution. In the post, brief as it was, I mentioned settlement policy, and also referenced the American role in deepening the internal Palestinian split. But the commenter considered assigning any blame whatsoever to the Palestinians as politically incorrect.
This is simply silly. I have enough respect for the Palestinians to consider them moral agents. Blaming everyone else without mentioning them would deny them such agency. As I should have told J—ie, back when I was too surprised to answer her, there’s really enough fault to go around. No need to deny anyone their share.

16 thoughts on “Don’t Be Greedy. There’s Enough Fault for Everyone.”

  1. have you read ” the iron cage” by khalidi,
    and if so, what do you think of the book?
    i am reading the book now and i am not informed enough rate its accuracy.
    thank you.

  2. Yisrael, if Gershom is upset at being called a racist, please forgive him – his father instilled in him at an early age that racism is evil and “racist” is a dirty word. And when we were growing up there were plenty of racists around – in 1964 65% of the voters in California passed Proposition 14 to repeal the state’s Fair Housing Act (Prop. 14 was later overturned by the state Supreme Court). Confronting racism, in everything from national politics to the local Boy Scout troop, was part of growing up.

    (Yes, as a Jr. High School classmate I can confirm once again that Gershom was in a Los Angeles suburb during the 1967 war and did not Aliyah until later! 😉

  3. John, sarcasm, sardonic or otherwise, doesn’t come across well in print. It usually needs to be heard. I am also anti-racist but expecting anti-Zionists not to bandy about that term is a bit naive, no?

  4. “sarcasm, sardonic or otherwise, doesn’t come across well in print. It usually needs to be heard.”

    That’s the second time I read or hear this in a short time – the first was a TV host admonishing Josef Joffe (editor of the weekly Die Zeit) for a very obviously ironic comment – “irony doesn’t come across well on TV”, he said, and Joffe, who should know better, agreed – “it doesn’t come across well in print either”.
    What planet are they living on? Have Swift, Heine, Bierce, Twain, Tucholsky, and hundreds more written in vain? Does standup comedy simply not exist?

  5. “But the commenter considered assigning any blame whatsoever to the Palestinians as politically incorrect.”

    It’s actually a form of colonial racism—“little brown people” need to be protected from themselves, taken care of by more “advanced white people” who have the benefits of “modern civilization” and thus “little brown people” (like Palestinians) must be treated like, and protected like, small children by the Big White Daddy. It is endemic in certain segments of the Left–I ran into it all through high school and college, with white protesters telling us “girls” and the minorites what to do at demonstrations, because of course we needed their superior given wisdom as we were incapable of doing anything without them. I’ve run into the same attitude in Europe and California—Arabs (or Mexicans, or Senegalese, etc.) cannot be racist because racism is confined only to “white” people, and anything “brown” people do is not their moral responsibility but a reaction to white racism. Substitute Jewish for white (an irony in itself since we were never considered “white” until we were empowered enough to protect ourselves in our own state) and you have the origins of pediatric Palestinianism.

  6. Aliyah06-
    Couldn’t agree with you more! Israeli Leftists regard Arabs as being like retarded children, they must be indulged no matter what they do because “you can’t expect them to be better”. The biggest form of condescension (sp?) is saying “Arabs don’t really mean what they say”…e.g. Arafat and others insistence on the Palestinian “Right of Return” (‘”they don’t really mean it, they are using it merely as a bargaining chip”), or HAMAS saying explicitly they will never make peace with Israel (“once they have power they will be forced to become more pragmatic”-just like they said about Hitler). Another good one is encapsulated in Shimon Peres’ statement “land is not important, the spirit is what is important”. A professor who repeated this in the Makor Rishon newspaper was then asked “then wouldn’t we be doing the Palestinians a favor by NOT giving them a state…we will be showing them that they are better off by living by the sprit”?. The professor’s answer was essentially “you don’t understand, the Palestinians are primitive, they are supposed to be nationalists, we Jews are superior, we should be anti-nationalist”.

  7. YBD:

    I agree with you that anyone who argues that “Palestinians don’t really mean what they say” about (e.g) the “Right of Return” is being condescending – though it is not condescending to suggest that they really mean it, but might be persuaded to surrender or dilute it in the course of negotiations. (That view might well of course be deluded, but that’s another matter.)

    But it is not only – or indeed primarily – the “Left” who condescend to Palestinians by refusing to believe that they mean what they say. Palestinians at large consistently say that they support a two-state solution (as measured in opinion polls such as this one: http://www.geneva-accord.org/mainmenu/-june-2008-poll-vast-majority-of-palestinians-favor-two-state-solution-over-one-state-solution); this has been the official policy of Fatah since the Algiers Declaration of 1988, and has frequently been reaffirmed by the Fatah leadership. How often have you heard people say that these statements are not to be taken seriously, and that we should not believe that Palestinians mean what they say on this subject? Do you think that the people who refuse to take such Palestinian statements at face value are mainly on the “Right” or the “Left”?

  8. David-First HAMAS says they don’t accept it. They won the last Palestinian elections on that platform. Secondly, I don’t put much faith in Palestinian opinion polls, just like I don’t put much faith in Israeli opinion polls that are publicized in the media (as opposed to Steinmetz Peace Center polls which are more scientific and fair). Palestinian polls always show a “majority” for whatever the Palestinian Authority’s official position is. During the height of the terror war several years ago, majorities supported the terror and opposition to peace with Israel. Now, the official line has changed and so has the “majority” in the polls. Who pays for these polls? Where are they publicized?
    In any event , even when they say they support a “2-state solution”, they also show gigantic majorities for full implementation of the Palestinian “right of return” which pretty much renders any realistic peace agreement impossible.
    The Palestinian Authority, even when saying the “recognize” Israel or conduct negotiations with them, makes it VERY clear to their people that they have no intention of living in peace with Israel, they never talk about peace, they keep their population mobilized for endless struggle. Peace is more than just having the leader of the Palestinians making statements in English to Western diplomats and journalists claiming they also want “peace”.

  9. YBD:

    I think you’ve made my point. Nothing I’ve ever read from the “Left” condescends to Palestinians one tenth as much as you have here or fails to take their repeated and explicit statements seriously one tenth as much as you have here. It’s pretty clear that you only take Palestinian statements at face value when they support a thesis of Palestinian hostility; for the rest you feel entitled to reject everything they say. As I said, the problem of condescension to the Palestinians comes from the “Right”, not the “Left”, as you amply demonstrate here.

    I agree with you that there is an inconsistency between the Palestinian desire for a two-state solution and their support for the “Right of Return”. This does not show that they do not really support a two-state solution; it shows that people are sometimes inconsistent. There is a similar inconsistency on the Israeli side found in anyone who (a) wants Israel to be a Jewish state, (b) wants Israel to be a democratic state, and (c) refuses to give up the bulk of the West Bank. Such people’s views are laughably inconsistent (far more blatantly so, indeed, than the Palestinian inconsistency on the “right of return”); but it does not demonstrate that any of (a), (b), or (c) are not sincerely held. It does however mean that any solution to the problem will have to involve both sides being forced to confront the real implications of their positions and to make some hard choices between them.

  10. David-
    What I hear from “progressives” are warlike, hostile statements about Israel and their refusal to ever make real peace with it, made to their own populations, in Arabic are NOT their true position, their “real” views are expressed in English to Western reporters and diplomats. This is ridiculous. They live with their OWN people. For many years, “progressives” said “these hostile statements made about Israeli are merely meant for internal consumption”. In other words, the assumption is just as Israeli leaders lie to their own people, so do Arabs. BUT THIS IS NOT TRUE. Arafat was very consistent over the years in what he told his people…he told them over and over that they were in a war to the death with Zionism and Israel, but he would make tactical agreements statements towards Israelis and other Westerners in order to weaken their resolve, just like Muhammed did with the Quraish in Mecca. Arafat was very clean in his internal propaganda to the Palestinians, after he was brought in by Rabin and Peres that they were waiting for the right time to strike. Faisal Hussein called it “the Trojan Horse” scheme. In 2000 Arafat felt the time was right and he launched the suicide bomber war, as he had always promised. He kept his word to his people and he “broke his word” to Israel. Big surprise. Only the very naive could have ever believed him. Same with Abbas, although he is weaker.

    Over and over, “progressives” keep projecting their own values on the Palestinians…they claim to know what is “best” for them…they say “if I were a Palestinian, I would make peace with Israel”. This is arrogance of the highest order. It is time to look at the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab/Muslim world. If they truly want peace, we will meet them more than half way, but we will not fall prey to their tricks, as tragically so many Israeli governments have in the past.

  11. Oops, I meant, at the beginning that “what I hear from ‘progressives’ all the time is the hostile statements by ARABS about Israel….etc”

  12. YBD:

    You are evading the point. I don’t know (or frankly care) who these “progressives” are who say that “Arafat’s statements to his own people are not to be taken seriously”. (My suspicion is that this, like much else in your post, is largely a caricature of your own devising, but my point would stand equally even were that not the case.) What I am saying is that EVERYTHING the Palestinian leadership says is to be taken seriously, and doubly so the repeatedly expressed opinions of the Palestinians at large. It is you – and, in this thread, ONLY you – who are trying to find reasons to exclude from consideration large portions of the repeatedly and explicitly stated positions of the Palestinian leadership and population.

    Remember how this started. You said (and I quote) “the biggest form of condescension (sp?) is saying “Arabs don’t really mean what they say””. There is only one person in this thread engaging in that form of condescension. You.

  13. David-
    HAMAS says they will never recognize Israel or make peace. FATAH says they insist on implementation of the Palestinian Right of Return. Do they mean it or not?

  14. YBD:
    Yes, they pretty certainly mean it. Their minds may of course change in the future, but for now they mean it.

    Now my question for you – and please answer my question as straightforwardly as I have answered yours. Fatah has consistently (since 1988) said that it supports the right of Israel to exist within the Green Line. Fatah has consistently (since 1988) said that they want a two-state solution, with a Palestinian state on the West Bank and a Jewish state within the Green line. These positions are substantially endorsed by the majority of the Palestinian population at large. Do they mean it or not?

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