Nicolas Kristof, the venerable New York Times columnist and champion of foreign policy liberalism, wrote a pretty middling article a couple of days ago, called “Is Israel its Own Worst Enemy?” Kristof has a sort of Groundhog Day dynamic with the Palestine-Israel conflict; every once in a while, he wakes up and rattles off an anguished column, mourning the radicals on both sides that make “peace” impossible.
Despite the headline, Kristof first lays blame for the current status of the conflict at the feet of Palestinians, erasing about five decades of Israeli occupation, expropriations, imprisonment, invasions and etcetera before getting down to the business of how Israel is hurting itself. How is Israel hurting itself? Its current course of continued settlement construction will ensure democracy, rather than a “peace agreement”. I’m not being unfair to Kristof. This is what he says:
If a peace deal is not forthcoming soon, and if Israel continues its occupation, then Israel should give the vote in Israeli elections to all Palestinians in the areas it controls. If Jews in the West Bank can vote, then Palestinians there should be able to as well.
Perverse two-state logic drives relatively intelligent people like Kristof to offer such commentary on a regular basis. Democracy is not something that should be pursued for its own sake, but rather only if a two-state solution that enshrines all the worst aspects of occupation in law can’t be made to materialize. As absurd as it sounds, Kristof sees democracy as Israel’s punishment if it fails to route Palestinian efforts into a fake state of Palestinian Authority Bantustans.
Despite the insane discourse on democracy, Kristof still makes some valid criticisms of Israel, especially concerning the frantic colonization of the West Bank. Of course, since that’s the case, he also apologizes in advance to supporters of Israel by calling Israel “a friend” of the US and in a somewhat cowardly turn, predicting “a torrent of angry responses.”
I can hardly blame Kristof for the apologies, though. Despite the fact that his argument parallels quite accurately the bipartisan state department consensus on the peace process for Palestinians and Israelis, and is even a reiteration of recent remarks made by the US president, Kristof was immediately attacked for his bland admonishments by a dishonest cast of the usual suspects.
“An enemy of Israel”
Former New York Mayor Ed Koch concluded that it was Kristof that was “truly an enemy of Israel”, and recycled a boring litany of attacks for daring to imply that Israel should follow through with its commitments to a Palestinian state. The only novelty is the absurd and ironic Nazi term “Judenrein” for the West Bank—the only territory in the world that bans Jews, according to the newest Israeli propaganda guide.
Commentary compared Kristof to Thomas Friedman. The insult wasn’t that Kristof is an ignorant sophist; rather, its that both Kristof and Friedman oppose illegal settlement construction because it will prevent the emergence of the Palestinian state envisioned in Oslo.
CAMERA, the all seeing eye of Israeli propaganda and disinformation, has been attacking the liberal mainstream pundit for years for much the same reason, accusing him of undermining Israel for pointing out that militarism and colonization imperil the two-state solution that Israel agreed to. Martin Peretz at The New Repulic had perhaps the most arduous commentary on Kristof’s piece, forcing the reader to sit through a tedious history lesson and plea for tribalism, so long as it is Jewish. Peretz chides Kristof’s piece as a presumptuous lecture to the blameless Netanyahu and American Jewish supporters of Israel.
Attacks aimed at making writers think twice before criticizing Israel
This is what happens to individuals and organizations that dare promote the global consensus of the two-state solution for Palestine and Israel. J Street the advocacy organization that lobbies Washington to actually implement the two-state solution that Washington committed itself to twenty years ago, has been pilloried from its inception by these and other outlets, and by various legislators. There’s the famous case of Tony Kushner, who was blacklisted for an honorary degree at CUNY because of his views on the two-state solution. Algemeiner hosted a dishonest smear from Kushner’s nemesis on CUNY’s board, Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, headlined “Tony Kushner, an Extremist, Can’t Represnt CUNY’s Board.” CAMERA jumped in, of course. Commentary stomped enthusiastically, further punishing Kushner by reviling his theater work in perhaps the most biased theater review of all time.
Kristof and others represent the liberal end of the spectrum on Palestine and Israel—they are no more pro-Palestinian or anti-Israel than Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is. The attacks on those espousing the mainstream view of the conflict continue, because this strategy is effective in making writers and advocates think twice before criticizing Israel’s intransigence. As I noted, Kristof’s odd apology and his effort to always create a sense of false power balance are sad responses to those attacks.
In Kristof’s column, you find two separate instances of this. In case you missed it in the introduction, you can be reminded in the body how Palestinians have contributed to their own occupation. Of course, Palestinians warrant no apologies. As Kristof notes, everyone knows that Palestinian men are too “hotheaded” to lead his conception of a non-violent movement—that’s why it must be led by woman and notably labeled as Gandhian and MLK-esque, not cast in indigenous terms. A non-violent movement would have to be cleansed of whatever Israelis and Americans find disconcerting at any given time. As we all know, the standard empty rhetoric about Palestinian rights and humanity is merely a nod to political correctness that belongs in speeches and preambles about Middle East peace only but with no policy parallel.
Exaggerated attacks push discourse further to the right
Granted, the two state solution, and the series of processes named for nice cities to visit in Europe that facilitates it, are abject failure. Of course to most objective observers at this very late date, its been revealed that the process may have never had anything more as goal than to allow Israel time to create the master-colonial mode for its final boundaries, and the Bantustan state they’d leave behind as “Palestine”.
But the most insidious effect of these exaggerated attacks on the mildest criticisms of Israel within the rubric of the two state solution, is to move the frame of potential public discussion further and further to the right, where even the centermost view is seen as dangerous radicalism. Kristof has learned his lesson as I noted. Despite being exonerated, Kushner also walked back some of his previous remarks, and publicly trashed the BDS movement. And J Street’s numerous retreats are now well known. The list goes on. Invariably, the most basic ideas must be defended constantly: that Palestinians deserve self-governance; that to back such a belief isn’t anti-semitic; that Israel’s claim to be the state of the Jewish people AND a democracy can’t be reconciled; that the occupation never abated, and that there is no state in either Gaza or the West Bank, nor much chance of one due to the indelible effects of five decades of colonialism.
These must first be defended tooth and nail to even get to the point where one can criticize the myriad things wrong with the two state solution and “peace” processes. This is one reason why a one-state solution has remained for so long the stuff of fairy tales for “serious” commenters, analysts and policymakers of the conflict. It is tough enough just getting the most blatantly unfair solution for Palestinians accepted as anything but the work of Jew-hating subversives.
A logical solution that would relieve Israel of its apartheid burden, and finally bring democracy to historical Palestine while observing international law, really can be made to seem like it could only be the unthinkable and catastrophic alternative to the two state solution.