The views surrounding Israel’s violent return to Lebanon are as variable as the civilian death toll, which now rivals that of the recent Indonesian tsunami — with a wildly lopsided burden on the Lebanese side, of course. Indeed, history holds no punches when repeating itself, particularly when it is dictated by the same actors, human or nature. Just as Indonesia’s victims could have benefited from an early warning system, so too could the victims of this conflict, on either side of the Lebanese border.
The difference, however, is that no one advocates for the continuation of the tsunami disaster. Condoleezza Rice has not called for a cessation of Indonesian humanitarian efforts in hopes that another surge will finish things off. Hillary Clinton is not standing before throngs of xenophobic Australian-Americans, vowing to stop illegal Southeast Asian immigrants.
More explicitly in Israel, the right-wing YnetNews.com ran an opinion piece that read: “Studies of conflicts in Africa have shown that even when a government adopted a policy of genocide against a minority, other armed groups continued to fight the army.” The gist of the article, by Dov Tamari, was that Israel needed to apply more force than it is already using. These sentiments were echoed yesterday by the US ambassador to the United Nations, who said, “no one has explained how you conduct the cease-fire with a group of terrorists.” But Tamari’s quote, taken in the context of his article, implied that groups like Hezbollah and Hamas were in the “other armed groups” category. In doing so Tamari missed, or perhaps was completely conscious of the reverse implication — that Israel is the genocidaire — and found nothing wrong with it.
Crass this inference may be, but it would not be the first of its kind voiced by Israeli pundits or leaders. During Israel’s original misadventure in Lebanon, Raphael Eitan, Chief of Staff of the so called Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), told the New York Times, “When we have settled the land, all the Arabs will be able to do about it will be to scurry around like drugged cockroaches in a bottle.” This statement, frighteningly reminiscent of Rwanda’s Interahamwe advocates, dovetails on previous, more belligerent and careless affirmations, like Prime Minister Golda Maeir’s assertion that Palestinians do not exist (1969), or that of Chairman Heilbrun of the Committee for the Re-election of Tel Aviv Mayor Shlomo Lahat, who said in 1983, “We have to kill all the Palestinians unless they are resigned to live here as slaves.”
These words, however indicting, crude or inhumane, do not necessarily warrant the most concern. Like similar such quotes from some Hezbollah extremists, they hail from a realm of intellectual poverty, hatred and from the most unimaginative strain of racism. What is more concerning are those who purport to represent a liberal pacifist left, but who exploit catastrophes to advance subtle agendas; those who recoil at the words of Likud party hawks, then meet them for lunch an hour later.
If the name Yossi Beilin comes to mind, then read no further.
If not, know that at the outset of the current invasion of Lebanon, former Israeli minister Beilin, hailed by the New York-based Forward as “Israel’s consistently most thoughtful and inadequately appreciated, political leader,” authored a commentary in Ha’aretz that bemoaned “the weakness of the American partner” in “moving things in the area”. The article was passed enthusiastically around liberal US policy circles, presumably because it criticized George W. Bush’s administration, and overtly because Beilin pleaded for an end to the crisis.
Calling for a cessation of violence is noble, and it plucks the chords of liberal benevolence in much the way that “spreading freedom and democracy” sugar coats neoconservative campaigns in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. Onward march these ideologues, leaving their tackle boxes behind.
A closer look at Beilin’s journalistic analysis and personal track record invokes doubt in those who are more self-aware. The first flag-raising issue is Beilin’s litany of past instances when the United States intervened in regional affairs. A striking pattern is readily apparent: Each of Beilin’s examples marks a chapter in which Israel secured and expanded its colonial advancements in the Middle East, which, since the dawn of Zionism, has been the root of Arab-Israeli conflicts — present one included.
In his recent article, Beilin waxes nostalgic on the 1973 Yom Kippur War, in which Henry Kissinger — hardly distinguished among Western liberals and a war criminal by legal standards — airlifted military hardware to help Israel defend its colonial settlements in the Golan Heights and Sinai, which it illegally occupied in 1967. He then wistfully recalls the 1978 Camp David accords, in which President Jimmy Carter catered to Israeli demands to maintain and expand settlements, and sign away the “legitimate rights” of Palestinians, who were never invited to these talks in the first place. (A highlight of the Camp David events was when Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin objected to “a strange and unknown flag” upon seeing that his Egyptian hosts had included a Palestinian flag among the multi-national décor.)
Beilin then praises President Ronald Reagan’s contribution to the July 1981 ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), in which US envoy Philip Habib was sent to serve Israel’s interests peacefully: expelling the PLO leadership from Lebanon. Earlier that month, Israel had leveled an entire neighborhood in Beirut, and the United States only intervened because it was “[a]ppalled at the indiscriminate loss of life,” to borrow the words of former US undersecretary George Ball. In other words, Israel was not keeping the agenda palatable enough. The success of that intervention was apparent one year later, when Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon oversaw the massacre of thousands in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. (Beilin’s article doesn’t talk about the massacres, but it mentions, in parentheses, the Begin-Sharon decision to launch the “Lebanon War”.)
Our pundit then moves to the Madrid conference of 1991, where, in an effort to appease Arab countries over the invasion of Iraq, Bush Sr. decided to do something about Palestinians. But in Camp David fashion, the PLO was not invited to this one. This came at the behest of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who would later announce that his strategy was to drag out negotiations for ten years so that the annexation of the West Bank would be an accomplished fact.
And accomplished it nearly was, thanks to the Oslo Accords, which are the next reference in Beilin’s commentary. Under these terms, Palestinians were given the indefinite promise of an undetermined “final status” in exchange for Israel’s green light to expand its colonial settlements more quickly than it had at any other time in history. A snapshot: In 1997, the hawkish Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu authorized the construction of 1,160 illegal housing units, while the “liberal” Prime Minister Ehud Barak endorsed another 1,924 units — it’s little wonder why the second Intifada broke out.
This brings to mind another matter that Beilin’s article does not mention. In late January 1997, Netanyahu’s plan to cede as little land as possible to the Palestinians was given a further boost with the publication of the “National Agreement Regarding the Negotiations on the Permanent Settlement with the Palestinians”, which Beilin co-authored. In short, the document called for a return to the Allon Plan of 1967, which proposed the annexation of some 40 percent of the West Bank and half the Gaza Strip. The framework also awarded extensive protections to Israel’s colonial settlers in Palestinian territory.
The above examples require perhaps too deep a reading for the casual observer of Israeli affairs. But this is not to suggest that one has to read that deeply. Earlier this year, Israel’s Meretz party ran under the slogan, “I don’t have an Arab mother”, which was advertised as a quote from the party’s chairman, Yossi Beilin.
Still, Beilin finds ways to reach his liberal American audience. Last Sunday, his advisor, Yonatan Toval, emailed US listserves, saying, “We thought you might be interested in reading a piece which Yossi published last week in the Israeli daily Ha’aretz on the unfortunate absence of the U.S. in the current conflict.”
Contraire, Mr. Toval, you have America’s backing in spades. It’s unfortunate they have to make such an eyesore of it.
Zachary Wales is a regular contributor to Electronic Intifada.