Monday, February 15, 2010

The Palestinian Position Requires the Demonization of Israel

In my exchanges with Off the Derech, I have been arguing for the importance of maintaining the sensibility as much as possible that other people may hold different beliefs, these beliefs may be wrong, even manifestly so, but that this does not take away from the legitimacy of the person advocating these beliefs. While I am perfectly willing to defend the right of Palestinians to oppose the State of Israel and even to peacefully protest Israeli speakers, by attempting to disrupt Michael Oren's speech at the UC of Irvine, they had crossed a line to denying the social right to hold pro-Israel views. Thus these students demonstrated an unwillingness to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate opposing views. This makes them a radical threat not just to Israel but to the free society as a whole.

I just came across a good example of this in an Al-Jezeerah op-ed by Khalid Amayreh titled "Michael Oren: Sorry, But You Represent a Nazi State." Amayreh defends the actions the UC of Irvine students and encourages his readers to engage in similar actions by arguing that Ambassador Oren is a war criminal not entitled to free speech, but only a war crimes trial. I am not interested here in the back and forth as to whether these charges are true. What I will point out is the implications of this war criminal line of defense. Amayreh's position takes it as a given that not only is Israel a Nazi State and Ambassador Oren a war criminal, but that there can be no possible legitimate contrary opinion. (Notice that I am not throwing a similar charge back by denying that reasonable can believe that Israel is a criminal State.) There are consequences to such a belief. It shuts down the possibility of any peaceful exchange of ideas and the chance that people on different sides of this issue can agree to disagree and live in peace, thus creating a state of societal war, which will likely turn into physical war.

One can support Israel and not automatically be tied to demonizing the Palestinian cause. I support a two-state solution (either with Jordan or the West Bank and Gaza as a Palestinian State). I actually care about Palestinian rights. They deserve to be compensated by the State of Israel and the Arab States that forced them into refugee camps. They should be made citizens of the countries in which they reside. More importantly, Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims are invited to take part in this dialogue as equal partners. I may disagree with them, but I am willing to accept the legitimacy of their viewpoints.

The Palestinian side, as it is argued even by "moderates," requires the demonization of Israel. If Israel had the right to exist in 1948 then the Arab States were in the wrong for fighting the '48 war and bear primary responsibility for the Palestinian refugee problem. If Israel had the right to fight the Six Day War then they gain at least some legitimacy for being in the West Bank and Gaza. Israel would no longer be an aggressive occupying power and would have the right to negotiate their exit from all or part of the territories as moral equals. This would undermine any legitimacy for armed insurrection against Israel. This would leave the Palestinians as a criminal and terrorist cause. As a non-State, they have no inherent legitimacy to be engaging in violence in the first place. States can go to war while admitting that the other side has some legitimacy. For the Palestinians, either Israelis are Nazis or the Palestinians must confess to being terrorists and throw away their own legitimacy.  

Thus the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world do not have the option of engaging in a discussion of equals that allows for the legitimacy of both sides. Their cause has been built from the beginning on an exclusivist claim to being right. To surrender on that now would be to admit wrong and moral responsibility. They would have to come before the world, admit their crimes and beg for mercy.  

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