Responding to Peter Beinart’s recent article on The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment to speak the truth about what’s happening in and to Israel, David Frum writes that “if there’s one thing that defines liberal thinking about the Middle East, it is precisely that it denies that Palestinian actions matter at all — or even that there are such things as Palestinian actions.”
Only Israel acts, and anything bad that happens in the region is a response to an Israeli action.
That does not seem a very sophisticated way to think. And actually when you consider it, it’s not very complimentary to the Palestinians or the larger Arab world. In this version of events, Palestinians and Arabs are never makers of their own story, only passive objects of other people’s stories.
I know a lot of liberals, many of whom are deeply involved in Middle East issues, and I can’t think of one of them who actually believes this. You’ll also notice that Frum cleverly didn’t quote any.
So, via Twitter, I challenged him to name one. Frum responded: “All those who think the way to fix the region is to pressure Israel. It’s the only logical premise for otherwise illogical policy.” Because, he continued, “If Palestinian intransigence is the problem, after all, it makes little sense to snub Netanyahu.”
I responded that it was important to hold both sides to their previous commitments, whereas Frum seems only interested in holding the Palestinians to their commitments, while the Israelis should be spared any “pressure.” Frum responded: “Nobody would think of pressing Bibi if they didn’t first believe that doing so would accomplish something…So don’t tell me ‘nobody believes’ what your own words tell me that YOU believe!”
So, as best I can figure it (and granted, this happened on Twitter, so I invite Frum to correct me if I’m stating his view incorrectly), by believing that the U.S. should hold both Israelis and Palestinians to their previous commitments, I have subscribed to the idea that “Only Israel acts, and anything bad that happens in the region is a response to an Israeli action.” Frankly, this does not seem like a very sophisticated way to think, even for Twitter.
Of course, believing that “Palestinian intransigence” is entirely to blame for the continuing conflict is not a particularly sophisticated way to think either, but this represents a major tenet of the neoconservative faith when it comes to the Middle East: Israel keeps trying to make peace, the Palestinians keep refusing. The Israeli settlements and the continuing occupation are either “trivial,” in the case of the former, or simply wished out of existence, in the case of the latter.
This comfortingly simplistic (and demonstrably false) perception of the conflict is, I think, what leads Frum to his flawed assumption that those who support pressuring Netanyahu to honor Israel’s road map obligations to freeze settlements do so out of a belief that Israeli behavior alone holds the key to Middle East peace. Because this is the mirror image of what he believes about the Palestinians.