Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Israel Question (JM)

Obama today came out with some fairly strong rhetoric on the question of Israel. As quoted in the Jerusalem Post, via Matthew Yglesias, he had the following to say:

"I think there is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt an unwavering pro-Likud ap-proach to Israel, then you're anti-Israel, and that can't be the measure of our friendship with Israel," leading Democratic presidential contender Illinois Senator Barack Obama said Sunday.

"If we cannot have an honest dialogue about how do we achieve these goals, then we're not going to make progress," he said.

He also criticized the notion that anyone who asks tough questions about advancing the peace process or tries to secure Israel by anyway other than "just crushing the opposition" is being "soft or anti-Israel."

It's always difficult parsing out the almost coded language in which people tend to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Let's get a couple of things out of the way. This writer is of the belief that there absolutely ought to be a Palestinian homeland. There ought to be an attempt to establish a framework for peace involving not just these two groups, but the many surrounding nations as well. However, there also must be cessation of violence. The old phrase, "a good compromise leaves everyone angry" really applies well here. The problem is, that this anger often leads to violence, leaving it an open question of how compromise can ever be achieved.

So returning to the question of Obama's rhetoric, I largely have no problem with what he is trying to say. I don't think you have to agree with a "crush the opposition" approach to be a friend to Israel. What you do need to agree with is that such an approach exists on both sides. On both sides, there are factions that would will the other out of existence. My constant fear about the neo-Israel rhetoric is that often times it simply wants to lay the blame at Israel's door. Is Israel perfect? Of course not. But imagine trying to run a functioning democracy surrounded by several nations that simply want to wipe you off the face of the earth.

Now, since this came from the Jerusalem Post I am not certain what words of praise and mitigation also came from Obama. However, if he really wants to change the game plan in the Middle East simply blaming Israel isn't going to do it. In fact, getting out in front of this issue really means leaving behind blame and leaving behind responsibility. Obama should live up to his rhetoric of looking in to the future instead of the past and set aside this sort of sound and fury signifying nothing.

This is an intractable problem, but the blame game doesn't make it any better. In fact, marginalizing the hardliners on either side is simply going to bolster their attitudes. Some of the best compromises in Israel have come from some of its most hawkish leaders. Entwined in the pasts of both Israel and Palestine is history, emotion and nationalism. Looking to that past is not going to get us anywhere, rhetorical turns will also fall upon the rocks. Simply, forward-thinking pragmatism is the only chance we have, and that means not liminalizing either party in this negotiation.

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