When motive not fact becomes the basis for discourse

People complain a lot these days about the divisions in our society. Some put stickers on their car bumpers in favor of civility and say the world needs more love in the face of terrorist attacks and political infighting.

What’s odd, however, is how so many of those who preach compassion refuse to debate the merits of an issue and dismiss others on the basis of their motives.

Take for example, President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Accords. Rather than respond to his stated rationale, which was that the agreement was damaging to the U.S. economy without doing very much to improve the environment, people attributed his decision to his being a “climate denier.” In other words, they say we shouldn’t look at what Trump said about his decision, but conclude his remarks are a cover for his true motives.

This is not an isolated instance, but represents a pattern by people on the Left when they don’t like something someone who is a Republican, or worse a conservative, does or says. By labeling their opponents greedy, bigoted, misogynist, or racist, critics don’t have to deal with their opponents’ actual positions or behaviors.

The same tactic is used against those who defend the existence of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria (also known as the West Bank). Critics call those who defend the so-called settlements “colonialists” who engage in apartheid, but in doing so they refuse to take into account why they exist in those locations––their origins and history. To some, a Zionist––someone who supports the existence of a Jewish state in the land where Judaism was born––is a racist, end of story.

Attacking someone’s views by claiming their motives are impure is an attempt to avoid having to deal with the fact that all individuals are imperfect and that people can change. Those on the Left can’t accept the possibility that while Mr. Trump has faults, he might be giving us his honest beliefs about something like Paris. Isn’t dismissing his or anyone else’s every statement itself a form of bigotry?

A perfect example was the media’s attacking Trump for bumping into an official from Montenegro in Geneva. It was cited as evidence of his boorishness, when calmer reflection suggests it was the kind of incident that has probably happened to many of us in certain social situations. Attribution of motive replaced rational explanation.

The unwillingness of people to take others at their word suggests a defensiveness about their own positions. For example, why won’t those who support Paris respond to Mr. Trump’s assertion that the agreement would accomplish little at such a great cost? Could Mr. Trump be correct in claiming a better agreement is possible––i.e., one that would do more to reduce pollution without blackmailing the U.S. to pay for others to clean up their problems? His critics can avoid such a discussion by doubting his motive, which protects them from having to defend their own logic and their facts.

With regard to the Jewish communities in the West Bank, their existence only represents an impediment to peace if one ignores the fact that no Palestinian leader has been willing to concede the existence of a Jewish state where Israel currently exists much less one that includes traditional Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. The Palestinians won’t accept any boundaries that thwart their demographic majority. Instead they rely on the fact that they can create millions of Palestinians at a moment’s notice by recruiting residents of five or six Arab countries to overwhelm the Jewish population, create an Islamic caliphate, and kick any Jews who won’t convert into the sea. To object to such a scenario is not up for discussion if opponents can be dismissed for having “colonialist, racist” motives.

That so many people who know better––academics, journalists, and elected officials––engage in motive blaming or fail to challenge it, suggests our culture is infected with a form of ideological insanity. What people who claim to want peace and to save the planet really want is for those who hold views antagonistic to their own to give up their positions and go away. They need to believe in the purity of their own motives and therefore assume that when one is pure of motive the facts are on your side. It’s time to give up motive blaming and go back to traditional rules for resolving differences––focusing on evidence and demonstrable fact.

 

What is needed to end the Arab-Israeli conflict?

The Albany Times Union published this column under the title “Destroying Israel not the answer” on Tuesday, July 17, 2015. Unfortunately, non-subscribers cannot access it online which is why I’m posting it under my original title.

For decades, the most talked about plan to resolve the conflict between Jews and Arabs has been to divide them into separate enclaves–-a two-state solution. Israel has repeatedly agreed to try that approach: they accepted the United Nations’ partition formula of 1947 as well as terms offered in 1993 at Oslo and at Camp David in 2000. On each of these as well as other occasions the Arabs walked away.

Since the Arab world seemingly has no interest in any “solution” whereby Israel continues to exist, why does this concept continue to be pushed–-in particular by U.S. presidents?

To understand why the two-state solution portends more harm than good requires a quick history of the territories called the West Bank by the Arabs and Samaria and Judea by the Israelis.

On May 15, 1948, when David Ben-Gurion proclaimed the birth of the state of Israel, there were 650,000 Jews living throughout Palestine, including in Samaria and Judea. On that day five Arab states attacked with a goal of crushing the new state, but Israel was ready and the attacks were repulsed.

Before the fighting stopped, thousands of Jews were driven from their homes and more than 1,300 civilians and soldiers were killed. Pressured to accept armistice boundaries, Samaria and Judea (the West Bank) fell into Jordan’s hands. Then, in June1967, as Arab armies amassed on its border, Israel struck preemptively and drove the Jordanian army out of Samaria, Judea, and sections of Jerusalem that had been held by Jordan since 1949. At that moment in time, when Israel could have incorporated Judea and Samaria into sovereign Israel, it was pressured into accepting terms that made those territories neither fish nor fowl, a result which has cost thousands of deaths and wasted billions.

Creating a Palestinian state on the West Bank of the Jordan River would result in 650,000 Jews being displaced en masse because although Arabs can live in Israel as full-fledged citizens, Jews live in Arab countries at their peril.

The 1994 agreement that ceded government functions for the West Bank Arab population to Yasser Arafat made matters worse. Arafat used this base from to carry out terrorist attacks while claiming Israel occupied their homeland. Nothing could be less true.

The Palestinian Authority suppresses dissent and launched a campaign of terror in 2000 that resulted in hundreds killed; it pretends to be more moderate than its rival Hamas, but rewards terrorists with money and names streets after “martyrs.”

The only viable solution is for Israel to incorporate Judea and Samaria into Israel. Much of the international community will object, and some Palestinians will revolt, but Israel can stand up to those problems.

The most critical factor determining whether this solution can succeed is support from the United States. Some critics argue that Israel has failed at the bargaining table to show that it appreciates the support it has received from the U.S. over the years.

That U.S. has aided Israel in many ways over the years is very true, but Israel has acted in our interest as well. Israel’s defeat of Jordan, Syria, and Egypt in 1967 was a defeat for the Soviet Union, which had sought to add the Arab League states to its sphere of influence. Taking out Iraq and Syria’s nascent nuclear reactors prevented both rogue nations from joining the nuclear club.

Today, Russia once again has ambitions in the region while ISIS and the disintegration of Iraq and Syria bode ill. Israel stands as a beacon of stability in a region where state lines have become meaningless and governments can change overnight. Israel is also a model of development and democracy, showing the Arab street how they could live if they give up jihad.

There is a path to peace in the Middle East, but it is not dividing Israel in half. Palestinian nationalism needs an outlet that doesn’t involve the destruction of Israel, but that’s not Israel’s problem to solve. American policy makers can address that problem down the road. Defeating ISIS, eliminating the threat of a nuclear Iran, and assuring a secure future for Israel could set the stage for that issue to be addressed.

The Israeli Solution: A Review (Part Two)

The Israeli Solution: A One-State Plan for Peace in the Middle East by Caroline Glick (Crown Forum, 2014)

In Part One of my review of Caroline Glick’s The Israeli Solution, I describe her rationale for rejecting the two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict that has been a leading policy objective of presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama.

Glick argues that advocates of that “solution” incorrectly claim that giving the Palestinians their own state will reduce violence in the region. Events, including the escalating Sunni-Shi’a conflict, the rise of ISIS, the dissolution of Syria, and Iran’s nuclear ambitions, should put that thesis to bed.

Under Barack Obama, the U.S. has increased pressure on Israel to accept a two-state solution. In his “New Beginning” speech in Cairo in June 2009, Obama described the lack of a Palestinian state as ‘intolerable,’ and equated the Palestinian’s aspirations for statehood with those of the Jewish people.

Notwithstanding the fact that the Palestinians as a distinct national group is a recent construct, the main reason the two-state solution won’t succeed Glick argues is that it has never been the goal of the PLO or its successors to live side by side a Jewish state.

Evidence that their demanding a state of their own has functioned mainly as a component of their strategy to attack Israel in the international arena is the fact that they have walked away from the table each time Israel has accepted terms that would have led to a Palestinian state. Their true objective from the beginning to today has been the destruction of the Jewish state as the so-called moderate Mahmoud Abbas made clear as recently as the 2013 anniversary of the founding of the PLO.

The One-State Alternative

Caroline Glick’s alternative solution is to incorporate Samaria, Judea, and Arab Jerusalem into the state of Israel. Israel’s legal claim to those territories stems from a 1922 resolution the League of Nations that defined the British Mandate as extending to the Jordan River. That boundary remains in force Glick argues based on United Nations Resolution 242 that stipulates all states have the “right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries.”

Recognizing that her solution will face fierce opposition, Glick examines each of the potential opponents and finds them wanting in terms of their ability to prevent Israel from formally declaring those regions part of the state of Israel. None of the Arab League nations are likely to go to war over the issue, Europe is already engaged in supporting the Palestinian Authority and Hamas in myriad ways, but Israel could tolerate more boycotts and other likely interference. The key to the one-state solution is the United States must support it.

Glick makes a case that Israel’s staking its claim to the disputed territories would be in the best strategic interest of the United States. For one, Israel represents a counter-balance to Iranian and Russian ambitions in the region. In addition, Israel represents the only country in the region whose society is also modeled on the rule of law and democratic rights. The connection is one of people-to-people, while the U.S. relationship to other countries is largely regime-to-regime.

The Price for U.S. Backing

The price the U.S. would pay for backing a one-state solution would be more noise than substance. If U.S. stopped giving Palestinian and Arab leaders hope that it would appease them on the Palestine issue, we could deal with them more honestly on the conflicts I cited above. In terms of aid, it would eliminate the millions of U.S. tax dollars being used to prop up the Palestinian Authority.

Questions have been raised as to whether Israel would want to add the approximately 1.6 million Arabs currently living in the disputed territories to its population. Glick answers these concerns to my satisfaction, including the claim that the Arab population would eventually outnumber the Jewish population and win the war by having more babies than the Jews. She disputes Arab census and birthrate data and while she doesn’t discount the likelihood that there would be considerable problems, she argues the alternatives––continuation of the status quo, or giving Israel’s enemies a free hand to attack at will––are worse.

There is a model for what would happen were Israel to shut down the Palestinian Authority and declare the disputed territories formally part of Israel. That model is the Golan Heights where many Druze who once vowed to resist Israeli rule today apply for Israeli citizenship.

Over time the Arabs living in Judea and Samaria would see improvements in their living standards and economic well-being. They would learn to appreciate, as Arab Israelis have come to appreciate, the benefits of living in a society based on equal treatment under the rule of law––as opposed to arbitrary treatment where laws are made up on the fly––and where one can accomplish legitimate goals without resorting to arms.

Those Arabs who would not want to live in Israel would be able to move to Gaza, which would not become part of Israel, or elsewhere. Then, freed from having to focus on creating a Palestinian state in Israel, the U.S. could pressure Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the other Arab states to offer the Palestinians citizenship so they could move out of the refugee camps. The world also needs to free the Palestinian people from the autocratic rule of Hamas, the PLO, and other terrorist groups. Palestinian nationalism should not be ignored, but it needs to find a home of its own and not look to what belongs by history and by international law to Israel and the Jewish people.