Debate Lesson: Challenge the Assumptions

How an argument is framed often puts opponents on the defensive. When Barack Obama, for example, says the only alternative to his agreement with Iran is war, his goal is to back his opponents into a corner. Anyone who accepts war as the only alternative to his deal is stuck since no one wants war. A similar tactic is used by those who say you are a racist if you support Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians. Let’s examine that argument more closely.

The racist argument assumes as fact the notion that Israel is “white” and that the Palestinians are a “people of color.” That concept is simply false. There are Jews in Israel who came from Africa, which should give Israel greater claim to being a “people of color” than the Arab Palestinians, but the underlying difference separating Israel and the Palestinians is religion, not race.

If those who say Israel’s existence is racist want to claim Arabs as a “people of color,” the proper response is to challenge the definition of that concept. Is it based on skin color? If so, that by itself is a racist notion. Isn’t the goal of civil rights movements to deny skin color as determining one’s destiny?

The other underlying assumption in the racist argument is the notion that it is Israel that is blocking the Palestinians from having their own state. Israel has as great if not a greater claim on the so-called occupied territories as the Palestinians. The Palestinians’ argument only makes sense if one is unwilling to go further back in time than 1967. That was the year Israel pushed Jordan out of Jerusalem, Samaria, and Judea (the so-called West Bank). Jordan had captured those territories in 1948 after the United Nations affirmed the right of the Jewish people to form their own state. Prior to 1948 those territories were part of the British Mandate which was set up after World War I to prevent chaos after the Ottoman Empire, which had ruled the entire region for more than 400 years, was defeated by the Allied Powers.

Of course, it all comes down to boundaries. Where would the Palestinians place their state? From the statements and writings of the PLO (Fatah) and Hamas, the answer to that question is they want the whole thing––not just the West Bank territories, but all of present day Israel as well. Does that sound like a two-state solution?

What therefore is the proper response when someone says you’re a racist if you support Israel? Attack the statement on both assumptions. First, explain that race has nothing to do with it. Remind them that Hebrew and Arabic are both Semitic languages that came from the same region. Then explain that neither Fatah nor Hamas want a two-state solution. If anyone’s a racist, wouldn’t it be the Palestinian leaders?

Eventually someone will ask, “What is your alternative?” If the United Nations wants to create a Palestinian state, they should do so, but not where Israel presently exists, nor in Jerusalem, to which the Palestinian’s claim is fraudulent, nor in Samaria or Judea, where Israel’s claim is stronger based on the League of Nations Mandate. They ought to create it in Jordan, which was originally part of Palestine and where many of the Arab people who call themselves Palestinians resided before 1948. Also, if Egypt is willing, Gaza, which already is a fully Palestinian territory, could be enlarged to include part of the Sinai desert.

A corollary to that solution would be for Israel to offer to those Palestinians who want to remain in the West Bank or Jerusalem the same deal non-Jews who live in Israel proper receive––i.e., full citizenship in the state of Israel. It is likely that a large number of Palestinian Arabs would accept that solution since Israeli citizenship would raise their living condition above what they are today under the corrupt Palestinian Authority. Those wanting to move would be allowed to do so, going to Gaza or the new Palestinian state in Jordan.

But the key lesson I hope people take away from this essay is not to be pushed into a corner when discussing world events by allowing your opponent to frame the issue in a way that you have no choice but to accept their position. Challenge the assumptions hidden in the way the argument is presented. When Barack Obama or the boycott Israel advocates present an either/or proposition it often means the facts are against them and the only way they can win the argument is by preventing a fact-based discussion, which is why the choice they want to give their opponents is no choice at all.

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 I: The Two-State Chimera*

Seminal, must read works exist in literature, philosophy, and political theory. For example, can one study the Cold War without having read George Kennan or discuss ethics without having read Rawls? In that vein, anyone who seeks to defend a position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict needs to have read Caroline Glick’s The Israeli Solution (2013).

Since Glick’s book is fairly recent, you are forgiven if you haven’t heard of it or haven’t got around to reading it. My hope is that this review will convince you to remedy that lapse.

The first part of this review covers Glick’s analysis of the two-state solution; her alternative is the subject of part two.

In part one of The Israeli Solution, Glick, who is a senior correspondent for the Jerusalem Post, examines the history and politics of two-state solution, focusing primarily on the U.S. since America with its military and financial resources is, for better or for worse, the central outside player in the conflict.

Why does Glick call a two-state solution an illusion, a false-hope, a chimera? From Jimmy Carter on, American presidents have viewed solving the conflict as the key to peace in the entire region––from North Africa to the Fertile Crescent. “[M]ost American policy makers,” Glick writes, “share the view that the establishment of a Palestinian state west of the Jordan River would remove the principle cause of the violent extremism that afflicts the Arab and the larger Islamic world.”

Glick disputes that thesis. Rather than consider the possibility that Arab leaders have concerns other than their hatred of Jews, American leaders have blindly sought to pressure Israel to swallow untenable peace terms thinking regional peace would ensue. Hopefully, that blinder has been removed from policy makers’ eyes by the rise of ISIS, the civil wars in Yemen and Syria, and the global spillover of the Shia-Sunni conflict, none of which stem from the lack of a Palestinian state.

A Ninety-Year Failure

The two-state solution was invented as a response to the unwillingness of Arab leaders to live along side Jews who had returned to their ancient homeland. It has been presented as the basis for peace plans nine different times over the past nine decades, each one a failure. Worse, unquestioned adherence to this “solution,” has “weakened the U.S. position in the Middle East.” Each time the U.S. has put its reputation and resources into a two-state plan the outcome has resulted in the region becoming “less stable, more violent, more radicalized, and more inimical to American values and interests.”

Why hasn’t the two-state solution worked?

The primary reason the two-state concept has failed is, as Glick states, that the “two-state formula is based on the proposition that the root cause of the Palestinian conflict is Israel’s unwillingness to surrender sufficient lands to the Palestinians, rather than the Palestinians’ rejection of Israel’s right to exist and their continued commitment to its destruction.”

Take, for example, Yasser Arafat’s walking away from extensive and foolhardy concessions forced upon Israeli leaders by Bill Clinton, including agreeing to shared sovereignty over Jerusalem. How did Arafat respond to Israel’s willingness to give him most of what he demanded? He launched a war of terror whose toll over two years exceeded seven hundred killed and four thousand wounded.

Clinton devoted the last months of his presidency to trying to get the two sides to reach a final settlement at the expense of greater problems. Yet he failed to understand that Arafat never intended to sign an agreement that left the state of Israel in existence and only engaged in negotiations to strengthen his position at home and weaken international support for Israel.

Arab Anti-Zionism and World Politics

In Part I of The Israeli Solution, Glick reviews the careers of two men who played key roles in developing the notion of a Palestinian people as well as leading attempts to prevent the formation of a Jewish state (Haj Amin el-Husseini) and once formed to prevent that state from surviving (Yasser Arafat). Husseini allied himself with Adolph Hitler and spent the war aiding the Nazi plan to annihilate the Jewish people. No less heinous in his aims, Arafat turned to political warfare to cover up the terrorist campaigns he launched against Israel and its population.

To further his aims, Arafat turned to the Soviet Union, joining in their effort to weaken the U.S. internationally by defining the U.S. as a supporter of racist colonialism exemplified by the Jewish state. To label Jews the oppressor, Arafat and the U.S.S.R. sought to deny the fact that today’s Jewish population descended from the Jews of the Bible and reframe the historical and archeological record to undermine Jews’ claim to be returning to their homeland.

American leaders unfortunately overlooked Arafat’s role in field training would-be terrorists, including Nicaragua’s Sandinistas, Germany’s Red Army faction, the IRA, and Ayatollah Khomeini’s Revolutionary Guard. Arafat’s techniques included airplane hijacking, bombings, ground assaults, assassinations, and even surface-to-air missile attacks against jetliners.

Ironically, throughout most of his career Arafat paid little attention to the Arab refugees of the 1948 war or to those living under Israeli control in Judea, Samaria, the Golan Heights, and Gaza. Only after local protests erupted in those regions in the 1980s did he see the possibility of using Palestinians in his war against Israel. Sadly, the U.S. helped finance that war and even trained Palestinian Authority soldiers some of whom used their new weapons to attack Israeli civilians.

The Moderate Palestinian Leader

No discussion of the two-state solution would be complete without focusing on Arafat’s successor, current Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. Some have tried to paint Abbas as a moderate and a man with whom a peace settlement can be reached. Glick destroys that chimera as well, showing Abbas to be cut from Arafat’s mold as a man skilled in the use of diplomacy on behalf of his ultimate goal, which is to destroy Israel as a Jewish state. Abbas has waged war through the international press, the U.N., and NGO’s––while refusing to negotiate directly with Israel’s representatives. As an example of how little interested he is in a two-state solution, Abbas spat in the face of logic by petitioning the U.N. to create a Palestinian state along the very boundaries his predecessors rejected in 1947.

Amazingly, the U.S. has continued to put their faith in and finance Mahmoud Abbas despite his forming a political alliance with Hamas and despite Hamas’ having thrown the Palestinian Authority out of Gaza and killed or jailed many of its operatives.

As an aside, it is important to understand what distinguishes Hamas from the PLO/Fatah. While Arafat and his mentor Husseini were Arab nationalists first and Muslims second, the founders of Hamas are Muslims first and foremost. To them, Israel stands in the way of the establishment of Allah’s kingdom on earth, and like all infidel nations, including the United States, it must be eradicated.

U.S. Interests and the Two-State Solution

Unfortunately, many Americans believe the U.S. support for Israel is largely a function of sympathy based on the destruction of European Jewry. As a result, they overlook the extent to which Israel advances and protects U.S. interests in the region. Further, they fail to consider the consequences were Israel to be forced to retreat to indefensible boundaries by ceding all or most of the West Bank to the Palestinians.

An Israel reduced to pre-1967 borders would be vulnerable to being destroyed by jihadist militants attacking from Gaza and the hills of Judea. That would result in the U.S. being drawn into the conflict at who knows how large a cost in dollars and lives. Further, Israel would no longer represent the one stable, self-sufficient non-expansionist democracy in the region.

By giving in to those who use terrorism to advance their aims, the U.S., were it to force Israel to give up Judea and Samaria, would be sending a message to jihadists across the globe that the U.S. will not stand up to terrorism and will not protect its allies when push comes to shove.

For all those reasons, the U.S. must abandon support for the two-state solution. But what policy should it support in its place? That’s the subject of part two of my review essay as I examine Caroline Glick’s alternative.

* Because I read The Israeli Solution in digital format I cannot cite page numbers to the print edition.