op-ed

Peter Beinart is stuck in 1999

David Brog Executive Director, Christians United for Israel

Poor Peter Beinart. He’s stuck in 1999 and he can’t get out. Those who read his new book, The Crisis of Zionism, will encounter the same arguments that we all heard — and many of us made — in that simpler time. But unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past dozen years, you’ll find that his fantasy fails to persuade.

In 2000, the illusions of 1999 were shattered. 2000 was the year in which Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians a state in over 91% the West Bank and Gaza, including most of East Jerusalem. It was also the year in which Barak’s government agreed to make even greater concessions under bridging parameters proposed by President Clinton. And 2000 was the year when the Palestinians not only rejected these offers, but responded with the ferocious violence of the second intifada.

When the most generous Israeli peace offer on record was met with the bloodiest terrorism on record, many of us were forced to abandon our prior assumptions. The Israeli left collapsed under the weight of its intellectual failure. And many of the left’s most influential leaders — including Prime Minister Barak and historian Benny Morris — updated their views accordingly. They still support a two-state solution. They just don’t want to repeat the mistake of abandoning land in the absence of sufficient security arrangements.

Yet Peter Beinart floats above this challenging record. In his narrative, Israel “made itself master” of millions of Palestinians in 1967. And now Israel should “permit” the creation of a Palestinian state. All Israel needs to do to have peace is choose peace!

To be fair, Beinart does reference some of the unfortunate events of 2000 and beyond. But he dismisses them with a superficiality that belies his objectivity. Yes, he admits, Arafat bears “part of the responsibility” for the failure to reach a peace deal in Camp David and Taba. But he proceeds to place the lion’s share of the blame on Israel.

Beinart’s effort to explain away the 2000 intifada is even less satisfying. “By 2000,” he notes, “many Palestinians were ready for war. And that fall, Israeli leaders lit the fuse.” He’s referring here to Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount which, even if provocative, was hardly an excuse for mass murder.

Beinart acknowledges that far from stopping this terrorism, Arafat participated in it. But while admitting that “Arafat’s decision to ride the tiger of Palestinian violence was no small offense,” he goes on to gloss over its implications. As he reminds us, “Palestinians held for decades as noncitizens by an occupying army will periodically rebel, sometimes in dignified and nonviolent ways, sometimes in grotesque and unforgivable ways.”

That’s it. That’s all the reader learns of the second intifada. There’s no mention of the repeated suicide bombings of Israeli buses and restaurants. There’s no mention of the over 1,000 Israeli civilians killed, and the thousands more maimed, in these attacks.

There’s no mention of the fact that by 2000, Israel was well on its way to ending the very occupation Beinart so hates by withdrawing its troops from almost all Palestinian population centers. There’s no mention of the fact that it was this very withdrawal that allowed Hamas and Fatah to plot and execute their wave of suicide bombings from these same centers. And there’s no mention of the fact that it was only when Israel sent its troops back into these towns and villages in 2002 that they were able to stop the carnage.

Beinart opines that, “Occupying another people requires racism, and breeds it.” Actually, all it requires is a desire to leave your home without being blown up.

Beinart likewise glosses over Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s 2008 peace offer to Mahmoud Abbas. Olmert’s offer was even more generous than Barak’s: a Palestinian state in over 94% of the West Bank and Gaza, including East Jerusalem, and land from Israel to compensate for the 6% of the West Bank Israel would retain. The fact that Abbas rejected this offer raises serious questions about whether he’s willing or able to end the conflict.

Blind to the real motives driving Israelis and their American friends to proceed with caution, Beinart must find our motives elsewhere. And he does. He’s decided that we’re the true prisoners of time. We’re stuck in 1938 or 1967. Our Jewish identity is linked to being victims — either of the Nazis or the Arabs — and we refuse to come out from hiding. But Israel — as he repeatedly reminds us — is now a regional superpower. Our worries are over.

If Beinart deigned to listen to the real debate going on both in Israel and the American Jewish community, he’d hear few of us talking about Hitler or Nasser. He’d hear us talking about Gaza. Israel withdrew all of its soldiers and settlers from Gaza in 2005. Hamas filled the void, and began firing thousands of missiles into southern Israel.

Most Israelis are wary about seeing this same scenario play out in the West Bank. From these centrally located strategic highlands, even the crudest Hamas missiles could stop life in the narrow coastal strip from Tel Aviv to Netanya that contains over 70% of Israel’s population and infrastructure. These are hardly 1967 worries. And these new threats — like that of a nuclear Iran (not mentioned once in Beinart’s book) — cannot be so easily dismissed.

Beinart has appointed himself the savior of democratic Israel. But what his book demonstrates more than anything else is a disturbing contempt for Israel’s democracy. Israeli candidates dedicated to negotiating a two-state solution with the Palestinians won elections in 1992, 1999 and again in 2006. In each case, these leaders were replaced by more cautious successors when their peace overtures coincided with increased terrorism. This isn’t evidence of a brutal state dedicated to occupation, but of a vibrant democracy trying to achieve the elusive goals of peace and security.

As Israelis wrestle with these difficult issues, they don’t need us to save them. What they need is our respect and our support. And given the very real risks Israelis have taken for peace — and the very real bloodshed that’s followed — they’ve earned that much.

David Brog, the executive director of Christians United for Israel, is the author of Standing with Israel: Why Christians Support the Jewish State.