Harriet Sherwood and impediments to peace in the Mid-East, real and imagined

When David Frost interviewed Israeli historian Benny Morris in July he dismissed (as a minor “academic detail”) Morris’s concern that Palestinian leaders have never recognized the legitimacy of a Jewish state in the region. The British journalist argued that “everyone knows” that the real problem preventing peace is “the settlements”. Frost’s demeanor suggested that he viewed Morris’s explanation not as a serious challenge, but as ‘hasbara’ – mere sophistry meant to avoid the ‘real’ problem.

Leaked emails from the British Foreign Office, obtained by The Commentator, revealed that, in early 2012, a foreign office official complained of the following:

“Netanyahu has a history of using the incitement issue as a delaying tactic in peace talks”,

The history of this issue suggests that Netanyahu administrations have a tendency to charge the PA/PLO with incitement as a delaying tactic in peace talks.”

The emails suggest that, according to the foreign office, information about the Palestinian Authority’s glorification of terrorism, incitement to violence, and antisemitism represent not serious impediments to peace, but cynical Israeli talking points.

Similarly, when Israel’s critics are reminded of offers made by Israeli leaders, rejected by the Palestinians, in both 2000 and 2008, which included a contiguous Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as the capital, they typically downplay the offers, cite their imperfections, and thus legitimize maximalist demands.

Further, historical precedents, such as withdrawals from land previously controlled by Israel (South Lebanon and Gaza) cited as evidence that the ‘land for peace’ formula may represent a fatally flawed political paradigm, are typically dismissed or downplayed.

The dynamics can be summed up as follows:

  • Palestinian incitement, antisemitism and a rejection of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state cast considerable doubt on the possibility that Palestinians will ever create a liberal, democratic and peaceful state.
  • Palestinian leaders’ rejection of previous offers for statehood demonstrates that the maximalist demands, including the so-called “right of return”, translates into a reluctance to make painful compromises necessary to achieve ‘two states for two peoples’.
  • The “land for peace” paradigm in both South Lebanon and Gaza failed.  Unilateral territorial concessions by Israel, contrary to conventional wisdom, only emboldened terrorist movements (Hezbollah and Hamas), and did not enhance Israeli security.

Guardian contributors like Harriet Sherwood, and like-minded commentators, don’t merely dismiss explanations for the continuing Israeli-Palestinian Conflict which don’t center around the settlements, but often fail to acknowledge that alternative “root causes” for the conflict even exist.

Her latest post, ‘Israel’s cranes reprove Barack Obama’s failure to pursue a two-state solution, Guardian, Oct. 22, characteristically suggests that Israeli communities established (sometimes re-established) across the green line (1949 Armistice lines) are preventing peace from being achieved.

Sherwood argues that construction across the green line – in Jerusalem, Ariel, and Shiloh – are injurious to a “viable Palestinian state and the peaceful resolution of a decades-old conflict”, and represents an “impediment to peace”.

Her faith in Palestinians’ desire for peace is as unshakable as her belief in Israeli intransigence – completely ignoring factors which would contradict such assumptions.

Sherwood never explains why Israelis should ignore the failure of Palestinians in Gaza to respond peacefully to Israel’s withdrawal, and why further territorial concessions (in the West Bank) won’t again embolden terrorists who, able to operate freely in cities protected by Palestinian sovereignty, will fire rockets into Israeli cities.

She doesn’t explain why, this time, Palestinian leaders will accept even the most generous offers from Israeli leaders and decide to live peacefully with the Jewish state.

And, Sherwood fails to explain why we should ignore polls indicating that a large majority of Palestinians will never accept a Jewish state within any borders.

Sherwood – like so many of her political fellow travelers – simply assumes Palestinian good intentions.

We never quite know what Sherwood expects of Palestinian Arabs because such considerations never seem to factor into her political calculus.

The corollary to the Guardian’s obsession with Israeli behavior – their hyper criticism of every conceivable Jewish sin – is their lack of interest in examining Palestinians behavior – a glaring journalistic blind spot which informs their coverage of the region.

The only actors who possess moral agency in Sherwood’s tale are Jews.  The vital question concerning what kind of Palestinian state Israelis can expect to arise is never considered.

Israelis, however, don’t have the luxury of such blind idealism, as they will have to live with the real world consequences of an independent Palestinian state.

While most Israelis support, in principle, the creation of a Palestinian state, journalists who have no stake in the outcome should at least show a bit of humility, and empathize with those who sincerely question whether this new Arab state will truly bring peace and security.

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