September 2, 2014

Larry Derfner Should Be Debated, Not Fired


 

The Jerusalem Post columnist Larry Derfner was fired today because he wrote on his blog a statement many readers saw as justifying Palestinian terrorism against Israelis. As so often happens when people focus on a single sentence of an article, they’re missing the point, or at least the most important point. It also throws away what President Barack Obama calls a teachable moment.

The issue here is not “left” versus “right” but rather what is true and what is not.

In addition, columnists should not be continued in their jobs if their writing is not interesting or is factually inaccurate, not because they write something that people don’t like.

All too often nowadays the response to disagreement is to try to destroy people on the other side of the argument, to delegitimize them with name-calling and to silence them. That’s not the way democratic debate is supposed to work.  If you think someone is wrong then answer the substance of the statements being made.

I don’t think Derfner should have been fired. Rather the point is that people should have answered what he said. Like Gideon Levy of Haaretz he is still arguing the line that terrorism is basically Israel’s fault. They hate us and want to kill us because we haven’t made enough concessions and because we are oppressing them. That’s the issue, not “justifying” terrorism.

Of course,  Derfner’s position implies that if Israel ended the “occupation” and accepted a Palestinian state, terrorism, incitement, and hatred would stop. Many people throughout the world think the same thing.

That is a point worth debating. Since 1993, Israel has been trying out that theory and it has proven to be false. Unfortunately, and I wish things were different, we learned that the Palestinian leadership doesn’t want compromise and is unable to deliver it.

There are two problems here. First, the Palestinian leaders seek to wipe Israel off the map and are not in favor of a lasting, stable, and peaceful two-state solution. We know this by reading their words in Arabic, watching the institutions they direct, and observing their actions.

Second, the Palestinian leaders–including those like Prime Minister Salam Fayyad–who do want negotiated compromise solution are too weak to bring it about. They fear their own people who they’ve been inciting toward extremism for years; the hardline mainstream within Fatah; and, of course, their Hamas rivals.

So, no, giving more territory; accepting a Palestinian state unconditionally; letting terrorist attacks on Israel go unanswered by retaliation; and so on will not solve the problem. I genuinely wish it were otherwise. It would be far better if Israel’s left-wing was correct and there was an easy and quick way to achieve full peace through a two-state solution this week.

Unfortunately, this wishful thinking is wrong and we have seen massive evidence to that effect. That’s why the vast majority of Israelis–including those who in the past voted for people like Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin, and Ehud Barak to be prime minister (for example, me), also know this is true.

Let’s examine the issue. Derfner says that the “denial of independence” to the Palestinians is so bad that it’s helping drive them to try to kill us.

1. But wait! Didn’t they used to say that it was the occupation that is helping drive them to try to kill us?

But now there’s no “occupation” (except in 20 percent of Hebron and east Jerusalem) and they are still trying to kill us!And guess what? If they get independence they will still try to kill us because it will be Israel’s existence and the status of the “pre-1948″ Palestinians that is “so bad that it’s helping drive them to try to kill us.”

2. There’s another way to look at this, too. If denying them independence is, “so bad that it’s helping drive them to try to kill us.”
Thus, if they obtained independence would they be so grateful, so happy, or so busy building up their country that they would stop trying to kill us?

No. We know–even many of the most dovish and leftist of us–that they will continue to try to kill us from a better strategic position that would make it more likely they would succeed. So what good would that step do? And that is precisely why Israelis are not eager to support independence without any preconditions.

Indeed, a few minutes after writing this piece, I noticed that Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has stated that even if the UN recognizes the independence of Palestine, he and his government will still demand that all Palestinians who lived within Israel’s borders before 1948 or any descendants of such people can demand to go live in Israel and Israel must let them in. Or there cannot be peace: http://www.jpost.com/DiplomacyAndPolitics/Article.aspx?id=235789.

You see, there’s no end to this.

What happens when two weeks after independence there are more cross-border attacks? What happens if incitement continues? What happens if Hamas or radical Fatah forces seize power? What happens if the state of Palestine invites in foreign Arab forces or imports missiles or forms an alliance with Egypt or other sttes? I said “if” but I mean “when.”And the lack of an agreed and defined border, as well as the presence of Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip (which the Fatah-led leadership of Palestine would support against Israel) would guarantee tension and a likely crisis before long and periodically thereafter.

At that point, if Israel were to retaliate for an attack or act against a build-up of military forces against itself, that would constitute international aggression in the eyes of many, including a majority in the UN General Assembly. Nobody would help Israel deal with this threat, including the current government of the United States.

To leap into such a situation in the hope–without evidence–that they would then “stop trying to kill us” is insane. No Israeli government would do it and that’s the correct decision.

3. And who is “them” when we discuss the Palestinians? Because obviously “them” doesn’t apply to Hamas (the group that happens to run almost half of the Palestinian territories) or to many other Palestinian groups and leaders that aren’t Islamist. It doesn’t even apply to most of Fatah.

In short, Derfner’s formulation is nonsense. And to understand why it is nonsense is the essential point to understanding the conflict, the failure of the “Peace Process,” and the Middle East.

But that doesn’t mean he should be fired.

About Barry Rubin

Prof. Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and a featured columnist for PajamasMedia at http://pajamasmedia.com/barryrubin/. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan)