Sunday, March 26, 2006

Dropping the Ball on Reality

John J. Mearsheimer's (don't forget the middle initial) foreign policy outlook, at least at first glance, is hardcore realist. Where some talk about Democratic Peace Theory and international alliances based on something other than power politics, Mr. Mearsheimer stands by with the bucket of cold water. Here is what this (certain to be) champion of the pro-Palestinian movement has said:

"Countries must singlemindedly pursue their interests, Mr. Mearsheimer said, no matter what anybody else thinks . . . Power is the currency of the international system, Mr. Mearsheimer argues, and the United States should use it when it sees fit." Stille, Alexander. "What Is America's Place In the World Now?" New York Times, New York, N.Y.: January 12, 2002. pg. B7.

It is through this lens that his recent diatribe against Israel and the "Israel lobby" must be viewed.

What makes Mearsheimer's critique interesting is that just a few short years ago, in 2001, he published an op-ed in the New York Times on the Clinton plan for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (the President whose Administration Mearsheimer now characterizes as having worked for Israel against the Palestinians) in which he commented:

"Because of security needs, Israel cannot grant the Palestinians a truly independent state of their own. . .

"One might argue that the Palestinians would have no beef with Israel if they had a legitimate state of their own. This is possible, but Israel can never be certain about future Palestinian intentions. Indeed, given the bitter conflicts of the past century and the fact that Palestinians widely believe that Israel was built on stolen Palestinian land, the Israelis have good reason to fear continued Palestinian revanchism against Israel. Therefore, common sense says that Israel should not let the Palestinians acquire the capability to settle old scores.

"In sum, it is hard to see how the Palestinians could get a viable state that would not threaten Israel. Independence for the Palestinians and security for the Israelis are fundamentally incompatible. . ."

He concluded:

"Israel cannot be secure alongside a securely independent Palestinian state."

Mearsheimer, John J. "The Impossible Partition", New York Times, New York, N.Y.: Jan 11, 2001. pg. A31.

The article was not a pro-Israel piece. But it acknowledged one essential truth about Mearsheimer's thinking, which was that making peace was not in Israel's interest. Therefore, one should make no mistake about the conclusions Mearsheimer reaches in his new study, where he claims that the relatively pro-Israel position of the United States has, in reality, hurt the Israelis, and that Israeli withdrawals would have saved both Israeli and Palestinian lives. He's not arguing for a policy of, as he puts it, "even-handedness". He's arguing for a US foreign policy of selling Israel down the river, and with it, the concept of a Jewish state, in favor of a policy favoring the Arabs. Mearsheimer's critique does not argue for a middle road. It argues for a switching of sides and for promoting a policy that he himself believes is diametrically opposed to Israel's self-interest, a self-interest which he ignores, by the way, in his Israel-lobby tantrum.

I will leave it to others (for now) to expose the many simple errors and mistruths Walt and Mearsheimer's piece contains. Here is a list of what sticks in my mind:

1. Out-of-context quotes on the origins of the conflict from David Ben-Gurion. Here is M + W's quote, along with the context they placed it in: "The fact that the creation of Israel entailed a moral crime against the Palestinian people was well understood by Israel’s leaders. As Ben-Gurion told Nahum Goldmann, president of the World Jewish Congress, 'If I were an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: we have taken their country. . . . We come from Israel, but two thousand years ago, and what is that to them? There has been anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They only see one thing: we have come here and stolen their country. Why should they accept that?'"

Here is the rest of the quote, which goes on for a few more sentences: "They may perhaps forget in one or two generations' time, but for the moment there is no chance [for peace]. So it's simple: we have to stay strong and maintain a powerful army. Our whole policy is there. Otherwise the Arabs will wipe us out."

Looks much less like an acknowledgement of a moral failure on Ben-Gurion's part and a lot more like an acknowledgement of Ben-Gurion's pessimism. That's Goldmann's characterization. And it looks like Mearsheimer and Walt might be guilty of plagiarism since their selective quoting looks suspiciously like the kind found on pro-Palestinian websites.

2. A fatuous claim that most major American Jewish organizations will support whatever Israel does. M + W: "Many of the key organisations in the Lobby, such as the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organisations, are run by hardliners who generally support the Likud Party’s expansionist policies, including its hostility to the Oslo peace process. The bulk of US Jewry, meanwhile, is more inclined to make concessions to the Palestinians, and a few groups – such as Jewish Voice for Peace – strongly advocate such steps."

This is misleading nonsense. It is first of all false - AIPAC and particularly CPMJO have long been run by people who hew close to whatever policy is favored by the Israeli government precisely because they believe it is in America's best interest to support that policy. When the Labor government was in power, they had AIPAC and CPMJO support. And more importantly, there are many, many mainstream Jewish organizations who support the moderates and the doves without being anti-Zionist, as a Jewish Voice for Peace is. They include Americans for Peace Now, the Israel Policy Forum, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Anti-Defamation League, the United Jewish Appeal (long opposed to funding settlements), and many, many others.


At 10:18 PM, Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

Still no comments, huh?

I noticed that not too many people outside the blogosphere are discussing this article. I don't see too many responses from academics. I'm not sure whether that's a good thing or not.


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