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March 12, 2009

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen's Israel problem

Washington Post syndicated columnist Richard Cohen’s Israel problem is on display in an Op-Ed offering President Barack Obama foreign policy advice (“Moralism on the Shelf,” March 10). Cohen notes the “sterile but necessary realism” he finds in “Obama’s apparent willingness to divide the Taliban into awful and less awful,” the administration’s willingness “to hold its tongue regarding China’s voluminous human rights abuses,” and the U.S. attempt to “hit the ‘reset button’ on relations with Moscow, Vladimir Putin’s neo-Stalinist fits notwithstanding.” Also on that list, “a rebuke” to Israel for insisting “on expanding West Bank settlements.”

That’s an interesting cast of bad guys to be dealt with through sterile realism: the medieval Taliban in Afghanistan; the repressive Chinese government; a Russia that commits aggression against Georgia and somehow can’t stop the murders of political and press critics at home; and Israel. Israeli insistence that Jewish communities in the disputed West Bank be allowed to provide for natural population growth puts Israel, according to Cohen, in the company of Russia, China, a major Islamic extremist movement, and, he adds in the next paragraph, Syria, Iran and North Korea.

Cohen writes that of “Israel’s insistence of expanding West Bank settlements, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denounced it as ‘unhelpful’ — a whisper of a rebuke that, in the transcript, should have been rendered in italics.” On the insistence of Arab communities in the West Bank to expand, not to mention that of Arab villages and towns in Israel, the columnist is "mute."

Cohen’s toss-off sentence about settlements would collide with — if it acknowledged — the fact that Israel withdrew completely, two dozen settlements included, from the Gaza Strip in 2005 and got increased terror attacks in return. Not the mention the fact that if limiting or ending the Jewish presence in the West Bank (and Gaza Strip then) was as important as Cohen implies, then the Palestinian Arabs would have rushed to accept Israeli-U.S. proposals in 2000 and 2001 for a West Bank and Gaza Strip state in exchange for peace.

During the battles over court-ordered school desegregation in the United States, civil rights activists used to say, “it ain’t the bus, it’s us.” That is, the underlying issue wasn’t “forced busing” but racial integration. Cohen might do well to consider that, when it comes to Arab-Israeli peace-making, for many on the Arab side, “it ain’t the Jewish settlements, it’s the Jewish state.” The underlying issue isn’t some Jewish settlements, but continued rejection of the legitimacy of one Jewish state. Until then, the columnist's “realism” is likely to remain sterile.

Posted by ER at March 12, 2009 04:42 PM

Comments

What is it in Mr. Cohen's approach that makes an Arab apartheid state on the West Bank more acceptable than a mixed Arab-Jewish state on the same land?

Posted by: jerry at March 12, 2009 11:35 PM

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