Wednesday, September 04, 2013

The Hurtful Truth as Explained by Peter Beinart

Peter Beinart comes as close a liberal Zionist can to expressing the justice of the Palestinian cause:

To say that American Jews need to hear from Palestinians is not to say that doing so will turn them into doves. To the contrary, in some ways a truly open conversation with Palestinians may be more discomforting to American Jews like myself who are committed to the two-state solution than to those skeptical of it. American Jewish liberals generally believe in the legitimacy of both Jewish and Palestinian nationalism. Many hope, therefore, that if they endorse the basic justness of the Palestinian bid for self-determination, Palestinians will endorse the justness of Zionism.

That’s highly unlikely. Virtually every Palestinian I’ve ever met considers Zionism to be colonialist, imperialist, and racist. When liberal American Jews think about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they think about Isaac and Ishmael: brothers reared in the same land, each needing territory their progeny can call home. Palestinians are more likely to think about South Africa: a phalanx of European invaders, fired by religious and nationalistic zeal, dominating the indigenous population.

Because they see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a struggle between rival but equally legitimate nationalisms, American Jewish liberals often suggest that the real problem began in 1967, when Israel became greedy and began to seize the land on which Palestinians could build a state. Palestinians, by contrast, often refocus attention on 1948, when roughly 700,000 Palestinians were displaced from their homes in Israel’s war of independence, which Palestinians call the Nakba—“catastrophe.”

In my own interactions with Palestinians, I have been repeatedly struck by the central place they assign the Nakba in Palestinian identity, and by their deep insistence that those Palestinians whom the Nakba made refugees, and their descendants, have the right to return to their ancestral homes. In many ways, this focus on 1948 is more challenging to Jewish doves—who envision Palestinians abandoning a large-scale right of return in exchange for a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with a capital in East Jerusalem—than for Jewish hawks who assume Palestinians will do no such thing.

Poor Peter. What is a liberal Zionist to do? 

You can read the entire article from the New York Review of Books here.