It’s been a week of ups and downs for John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt.
On the one hand, the authors of the scurrilous, badly sourced “Israel Lobby” article – which accused American Jews of (gasp!) exercising their democratic rights by supporting the only liberal democracy in the Middle East – must feel gratified that their theory has borne fruit.
The triumphant inaugural visit of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to the U.S., coupled with the House’s recent passage of HR 4681 – the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act – surely confirms Mearsheimer’s and Walt’s theory of the Jewish manipulation of American politicians into ill-advised backing for Israel.
But on the other hand, a new wrinkle emerged as well: several Jewish groups, spearheaded by Americans for Peace Now (APN), fought tooth and nail to scrap or modify the House bill. While in the end, the measure passed by an overwhelming 361-37 vote, the quixotic efforts of the left-wing Jewish organizations attracted wide publicity.
This fissure among Israel-related groups is problematic for the “Israel Lobby” authors. As the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported, “the bill split the pro-Israel community.” How, then, to account for such a split – and how to approach what appears to be the first major effort by the Jewish left to undermine legislation that would bolster the Jewish state?
Let me begin with an assertion that’s likely unpopular in these pages: I do believe that Americans for Peace Now and the entire world-wide Peace Now/Shalom Achshav enterprise is pro-Israel. It is committed to a strategy of “security through peace” that it feels will end the Arab-Israeli conflict.
And to his credit, Lewis Roth, APN’s assistant executive director, sharply criticized the Mearsheimer-Walt article, observing that “if you follow their logic, they imply that the US should allow Israel to be defeated.” I have little doubt that the Peace Now movement sincerely believes that the policies it recommends will strengthen the Jewish state and its inhabitants. They just happen to articulate precisely the wrong policies.
HR 4681 is a perfect case in point. The primary purpose of the measure is “to urge members of the international community to avoid contact with and refrain from financially supporting the terrorist organization Hamas or a Hamas-controlled Palestinian Authority until Hamas agrees to recognize Israel, renounce violence, disarm, and accept prior agreements.”
The bill would curb funding to the Hamas-led PA until the President certifies to Congress that the regime has recognized Israel’s right to exist and has committed to dismantle its terrorist infrastructure. There are, of course, exceptions not only for basic humanitarian aid but also for anything that the President determines “will further the national security interests of the United States.”
Mainstream Jewish groups like AIPAC propelled this legislation through the House, arguing that “it is perfectly reasonable for Congress to demand that a Hamas-led PA meet the basic requirements of a civilized government by ending terrorism against innocent civilians and renouncing its desire to destroy its neighbor…The bill tells the Hamas-led PA that it must first stop its unacceptable behavior and intransigence before expecting any support from the United States.”
But APN actively rebutted assertions like these, lobbying various representatives to amend or otherwise reject the bill. According to Roth, while it is atypical for Jewish organizations to feud publicly over such issues, “the stakes are so high” that APN had to take matters into its own hands. Calling the measure “draconian,” the group’s president and CEO lamented the bill’s passage, claiming that “we urged the House to craft legislation that was focused and flexible enough to allow the U.S. to respond to Hamas' election victory in a firm, yet responsible, manner.” The dovish Israel Policy Forum and Brit Tzedek v’Shalom followed suit.
Unfortunately, these groups threaten to undermine a rare moment in American foreign policy: a solid consensus among European elites and our own State Department that Hamas needs to be isolated until it modifies its behavior.
Even the EU rejects the facile argument of the terror group’s apologists – including the Iranian president in his rambling, tendentious letter to President Bush – that we somehow violate liberal principles by cutting off aid to a democratically elected government. Who are we, say shameless critics like Jimmy Carter, to dictate to the Palestinians whom they may choose to represent them?
Yet this argument puts logic on its head. If anything, it demeans the Palestinians to presume that they didn’t really know what they were bargaining for when they elected Hamas. The group has made its goals – including the destruction of the Occupying Power – crystal clear, both before and after assuming power. Yes, at least a portion of their support derived from the “good government” instinct spawned by Fatah’s corruption. But it simply cannot be said that any Palestinian who voted for Hamas did not appreciate its virulently exterminationist platform.
Thus, we best respect the Palestinians’ choice by affirming the consequences it entails. Turning a blind eye to their electoral preference and wishing away Hamas’s murderous policies doesn’t help anyone. Instead, if the Palestinians willingly selected a government that repudiates a fundamental basis of the (admittedly deeply flawed) peace process – namely that Israel has the right to exist – then they do not deserve the fruits of that process – namely the cash and international support so crucial to propping up their regime. In short, if the people of Palestine want to take a step back from reconciliation, Israel, the U.S., and the world would be foolish not to do the same.
And unfortunately for Peace Now and its fellow-travelers, permitting the flow of international aid to a Hamas-led administration willfully ignores the choice made by the Palestinian people. There can be no meaningful way to fund Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah-run portion of the government while steering clear of Hamas, especially when control of key ministries and security forces appears to change hands on a weekly basis. Only when the PA as a whole renounces its terrorist beliefs and practices can the money spigot be turned back on.
Ironically, though, all it would take for Hamas to earn the world’s good graces would be a few sphinx-like, Arafatesque statements recognizing Israel (however grudgingly) in English but vowing to continue the fight against an ambiguous “occupation” (of the West Bank? Of Jerusalem? Of Tel Aviv?) in Arabic. To the group’s credit, Hamas has refused to date to make any such spurious acknowledgments. But the moment it does, it will easily exploit the credibility gap between the U.S. and Europe, rendering isolation that much more elusive.
Nonetheless, APN and the Jewish left press on. With their newfound bravado, we can rest assured that the battle over the Senate version of the bill – to say nothing of its passage in conference and its submission to the president for his signature – will be pitched and (rhetorically) bloody.
Congratulations, AIPAC: you’ve got competition. And congratulations, Professors Mearsheimer and Walt – you’ve got fodder for a sequel to your article.
Michael M. Rosen is an attorney in San Diego.
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