Peter Beinart’s recent op-ed is an anachronistic apologia constructed around an artificial golden mean.
Beinart seems to have invented Meretz USA, American Friends of Peace Now and the New Israel Fund. He has also discovered the green line and Yitzhak Rabin (both deceased), and the fifteen-year-old Gush Shalom settlement boycott. His declared enemies are the Israeli government and the Palestinian BDS movement, and his weapon of choice is language—fighting a war declared by Yitzhak Shamir (now in a nursing home) in the 1980s. He longs for an Israel that, if it ever existed, died before he was born, and employs even more ancient rhetoric about “Israel’s existence” and the inseparability of “Zionism and democracy”.
For every position he takes, he carefully cites one that he does not take. He does not like the name “Judea and Samaria”, but is equally dissatisfied with the name “West Bank”. He calls for a boycott of “other Jews” (although it pains him to do so), but rejects the goals of BDS. His “democratic Israel” does not include settlements “near the green line” (although “most settlers aren’t bad people”), but he develops an entirely new concept (“right to citizenship”) in order to rationalise his acceptance of the settlements in East Jerusalem. Most importantly, Beinart only appears to call for action against Israel. What he really wants is to save it.
There is nothing new in what Beinart is saying. It is the classic, liberal Zionist position, largely defeated both in Israel and within the American Jewish establishment. He presents it as a solution both to Israel’s woes and to growing disaffection with Israel-centred Jewish life in the US. Yet, a solution in I/P requires far more than the kind of one-sided “generous offers” he implies, and Beinart’s contrived modus vivendi between liberalism and Zionism is unlikely to satisfy the young Jews who keep him awake at night. At the moment, just having the conversation may seem like progress, but unlike the Madrid Conference of over twenty years ago, Beinart is not even sitting down with the Palestinians. In the days preceding and following Rabin’s assassination, the Israeli right used to call such exercises “making peace among ourselves”.