An important moment took place this morning on Chris Hayes’s MSNBC show when Hayes had on not one but two Palestinians to discuss the escalating conflict in Israel/Palestine.
Noura Erakat of Georgetown University and Yousef Munayyer of The Jerusalem Fund were joined by Noam Sheizaf of +972 and David Frum, the neoconservative former speechwriter for George Bush famous for allegedly coining the term, “axis of evil.”
It was a revealing discussion. Sheizaf started off saying, Obviously there’s been a steady escalation of hostilities around Gaza, but you can’t remove the political aspect. Elections are coming up in January ,and the Israeli Jewish public wants a more pro-active approach to dealing with the rocket fire from Gaza.
Munayyer then explained that there’s no military solution to this: You can’t bomb people into liking you.
But Noura Erakat was the real star of the show. She made the point: Who started all this? We’re losing focus of the idea, she said, that even if all the rockets stopped, from both sides, Palestinians would still be living under Israeli violence- unending blockade, occupation, and arbitrary detention. (As for the attacks on Gaza fishermen and young children on their side of the Israel-Gaza border, Munayyer pointed this out).
What struck me most strongly about the discussion was that Frum did not have anything of substance to add. In fact, his comments only hurt his position. In response to Munayyer’s thoughtful comments about Hamas’s opposition to Israel’s policy of extra-judicial assassinations as a whole, but especially in times of relative peace when rockets aren’t fired from Gaza, Frum could only respond that “it’s a little thick to hear it said that Hamas objects to assassinations when its stock in trade is mass murder.”
Later on, Frum continued with a third-grade knowledge of Hamas when he said, “Peace is not possible with Hamas.”
Erakat took him to task on this. She said that Hamas has long indicated that it was open to a two-state solution along the 1967 borders. It would not be a permanent solution, in Hamas’s view, but it would result in a long term truce; and that’s important.
Then she provided the money shot of the discussion. Frum had said that Oslo fell apart because Palestinian violence disillusioned a lot of Israelis and Diaspora Jews who at one point had been optimistic about a two-state deal.
Erakat asked Frum, What about the settlements? They doubled between 1993 and 2000.
Erakat: “Does that factor into the liberal Jewish community’s constellation of factors of what actually drove, torpedoed the peace process?”
Frum: “Settlements are just about money in the end. It’s just buildings.”
Erakat: “They’re on Palestinian land.”
Frum: “They’re the Palestinian apartment blocks of the future, potentially. That’s the way we would have thought about this in the 1990’s.”
Erakat: “But on destroyed land.”
Frum: “Apartments are useful things. The thinking was then that there would be a deal and probably these buildings would all be turned over…”
That’s not a meaningful response to the fact that they are on Palestinian land. Erakat is right. Villages have been bulldozed, farmland destroyed, the topography of the place has been transformed forever. Moreover the expectation that Palestinians would be expected to live inside former settlements, the fruits of their oppression, is obscene. Only someone with a colonial mindset like Frum would even suggest the idea in the first place. Sheizaf then dealt the knockout blow on this subject when he told Frum that it has become politically impossible to evacuate the settlements anyway.
Frum finished off by saying that the Palestinians had started a war that they ended up losing and therefore any agreement should be predicated on that outcome. He also argued that the true battlefield in this conflict was located inside social media, which led to a strong response by both Erakat and Sheizaf as they both reminded him that the conflict was having real effects on people on both sides.
Overall it was a very important conversation in our mainstream media. There was a discussion about Israel/Palestine, during a crisis, and two of the four on the panel were Palestinian. Chris Hayes should be commended for having the courage to bring them on.
But the discussion was important in another way. It showed the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the Zionist right position. Between vapid talking points, sound bites and purely colonial thinking, Frum stood no chance when confronted with inconvenient facts that he is rarely, if ever, confronted with on television.