A little forward movement the other day on MSNBC. First Martin Bashir’s guest host Richard Lui allowed Anthony Summers (“The Eleventh Day” about Osama BinLaden and Saudi royal funding of Sept. 11 attacks) to name “the Palestine/Israel issue” as “driving” the hijackers, as well as to conclude that solving the Israel/Palestine problem is central to US security.
Dylan Ratigan offered more discussion of that point, in a segment titled, “Israel-Palestine: Why It’s Key to Regional Stability,” which he began by announcing:
“The latest incursion: 15 activists deported from Israel after their Gaza-bound boat was captured by Israeli Navy commandos.”
Ratigan defines the boat to Gaza as an “incursion”–rather than explain Israeli government rule over the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including the illegal siege of Gaza, or the unlawful Wall and checkpoints in the West Bank. That limit is only the start. Ratigan invites Jeremy Ben-Ami, of J Street which is “Pro-Israel and Pro-Peace,” to discuss how his new book, “A New Voice for Israel: Fighting for the Survival of the Jewish Nation,” posits that the Arab Spring can only achieve stability through solving the Israel/Palestine conflict.
Ben-Ami tells us: “I begin with the commonly held understandings over decades among nearly every expert whether it’s on the Israeli or the Palestinian side or internationally about what the resolution of this conflict looks like. The saddest thing about [this] conflict is–while it festers along, decade after decade–everybody knows the broad outlines of what the resolution looks like:…Two states for two peoples. The borders are on the ’67 lines with some moderate adjustments to keep the majority of Israeli settlers within Israel and you trade land to the Palestinians, you divide Jerusalem and you have the Palestinian parts under Palestinian rule and the Jewish parts under Jewish rule….”
Ratigan chimes in, “Two states, two peoples, ’67 borders with….”
Ben-Ami emphasizes, “Minor. Minor adjustments.”
Ratigan: “Minor finagling, and split Jerusalem….”
Ratigan asks what the “barrier” is to such an agreement. Ben-Ami blames, “Lack of leadership on all sides…Israelis and Palestinians,” as well as “political constraints” in the United States, who he claims is the only credible arbiter in the international community. But Ben-Ami unfortunately bows to those very political constraints when he fails to name the many Palestinian concessions for peace, which the Israeli government has invariably countered with new demands–like calling for Palestine to betray the twenty percent of Israeli Palestinian citizens, by recognizing Israel as “a Jewish and democratic state.”
Ratigan asks about benefits to the region, “How significant would that… agreement be…from Syria, to Egypt, to Libya…?” Ben-Ami claims that the biggest beneficiary would be revived U.S. influence: “If America can help to broker that deal, it restores Ameican credibility in the region. This is a vital American national security interest.’
Matt Miller congratulates Ben-Ami on his book, then announces, “I’m an American Jew: I think I’m your target audience. I’ve felt some angst about the way American Jews participate in this debate. What’s your message…to an American audience of how American Jews as they express themselves can help be a force for the kind of progress that you think needs to happen?”
Ben-Ami argues that “achieving the two-state-solution is the absolute existential necessity of the state of Israel” for “Israel itself is never going to make it as a Jewish and a democratic nation,” “if it doesn’t separate into two states and let the Palestinians have their freedom and independence in their own state.” Miller and Ratigan ask about why “too many” in the U.S. resist the idea of a two-state solution, inquiring about the “politics” and “the fear.” Ben-Ami answers, “Number one is physical security….Any Jew whether they live here or elsewhere” worries: “the concern is that you have Prime Minister Netanyahu who comes here and says that the ’67 borders are indefensible.” Ben-Ami counters that anxiety: “But you have all these military experts” from “the Mossad and Shin Bet” who say that what is indefensible is the present situation, this is unsustainable….This is insecurity by definition.”
“The Washington Post”‘s Jonathan Capehart and Ben-Ami agree to dismiss the role that concern over Israel and its Occupation of Palestine played in the Arab uprisings, mistakenly narrowing their ideas: “The issue is the United States’s ability to play a new role in the new” “more democratic, more populist” “Middle East”–that is, not to be seen “on the wrong side of the grand scope of history.” Imogen Lloyd Webber asks what the Obama Administration should do; Ben-Ami answers: pressure all sides equally.
Yet MSNBC’s title for the video clip is, “Author Jeremy Ben-Ami and panel debate whether the Arab Spring has recast the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” What’s encouraging about this exchange is that all four panelists–far from debating–actually praise Ben-Ami’s prescriptions. What’s discouraging is that all four panelists praise Ben-Ami’s perspective.
For Ben-Ami is wrong when he says that “minor” swaps will create a Palestinian state on the 1967 lines. MSNBC floats maps in the background, comparing “1967” to “Today,” but no speaker points out the obvious: Palestinian areas have shrunk and dispersed. No one considers how to inspire Israel to return the stolen lands, or whether such a necessity undermines Ben-Ami’s insistence that both sides are equally intransigent, requiring equal prodding. That disintegration of territory parallels the shriveling of American debate about Palestine and Israel. MSNBC–by inviting only a thinker whose “target audience” is “American Jew[s],” whose regressive goal is “fighting for the Jewish nation”– stunts the debate while trying to advance it. No panelist mentions the sinister double meaning when Ratigan twice describes border swaps as “finagling,” or when Ben-Ami quotes Binyamin Netanyahu’s declaration that the 1967 lines are “indefensible.” The unstated truth is that neither trickery can be defended.
Ben-Ami, Ratigan, and the rest focus on the so-called enlightened self-interest of the U.S. and Israel, playing down the claims of shared human values throughout Palestine and the world. But their conclusion reminds us that enlightened self-interest is still selfishness, leaving us with a larger question. How can the United States become “a [diverse] and democratic state,” in which reporters can look out for the inalienable human rights and “security” needs of all, including Palestinians–starting with the Rights of Return, self-determination, self-defense, freedom to move, and equality under the law?