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Nicholas Kristof on how to end the Israel/Palestine conflict

on 12 Comments


Anyone who regularly reads the New York Times surely understands that Nicholas Kristof must be one of the nicest persons in the world. His heart is always in the right place, his values and principles are of the highest, and his intentions are invariably beyond reproach. How come, then, so far as I can see nobody—at least nobody holding real power, anywhere—seems to pay any attention to him? Am I suggesting that his naivete makes much of what he writes irrelevant, a mere wringing of his hands?

Yes. His column in Thursday’s Times, “Leading Through Great Loss,” is classic Kristof, I’m afraid—so ill-informed or naïve about the realities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as to border on absurdity.

Here’s a few examples:

*“When militants in Gaza fire rockets at Israel, then Israel has a right to respond, but with some proportionality.” Proportionality is important, but it is not the main problem with Israel’s wars against the Palestinians. While it is a cliché that is repeated by just about everyone (including Obama) that “Of course Israel has a right to defend itself”—sometimes followed, as with Kristof, a “but,” and others with no qualifications at all—it reflects a profound misunderstanding of both the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the general principles of the right of self defense. In short, if you are an aggressor, a repressor, an occupier, and your actions lead to desperate acts of resistance, you cannot avail yourself of any right of “self-defense.” Sure, if Israel ended the occupation and repression of the Palestinians but Hamas continued to attack it, then—and only then—it indeed would have the right of self-defense.

*Kristof describes the repeated violations of informal and even formal ceasefires between Hamas and Israel to a pattern of “mutual escalation,” or even more wrong-headedly, to “Hamas extremism and violence after the 2005 Gaza withdrawal.” That is factually false, in several ways. The details are too complicated to go into here, but (1)there was no true Israeli “withdrawal” from Gaza, and (2)even if there had been there was certainly no Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, and (3) Israel has been far more the instigator of the periodic escalations than the innocent responder.

* Kristof writes:

“It’s true that [a two-state peace agreement] is not achievable now, but the aim should be to take steps that make a peace deal possible in 10 years or 20 years….the mutual distrust is so great that it may take years to lay the groundwork, so let’s get started.”

Breathtaking. That’s what innocents have said for the last forty years or so, failing to recognize that the very purpose of Israeli policy is to maintain the occupation and prevent a genuine and fair two-state settlement. Hasn’t Kristof heard of this? Isn’t he aware that the more the Israeli government encourages further Jewish settlement in the West Bank, the more impossible becomes a two-state peace agreement?

Kristof’s general conclusion: “Aggression one side boomerangs and leads to aggression on the other.” It’s all symmetrical and “mutual,” there are no rights and wrongs, there are no painful facts.

Can’t we all just get along?

This post first appeared on Jerome Slater’s site. And Kristof’s column was endorsed yesterday, by E.J. Dionne on National Public Radio.

Jerome Slater

Jerome Slater is a professor (emeritus) of political science and now a University Research Scholar at the State University of New York at Buffalo. He has taught and written about U.S. foreign policy and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for nearly 50 years, both for professional journals (such as International Security, Security Studies, and Political Science Quarterly) and for many general periodicals. He writes foreign policy columns for the Sunday Viewpoints section of the Buffalo News. And his website it

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12 Responses

  1. ckg on July 19, 2014, 1:45 pm

    As’ad AbuKhalil’s reaction to Kristof’s column:

    This is what you needed to know about Nicholas Kristof: He says that Israel should kill civilians but with proportionality
    “Look, when militants in Gaza fire rockets at Israel, then Israel has a right to respond, but with some proportionality.”

    • John Douglas on July 20, 2014, 9:28 am

      “This is what you need to know …”

      I think it’s enlightening to translate into straight talk the language used by those supporting Israel. For example, anyone who pronounces, “Of course the Israelis have a right to respond to attacks from inside Gaza” and who does not also say “Of course the people of Gaza have a right to respond to attacks from outside Gaza” is in fact saying, “The lives of Israelis have value, the lives of the people of Gaza are of no value.” It’s not possible to say these things without holding to a profoundly racist view of the matter.

  2. W.Jones on July 19, 2014, 3:15 pm

    The thing is, Gazans are packed like Sardines into Gaza, a comparably naturally resource-poor area. They are very often refugees from the rest of the state. Isn’t it natural then, Professor Slater, that Gazans would be prone to resistance?

    In other words, even if the government was more liberal in the vein of Rabin and J Street, wouldn’t conflict be implicit, stewing beneath the surface, because of the harsh realities of refugee life?

    Previously you had proposed a plan of compensated population transfer of Palestinians, moving 80% of them out of Israeli territory. And yet did you consider the possibility that within the 1947 UN lines there may have been enough Israelis that they could still have made a 2 State Solution with a majority of each nationality in each of the two territories, so that a paid removal of the population would be unneeded? Or perhaps the borders could have been redrawn around areas where most Israelis lived like the Jaffa region, so that population removal would be unnecessary?

    Thanks also for a good article here on Mondoweiss.

  3. pjdude on July 19, 2014, 6:17 pm

    I still see the same pro Israel biases that prevent a true understanding in here.

    “When militants in Gaza fire rockets at Israel, then Israel has a right to respond, but with some proportionality” this here is exactly what i mean. it comes with the same heavy handed pro Israel bias we all know and the love. the idea that the palestinians shoot of rockets for the hell of it that Israel is always responding. even though in actuality its the reverse. Israel takes action and the palestinians militant or otherwise respond. it the same refusing to force Israel to be acountable as always which is never going to fix anything

  4. xaamir on July 19, 2014, 6:24 pm

    Kristoff has come up with an even worse piece:

  5. Donald on July 19, 2014, 6:53 pm

    I’d really like to see you take on the New York Times editorial today. Kristof is naive and silly, but at least he’s probably well-meaning. I’m not sure I can say that about the NYT editorial that came out today. For instance, the editorial never mentions the blockade or that the lifting of the blockade is part of what Hamas wants and not just Hamas–their own reporters tell of Palestinian relatives of those killed saying that they want the ceasefire to include an end to the blockade.

    The editorial wasn’t totally worthless–they did criticize Israel for not trying to work with the unity government. But the way they condemned Hamas violence and implicitly blamed Hamas for Israeli violence, ignored the blockade and made no mention of Israeli violence during ceasefires while emphasizing the rockets–well, it was no better than I expected from them.

  6. Citizen on July 19, 2014, 6:54 pm

    CNN news now: Nearly everybody of important influence is on the side of Israel, but all it will take is a mistake by Israel where it kills a whole bunch of Palestinian civilians to change the tune against Israel. (The Jewish expert to the Goy host, who asks no follow-up questions).

    Rubio: Reason why civilians are dying in Gaza is it’s 100% HAMAS fault, and Obama is wrong.

    Maggie Haberman: 100% Congress support for Israel, but Rubio went farther by saying Obama has not backed Israel enough; we will hear this more. Obama’s POTUS proving ground.

    Host: Foreign Affairs is #10 on the list of Americans’ agenda, way behind pocket book issues.

    Haberman: WH driven by events, rather than visa versa.

  7. Citizen on July 19, 2014, 7:06 pm

    Naive or dumb, why he has his office at NYT. Interesting how so many like him pose this question to the objective observer. Why not just conclude his ilk are frightened mouses when it comes to anything newsworthy involving Israel? They love their careers and material comforts. Simple as that.

  8. Jerome Slater on July 19, 2014, 9:05 pm

    I also noticed the editorial. For as long as I remember, the editorials in the NY Times have been inept, and not just those on the I-P conflict. It’s exactly as you say, if you want to understand an issue, NY Times editorials are not where you would look. Who takes them seriously? In that case, why bother to take them on?


  9. Nevada Ned on July 19, 2014, 11:49 pm

    Kristof has gotten a LOT of stories wrong, not just Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians.

    For example, several years ago, Kristof promoted the story of Craig Mortenson, author of of “Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at Time”. Mortenson raised millions of dollars, allegedly for schools in rural Pakistan and Afghanistan. Trouble is, many of these schools never existed. When Mortenson’s story imploded in 2011, Katha Pollitt wondered in The Nation, “How did Mortenson dupe us all?”

    More recently, Kristof promoted Somaly Mam, who supposedly lead the struggle against international sex trafficking. Then it turned out that she had fabricated her autobiography. Just last month, Kath Pollitt wrote in The Nation…

    First Greg Mortenson, the world-famous author of Three Cups of Tea, raised millions of dollars for schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan that turned out not to exist. Now Somaly Mam, the world-famous Cambodian campaigner against sex trafficking, one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the World, has stepped down from her eponymous foundation in the wake of charges that she fabricated her harrowing autobiography of having been sold into sex slavery as a child. According to an exposé in Newsweek, Mam had a normal childhood and adolescence and is remembered by neighbors as “a happy, pretty girl with pigtails.” Not only did Mam apparently invent her past, she allegedly coached others in her organization, AFESIP, to tell similarly lurid false tales. Long Pross, who has just stepped down as a spokeswoman for the Somaly Mam Foundation, claimed a pimp gouged out her eye; actually, her eye was removed in surgery for a tumor when she was 13. She was never in a brothel. Meas Rotha says Mam auditioned girls for public appearances and told her she had to lie to help other women.

    Katha Pollitt asks, “When Will Nicholas Kristof Ever Learn?”
    Good question!

    Katha Pollitt, feminist columnist for The Nation, wonders

    When will Nicholas Kristof ever learn?

  10. Egbert on July 20, 2014, 7:30 am

    Some Russian Israeli’s have a more radical solution.

  11. piotr on July 20, 2014, 8:18 am

    Kristof is clearly well informed, he is just hopelessly biased. In his case, this is a bias of a religious person who wants to fit everything into his “nice framework”, so if the facts do not fit, he ignores them. The case of Cambodian activist is instructive: as she fights for a “good cause”, she must be a nice person and aspersion against her must be malicious. Incidentally, sex trafficking is basically a special case of exploiting people with “limited economic options”, and if you had your pick, would you prefer a brothel or slavery on a fishing boat, where you are beaten up or even tossed overboard if you do not work hard enough? Not an easy choice. There were estimates of 100,000 such slaves in the region, so actually some people have that choice. We could consider “slave free tuna”, except that can are either labelled “Product of Thailand”, where it happens, or not labelled by the origin at all. So you read the label extolling eco-friendly qualities of the catching technique, but nothing about the labor conditions.

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