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?