David Remnick has a short piece in the New Yorker, “Aflame,” lamenting the current Gaza conflict. For me, it illustrates what is often wrong with the New Yorker these days: he’s glib and gets the essence wrong.
Remnick is a great writer. But the trouble with elegant prose is it can camouflage bad judgment. Remnick has been known to carry water for war hawks before. (For example, here he is advocating for the invasion of Iraq in 2003.)
Remnick is good buddies with Ari Shavit and helped peddle his book on these shores. The main messages of Shavit’s book (“My Promised Land,” a book, Remnick said, “that if it’s not in your hands, you’re very foolish”) is that 1) the world hates the Jews, and it always will, so the Jews need their own state armed to the teeth; 2) If the Jews don’t have their own state, they’ll intermarry and live happily assimilated lives—and we can’t have that; 3) Iran is out to bomb Israel with nuclear weapons (See point 1); 4) Yes the “pioneers” who formed the state engaged in ethnic cleansing; it was necessary (but it means the Palestinians hate the Jews, they’ll never get over it, so we need to keep a tight lid on the occupation); 5) Israel should abandon the West Bank—but it can’t happen for the next generation or four, so get used to it. I doubt Shavit would entirely agree with this characterization, but read the book and tell me that this is not the gist of it.
Remnick doesn’t display much wisdom in this latest New Yorker piece either. He locates the source of this conflict with the kidnapping of the three yeshiva students on June 2. This misses the point and is misleading. To be sure Remnick adds wise-sounding weasel words —but that’s where he puts his finger: the kidnappings. However, even without unspooling to 1917 (the type of casting back that Remnick deplores here), the cause of the present flare up is the Hamas/PA reconciliation pact, which Netanyahu went more or less apoplectic about. That’s where Remnick should point his finger.
Here’s the timeline:
Hamas and the PA announced their intention to form a unity government on April 24, 2014 (while I was in Israel). This was to be followed by elections within six months. The U.S. indicated guarded support. The EU felt it was an important step towards a two-state solution. Israel harshly condemned Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for choosing a pact with Hamas and Netanyahu promptly cut off the Kerry led peace negotiations.
The technocratic unity government was sworn in on June 2, 2014.
Ten days later, on June 12, three Israeli yeshiva students were kidnapped and killed in the West Bank by a rogue element loosely associated with Hamas. This group has acted in the past to undermine any softening of Hamas’s position.
Israeli investigators knew the next morning the three had been killed because one of them placed an emergency “100” call, and there was an open recorded line as they were shot. The police soon found a burned-out Hyundai which contained a pair of tefillin (leather-bound texts that religious Jews strap on for prayer), DNA evidence that was quickly matched to the boys’ parents, and eight bullet holes. But Netanyahu put a gag order on the press and for three weeks pursued Hamas on the West Bank, destroyed homes, arrested about 400—including every Hamas guy they could find, and killed at least five Palestinians, all the while professing they were hoping to find the boys alive.
This led to a barrage of Gaza rockets, Israeli bombing, an Israeli ground invasion and, as of this writing, 1,221 Palestinian dead, 56 Israeli dead, thousands wounded, and Gaza being demolished.
Remnick, rightly laments the politics of all this:
The politics are as disheartening as the casualties are heartbreaking. Last year, Secretary of State John Kerry cautioned that if the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, did not find a way to make serious progress on ending the occupation and creating feasible borders and mutual guarantees, the outlines of which have been clear for decades, the consequences would likely be catastrophic—from a third intifada to the end of a two-state solution. Moshe Ya’alon, Netanyahu’s Defense Minister, made plain the leadership’s attitude toward the peace talks by telling associates that Kerry was “obsessive” and “messianic.” “He should take his Nobel Prize and leave us alone,” Ya’alon said.
But what is he saying? This seems like unintelligible gibberish aimed at sounding smart, while saying nothing. Is he criticizing Kerry, or supporting Kerry? Who knows. Is he seconding Israel’s criticism of Kerry, or holding it up for ridicule. The reader can take away what she may.
Remnick did an excellent piece on the new right in Israel, Naftali Bennet, Avigdor Lieberman, and Moshe Feiglin, in January ’13. But to suggest that Natanyahu was ever seriously behind a two state solution, as Remnick does in his penultimate paragraph (referencing the 2009 Bar Ilan speech), is not really credible. What’s more believable is that Benzion Netanyahu, an unrepentant racist whose motto was “never give up any part of the land,” is presently smiling proudly down on his son as I write this.
Last week, Reuven Rivlin, the scion of an old, right-wing Jerusalem family, took the oath of office as Israel’s President. The post is largely ceremonial, but there was meaning in the occasion. Rivlin was replacing Shimon Peres, who was a co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1994, for his role in forging the Oslo Accords. Peres, who is ninety, is a champion of the two-state solution. Rivlin is a champion of the Israeli settlers. As he has put it, “I wholeheartedly believe that the land of Israel is ours in its entirety.” Tragically, it is Rivlin’s absolutist view that is in the ascendance for so many, both in Palestine and in Israel.
It’s true, Rivlin is a one state guy, but he’s willing to give everybody citizenship. Netanyahu’s heart lies with the Greater-Israel-without-any-Palestinians crowd. Peres was an old hawk who became a fig leaf for the “we are so peaceful, and would like to compromise, really—if only we had a peace partner—but we-don’t-so-we-really-must-settle-and occupy-forever” crowd. Give me Rivlin over Peres any day.
A version of this post appeared first on Roland Nikles’s blog.