Monday, December 03, 2007

Max Boot -- Rice's remarks at Annapolis didn't help

All day yesterday I was nagged by not being able to find where I had read something by someone who really wanted Condoleeza Rice to just butt out of further negotiations aimed at bringing peace between Israel and her neighbors. (I love IE7, but mine sometimes fails to keep up with browsing history and shows me a blank folder when I try to find something I came across earlier in the day. Really, really frustrating. My short-term memory is already wearing thin, and when technology starts to go loony it makes me crazy.)

This comment by Max Boot is uncomfortably clear for the Palestinians. Hopefully someone will catch on.

My fellow blogger Abe Greenwald has already commented on the incongruity of the comparison that Condi Rice reportedly made at Annapolis, suggesting that because of her childhood in the segregated South she can empathize with both Palestinians and Israelis.

On the one hand, Rice said: “I know what its like to hear that you can’t use a certain road or pass through a checkpoint because you are a Palestinian. I know what it is like to feel discriminated against and powerless.” On the other hand, “Like Israelis, I understand what it’s like to go to sleep not knowing if you will be hurt in an explosion, the feeling of terror walking around your own neighborhood, or walking to your house of prayer.”

One wonders if Rice thought through the implications of her comparison of Israelis with Southern segregationists and of Palestinians with the Ku Klux Klan: not a very flattering comparison to either side.

But even if you accept the dubious premise that Palestinians, like African-Americans, are innocent victims of discrimination, it is worth pondering the differences in their responses. Some African-Americans, like the Black Panthers, opted for a violent response. But theirs was a tiny, minority position. The overwhelming majority of the African-American community protested injustice through nonviolent protest, even in the face of severe provocation. In the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. they produced a towering figure in the Gandhi tradition who, in effect, shamed American whites into overturning centuries of officially enforced segregation.

Where, one wonders, is the Palestinian Martin Luther King? Their most recognizable leader was Yasser Arafat, who devoted his life to terrorism. Today their most powerful leaders, in Hamas, are also firmly intent on the path of war; they continue to attack Israel and refuse to recognize its right to exist even after Israel has made a generous concession by evacuating the Gaza Strip. Mahmoud Abbas is of a more moderate bent, but he too has been part of a violent struggle for most of his life, having spent long years as Arafat’s top henchman.

The Palestinians have reaped what they have sown: Faced with violence, Israel has had no choice but to respond in kind, even though the Israeli security services have usually opted for the most measured responses possible.

What the Palestinians don’t seem to realize is that nonviolent protest is actually the best strategy against a liberal democracy like Israel. If the Palestinians had kept the moral high ground, Israel would have been forced to make even more concessions than they have already—the substantial body of liberal opinion in Israel would have seen to that. But because the Palestinians reward every concession with more attacks, they have convinced the overwhelming majority of Israelis that there is no hope in the near future of a negotiated settlement.

In short, the Palestinian strategy is not only immoral but impractical. They have no one but themselves to blame for their current predicament. It’s a shame that an American secretary of state is, in effect, letting them off the hook with an injudicious analogy.

He poses a good question: Where is the Palestinian MLK? One might argue that in the case of tyrannical systems such as those in China, Burma or even most of the countries in the Middle East the tactics of non-violent direct actions may be morally compelling but hopeless to the point of being suicidal. But as he points out, "nonviolent protest is actually the best strategy against a liberal democracy like Israel."

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