David Frum Embraces Anti-Zionism

In a piece that seems to have created something of a firestorm, Peter Beinart calls for a boycott of Israeli goods produced in the occupied territories. I admit that Beinart’s piece enraged me — not because it is untrue, but rather because it is so derivative. People have been saying this stuff for years: what’s the big deal? Beinart was a pretty hawkish New Republic editor: he shouldn’t get extra points now for being wrong beforehand.

But I suppose I don’t appreciate sufficiently how ideas get into the public square. Now, the sometimes-sensible David Frum has decided to (politely) attack his Daily Beast colleague — and in the meantime, give aid and comfort to those who are working to destroy Zionism.

Frum says that Beinart’s proposal is tantamount to ”punish[ing] Israelis in order to change the Palestinians. It’s not a very good plan.”

If the Israeli-Palestinian dispute were a dispute over borders, it would have been settled long ago. The dispute never has been about borders, and it is not about borders now. The spread of Jewish settlements in the West Bank is not a cause of Palestinian rejectionism. It is a consequence of Palestinian rejectionism. It’s tiresome to repeat the history. Peter knows it as well as I do. Has there been a moment since 1936 when a majority of Jewish opinion would have rejected a peace based on partition and mutual recognition by a Jewish and Arab state? Has there has been a moment since 1936 when the Palestinian political community would have accepted such a peace?

Objection, your honor! Relevance.

Beinart’s point — which really is quite obvious — is that Israel cannot be a Jewish and democratic state while holding on to the territories. His minor premise is that continued settlement in the West Bank (which he calls “undemocratic Israel”) makes any eventual relinquishment of the territories impossible.

Beinart never says that Israel should return the territories without an end to Palestinian rejectionism. What he does say is that continuing to build settlements will make it impossible to return the territories if and when the Palestinians do accept peace based upon partition and mutual recognition.

Recall how searing and painful it was just a few years ago for Ariel Sharon to effect a withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Withdrawing from the West Bank will make that look like a cakewalk (although the context of an actual agreement will soften things a smidge). And Frum’s solution for this is to make it harder.

Again: no one is saying that Israel should withdraw now. It will take some painful concessions from the Palestinians — definitely over the right of return and maybe over other issues — to get an agreement. I have no evidence that any Palestinian political leader is contemplating such concessions. And that means we are in a state of suspended animation for the foreseeable future, managing the conflict instead of solving it. But if anything, that gives Israel a chance to grapple with its own internal problems — social, economic, religious, and demographic — which are the true threats to Zionism.

This isn’t hard, and I can’t understand why Frum is unable to see it. He’s already been fired by the conservative movement, although perhaps this is his (ironic) way of extending them an olive branch.

Shortly after the Six Day War, General Ariel Sharon, fresh from his spectacular campaign to conquer the Sinai, proudly told Prime Minister Levi Eshkol that Israel was now secure, that no one would ever be able to conquer the Jewish State.

“That’s fine, Arik,” replied Eshkol. “But what are we going to do with all these Arabs?”

Forty-five years later, we still don’t have an answer. That’s bad enough, but Frum and people who agree with him still can’t even understand the question. That’s frightening.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff is a professor of law at the University of California, Los Angeles.