Monday, September 29, 2008

Guess What?

Sarah Palin recently argued that we shouldn't "second guess" Israel on matters relating to its security. I don't agree with this in general, for while I think Israel deserves some deference in making decisions related to its security, that cannot be a categorical imperative. Part of being an ally means sometimes taking your friends aside and telling them when they need to chill. And part of being an independent nation means that sometimes your interests and/or moral commitments won't overlap perfectly with another independent nation, in which case it is perfectly legitimate to try and move things towards your preferred alignment. None of this, I think, substantively conflicts with being an ally towards Israel, so much as it serves as a check against some of the more extreme manifestations of "alliance" where we totally abdicate independent judgment.

But in any event. Outgoing Israeli PM Ehud Olmert has come out and said that for Israel to achieve peace, it will need to withdraw from nearly all of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and that any territory that was kept would need to be counterbalanced by swaps. Kevin Drum thinks it might be fun to press Gov. Palin as to whether this is the sort of decision we ought not "second guess". I've noticed that many right-wing "allies" of Israel turn against it in a heartbeat whenever it seems willing to make the concessions necessary for peace. Remember how Pat Robertson called Ariel Sharon's stroke a divine punishment? That's what I'm talking about.

But also, this passage from Olmert's interview caught my eye:
“With them, it is all about tanks and land and controlling territories and controlled territories and this hilltop and that hilltop,” he said. “All these things are worthless.”

He added, “Who thinks seriously that if we sit on another hilltop, on another hundred meters, that this is what will make the difference for the State of Israel’s basic security?”

I don't think we can be glib about how particular strategic territory might be important for Israel's security. But I do think its reasonable to say that the marginal importance of any given hill or ridge is vastly outweighed by the need to achieve a more or less permanent settlement. A paradigm shift amongst the Israeli political establishment that takes that insight to heart would be a tremendous step forward for the peace process.


PG said...

It's not clear what Palin means by "second-guess." Does she mean that we shouldn't criticize Israel's decision to, say, destroy another country's nuclear reactor if Israel perceives that country's nuclear activities as a threat? Does she mean we shouldn't agree with UN condemnation of such action? These are two very different things. We always should feel free to criticize Israel's decisions if we believe they are not good -- including if we think they are not good for Israel, even if they have no effect on the U.S. However, it's less clear whether we should condemn Israel's self defense measures formally, as Reagan did with the bombing of Osirak.

Cycle Cyril said...


I agree with you. Does that scare you? Though I would have one proviso on the criticism - that it does not come with a threat.


When in the past has any concession on Israel's part resulted in a net benefit or even a Palestinian partner that says anything in Arabic to his own people but death and destruction of Israel? (And none of this stuff of how Israel has not been living up to its concessions. You can argue that the treaties with Egypt and Jordan have a net benefit, but we're talking about the Palestinians)