The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Wednesday, May 15, 2002  

Geography Lessons for Americans

“Standing on this disputed piece of land, I can see the indisputable logic of the Likud Party’s decision to bar the creation of a Palestinian state of chaos,” reports the Boston Herald’s Don Feder from the West Bank settlement of Kfar Etzion.

“On Sunday, the central committee of Israel’s ruling party voted overwhelmingly against the establishment of Palestine -- at any point in time.... ‘The creation of a Palestinian state will endanger the Jewish state of Israel,’ [Benyamin] Netanyahu warned,” Feder writes approvingly of an act that may prove to be one of the greatest obstacles to peace in the region.

But Feder takes this argument further: “It would also constitute a gross injustice. Palestinian statehood would mean expelling 230,000 Jews, razing homes, businesses, schools and synagogues, and handing over the land where the patriarchs walked and prophets preached to the suicide bombers’ cheering section.”

This is dishonesty of the most blatant sort. For years now -- decades, actually -- discussions between Israel, the Palestinians, and the U.S. regarding a “land for peace” formula have never called for the expulsion of all Jewish settlers on the West Bank and Gaza. It is a simple fact that all parties to these talks have accepted the fact that some of the settlements would remain in place and that accommodations would be make that recognize Israel’s genuine security interests.

Selling it overseas

However, now that the leading party in Israel has gone public with its indelible opposition to a Palestinian state, it’s time to sell the policy overseas, which is where Feder comes in, certain to be followed by countless others.

The primary lines of the argument are well established: First, Jews have lived in the region for 4,000 years; second, no Palestinian or Arab polity was ever created there; third, there is no such thing as “the Palestinian people;” fourth, the West Bank is a imaginary region dreamed up as a propaganda tool to use against the Israelis and refers to what should properly be termed Judea and Samaria; and fifth, given the above, only the Jews have a right to live on this land.

Throw in the usual half-truths about Palestinians having abandoned their villages during Israeli’s war for independence, Israel being the only democracy in the region, Israel being an ally in the U.S. war against terrorism, and a few jabs at the primitiveness of the Arabs, and you get the picture.

Thus, Feder quotes a non-settling American-born settler, Sondra Baras: “I don’t live in the territories. I live in Israel, in a particular neighborhood called Samaria.” Baras’s delusion may offer spiritual succor, but it is politically and strategically dangerous, both to her as an individual and to Israel as a state. One wonders whether Baras realizes she has been used by her own government as a tool to create “facts on the ground,” i.e., to create Jewish settlements or “villages” where none previously existed, thereby doing an end run around the entire peace process.

It’s time again to rewrite history and Feder is only too happy to join the effort. We feel compelled to warn that this is hazardous territory, a strategy that has proved embarrassing to Israelis and Zionists in the past.

One need only look back to the fiasco known as From Time Immemorial, the error-filled and distortion-riddled history of Palestine written by the now-disgraced Joan Peters. Her book, praised to the skies by leading intellectuals everywhere when it was first published, was later exposed as a fraudulent tract. From Time Immemorial came to be something of an embarrassment, a work that was repudiated or at best ignored by the very same intellectuals who found it brilliant on first reading.

Judea and Samaria

For his part, Feder glides right in to the preferred terms of the settlers: There are no occupied territories and there is no such place as the West Bank. The region is to be called Judea and Samaria, a preemptory Zionist claim that reflects Israeli aggrandizement and that is certain to prove unconstructive during the months ahead.

“Throughout history, there has never been an independent Arab state on this land. (Try naming the last Palestinian king of Judea.) The designation ‘West Bank’ is an invention of Arab propagandists,” asserts Feder. “The land has been paid for in full by its rightful owners,” he adds, inscrutably.

In addition to a tendentious and simplistic account of the region’s history in the 20th century (We summarize as follows: Arabs bad, Jews good.), Feder feeds us the inevitable geography lesson and strategic lecture: “Without Judea and Samaria [Ed.: I.e., the West Bank.], Jerusalem would be surrounded on three sides by hostile territory. The mountains of Samaria guard the coastal plain, home to 70 percent of Israel’s population.”

Feder is unyielding, standing firm in an extreme and indefensible position, one that we expect to hear with greater frequency in coming weeks: “The ‘territories’ are owner-occupied, and so they shall remain.”

This is the right-wing Likud position, one that has come to the fore with Netanyahu’s “winning” vote by the party’s Central Committee. With Netanyahu gunning for the premiership, and campaigning actively for it in Israel and the U.S., we expect to see many more essays like Feder’s in American newspapers and magazines. Similarly, we anticipate greater pressure on the Bush administration to adopt a similar stance. Surely we will pay for this arrogance.

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