Monday, October 31, 2016

Why Roger Cohen Still Refuses To Look At The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Objectively

I erred in underestimating the brutality and cynicism of a[n Iranian] regime that understands the uses of ruthlessness.
Roger Cohen, Iran's Days of Anguish June, 2009.

Roger Cohen writes in The New York Times about Why Israel Refuses to Choose -- an odd title, really, considering that in his entire piece, the only one who explicitly refuses to choose is an Israeli Arab who will not choose whether they see themselves as Israelis, Palestinians, Muslims, Arabs, or something else.

The implication of the title though is that Israel refuses to choose peace, a position that Cohen supports by offering his opinion of Israel and Netanyahu.

Yet, in castigating Israel and the Netanyahu government, Roger Cohen is reduced to taking a quote of David Ben-Gurion out of context. Cohen claims:

In a sense, then, Israel has won. David Ben-Gurion was right when he observed in 1949 that, “When the matter is dragged out — it brings us benefits.” Policy since then has been pretty consistent: Create facts on the ground; break the Arabs’ will through force; push for as much of the biblical Land of Israel between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River as possible.
However, he leaves out the context of the complete quote, and by doing so twists what Ben-Gurion actually said. In his book The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World, Avi Shlaim gives the more complete quote:
"It is true that these things should not prevent us from accelerating the peace, because the issue of peace between us and the Arabs is important and it is worth paying a considerable price for it. But when the matter is dragged out--it brings us benefits, as the mufti helped us in the past." [emphasis added]
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David Ben-Gurion. Credit: Pinn Hans, Wikipedia


Avi Shlaim is a critic of Israel who will never be accused of whitewashing its actions - past nor present. When you cannot quote Shlaim in context because it puts Ben Gurion -- and Israel -- in a positive light, you  have a problem. But then again, Cohen is not looking for balance.

So he writes:
Greater Israel is what Israelis know; the smaller Israel west of the Green Line that emerged from the 1947-49 war of independence is a fading memory. The right-wing government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with its contempt for Palestinians and dissenting voices in general, prefers things that way, as the steady expansion of settlements demonstrates.
The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas, has lost the legitimacy, the cohesion and the will to do much about it. The cancellation of municipal elections in the West Bank and Gaza that had been set for this month was another sign of paralyzing Palestinian infighting.
Put aside how Cohen has belittled the thousands of rockets out of Gaza as "sporadic Hamas rockets" while stating his indignation at "the steady expansion of settlements." Expansion is being concentrated on building homes inside the settlements, and from 1990 to 2012 Israel had approved just 3 settlements, according to Peace Now. Similarly, Haaretz reported in 2015 that an average of 1,554 houses a year were built in the settlements from 2009 to 2014 — fewer than under any of Netanyahu's recent predecessors. And don't forget that in a goodwill gesture in December 2009, Netanyahu issued a 10 month moratorium on building in the settlements to bring Abbas to the negotiating table -- but Abbas squandered the opportunity. He waited till September 2010 before sitting with Israel and promptly insisted that Israel must extend the freeze.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Credit: Twitter Page


And what about Abbas? Is Roger Cohen right that Abbas has "lost the will" to do anything about settlements? Not according to Jackson Diehl. In a meeting with the Palestinian leader in May 2009, Abbas made it clear he was content to sit back and let Obama pressure Israel:
Abbas and his team fully expect that Netanyahu will never agree to the full settlement freeze -- if he did, his center-right coalition would almost certainly collapse. So they plan to sit back and watch while U.S. pressure slowly squeezes the Israeli prime minister from office. "It will take a couple of years," one official breezily predicted. Abbas rejects the notion that he should make any comparable concession -- such as recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, which would imply renunciation of any large-scale resettlement of refugees.

Instead, he says, he will remain passive. "I will wait for Hamas to accept international commitments. I will wait for Israel to freeze settlements," he said. "Until then, in the West Bank we have a good reality . . . the people are living a normal life."
[emphasis added]
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Mahmoud Abbas. Credit: Wikipedia


Cohen does admit that Abbas is "marking time," but he fails to see that this has been the default position of Abbas for years and is not a new development.

This lack of perspective is similar to his analysis of Iran.

Back in March 2009, Cohen defended the repressive regime of Iran, writing that:
Iran is an un-free society with a keen, intermittently brutal apparatus of repression, but it’s far from meeting these [totalitarian] criteria. Significant margins of liberty, even democracy, exist. Anything but mad, the mullahs have proved malleable.
Iran: un-free, brutal and repressive -- but not totalitarian! Small comfort.

A month earlier, going even further, Roger Cohen praised the Iranian government's treatment of its Jews:
Still a mystery hovers over Iran’s Jews. It’s important to decide what’s more significant: the annihilationist anti-Israel ranting, the Holocaust denial and other Iranian provocations — or the fact of a Jewish community living, working and worshipping in relative tranquillity.

Perhaps I have a bias toward facts over words, but I say the reality of Iranian civility toward Jews tells us more about Iran — its sophistication and culture — than all the inflammatory rhetoric.
It was not until June of that year that Roger Cohen finally admitted he had been mistaken about Iran:
I’ve also argued that, although repressive, the Islamic Republic offers significant margins of freedom by regional standards. I erred in underestimating the brutality and cynicism of a regime that understands the uses of ruthlessness.
How long will it be before Roger Cohen will finally recognize the incitement of hatred and support of terrorism against Israel by the Abbas regime?


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