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Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Pride or Prejudice?

OK... this is two political posts in one week... so clearly my word isn't worth squat.  All I can say is I will try not to make a habit of this.  Really.

Here's the deal. 

I love the writers on my good readin' list.  I can honestly say that even though I have very different orientation, values and politics from many of them, I have come to think of them as friends (yes, even the ones who have no idea I read them).  There isn't one person among them who is not extremely bright, articulate and a genuinely caring person.  They represent a slice of the work force and intellectual elite that would be nearly impossible to duplicate in a real life circle of friends.

This preamble is leading up to dilemma (are you starting to get the sense that treppenwitz is a dumping ground for all my dilemmas?). 

This particular problem of mine arises when I hear /read an otherwise brilliant blogger offer an opinion that makes no f*cking sense.  We're not talking about slightly flawed logic or shadings of political niceties.  We're talking about David reading a blog entry and coming up with a big 404 message... File not found... does not compute... WTF!

In keeping with my policy of not outing those with whom I disagree, I won't provide a link to this person's blog.  I maintin this policy because my respect for someone rarely suffers when I don't agree with them. 

anyway... enough background... on with my quandry:

Things got started when I read the following short entry in his blog:

"Syria wants a peace treaty

So why no response from the Israeli Government? I thought that it was part of a long standing policy to seek peace with our neighbours."

I know from long experience that this blogger is a lefty.  He makes no secret of his politics, and I don't mind a bit.   If all lefties were like him, I would at least be assured of a well reasoned, thinking-man's left wing in Israel... something I can't say at present.   But this brief entry completely baffled me... it made no sense whatsoever!

Here's a copy of our exchange of comments, starting with me:

No, actually what the article says is that Syria wants to return to the negotiating table.

Doesn't it seem odd to you that Israel is the only country in the history of the world that has won all its wars, yet has to sue for peace by giving away big chunks of land?

Wanting a peace treaty is putting out your hand and saying, "No hard feelings... let's be good neighbors."  The syrians are extending their hand all right, but the hand is palm up and they expect to be paid for the cessation of violence they call peace."
David  09.11.04 - 10:35 pm

So? Is that a reason to say no?

I was tempted to respond right away, but I think far to much of this blogger to respond hastily.  Instead, I decided to post my response here, and ask my readers (who are probably even more politically diverse than my good readin' list) to weigh in on the issue. 

If you have in-depth knowledge of the history of the conflict all the better, but I'm also interested in hearing opinions from those who are less invested in the Middle East.

Here's the comment that I opted not to post on his site:

Let's put it in a more personal setting:

You and I are neighbors.  I don't like you. What's more, my hatred of you is completely based on our religious differences and my feeling that you are sub-human.  Even before you legally purchased your tiny little house in my neighborhood full of mansions, I did everything in my power to try to keep you out. 

That didn't work.

So, on the day you closed on your little house, I started hurling firebombs at you, and got everyone else in the neighborhood to pitch in with the attack. 

In very short order, you proceeded to kick our collective *sses, and even managed to secure a buffer zone around your small property consisting of parcels of my yard, and yards belonging to the other neighbors who I had convinced to attack you. 

This happened not once, but several times. Each time you won and we lost more of our lawns.  In truth, this didn't make much difference because we had enormous estates and your yard was just a little scrap of lawn by comparison.  However, the principle of the thing bothered me... my pride, and the pride of my neighbors, had been wounded by the losses.

Now, I have decided I want to cease my hostilities against you (I'm not using the word 'peace' mind you... but I am willing to agree not to personally attack you any more).

I approach you with the following proposition:

I won't hurl any more firebombs at your house.  I can't promise that others won't attack you... and I won't even promise not to supply the other neighbors with the firebombs and encourage them to continue the struggle.  But in return for MY promise not to make any more direct trouble with you, I want you to return the portion of my yard that I lost in our various fights.


What I want to know from you, dear readers, is if this scenario sounds reasonable.

Also, maybe somebody can offer suggestions as to why I'm having so much trouble getting my head around the land-for-peace formula that seemingly everyone else in the world, and much of the Israeli left wing, think is perfectly reasonable.

Simply put, is this blogger's question: "So? Is that a reason to say no?" a reasonable one?

Now, it is worth pointing out that the issue of 'land for peace' is obviously a sensitive subject... meaning that it pushes people's religious and political buttons.  With that said, I urge you to be respectful of one another and share opinions that address specific ideas, not the people expressing them.


Posted by David Bogner on November 10, 2004 | Permalink


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Please finish the story. Let's say your future grandchildren inherit your house. What does your vision of their neighborhood look like?

Posted by: Prunella | Nov 10, 2004 4:55:17 PM

Thats a great way to put it. But there is more to it than that. Syria hosts Hamas et el. in their capital city. They host the terror leadership because it is too dangerous for them in Israel. After a couple of suicide bombings Israel has attaked inside Syria because Syria sponsors and has a hand in these attacks. Syria grooms the terrorist group Hezbolla. They keep them on Israel's border armed to the teeth with rockets and a constant source of presure for the IDF. In the last few years they have killed Israeli soldiers. If they wished they could produce the information on Ron Arad and other POWs as a goodwill gesture.

Do you see a hand outstreched for peace!! Do you see one gesture for peace?

Syria is a country in a tight spot diplomatically with sanctions, US presure etc. Coming out and saying: "We want peace" sounds great to the international community and its GREAT P.R.; it requires no commitment or action. Meanwhile they continue to support Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbolla...

Actions speak louder than words esp. in the Arab world.

Posted by: davej | Nov 10, 2004 5:10:39 PM

Dear David, although at home in Israel I'm a lefty (what a cute word), I explain to the Germans I left behind: imagine Germany thinking WWII over. Germany wants to have East Prussia back. And you know something, Alsace is nice, too. And thinking about it, South Denmark used to be German, too.

Imagine Germany negotiating with Poland, France and Denmark for the land Germany lost after WWII. Okay? What do you say? My good Germans say: No, we would never want this land back. We started the war, we attacked Poland, we lost the land and have to live with it. We have good relations with our neighbors, thank God.

So you do think, my good Germans, that a country that started a war and attacked her neighbors should keep low profile afterwards? Yes. So why not Syria?

In Germany, this argument usually works. It makes people think - I hope so at least.

As Israeli among Israelis, it's a source of pride for me that Israel has always been willing to give up land for peace. If we receive a REAL peace in return - I guess many Israelis will be willing to give up land. If you offer Israel peace, you can be sure to get something in return - Egypt and Jordan are witnesses.

Nevertheless it has to be remembered that the Golan Heights are huge and much of it belongs to Syria. Far as I know, it's not exactly overpopulated. So I don't see the Syrian urgent need for that land. So both Syria and Israel can live the way we live now a little longer, both hoping to get a better prize after a while.

These matters are too complex for single-perspective opinions.

Posted by: Lila | Nov 10, 2004 5:19:57 PM

It is absolutely a reason to say no. To the point of being laughable.

Posted by: Tanya | Nov 10, 2004 5:38:52 PM

I'm of the same mind as you are - giving up something concrete for a mere promise is something I have trouble accepting. One might point to the Sinai deal with Egypt as evidence that it works, except that Egypt, especially in recent years, has done everything possible to stick it to Israel without coming to blows. Oh but for $100 billion, eh?

So (at best) it will be with Syria. Israel will give up some/all of the Golan for a so-called peace while the Syrians continue to allow their Iranian backed Hezbollah friends to wage a proxy war. Such a deal!

In the end, people are going to have to realize that while peace is a desirable and noble goal, it shouldn't come it any price.

Posted by: Geoff | Nov 10, 2004 5:40:18 PM

Is that a reason to say no to what? To going back to the table?
Well, I always figured you were never going to get a chance to negotiate peace treaties with your friends. It was only going to be with the asshole neighbors. So Israel cannot refuse to go back to the table forever and still be taken seriously. It has always been a foreign policy assumption by Israeli governments of both stripes that almost all the conquests of 67 and 73 were negotiable.
The trick, and I don't mean that lightly, is to come away from the table with a deal we won't regret.

Posted by: Jordan | Nov 10, 2004 5:44:04 PM

Prunella... You make one of the only reasonable points one can make in the face of such an unreasonable demand: What about my descendants who will have to live in my house after I'm gone? Should I sacrifice what is rightly mine to ensure they have a chance at a safer existence?

DaveJ... You are preaching to the choir. However, we have seen that the large sponsors of terrorism have the ability to both foment and withhold terror, at their whim. What if Syria really turns off the terrorism coming from all those groups it supports as part of a peace agreement. Remember, it is quite common for two sides of a war to fire shots right up to the moment of the armistice. I doubt this scenario would ever come to pass, but I'm throwing it out there for your consideration.

Lila... I like your analogy, but we both know that sensibilities and traditions are much different here in the Middle East than in Western Europe. One of the main reasons the Europeans are so anti-Israel (IMHO) is that they expect Israel to act according to European norms (i.e. they see us as European interlopers) while confronting an Arab enemy with an alien set of rules.

Tanya... I sense some ambivalence on your part. :-)

Geoff... You had me up until your last sentence. I really would do nearly anything for a real peace, but my problem is that what the Arabs (especially Syria) are offering is not peace. It is an ill defined cessation of hostilities. They can always go back to fighting us... but that land is gone forever.

Jordan... You raise an interesting point. The blogger about whom I spoke didn't specify whether he was talking about saying no to a land for peace deal, or simply sitting down at the negotiating table. They are very different things. If he is reading this, I'd want him to know that I think Israel should walk through the door and sit down at any negotiating table possible. But there should be no preconditions and no expectation that Israel has to bring land as a peace offering and all the Arabs have to bring is a pen.

Posted by: David | Nov 10, 2004 6:17:02 PM

Right now is the wrong time to sit at the table. That is why Syria is asking and not because they want peace.

Right now Syria is under international pressure to withdraw from Lebanon and restrain Hezbollah. Why relieve that pressure by sitting down for talks with them. Maybe the US can cause regime change or stop Syrias support for terrorism which is within their interest. It seems Israel would be better to wait things out than sit and negotiate. What does Israel have to gain from a cold peace with Syria? As long as the PLO is fighting Israel Syria cannot and will not support Israel unless it turns its back on the PLO in its own borders and refugee camps. It cannot afford to do this. There cannot be peace with Syria until the PLO problem is sorted out. Syria is not interested in peace with Israel but rather is interested in relieving international pressure. Why give them the chance? Even sitting at the table with them will help them. They can then claim they are a peace seeking nation, but Israel is making unacceptable demands and blame Israel for the failure of the talks--this reasoning will be savoured by the international community like a kid with candy floss. This gives legitimacy to Hezbollah who is fighting for freedom of Syrian lands--as they say. If a cessation of hostilities is all Israel will get, they are better off now and their children will be better off with the bargaining chip in hand.

Two of the nearby houses have recently had changeovers, namely Iraq and Afghanistan. Something may happen with Iran soon too. Syria is in a bad way and they are experiencing pressure, why negotiate with a dying rabid dog? Israel has the antidote for Syrias problems; why give it them? I say bring on the sanctions and see what else Bush does in the next four years. This is post Sept. 11 and Syria is a country that supports terrorism. Russia and the USA don't like terrorists anymore--whatever anyone says.

Posted by: davej | Nov 10, 2004 7:13:48 PM

A number of years ago I heard a very interesting story from a man who spoke about the Dead Sea as being a source of peace for Israel.

Essentially he said that if Israel used the minerals within it they could potentially start new industries that would require peace to work.

As I recall there was the question of being able to use magnesium as the material for constructing airplanes. And there was also a discussion of using Potash for fertilizer.

The thought was that if you created a strong enough economic incentive the governments of the Arab nations would be forced to end their support of terrorism.

Posted by: Jack | Nov 10, 2004 9:33:35 PM

Should I sacrifice what is rightly mine to ensure they have a chance at a safer existence?

I know I'm not saying anything of which you aren't aware, but this won't stop at a little more land or a little more money. It didn't work for Rabin, and it won't work now. Israel's enemies want Israel gone and the Jews dead.

To reuse your metaphor, your inheritors would be safer if you razed your vicious neighbor's house, fenced his yard to include your own, and set up armament in his rose garden as a reminder to the rest of the neighborhood.

Did I mention I'm biased? I'm biased.

Posted by: Tanya | Nov 10, 2004 10:39:14 PM

I don't like the neighborhood, my house, their house, yard, analogy (probably the only image I have NOT like in all of David's blogs). This image is much too soft, too nice. Nations are 'neighbors' only by metaphor, and not at all in the literal, personal sense. The primary reason for this is that nations are multitudes, not ian individual or even a family. To simplify the difficulties of Germany and her neighbors, Mexico and hers, China and hers, or Israel and hers, is to miss the essential mush of politics, ethnic pride/resentment, leadership (or lack thereof), international or regional feelings/prejudices, and a host of issues and realities of time and place.
Sevral of the previous comments have delineated Israel's necessary options here. I would only emphasize that, if Syria asks to negotiate, Israel can see what that means, and proceed cautiously from there--always with total self-interest. As many have noted in the past decaddes since Israel's founding, virtually any other nation on the face of the earth can make a mistake, lose a war, be conquered, etc. and probably come back in time in some form, in some national way. Only Israel faces potential eliminattion, with tears afterward and eulogies and much solicitous wringing of hands---but still no Israel.
This must make them look carefully at the Golan, and every other strategic chunk of land; promise 'em anything, and drive a hard bargain. They must protect themselves as no other nation on earth has to do such a normal thing. They can't afford even one mistake. Thats their bottom line and it must be respected.

Posted by: Del Bogner | Nov 11, 2004 12:08:00 AM

It is hard to truly negotiate with someone with whom you have such huge religious differences and harbor subhuman feelings for. Can I blame you for having those feelings....no. Do I think you should be albe to have your land back.....Yes. Back to your illustration. All the mansion owners in the neighborhood should have a town meeting and decide it is in the common intrest of the neighborhood to fight and kill those who stole their land. Forgive me its hard for me to see outside the box being that Islamic fundametalist keep killing my brothers.

Posted by: jason | Nov 11, 2004 7:44:19 AM

oops...fundameNtalist....political and religious anger before coffee....bad idea :)

Posted by: jason | Nov 11, 2004 7:47:56 AM

DaveJ... Unfortunately, Israel doesn't have the luxury of dealing with the 'neighbors' as a group. There is no real 'block association' much as the Arabs would like the world to believe the myth of Arab unity. Each country must be viewed through the prism of our experiences with it.

Jack... Israel has been mining the 'riches' of the Dead sea for years. It is a nice source of revenue, but nothing compared to the Arab oil machine. What's more, when the Arab oil runs out (as it must) or some cheaper form of energy comes into vogue, the Arabs will be thrown into fits of violence because they have nothing else on which to fall back.

Tanya... You and I are on the same page in theory. But in practice, Israel has to conduct itself much more subtly. Having a fenced parking lot in place of Israel's angry neighbors would be a wonderful solution to many of our present security problems, but one can't really call that a real world solution. As much as I enjoy daydreaming about these despot regimes finally getting what they deserve... such fantasies have about as much chance of fruition as my longing for the class bullies to be run over by a truck in Jr. High School.

Dad... You are right about each country being much more complex than the neighborhood analogy might allow. But no matter how diverse the culture, there is still a central government in place that is responsible for that country's actions. TO excuse them from acting responsibly because of the complexity of their societies is the very trap that Israel has fallen into with the Palestinians. Here there really is no central authority with which to negotiate... yet the world wants us to proceed anyway!

Jason... I think you have accidentally turned around my analogy (unless you are of the opinion that the Arabs should wipe Israel off the map). :-)

Posted by: David | Nov 11, 2004 8:31:20 AM

yeah i turned around your analogy...guess I could'nt see Israel as the "little house" being that the US and Istael share sattelites, we sell you weapons, and the US is often accused of unfarily supporting Israel because many Christians believe Jews are chosen by g-d. But I didnt consider the "Arab oil machine" wealth or their size in comparison to you....my bad.

Posted by: jason | Nov 11, 2004 1:16:22 PM

As Arafat lay dying, Syria realized that once the single biggest impediment to peace was gone, it was likely they would be the only ones without some kind of deal with both Israel and the US. That is their incentive to start now. They also realize that with the unrest continuing in Iraq, their support of the current insurgnts, or as I like to think of them, the Iraqi freedom fighters, would come under greater scrutiny. They need to bank up some positive participation in the mideast peace process.
Make no mstake bout it. The problem with the palestinians was Arafat. His successors are much more likely to clamp down on Hamas and Islamic Jihad. That doesn't mean they will, but at least they might.

Posted by: Jordan | Nov 11, 2004 4:34:41 PM

the only reason for Syria and Israel to negotiate is to somehow make an exchange that makes each better off. just as when you stop by Krispy Kreme and negotiate the exchange of a half dozen yummy donuts for a few bucks; you are happier with the donuts and they are happier with your cash.

so what's on offer here? the Syrians want many things from Israel and America -- the Golan, promises to not have a regime change imposed upon them, aid and removal from the terrorist list. yet they are in a hole. they are teamed up with the Iranians to do the wrong thing. their sons are being killed in countless numbers in Iraq. they are geographically surrounded by America's friends or allies, and George Bush just got re-elected.

what do the Israelis want? they know there is little military threat from Syria or its minions. Arafat is dead; so, things will be brightening up in the territories. the only thing they would like from the Syrians is a verifiable promise not to develop the nukes that could actually threaten Israel's existence.

unfortunately they and their pals the Iranians aren't going there, yet. so, until the Syrians are ready to make a Libyan style climb down, they have nothing to offer Israel that Israel wants. All they can do is to put out press releases, which won't get them what they want but will make the softheaded and the press ask Israel to do something in response.

Posted by: rammer | Nov 13, 2004 11:56:48 PM

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