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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Cohen's "A Test of Israel's Character": Bon Appétit, Roger

In his latest op-ed in today's New York Times entitled "A Test of Israel's Character" (, Roger Cohen tells us: "At a dinner hosted by American Jewish leaders for the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, I was seated with a senior U.S. diplomat to my left, the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization to my right, and Abbas opposite." In an earlier New York Times op-ed entitled "Obama in His Labyrinth" (, name dropper Cohen wrote: "I found myself seated next to Henry Kissinger at a New York dinner and asked him how he thought President Barack Obama was doing." Cohen obviously gets to sit with many famous people at many fancy dinners, which is why he is also able to write about diets and girth-related happiness in monkeys ["The General Motors Diet" ( and "The Meaning of Life" (].

I don't get invited to black tie New York dinners. In the words of The Who, "Out here in the fields, I fight for my meals," and the reality on the ground in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza is literally an ocean apart from Cohen's Manhattan soiree.

Readiness to extend the building moratorium is a "Test of Israel's Character"? Rubbish. Cohen fails to observe that when Egypt's Sadat was ready for peace with Israel, Israel's "hawkish" Prime Minister Begin evacuated all of Sinai. Cohen also ignores the unilateral evacuation of Gaza by Israel's "hawkish" Prime Minister Sharon, which elicited more than 10,000 rockets, missiles and mortar shells fired from Gaza into southern Israel. When this bombardment was at its peak in 2008, I wrote to Roger and asked to take him to the southern Israeli town of Sderot in order to witness the travesty at first hand, but although he kindly acknowledged my offer ("will do"), he never came.

The real question is not Israel's "character", but whether Abbas, like Sadat, is now ready for peace. Having sat opposite Abbas at dinner, an omniscient Cohen informs us, "Abbas is serious about peace." Abbas, however, not long ago declared, "I will wait for Hamas to accept international commitments. I will wait for Israel to freeze settlements. Until then, in the West Bank we have a good reality . . . the people are living a normal life."

Satisfied with 9% GDP growth, security collaboration with Israel against his mortal enemy Hamas, and only 14 remaining Israeli checkpoints, Abbas is loathe to take steps which could jeopardize Fatah's dominion over the West Bank. Indeed, Abbas, who recently declared that he is not willing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, is obviously no Sadat, and is not prepared to martyr himself for the cause of peace.

When Cohen demands that Israel continue the moratorium on construction in the "settlements", I am curious whether this means that Israel cannot build in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem where the Kotel ("Wailing Wall") is situated.

The Jewish Quarter was destroyed by the Arab Legion in 1948 and cleansed of its Jewish inhabitants; until 1967 Jews were prevented from praying at the Kotel. Recently, reconstruction of the ancient Hurva Synagogue, destroyed in 1948, was completed, and Palestinian leaders responded by saying that the rededication amounted to a "declaration of war" and called for a "day of rage".

As part of any peace process, isn’t it also important for Palestinians to recognize that Jews can pray in close proximity to Muslim holy places without the need for violence?

Cohen tells us that if the Israeli-Palestinian talks fail, Obama would look "amateurish" and that his "international credibility is on the line". I have news for Cohen: Obama long ago established himself as a foreign affairs bungler in his dealings with Poland, the Czech Republic, the UK, Japan, North Korea, Iran, Russia, China, Darfur, the Congo, i.e. both friends and enemies alike, and if he is banking on redeeming himself via this venture, he is destined for disappointment and ridicule.

Personally, like a majority of Israelis who backed the Barak and Olmert peace plans, I would be delighted to see an autonomous, prosperous, peaceful Palestinian state arise beside Israel. But like most Israelis, I am all too familiar with Palestinian suicide bombings directed against civilians. I am also aware that Israel is only 9 miles wide at its waist and that Ben Gurion Airport is only 5 miles away from the border with the Palestinian Authority, i.e. civilian aircraft will be well within range of shoulder held missiles. Yes, I favor a return to the 1967 borders with land swaps to make everyone whole, but there must also be ironclad guarantees of Israel's security from Abbas, who is still unwilling to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

Cohen says that "Obama must now break some bones to get his way." No, Roger, Israel is an ally (e.g., votes with the US at the UN more than any other country) whose bones needn't be broken by Obama. Talk of violence begets violence. Rather, let Abbas in a forthright manner acknowledge Israel's right to exist, and then let's see what compromises can then be achieved in order to attain a just and lasting peace.

Sorry to disturb your New York dinner, Roger.

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