My response to Richard Shulman

My review of Daniel Gordis’s The Promise of Israel, which was published in Commentary magazine in December, prompted some criticism, including correspondence from Mr. Richard H. Shulman. Click here to read Mr. Shulman’s letter to Commentary and see below for my rebuttal (which is also published here).

If you want to know what all the fuss is about, you can buy Gordis’s (masterful) book here.


Richard Shulman can hardly be blamed for his pessimism on the possibility of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The latter, lamented Abba Eban, “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity”, whether over the 1937 Peel Commission, the 1939 British White Paper, the 1947 UN partition, the 2000 Clinton Parameters, or the 2008 Olmert plan.

Nevertheless, I must take issue with a few points. Mr. Shulman’s claim that Israeli support for the two-state solution is based on “push polls” does not withstand scrutiny. He asserts: “These polls base their question about statehood upon the stated assumption ‘if’ the Palestinian Arabs would make enduring peace with Israel.”

A December 2012 Machon Dahaf poll asked a representative sample of 500 respondents if they supported a Palestinian state with borders based on the 1967 lines, land swaps to meet Israel’s security needs and retention of the major settlement blocs, and Palestinian sovereignty over the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Overall, 67% of Israelis and 65% of Israeli Jews said yes. (Perhaps surprisingly, the proposal gained majority support from respondents who identified with the national camp, with 57% of Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu voters and 53% of Bayit Yehudi voters backing two states.) A Rafi Smith poll published the same month asked the same question and yielded roughly the same response.

Contrary to Mr. Shulman’s assertion, these polls did not gloss over Palestinian intransigence (has a poll yet been devised that could achieve such a feat?), and both explicitly referred to “a peace agreement that would end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and whose implementation would take place only after the Palestinians would fulfill all their commitments with an emphasis on fighting terror”.

So we know that two-thirds of Israelis support a hard-headed, practical plan for peace.

Mr. Shulman is right to point to Palestinian antisemitism, a corrosive ideology that perpetuates a double crime: one, against the Jews of Israel and the Diaspora, and two, against Palestinian children who are fed Judeophobic propaganda in their school textbooks and on Palestinian television. International pressure must be brought to bear on the Palestinian leadership and it must be made clear that the only viable state that can arise beside Israel is a pluralistic, democratic Palestine. A state organized around Jew-hatred is not an option.

There are modestly positive signs coming from Palestinian society. A September 2011 poll asked Palestinians how they should go about ending the Israeli presence in the territories. 37% said peaceful resistance, 30% wanted negotiations, and 26% supported armed resistance. There will be no peace until a clear majority of Palestinians places its faith in negotiations but the decline in support for militancy, only a decade on from the second Palestinian Terror War, is to be welcomed. The persistence of Palestinian extremism is not an argument for continued Palestinian statelessness, rather the opposite. The Palestinians should get their state, take responsibility for themselves, and, with the guidance of the international community, build those institutions and social conventions essential for liberal democracy.

Ultimately, though, the two-state solution is as much about securing Israel as creating Palestine, and popular prejudices in Nablus and Ramallah should not stand in the way of protecting Haifa and Rehovot. The two-state solution, to paraphrase Churchill, is the worst proposal except for all the other ones, and the sooner peace is achieved the sooner Israel will have secure and permanent borders. The alternative of Israel extending its sovereignty to “Eretz Israel HaShlema” (the Whole Land of Israel) would destroy the State of Israel as we know it. Israel would be Jewish or democratic but it would no longer be both.

On the question of foreign aid, it is true that the United States provides assistance to Israel’s enemies but that is a function of the Machiavellian politics of aid, a discussion of which cannot be accommodated here, rather than a fissure in the Washington-Jerusalem alliance. Israel is a leading recipient of US foreign aid, $3.075bn in 2012, an investment that not only secures Israel in the most hostile environment in the world but reaps significant returns for the United States in military cooperation, defense development, political relations, trade, and science and technology.

When Mr. Shulman protests that “aid comes with strings that impair Israel’s defense industry”, he should consider, for example, the Iron Dome aerial defense system, which Israeli ambassador Michael Oren calls “the embodiment and manifestation of the close relationship between Israel and the US.” As of January 2013, the US has invested $1.1bn in the development of this system, which is estimated to have intercepted 85% of rockets fired by Hamas at Israeli civilians during the recent Operation Pillar of Defense.

There is much to criticize in the US government’s dealings with Israel, particularly the conduct of the present administration, but this is hardly grounds for insularity. Israel is alone in the Middle East, it must not be alone in the world.

Feature image © Ildar Sagdejev (Specious) by Creative Commons 2.0

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