November 18, 2018

The U.N. resolution, flawed as it is, supports the State of Israel

So here we are, entering 2017, still carrying 1967 on our backs.

Nineteen-sixty-seven was the year of the Six-Day War, when Israel, fearing imminent attack by its Arab neighbors, launched a pre-emptive strike that resulted in the capture of East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

It was a world-shaking moment, so much so that from that week until now, the status of these territories, the millions of Palestinians who live there, and the Jewish Israelis who have taken up residence in them has been an ongoing source of contention.

And by “contention” I mean violent revolts, war, civil disobedience, terror, negotiation, threats of apocalyptic holy war (in the case of Jerusalem) and one United Nations resolution after another.

Which brings us to the last couple of weeks.

If you want to understand the United Nations Security Council’s vote on Resolution 2334, the United States’ abstention, the apoplectic response of much of the American Jewish community to the abstention, and the subsequent speech by Secretary of State John Kerry laying out his vision for a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you have to go back to 1967.

The country’s leaders never intended to capture the Golan, the West Bank and Jerusalem. Israel’s intention was to avoid destruction. Syria’s relentless pounding of Israeli villages from the heights pushed then-Prime Minister Levi Eshkol to stall the war’s ceasefire in order to quiet Syrian artillery once and for all. And King Hussein of Jordan’s unexpected entry into the war more than justified the capture of East Jerusalem and the takeover of the West Bank.

When word came that an Israeli unit had just conquered the Arab city of Hebron on the West Bank, David Ben-Gurion, the founding prime minister of Israel, called the unit commander.

“Well done,” Ben-Gurion said. “Now give it back to them.”

Neither then nor now does anyone think the conflict can be solved simply by “giving it back.” But Ben-Gurion’s warning reminds us that there is no one “Israeli” way of looking at this crisis.

There have always been alternate and deeply conflicting visions of what Israel should do with the territories. Keeping them would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state, or the creation of an apartheid state, or a multinational state of dubious stability. Dividing them into two states is no picnic, but that is American policy, and the official Israeli and Palestinian view.

Over the past couple of weeks, as I followed the outrage to President Barack Obama’s abstention on Resolution 2334 and over Kerry’s speech, I wondered whether we Jews, who so ably recollect our ancient past, have lost the ability to remember all this recent history.

Fifty years ago, at the war’s end, President Lyndon B. Johnson led the effort to draft and pass United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, “Concerning Principles for a Just and Lasting Peace in the Middle East.” Since then, the policy of every U.S. administration has been based on the principles set forth in that resolution: an end to hostilities based on a negotiated territory-for-peace settlement, East Jerusalem included.

You could create a palimpsest over Kerry’s speech, the recent Security Council resolution, and the language of Resolution 242 and not see through any major differences.

So, why the outrage?

Partly because over the past five decades, the American-Jewish community has come to see the territories Israel captured in 1967 as birthright. The absence of a sincere Palestinian negotiating partner, the weakness of the Israeli “peace camp,” the fervor and activism of Israel’s right-leaning governments and their American supporters, the reluctance of major American-Jewish organizations to challenge the settlements, the hypocrisy of a U.N. that obsesses over Israel while glancing at Syria, have all played a role in helping to normalize settlements.

But make no mistake: the goal of the settlement movement has never been to gain leverage for eventual peace negotiations.  As Gershom Gorenberg documents in “The Accidental Empire,” the goal of the settlement movement is to make a two-state solution impossible, to claim and hold all the Land of Israel for the State of Israel.

The U.N. resolution, flawed as it is, supports the State of Israel, just not activities across the Green Line.

“A solid majority of the countries that voted for the U.N. Security Council resolution are not anti-Israeli or anti-Semitic,” wrote Barak Ravid in Yedioth Ahronoth. “The message of their vote was simple: It’s the settlements, stupid.”

But all that, as they say, is so 2016.

Now comes President Donald Trump and his promise to toss out the Israel policies of Obama; indeed, of seven previous administrations. This may mean moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, or encouraging more settlements, or sanctioning the plans of those in the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to annex part of the West Bank.

Should those things come to pass, something tells me the furor of late December will seem like the good old days — and the Six-Day War will continue to rage.


ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism and @RobEshman.