Viewpoint: Engage in productive discourse

BY MAX HELLER

Published January 23, 2012

In the Dec. 11 viewpoint “It’s time to talk about Palestine,” co-authors Bayan Founas and Noor Haydar use inflammatory rhetoric and obscenely inaccurate myths about the Middle East in order to propagate the idea that Israelis are engaged in a systematic oppression of the Palestinian people. While both sides in the Arab-Israeli conflict are justifiably frustrated with the sluggish pace of the peacemaking process over the past several years, it’s counterproductive and flat out dishonest to claim that the Israeli government is racist and expelling Israeli Arabs from their homes. It is similarly troubling that the co-authors and their organization, Students Allied for Freedom and Equality seem to suggest that Israel is somehow not rightfully entitled to enjoy the same rights as any other sovereign nation when dealing with issues of national security.

While it may seem admirable that SAFE “simply believes in the self-determination of the Palestinian people” and is committed to “promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes,” some historical perspective can shed light on the underlying goals of these initiatives. The 1947 United Nations partition plan would have created two states side-by-side, but the Palestinians rejected it. When Isreal declared its independence, the Palestinians again were given an opportunity to live peacefully within the new state without leaving their homes. Some instead decided to vacate their properties, relying on Israel’s Arab neighbors’ promise to “drive the Jews into the sea.” The 1978 Camp David Accords also presented an opportunity for a lasting peace, which was again rejected by Palestinian leaders. Back in 2000, President Bill Clinton hosted a round of peace talks between the two camps again. In addition to spurning yet another opportunity for peace, Palestinian leadership afterword initiated the bloody Second Intifada against Israeli civilians.

More recently, the Palestinian-administered Gaza Strip fell into the hands of Hamas — a terrorist organization steadfastly dedicated to the destruction of Israel — by way of democratic elections. While both parties desire a long-term peace, every Israeli effort to cede control and sovereignty to Palestinian leadership has been met with hostility, escalated tensions and, in the cases of the Intifada and Hamas, gutless and cowardly violence targeted at defenseless Israeli civilians. Such radical tactics are embraced by Palestinian leaders like Mahmoud Abbas, who continually refuses to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian Liberation Organization's chief negotiator, who has suggested that any future Palestinian state must expel all Jews from within its borders.

SAFE claims that its only cause is to advocate for the self-determination of the Palestinian people. They deny any association with the PLO as well as Hamas and Fatah, and decline to take a position on Palestinian statehood. Such a form of advocacy is dangerous, for unconditionally supporting the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination implicitly supports the institutions and policy platforms of the very organizations the Palestinians have chosen to lead. Dating back to Israel’s founding, history has demonstrated that Palestinian decisions made under the guise of “self-determination” have come at the expense of both public safety and long-term peace in the region.

I take issue with SAFE’s reasoning behind its walk-out demonstration during Israeli diplomat Ishmael Khaldi’s speech at the University last semester. Founas and Haydar’s contention that Khaldi should not have been permitted to speak at the University runs counter to the very idea of liberty that they advocate for the Palestinian people. Israel sent a diplomat to campus to give students an opportunity to question, and contribute to, the dialogue surrounding the negotiations in the Middle East. Given the opportunity to participate and determine their role in the peace process, SAFE chose to go for shock value and engage in destructive dialogue, something that their Palestinian counterparts have demonstrated time and time again. Should we really be surprised?

Max Heller is a junior in the Ross School of Business. He is the University’s campus fellow for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.