Saturday, January 1, 2011

[By Ira Sharkansky, via email.]

While I do not claim expertise in the history or politics of Great Britain, my impression is that the Munich Agreement of 1938, involving Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and Hitler (" . . . peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time.") is an icon of shame in that country. It represented great power pressure on the weak government of Czechoslovakia, and traded away part of another country's territory for the empty hope of peace. You find reference to the event under "appeasement" in the Oxford English Dictionary.

"Freely used in political contexts in the 20th century, and since 1938 often used disparagingly with allusion to the attempts at conciliation by concession made by Mr. Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister, before the outbreak of war with Germany in 1939; by extension, any such policy of pacification by concession to an enemy."

The Economist is part of my Friday morning routine. I view it as the best news magazine in the English language. I usually excuse its tilt against Israel as not overly extreme, insofar as it is generally balanced with a reasonable assessment of Israel's options.

An article put on its website on December 29th, dealing with Israel, the Palestinians, and Barack Obama fell outside my parameters of tolerance. The Economist on this occasion is closer to the spirit of Neville Chamberlain than to that of Winston Churchill.

Fair enough is its warning that the failure of Obama's peace efforts has produced a fragile condition of no war and no peace. It is also fair to note that supplies of armaments to Hizbollah and Hamas add to the dangers, and raise the prospect of a regional war involving Syria and Iran, along with significant civilian casualties in Israel and elsewhere.

The item is fair to note that any peace achieved between Israel and the Palestinians will be incomplete.

"Iran, Hizbullah and sometimes Hamas say that they will never accept a Jewish state in the Middle East."

It is the next sentence that urges appeasement.

"it is the unending Israeli occupation that gives these rejectionists their oxygen. Give the Palestinians a state on the West Bank and it will become very much harder for the rejectionists to justify going to war."

The theme continues

"if Mr Obama fails, because the Palestinians have shown time and again that they will not fall silent while their rights are denied. The longer Israel keeps them stateless under military occupation, the lonelier it becomes--and the more it undermines its own identity as a liberal democracy."

The Economist accepts an outline of an agreement that is widely shared, including by many in the center of Israel's political spectrum.

"The outlines of such an agreement have been clear since Bill Clinton set out his "parameters" after the failure of the Camp David summit a decade ago. The border between Israel and a new Palestine would follow the pre-1967 line, with adjustments to accommodate some of the bigger border-hugging Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and land-swaps to compensate the Palestinians for those adjustments."

It also recognizes what has frustrated agreement.

". . . there is also much difficult detail to be filled in: how to make Jerusalem into a shared capital, settle the fate of the refugees and ensure that the West Bank will not become, as Gaza did, an advance base for war against Israel after Israeli forces withdraw."

Where is Palestinian responsibility in the copybook of The Economist?

The sensitivities of Palestinians and Israelis on the issues of Jerusalem (especially the Temple Mount) and refugees may be the hard kernels that prevent agreement. For The Economists and others to put the onus on Israel and what is said to be a settlement-obsessed government is to reinforce the Palestinian narrative that gives them a monopoly of suffering and justice. Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert racked up Palestinian refusals in response to far reaching efforts to reach agreement along the lines spelled out by President Clinton.

Demanding more from Israel without demanding flexibility from Palestinian may not be equivalent to Chamberlain's deal with Hitler, but it is appeasement.

With all of this, it is too early to give up entirely on The Economist. Another article from the same date gives high marks and a positive projection to Israel's economy.

Yet another provides a decent review of American blunders, frustrations, and limitations in the Middle East.

This item does bash Israel and ignores the need to press Palestinians, but it is impressive in touching the wide range of elements affecting the region, and those who worry about it.

"Syme: It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. You wouldn't have seen the [Newspeak] Dictionary 10th edition, would you Smith? It's that thick. [illustrates thickness with fingers] The 11th Edition will be that [narrows fingers] thick. Winston Smith: So, The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect? Syme: The secret is to move from translation, to direct thought, to automatic response. No need for self-discipline. Language coming from here [the larynx], not from here [the brain]" -1984 (film)


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