There Actually Is a Middle Way

Obama #4Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said professor of Modern Arab Studies at my alma mater, Columbia University, had this to say on the pages of The New York Times (March 12) before Barack Obama arrived in Jerusalem: “For Mr. Obama, a decision is in order. He can reconcile the United States to continuing to… bankroll an unjust status quo that it helped produce. Or he can begin to chart a new course based on recognition that the United States must forthrightly oppose the occupation and the settlements… There is no middle way.”

Mr. Khalidi is wrong. There is, in fact, a middle way. It is the way that the Obama administration should have adopted long ago. In this middle way, Israel makes concessions, but Palestinians formally accept the permanence of a Jewish State in the Middle East and own up to their role in the creation of their miserable reality.

Israelis, sadly, are infinitely more likely to do their share. When Khalidi writes that the United States is “continuing to uphold and bankroll an unjust status quo that it helped produce,” he conveniently omits any mention of how Israel’s presence in the West Bank began. He says nothing about Jordan’s foolish decision to join the losing fray in 1967 and omits entirely the famous Khartoum Conference at which the Arabs responded with “no peace, no recognition and no negotiations.”Obama#1

That, I assume, is also the fault of the US? And of Israel? The middle way, which Khalidi would have us believe does not exist, begins with adults taking responsibility for their past actions and saying what has to be said so that life can move forward. How does the following quote by Nabil Shaath, head of foreign relations in the Fatah movement, which aired on ANB TV in July 2011, move us forward? “The story of ‘two states for two peoples’ means that there will be a Jewish people over there and a Palestinian people here. We will never accept this – not as part of the French initiative and not as part of the American initiative.  We will not sacrifice the 1.5 million Palestinians with Israeli citizenship who live within the 1948 borders… We will not accept this, whether the initiative is French, American, or Czechoslovakian.”

So there, we have it. No Palestinian responsibility for 1967, no Palestinian willingness for there to be a Jewish state. That is what Khalidi would like Obama to endorse? Those who care about a better future in this region can only pray that Obama had the sense to tell the Palestinians, in no uncertain terms, that there is always a middle way, and it is never too late to grow up.

Behind the closed doors that have had Jerusalem traffic snarled these past few days, one can only hope that Obama might also have said something along these lines to the Palestinians:

“Mr. Khalidi and Mr. Shaath, we Americans hear you. We understand that you would like a better life, and we’d like you to have one. But not only do we hear you, we also see you. And what we see, we don’t like so very much. America stands for certain things, and quite frankly, the society in your region that embodies the values which we consider sacred is not yours, but Israel’s.

“Democracy, for example. Israel has again proven that its democratic system is robust and energetic. When was the last time you had a real election, with real opposition? Or how about freedom of the press? You still believe that jailing people who poke fun at Mahmoud Abbas on Facebook does your society credit? We don’t. And why is it that gay Palestinians are desperate to get into Tel Aviv? Have you considered staying out of people’s private lives and protecting them rather than tormenting them?

Obama #4“How about freedom of association? Can you imagine protests in Ramallah anything like those that regularly take place in Tel Aviv? Why not? “Or freedom of religion. Even if life as a Muslim is not ideal in Israel, it’s infinitely better than life as a Christian in Gaza or the West Bank, isn’t it? Why is that? And why does ‘Palestine’ still insist on becoming a Jew-free state? Do you really think that America can, in good conscience, promote the creation of a state that does not want Jews as citizens? And what about the rights of women and the ongoing phenomenon of family honor murders [in which fathers have their adult daughters executed for having sex outside of marriage] that still take place in both Gaza and the West Bank? You’re not ashamed? Well, we, for our part, are horrified.

“Mr. Khalidi, when you wrote in the Times that ‘An even bigger obstacle is Mr. Netanyahu’s right-wing government, hellbent on territorial expansion,’ did it not make any impression on you that despite the rants of people like Mr. Shaath, Israelis just voted en masse for the center and clipped Netanyahu’s wings? Does that tell you anything about them? It’s beginning to tell us quite a bit.”

Sadly, we’re not terribly likely to hear anything like that from President Obama, now or in the near future. But it’s the only thing that would work.

Calm (not a treaty to which so many are addicted, but enduring calm) will come to this region when the Palestinians recognize that time is not on their side, that the world will help them create a state when they embrace the values that the West believes make for human life with infinitely greater dignity.Obama#2

When, in our “debate” a couple of weeks ago, I asked Jeremy Ben-Ami, of J-Street, why he does not believe Nabil Shaath and why he continues to think that Israeli departure from the West Bank would change anything, he had no answer. He simply refused to address that issue. Obama is thus in good company. Too many people, including politicians, some American rabbis, Jeremy Ben-Ami and others, are so fixated on a “deal” that they’ve forgotten entirely about values and fairness.

It’s time for a middle way. Netanyahu said again this week that he’s ready for a historic compromise. Is Shaath? Is Khalidi? Why is there no middle way? Because Khalidi and the Palestinians reject it: “The overwhelming dominance of Israel over the Palestinians means that the conflict is not one that demands reciprocal concessions from two equal parties,” Khalidi wrote in the Times.

“Reciprocal concessions” are out of the question? Then so, too, is any hope for progress.

One can only hope that behind all of this week’s gridlock, the Americans were clear and that they said something akin to: “There is a middle way, even though you reject it. And when the Palestinians begin embracing it, they’ll have a future. Until they do, however, they won’t. And the responsibility will be exclusively theirs.”

What are the chances that anything like that actually happened?


About Daniel Gordis

Dr. Daniel Gordis is Senior Vice President and the Koret Distinguished Fellow at Shalem College in Jerusalem. The author of numerous books on Jewish thought and currents in Israel, and a recent winner of the National Jewish Book Award, Dr. Gordis was the founding dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism.

11 Comments on "There Actually Is a Middle Way"

  • ARTH says

    Building settlments is not a security issue for Israel. Israel would not at all be jeapordizing its security if it would agree to stop building settlements in the territories captured in June of 1967. So why doesn’t it do that? To make more complex the option of a withdrawl from these areas in a potential Peace settlement. That is the only sort of agreement which is viable on the international consensuce and Arab side.
    Gourdis is trying to use the failing of the Arab side in its dealings with Israel, and they are extensive, to justify the maintainance of the status quo. The status quo will not lead to any sort of Permanent Peace, at all.

  • ARTH says

    I would also add that if one bothers to read any of Professor Rashid Khalidi’s books, he openly acknowledges the failings of the Palestinian and Arab sides in dealing with Zionism and Israel.

  • Victor Kava says

    I, too, would like to see liberal Western values become the norm in Arab countries. But I’m not going to hold my breath.
    We don’t control what the Arabs do, but we have some say in what Israel does. This should be the area of discussion.
    It may be possible to agree on something with the Palestinians; I doubt that it’s possible to agree on everything.

  • HERB RUDE says


    I just watched Obama’s speech that he gave yesterday in Jerusalem to the young ones primarily, but in fact, to all. In my humble opinion, it was terrific.

    Did you hear all 50 minutes of it? What do you think? Now if only bibi and abbas will do something? Halivy!!
    Have a zissen Pesach

  • Ben Dor says

    Hag Sameach to all our friends.

    To all those contemplating about the issue or question of the settlements in Judea & Samaria, I suggest you read the following:

    And this: Israeli settlements’ legal basis:

    We have tried the Left way, we have tried the Right way, we will try any way to bring peace between Israel and it’s neighbours, but people, you need to wake up someday. The Arabs are not interested in peace. They are killing each other by the hundreds of thousands, why on earth would they consider anything less with infidels such as us?

  • Sheila Novitz says

    Well said, Rabbi Gordis. Thank you.

    ARTH seems to have no understanding of the fact that until Arabs recognize the right to existence of Israel and its citizens, there can be no peace. And if we are to go by their past and present statements and writings, there will never be peace. It is simply impossible to have any kind of harmonious co-existence with a people who believe Jews have no right to exist in their own legally established State.

  • Sonya Hammer says

    I’m really really glad that you are not Obama’s speech writer.

  • Ira Spector says

    Perhaps a first step would be an agreement by the Palestinians and the Israeli’s to simultaneously hold an election by their peoples and ask the following questions.
    1. Do you want a peace treaty that would establish two separate but equal countries?
    2. If two countries were established would you be willing to negotiate realigned borders that would provide security for both nations?
    I doubt if the Palestinians would answer yes to either question.
    An extremely bright anti-semetic fellow of Lebanese extraction that I play tennis with in California tells me that, “the Jews will be swallowed up in defeat by being outbred. Living a better life is not part of the discussion. For the countries surrounding Israel it never has been part of the discussion either.

  • Rachel Diamond says

    In order to have peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians, Abu Mazen must publically announce that Istrael is the homeland of the Jewish people, something that has refused to do up until now. Without this nothing can move ahead.
    Th economy of the Palestinans is at a tremendous deficit because :1. they don’t know how to run a government on their own.2. Alot of foreign aid given is stolen and kept by the Hamas.

  • Nachman Kanovsky says

    I am enclosing a piece I wrote about a similar article in the NYT (no surprise there) to my email list. One of them forwarded to me your column. I am going to add my name to your site and I welcome your response to what I wrote.
    Nachman Kanovsky


    The hypocrisy and perfidy of the intellectual left in its decades-long quest to delegitimize the Jewish state is exemplified in the article enclosed below (NYT 3/09/2013). It’s not happenstance that its author is Jewish and its disseminator is the New York Times. Professor Joseph Levine of Amherst, a self-described liberal, begins his article with the perfunctory denial that criticizing Israel, and even its right to exist, constitutes anti-Semitism – notwithstanding the overwhelming and prima facie evidence to the contrary. Why, for example, isn’t the legitimacy of the Vatican as a Catholic state, or of Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, et al, as Islamic states ever brought into question? Let’s set balance and fairness aside and highlight some of Professor Levine’s historical falsehoods and skewed assumptions.

    It is de rigeur for any opponent of Israel, and especially for the disingenuous who profess just to “oppose Zionism,” to attribute Israel’s establishment largely to the Holocaust. This deceptive assumption abets the narrative that Israel was founded at the expense of innocent indigenous “Palestinians” who had nothing to do with the European Holocaust. Professor Levine is well entrenched in that camp as evidenced in the beginning of his article.

    “In light of the history of Jewish persecution, and the fact that Israel was created immediately after and largely as a consequence of the Holocaust, it isn’t surprising that the phrase “Israel’s right to exist” should have this emotional impact.” (emphasis mine)

    Any impartial student of history knows that assumption to be an historical distortion. The “Aliyot” or Jewish immigration waves from Europe which started in the latter half of the nineteenth century succeeded nearly three millennia of unbroken Jewish habitation and connection to that small part of the world. The Zionist movement which sought to establish a Jewish state in its traditional homeland was founded at the end of the nineteenth century – well before the Holocaust. Zionism never advocated nor undertook to accomplish its goals at the expense of the non-Jewish population living in the Ottoman province of Palestine at the time. Parenthetically, it was the Arab leadership during the war that was complicit with Hitler, and sought to perpetrate its own holocaust on the Jews living in Palestine. But history hardly matters when ideology stands in its way.

    The professor’s dialectic continues.

    “The fact is that today millions of Jews live in Israel and, ancestral homeland or not, this is their home now. As for whether Jews constitute a people, this is a vexed question given the lack of consensus in general about what it takes for any particular group of people to count as “a people.”… My point is that even if we grant Jews their peoplehood and their right to live in that land, there is still no consequent right to a Jewish state.” (emphasis mine)

    To an intellectual, overarching historical rights and wrongs must first be diluted and then subdivided into a minimum of fifty shades of gray. When seeking to deny the Jewish people’s right to Israel, the requisite intellectual exercise is to dissect the meaning of “a people” and consequently their right to a state. This exercise, however, applies only to Jews, as the rights of other “peoples” always remains unchallenged. The professor ponders the tired question whether Jews are defined as a nationality, a religion, or even an ethnicity. None of these distinctions ever seemed to bother Hitler or any other anti-Semites, a point the professor also (grudgingly) acknowledges. In contrast, to the Left, Palestinians are an unquestioned “people,” bristling with inalienable rights to that specific miniscule piece of geography. When Newt Gingrich correctly stated that the Palestinians were an “invented people,” the Left was apoplectic at such hideous blasphemy. However, a perfunctory perusal of newspapers, magazines, encyclopedias, and books written before 1964, describes the opponents of the Jews and Israel as just “Arabs”- identical to those who comprise 70% of Jordan, and kin to other Arabs living in the twenty two other Arab states. Palestinians only became a distinct “people” after the PLO was founded in 1964 as a tactic to justify a bogus antecedent historical claim to all of Israel and as a means to dispose of the Jews living there. Ironically, prior to Israel’s establishment, Jews were more likely to be called “Palestinian” than Arabs.

    What follows next is the crux of Levine’s thesis.

    “To begin, since the principle has three parts, it follows that it can be challenged in (at least) three different ways: either deny that Jews constitute “a people” in the relevant sense, deny that the right to self-determination really involves what advocates of the principle claim it does, or deny that Jews have the requisite claim on the geographical area in question. In fact, I think there is a basis to challenge all three, but for present purposes I will focus on the question of whether a people’s right to self-determination entails their right to a state of their own, and set aside whether Jews count as a people and whether Jews have a claim on that particular land.”(emphasis mine)

    Professor Levine continues by parsing between a theoretical “ethnic” and a “civic” nationality, and then applies his profound distinction to illustrate the difference between a “French people” which is both civic and ethnic, as opposed to a “Jewish people” which, at best, has only an ethnic component. His point is that since a Frenchman could be of different ethnicities, a French nation can thus be truly democratic. Ergo, Israel, if defined as a Jewish state, can never be truly democratic. What a pathetic waste of mental energy on such pointless sophistry! Apparently, in Levine’s opinion, being a “true democracy” is the sole sine qua non for legitimacy of a state. (No liberal hypocrisy there, as there is nothing the Left idolizes more than “true” democracies such as in Venezuela, Cuba, China, and other “legitimate” countries where the guiding philosophy is any variant of socialism.) Has Israel’s Jewish majority prevented it from conferring citizenship to all its legal residents, Arabs included, and allowed them to vote and be part of the Government? The fact that Israel even permits openly anti-Israel Arabs into its Knesset gives unambiguous testament to its commitment to democracy. While like the rest of the world, Israel is not a perfect democracy, why can’t the professor allow himself to regard Israel as a “true” democracy whilst being a Jewish state? Israel is hardly a theocracy like many Islamic states and it allows freedom of religion unlike almost all Islamic states. But that’s too obvious and hence simplistic a point for an intellectual to accept.

    Professor Levine concludes his thesis by stating,

    “But if the people who “own” the state in question are an ethnic sub-group of the citizenry, even if the vast majority, it constitutes a serious problem indeed, and this is precisely the situation of Israel as the Jewish state. Far from being a natural expression of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination, it is in fact a violation of the right to self-determination of its non-Jewish (mainly Palestinian) citizens… Any state that “belongs” to one ethnic group within it violates the core democratic principle of equality, and the self-determination rights of the non-members of that group. I conclude, then, that the very idea of a Jewish state is undemocratic, a violation of the self-determination rights of its non-Jewish citizens, and therefore morally problematic… This will force the ethnic nation controlling the state to resort to further undemocratic means to maintain their hegemony. Three strategies to deal with resistance are common: expulsion, occupation and institutional marginalization. Interestingly, all three strategies have been employed by the Zionist movement: expulsion in 1948 (and, to a lesser extent, in 1967), occupation of the territories conquered in 1967 and institution of a complex web of laws that prevent Israel’s Palestinian citizens from mounting an internal challenge to the Jewish character of the state.” (emphasis mine)

    Professor Levine continues to grace us with a perfect example of how the Left alters or disregards history in order to have it conform to their theses or ideology. When has there ever been an expulsion of Palestinians in 1948? Most of the 650,000 Arabs who became refugees after the 1949 armistice left on their own accord, largely at the urging of their leadership. Others who actually did flee the fighting suffered the consequences of a war the Jews did neither start nor welcome. Moreover, most Arabs with long standing roots in Palestine chose to remain and became citizens of Israel, while the majority of the refugees were the newer émigrés who sought opportunities brought about by the recent Jewish development of the land. In dramatic contrast, an even larger number of Jews from Muslim lands – with roots stretching back for millennia – were forcibly expelled from their homes after 1949. Unlike the “Palestinians,” and unlike tens of millions of other people displaced since World War II, they never became “refugees in perpetuity.” The professor obviously subscribes to Palestinian revisionist history claiming otherwise.

    What “complex set of laws” preventing Palestinians from mounting an internal challenge is the professor alluding to? The question which should be asked is why would any set of laws need to be promulgated had not the Arabs repeatedly tried to annihilate the Jews in Israel? Had the Arabs made peace, on any number of opportunities, and in response to the many one-sided concessions Israel has already made, no fences would have been erected, no checkpoints would have been necessary, and no “occupation” would ever have materialized. Only Israel is required to justify its right to exist as a Jewish state within parameters never applied to other countries. Its democracy must be purer than Caesar’s wife and its exercise of self-defense must be nearly antiseptic.

    The so-called “peace process” can only begin with an Arab recognition of the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state. The “professors” of this world should recognize by now that this basic prerequisite will never happen. Islam won’t allow it. Islam openly declares that its hegemony must encompass the entire planet, let alone in lands it once controlled. Fundamental Islam controls most of the world’s mosques and likewise it is ascendant in formerly secular Arab states and in the Palestinian territories. Perhaps this glaring fact doesn’t dovetail neatly with the professor’s thesis or his idealized image of the Palestinians. It’s time for the New York Times to offer some measure of balance to this imbalanced thinking, or at least it should spare us this “intellectual” drivel.

    Nachman Kanovsky

    Englewood, NJ

  • Ben Dor says

    Shalom Nachman Kanovsky

    Thank you for your eloquent post. I only wish you had been here sooner anyway it is never too late.
    I hope you also subscribe to CAMERA: I’m sure you will find plenty of items to respond to.

    As for “Professor” Joseph Levine of Amherst and his ilk, I dare say that these are the kind of people that we categorize as” Self Hating Jews” If someone is interested to understand the damage that they do to our nation, he can read the following:

    Moading Lesimcha

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