Wednesday, August 6, 2008

the Camp David and Taba dodge

Noah Pollack submits a delightful Bloggingheads performance, including laughing at assassination, delighting in the prospect of massive bombing of Iran, and helpfully informing all of us concerned with the Israeli-Palestinian (excuse me, Israeli-Palestinian Arab) conflict that the Palestinians actually don't want a state. Who knew!

(Why do Israel and France and the United States and India and Pakistan have the right to possess nuclear weapons, and not Iran? I actually don't mind the naked "they're them and we're us" or "we're good and they're bad" answer here-- it's nice when people drop the pretense that their foreign policy is crafted with some sort of moral or ideological principle beyond that-- but I don't even think that makes sense here. Pakistan? Really? This is the kind of stable/righteous actor that passes the nuclear test? For serious?)

Anyway-- Pollack's diavlog reminds me of one of the most frustrating facets of this discussion. An incredible amount of time and energy is spent discussing what happened at Camp David and Taba. The debate between Alan Dershowitz and Noam Chomsky devolved into precisely this kind of disagreement about history. Very often you hear an argument that goes something like "The Palestinians had their chance at Camp David and Taba! They turned down a great deal. Too late now."

Well, look. First there is considerable disagreement over what exactly happened at Camp David and Taba. The book that is constantly cited as showing that the Palestinian leadership rejected a great deal is problematic, considering its author was not at Taba, and even if he were I don't take the recollections of an individual person as dispositive of anything in this tangled debate. The debate can't be very constructive, also, if it's a simple conflict over what happened in the past. One person says "X happened", another says "No Y", and no progress is made.

More importantly, however, is this question: what kind of rational and adult foreign policy is so concerned with concepts of "you had your chance"? Let's say, for the sake of argument, that it was true that the Palestinians were given a great deal at Camp David, and they rejected it. Why should that determine the appropriate action for us to follow? Is Palestinian statehood then off the table forever? It's tough news for a Palestinian 5 year old that events from before his birth will determine the enfranchisement of him and his people, forever. How does whatever decision was made at Camp David and Taba effect the right of Palestinians to citizenship rights and self-determination at all?

If the deal offered really was a moral, fair and equitable deal, for the Israelis and the Palestinians, why should it be off the table now, even if the Palestinians rejected it?

This is not the way an adult considers matters of public policy. Perhaps on a personal level, I can understand the desire to say "you had your chance", though I find it rather childish. On the larger level, it's just useless thinking. The citizens of a country are not entirely responsible for the actions of their leadership. And the citizenry of a country (sadly enough, in this case a quasi-country) is of course in constant flux. The Palestinians of eight years ago aren't identical to the Palestinians of today. How long should they suffer for what happened at a remote place, thousands of miles and years away? What is the statute of limitations for correcting their leadership's supposed error? If a two state solution is equitable and appropriate, if it protects Israeli security and ends Palestinian dispossession, it is folly to deny based on the supposition that the Palestinians rejected it before.

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