Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
We love Israel. We love it more than we love other nations. That’s why we must do all we can to destroy its economy.
That is the message of the bizarre Oct. 25 Sunday Opinion column by professors Steven Levitsky and Glen Weyl. Their argument is simple: Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank and Gaza is now “permanent,” unless sufficient economic damage is done to force Israel to change course.
What’s missing here? Two things: history and Palestinians.
History reveals two recent attempts by Israeli leaders to negotiate a comprehensive peace with the Palestinians — by prime ministers Ehud Barak in 2000 and Ehud Olmert in 2008 — which were rejected by Palestine Liberation Organization leaders Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas. Of this, Levitsky and Weyl say nothing. They also do not mention Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, seeming to regard it as “occupied” even though not a single Israeli soldier or civilian lives there.
Instead, they simply claim that “domestic movements” in Israel to avoid “making the occupation permanent” have “withered.” Now, it is obvious that the Israeli left, and the “peace movement” there, have been weakened. Why might that be? The professors, self-styled “progressives,” tell us it is “thanks to an economic boom and the temporary security provided by the West Bank barrier and the Iron Dome missile defense system.” This shows a deep lack of understanding of Israel and Israelis, for the “peace movement” has “withered,” all right — but for a very different reason.
This reason is the conduct of Palestinians, a factor that is almost entirely absent from the professors’ account. This is remarkable. The Palestinian refusal of negotiations is not mentioned. The waves of terror — from Arafat’s intifadas to today’s stabbings — are barely mentioned. The only mention of the Palestinians’ rationale is this: “the occupation itself . . . crucially, remains the principal motive behind Palestinian violence.”
Really? The “occupation” began in 1967. Was there no Palestinian violence before that? What of the decades of Palestinian terrorism meant to stop Jews from coming to Israel and from establishing their state, and then continuing from 1948 to 1967? Sadly, Palestinian “violence,” which the professors scrupulously avoid calling terrorism, long predated the “occupation.” The fundamental problem is the widespread Palestinian rejection not of Israeli settlements but of the existence of the state of Israel.
Particularly striking is what the professors demand of Palestinians: nothing. They do not demand that the Palestinians negotiate. They do not even demand an end to terrorism, not even during a month of terror by stabbing — the most intimate form of killing imaginable. To them, Palestinians are apparently like small children, unable to reason or control their actions. They are not players in this drama. Only Jews are.
The final words in the professors’ commentary speak again of love: While some people boycott Israel out of hatred, they will do it out of “love for Israel and the desire to save it.” In taking this position, they reject the views of the vast majority of “progressive” Israelis they claim to support and align themselves with every enemy of the Jewish state. They are of course free to do this, but they should be more candid with us — and with themselves. They are trying to destroy Israel to save it, from Cambridge and Chicago, while Israelis face dangers every day. One such danger is terrorism. Another, we can see, is foolish professors whose intellectual pretensions lead them to ignore history and infantilize Palestinians.