The New York Times

June 24, 2009

A Heated Argument About Israel

To the Editor:

Fictions on the Ground,” by Tony Judt (Op-Ed, June 22), is the real work of fiction, past, present and future.

Israelis settled in the West Bank because it was deemed part of the historic home of the Jewish people and because the Arabs and the Palestinians rejected opportunities for peace with Israel after the Six-Day War in 1967. The territory in legal terms was undecided because the Palestinians from 1947 rejected the United Nations resolution dividing the land into Arab and Jewish states.

Saying — as Mr. Judt does — that Israel will never give up the settlements ignores the fact that former Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered to dismantle 80 percent of the settlements at Camp David; that his successor, Ariel Sharon, dismantled all of the settlements in Gaza; and that Israeli leaders have repeatedly indicated that most of the settlements will go if there is peace, and those held will be part of a swap for Israeli territory.

Settlements are not an obstacle to peace if there is serious peacemaking, peace-teaching and compromise from the other side. As for fictions — as Mr. Judt has made clear in his writings, his problem is not with Israeli settlements, but with Israel’s very existence as a Jewish state.

Abraham H. Foxman
National Director
Anti-Defamation League
New York, June 22, 2009

To the Editor:

Tony Judt does a wonderful job of clarifying why all the “settlements” are illegal and stand in the way of peace in the Middle East, and of explaining how the small but significant political constituency in Israel prevents meaningful change from taking place.

He rightly calls on the United States to change its stance but neglects to point out how a small but significant constituency in this country plays a similar role. Some of us, presumed to be part of that very constituency, certainly hope that President Obama will disregard the wrongful wishes of that constituency and put the United States on the right side of this issue once and for all.

For the sake of Israel and the wider world, expansion of settlements must stop, and all of them must be dismantled.

Howard Rubinstein
Brooklyn, June 22, 2009

To the Editor:

Tony Judt casts the road map for peace in the Middle East exclusively in terms of his lament for the disappearance of the idealistic kibbutzim of his youth and his fury with the policies of the right-wing prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Yet oddly, in the article, the outside world, including the Palestinians, doesn’t seem to exist.

In these difficult times the United States will have enough difficulty brokering a peace between Israel and the Palestinians — it can’t referee internal Israeli politics. That there are both idealistic and corrupt Israelis and Palestinians is a given. The real issue is how do we pragmatically get to a two-state solution.

Barbara Probst Solomon
New York, June 22, 2009

To the Editor:

Tony Judt misleads in many ways, among them by implying that the West Bank was captured by Israel in 1967 from some Palestinian country and not Jordan (which does not seek its return), and contending that Yigal Amir was inspired to assassinate Yitzhak Rabin by “rabbinical” influence at Bar-Ilan University (Mr. Amir has stated clearly otherwise).

Most egregious, though, is Mr. Judt’s amazing objection to demilitarizing any Palestinian state established in the West Bank, because it would “have no means of defending itself against aggression.” Considering how the Palestinians in a militarized Gaza responded to Israel’s withdrawal from that territory, raining thousands of rockets onto Israeli cities, for Israel to help establish a weaponized Arab country in its very heart, within range of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, would be to commit national suicide.

(Rabbi) Avi Shafran
Director of Public Affairs
Agudath Israel of America
New York, June 22, 2009

To the Editor:

Tony Judt didn’t answer my most basic question: Why does a future Palestinian state have to be free of Jews? If Arabs can live in Israel, why can’t Jews live in Palestine?

By refusing to answer this question, he and all the proponents of a settlement freeze turn the settlement argument into a facade. Because if the settlements don’t have to be removed, then why waste time arguing about what is a settlement, where are the boundaries, what is natural growth?

Making Jews, and only Jews, leave their homes is ethnic cleansing. Isn’t this exactly what Israel’s critics accuse it of?

Jonathan D. Reich
Lakeland, Fla., June 23, 2009

To the Editor:

Tony Judt provides a realistic assessment of both the illegality of settlements in international law as well as the collusion of Israeli governments of all tendencies to support them.

As he points out, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu government’s sudden support of a Palestinian state is meaningless because the settlements would remain, something no Palestinian leader could accept. This will enable Mr. Netanyahu and his supporters in this country to claim once again that there is no partner for peace.

While not all Palestinian factions openly accept Israel’s existence, Fatah does.

But Mahmoud Abbas could never accept Mr. Netanyahu’s supposedly sincere offer because the bypass roads for Jews only and the carefully placed settlements would ensure that no viable Palestinian state could be created — precisely what Israeli rightists and their American lobbies intend.

After all, when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon assured President George W. Bush of his support for a Palestinian state in April 2004, he referred to Palestinians in the West Bank having what he called “transportation contiguity,” meaning tunnels beneath Israeli bypass roads to settlements that only Israelis could use. That constitutes a viable state?

Charles D. Smith
San Diego, June 22, 2009

The writer is a professor of Middle East history at the University of Arizona.

To the Editor:

Among the many fictions in Tony Judt’s article was his portrayal of Bar-Ilan University. In his remark about the university, Mr. Judt ignored the tremendous diversity of political opinion and religious observance at Bar-Ilan, Israel’s fastest-growing and largest university, with an academic community of 33,000 students.

Bar-Ilan is a leading force in unifying Israel’s religious and secular communities. More than 60 percent of its students identify as primarily secular. They are attracted by the university’s commitment to a first-class education in the sciences, humanities, law, engineering, business and the arts — all within a learning environment that fosters Jewish values and promotes dialogue among Israelis from different backgrounds.

Bar-Ilan University stresses the Jewish people’s ties to Israel for more than 3,000 years — a point that was emphasized in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech. He wanted to speak at a university that is grounded in the Zionist enterprise.

It is the respect that Israelis have for Bar-Ilan University and its efforts to unify Israeli society that led to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to give his recent address at the university’s Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.

Mark D. Medin
New York, June 22, 2009

The writer is executive vice president and chief executive, American Friends of Bar-Ilan University.

To the Editor:

If the Israelis and the Palestinians are ever to come to an agreement — in three years or 30 years — becoming much clearer and more honest about what the issues really are will need to come first.

In this regard, the article by Tony Judt is a difficult but important step forward. The truth hurts. The “settlements” are indeed the key issue. If “settlements” can be solved, then “security” will come quite naturally. James Opie
Portland, Ore., June 22, 2009

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