Talking for and against doesn’t mean real talk

A response to the pro-con debate about the Palestinian bid for statehood in the United Nations

Nicole Lim

I was sitting down, calmly getting ready for my afternoon study session when I came across “the Lewis battle” in The Daily Californian, about Israel and the Palestinian bid for statehood in the United Nations. It was unsurprising that considerable analysis has been left out when the campus receives just two sides of the story, especially when it comes from polar ends of the “War for Public Perception” about Israel and Palestine at UC Berkeley. Perhaps interweaving a critical analysis of both articles, demanding accountability from these two authors to what they have written and inspiring a conversation with considerably more degrees of freedom is pertinent. While Maria offers us a semisound analysis, at points her piece is self-defeating, and she misleads the reader to conclude that there is only one possible line of action in support of Palestinian statehood. I find the conclusion of Jacob’s piece, on the other hand, to be based on a dentless vision of Israel and therefore foundationally deceitful.

While I agree with many of Maria’s statements about the United States and Israel’s isolation in complicit perpetuation of Israel’s military occupation in the West Bank, I find her conclusion that to “end … Israel’s racist policies” we must mobilize for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel absolutely limiting. First of all, Maria has a habit of exaggeration and does an incredible disservice to the reader by doing so. It is important to discuss the injustices in Israel and Palestine — how else can we work toward fixing them?

But you lose all credibility when you shift reality to fit your needs, for example, telling us that there “exists one set of roads for Jews and one for Palestinians” — that is simply deceptive! Rather, there are roads for solely Israeli citizens, who are primarily Jewish but also include all Israeli Palestinian citizens yet exclude noncitizens such as the Palestinians living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Secondly, I find it deeply contradictory that Maria quotes Nusseibeh’s suggestion that a Jewish state must either be a theocracy (if Jewish is understood religiously) or an apartheid state (if Jewish is understood ethnically), while simultaneously suggesting that the Palestinian ethnos can and should be allowed self-determination in creating their own Palestinian state. A Jewish state can and should be a democracy, identically to how a Palestinian state can and should, and yet today Israel still is far from living up to the ideals it established for itself in its Declaration of Independence: “[Israel] will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.” A recent plan to relocate 30,000 Bedouins from their homes is but one example.

This is exactly why I feel — rather than isolating an already paranoid Israel by subjecting it (different from subjecting just settlement products) and international corporations to global boycott, divestment and sanctions and thereby affecting countless innocent families’ ability to put food on the table — we can alternatively significantly invest in a more open, honest, critical discourse about Israel and Palestine in the United States, invest in a “tough love” relationship between Israel and the White House and invest in movements within Israel that create internal pressure for an end of the occupation, a curbing of injustice and the creation of a Jewish democracy for all its citizens alongside its Palestinian partner. You don’t have to agree, but at least now we have more options.

While Maria’s piece involves some disturbingly antithetical points and points us toward a linear conclusion rather than opening students’ eyes to a variety of options for action, Jacob’s piece ails from a disease that plagues many Israel advocates: tell-half-the-truth-itis. Jacob paints us a picture of an Israel desperate to make peace yet left stranded, dancing a solo tango. Jacob’s piece leaves out so much in this portrait, but most frustrating is the outright lie in his conclusion to the UC Berkeley student community: “It is time for the Palestinian leadership … to substitute diplomatic stagecraft for good faith talks that will ultimately lead to a viable Palestinian state. And once that solution is negotiated, Israel will accept the new state of Palestine with open arms.”


Jacob’s memory falters as he forgets to mention that Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s current Prime Minister, spent his entire career opposing a Palestinian state until 2009! And even then, he demanded an Israeli-controlled undivided Jerusalem among other absurdities. In fact, Netanyahu’s intransigence caused Dennis Ross — special Middle East coordinator under President Bill Clinton — to note that, “neither President Clinton nor Secretary Albright believed that (Benjamin Netanyahu) had any real interest in pursuing peace.” Jacob also conveniently decided not to share with the reader that the solution has, almost entirely, already been negotiated.

In the past year or so, more than a thousand leaked Palestinian records of negotiations with Israel headed by Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas were published by al-Jazeera, now commonly known as the “Palestine Papers.” The Guardian described the Palestinian negotiators in these records making “the most far-reaching concessions ever made over (Jerusalem), (yet) the offer was turned down by Israel’s then foreign minister as inadequate.” In Olmert’s defense, he made some historically novel concessions including offering a divided Jerusalem, a recognition of the suffering of (but not responsibility for) the suffering of Palestinian refugees and even a symbolic return of 1,000 refugees every five years.

Olmert, in his memoirs, has said that if he had a little more time, the few issues that were left unsettled would have been worked out. Where did that time go, Netanyahu, and why are you only now making noise about the Palestinian refusal to negotiate as you reject another settlement freeze and continue creating “facts on the ground” that force Palestinians to deal with the reality of growing Israeli presence in the West Bank (akin to a child eating more and more chocolate as he demands his sister negotiate with him about how to share the sweets)?

Rather than Jacob’s view of Israel’s seamless attempts at peace and the Palestinian bid for statehood as a “charade,” it is possible to offer an alternative framing of the bid as equivalently creating “facts on the ground” that force Israel to deal with the necessity of taking steps to end the occupation, make do on its past negotiations and come to the table ready to make real sacrifices for a viable Palestinian neighbor. Again, at least now we have more options.

My thoughts on the U.N. Palestinian statehood bid? I wrote this piece not to command an opinion as the first two articles did; we have seen that there might be serious drawbacks in creating real talk even when we have people talk for and against. Rather, I am writing to fill in their gaps and hopefully stimulate the open, safe, honest, campuswide conversation that all of us deserve.

Ready, set, go.

Roi Bachmutsky is a UC Berkeley junior in the department of anthropology.