Yglesias on Who Created the Middle East Crisis

Matt Yglesias, also known here at The Atlantic, where he formerly worked, as Captain Underpants, notes on his blog that he enjoys "making fun" of me, and apparently I gave him some ammunition last week:

Goldberg, very upset at Andrew Sullivan, ends one paragraph with the observation that "All that happens today flows from the original Arab decision to reject totally the idea that Jews are deserving of a state in part of their historic homeland." And then the very next sentence he writes is this:
"I dont know why Andrew refuses to admit that Middle East history is complicated."
I don't know either!
For the record, it is complicated. It does today seem like if you could go back in time and persuade the Arabs to accept the original UN partition plan, that contemporary Palestinians would be much better off. But what's the cash value of this with regard to a humanitarian crisis in the contemporary Gaza Strip?

I don't think it is impossible to have a complicated problem that has one major cause at its root, but whatever. In any case, I wrote the following to Matt this morning:

It seems to me that if the Arabs accepted partition, then there would have been two states side-by-side in the area between the river and the sea. There would not have been a major refugee crisis; there would most likely have been mutual recognition, thus, peace, and not war. There would have been no impetus for terrorism and retaliation, and, assuming that mutual recognition included not just Palestine but the neighboring Arab states (not a far-fetched assumption), then there would have been no Six-Day War, and no occupation (Jerusalem was meant to be internationalized anyway in the Partition Plan), no settler messianism, no Baruch Goldstein, no Hamas, no suicide bombs, etc. etc.

So I do think everything flows from that fateful decision, but of course you can reach back much further into history and say that the Zionism itself was the cause of all this, and since Zionism was a reaction to European anti-Semitism... And so on. But the fact remains that undergirding this whole story is the historic Arab rejection of Jewish nationhood. Which doesn't mean that Israelis are guiltless in this drama, far from it -- they've missed opportunity after opportunity to see if there might be another path. But Arab rejection set the conditions.

To which he responded:

Well your "of course you can reach back much further into history and say that the Zionism itself was the cause of all this, and since Zionism was a reaction to European anti-Semtism...and so on" captures most of what I'd have to say on this. The cause and effect goes back and back and back. But sure, Arab rejectionism in 47-48 was a disaster.

To which I replied:

But doesn't the current of Arab rejectionism run right through to today? I mean, ideologies that motivated Arab rejectionism in 1947 similarly motivate Hamas and Hezbollah and Syria and motivated Yasser Arafat to reject a pretty good deal at Camp David, etc.
I'm not saying that Arab rejectionism isn't clever: Rejectionism holds that eventually, under pressure, Israel, instead of making non-fatal mistakes, as it does frequently, will make a fatal mistake. If a person's goal is to erase Israel from the map, implacable rejectionism is the way to go. So it's not just history. That said, Israel's job has to be to overcome history.

Which prompted this reply from him:

Well...I don't want to re-litigate Camp David (I'm sure you know the back-and-forth on this as well as I do) but suffice it to say that they had a much better offer on the table from the UN 60 years ago and rejecting it clearly wasn't part of some bargaining strategy.
Here's a position I think we'll agree on: One of the key psychological/political impediments to a deal is the unwillingness of Arabs today to embrace any kind of regret about the position they took on the partition plan. The "naqba" narrative, as conventionally presented, is a form of regret that the Arabs lost the war. You're never going to get Arabs to celebrate Israeli independence day, but I think it's plausible and necessary to have the disaster understood as one that was in large part of their own making.

I agree.