The Painstakingly Slow Evolution of Roger Cohen

Roger Cohen is catching on. Slowly, ever so painfully slowly, but still it seems to be happening. Today Cohen blasts through one of the oft told myths in the Liberal Zionist narrative. But, staying true to Liberal Zionist form, he fails to prescribe the obvious and necessary solutions to the problem he identifies.

Cohen addresses the “myth” that the Israeli occupation is unsustainable. This myth is central in Liberal Zionist lore. Jeremy Ben-Ami, J Street Founder and President writes in his book “Our voice must speak the truth as loudly and clearly as possible: The present path that the state of Israel is on is unsustainable.”But Cohen writes: “It is time to retire the unsustainability nostrum. Facile and inaccurate, it distracts from the inconvenient truth of Israel’s sustainable success…” Later, “that ‘point’ of unmanageability is a vanishing one. Permanent occupation is what several ministers in Netanyahu’s coalition government advocate. Backed by the evidence, they are certain it can be managed. They are right.”

If this sounds familiar to some of you, you may have come across my comments at a Middle East Policy Council panel last fall where I discuss the three most problematic myths in our discourse on Israel/Palestine. The myth of unsustainable occupation was one of them:

Indeed, in 2011, President Obama said about Israel, quote, “precisely because of our friendship, it is important that we tell the truth. The status quo is unsustainable. The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation.” The same was uttered by his then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

If anything has been sustainable in the turbulent Middle East for the last half-century, longer than Mubarak and longer than Gadhafi, it has been Israel’s occupation. Sure, nothing is sustainable forever. At one point, I suppose, the Grand Canyon was just a river. But it’s particularly disingenuous to hear this language from the very officials who are crafting policy to ensure that the status quo remains sustainable.

As I’ve already discussed, not only is the Israeli occupation sustainable, it is profitable. Indeed, Israel has done almost all it can to ensure the occupation persists for generations by carving up the West Bank with colonies and entrenching its presence there.

So even though Cohen successfully identifies the same problem I pointed out, here is where Cohen fails spectacularly. While he identifies that the occupation is very much sustainable, he fails to put the proper blame on Washington for its support of Israel, without which the sustainability of occupation would be in serious jeopardy.  This is a slippery slope for a Liberal Zionist. Liberal Zionists constantly tell us that ending the occupation is in Israel’s interest, but if the status quo is sustainable and Israel is secure and thriving, then what would motivate it to change its behavior in occupied Palestine – behavior that even Liberal Zionists identify as morally reprehensible? Not much.

Which is why the next logical step, a step Liberal Zionists generally don’t take, is a call for the necessary pressure to change the Israeli decision calculus. So does Cohen call for an end to US military, economic and/or diplomatic support for Israel which helps make the status quo sustainable? Does he call for sanctions on Israel until it complies with international law? Nope. He merely concludes that majorities on both sides must determine “that painful compromise in the name of a better future is preferable to manageable conflict.”

But what changes need to take place to get Israelis to prefer making the necessary concessions instead of not making them and enjoying the status quo he only paragraphs earlier identified as sustainable?

Cohen doesn’t say. Maybe he will in a column 2 to 3 years from now. And why rush anyway Roger? The status quo is, as we both note, sustainable. Its just a few more years of millions of Palestinians living under the jack-boot of Israeli occupation. If this hasn’t driven you to urgency after several decades, what’s a couple more years. I’m sure you will might get around to it at some point.