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The Case Against Even-handedness

Liberal blogs are all making fun of the anti-Defamation league's Abraham Foxman for complaining that Middle East envoy George Mitchell is too "even-handed." And yes, "even-handed" is a phrase with generally positive connotations, and it's kind of funny that somebody would explicitly criticize it.

But the truth is, there are times when being even-handed is not appropriate. The United States did not take an even-handed approach to the Bosnian problem. We took a pro-Bosnian approach, predicated on the view that Serbian aggression was the main problem.

Likewise, U.S. foreign policy for decades has decided that Arab military aggression is the primary problem in the Middle East. That's not to say that it's the only problem. The mainstream American view deems Arab rejectionism as the primary problem, and manifestations of Israeli intransigence like settlements as secondary problems. That's my view as well. We need a two-state solution, but an important prerequisite is for Palestinians to control the elements of their society who refuse to coexist with Israel. If Israel withdrew to the 1947 armistice lines tomorrow and recognized a Palestinian state, Hamas would resume attacking Israel, Israel would retaliate, and we'd quickly be right back to where we are today.

My point isn't so much to defend this point as view as to explain that it isn't inherently ridiculous to oppose an "even-handed" posture in the Middle East. You can look at the facts in a fair and even-handed way and arrive at a pro-Israel position -- which, again, does not necessarily require support for everything the Israeli government does.

Now, opponents of the pro-Israel posture argue that the United States can't broker peace unless it takes an even-handed posture. But that's only true if you assume that both sides are equally at fault. In a situation where Party A recognizes Party B's right to exist, but Party B does not reciprocate, sometimes the best way to achieve peace is to convince Party B that its goal of destroying Party A is hopeless. The United States brokered peace in the Balkans by employing an approach that was anything but even-handed. Now, the Arab-Israeli conflict is not as morally clear cut as the Serbian-Bosnian-Kosovar conflicts, but I'm illustrating a basic principle: Being "even-handed" isn't always correct or always the best way to make peace.

--Jonathan Chait