Sunday, October 27, 2013

Talking Peace in the Dark

            If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?  Sure.

            If the Palestinian and Jewish peace negotiators reach an agreement, and nobody cares to read it, does it make an impact?  Sure.   But I’m not sure the impact would be any more meaningful than the sound of that fallen tree.  

            Now don’t get me wrong; I support the ongoing peace talks.  I support any exercise to bring that conflict to an end, whether it takes place among heads of state, NGOs, or college students.   But let’s not kid ourselves – even on the off-chance that the two governments are ready for peace, I don’t think the two peoples themselves are ready.  I could see the rank and file taking a glance at a signed peace agreement, reading the particulars, and blowing it off with a shrug.   And that’s because, for the past several decades, there has been little trust between the two peoples, and the leaders of their civil societies have made no meaningful effort to bring about reconciliation.  As a result, even if the politicians can somehow miraculously get together on a document, they couldn’t sell it in Hebron or Haifa.  

            Why has there been so little progress in building trust and reconciliation?  I’ve discussed one of the problems in a previous blog post – every time the political types come to the negotiating table, they keep looking for the big, final-status agreement, rather than seeking the kind of incremental accomplishments that over time could produce a truly lasting peace.  Just imagine all the progress we could have made if every round of negotiations in the past few decades had produced at least one tangible, lasting result, rather than simply “ending in failure.”  Alas, when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, time seems to be endless, but patience is ever fleeting. 
            Perhaps the more profound problem, however, is that each side has hunkered down behind a very dangerous narrative.  That narrative has, at its core, a rather absurd self-satisfaction.  Both the Israelis and the Palestinians have convinced themselves that they have done everything possible to work for peace and the problem lies entirely in the other camp.  For this sad state of affairs we can thank two powerful tropes – one for each of the combatants.

The Israeli trope is known as the “two state solution.”  With the exception of the fundamentalist fringe on the right and a small group of peaceniks on the left, it is almost universally supported among the Jewish communities in both Israel and America.  Indeed, I consider myself a great advocate of that idea.  So I should be happy that so many of my landsmen agree, right?  

Well … the problem is that, in the Jewish community, the term “two-state solution” has become more flexible than an Olympic gymnast.   Our hard-liners are fine with the Palestinians having their own state – but only if that state includes Jordan.  Oh sure, the hard liners are happy if it also includes the Gaza Strip and even parts of the West Bank.  But they don’t want it to eat up the big Jewish settlements in the West Bank and they certainly don’t want it to include parts of Jerusalem.  

To me, that position is antithetical to the notion of “two states for two peoples.”  I don’t care how many Palestinians currently live in Jordan; that is not the Palestinian state that we are obliged to allow.  Just as the Jews want to live in Israel, not Egypt, the Palestinian people want to live in Palestine – meaning that they want a state that is West of the Jordan River, not East.  When the state of Israel was created by the United Nations, it was never envisioned that the Palestinians would be denied a state within the pre-48 borders of historical Palestine.

Similarly, I don’t believe that Jews can legitimately claim to support two states as long as one of those states is a tiny, serpentine-shaped land mass that is reminiscent of North Carolina’s 12th District or some other product of corrupt gerrymandering.  That’s an offer worthy of Marie Antoinette.    

If my fellow Jews don’t want to give up their huge West Bank settlements, they at least should have the class to admit what their position logically entails: that they oppose the two-state solution.   Once more Jews admit that fact, it will honestly constitute progress – for at least then the hard liners may stop being so complacent that theirs is the path to peace.  Clearly, it isn’t.

As for the Palestinians, their trope is known as “non-violent resistance.”   Armed with that governing principle, West Bank Palestinians have ironically come to be almost completely at peace with their own side’s conduct in this war – or at least with the conduct of the Palestinian Authority/PLO, which has clearly adopted that strategy.  According to the Palestinian narrative, non-violent resistance is the one perfectly moral response to the tyranny of the Israelis, and it ultimately will produce an outcome favorable to the Palestinians by peacefully revealing to the world that Zionism is an antiquated, apartheid and brutal ideology.  

            Believe me, I appreciate the strategy of non-violent resistance compared to the alternative of terrorism.  Any Jew in their right mind would see it as a major step in the right direction.  But the problem is that the centrality of this strategy is such that it is every bit as antithetical to peace as the idea of Jordan as the Palestinian state.  

            Folks, to reiterate what was said above, we need true reconciliation, not new and different strategies for “winning” the war.  We need both sides to appreciate the legitimacy of two viable states within the land known as pre-48 Palestine, one primarily for the Palestinians and the other primarily for the Jews.  The Palestinian obsession with “non-violent resistance” continues to reflect a narrative that the primary way of responding to the state of Israel is by resisting it.  And this in turn tends to reflect a general antipathy toward Zionism and the legitimacy of the Jews’ claim to their own Middle Eastern state.  

Stated differently, by comparing their own movement to that of Ghandi, the Palestinians are acting like the Jews have no greater right to their own state in the Holy Land than the English had to a state in the Indian Subcontinent.  Here’s the problem, folks: the Jews don’t have an island in the North Atlantic to which they can retreat.  Israel is their one and only state.  They’re not giving it up.  And if the Palestinians want a state of their own, they need to deal with that reality and not compare their plight to other victims of colonialism.

            So what can the Palestinians do?  How about take a different tack when Jews ask them to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.  Today, virtually all Palestinians will tell you that such recognition is “impossible.”  And yet the Palestinians nevertheless see themselves purely as the victims who are doing everything they can possibly do to make peace.  I’m not buying it.

            Then again, I’m hardly buying it when many Jews ask the Palestinians to give up much of the West Bank and become part of another sovereign nation that lies primarily across the Jordan River.   I cannot get over the chutzpah of taking such a hard line position, and then still claiming to support a “two state solution.”   Some peacemakers, huh?  

            And if all that isn’t bad enough, when the two sides come together and talk, they approach the proceedings like a home run derby – either they hit the ball out of the park and reach a final peace agreement, or they make an “out” and go back to square one.

            This is why, if you have kids who are about to enter college and you want them to pick a topic of study that will remain relevant for decades despite the ever-changing nature of contemporary society, you might suggest the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  It’s one of the few constants in the universe these days.  It makes the Energizer Bunny look like a quitter by comparison.

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