I send out Jonah’s emails. I do this because he is fresh, smart, and energized.–Lilly
I am young. I am Jewish. I live and work in Jordan, where for a year and a half I have worked as a newsman, watching the events of the region unfold day-by-day and picking up bits and pieces of gossip and political lore from my little slice of the Arab intelligentsia. In this context, Lilly asks me: “What’s your take on the negotiations?”
I could write a book about “my take on the negotiations”, and revise it a hundred times and never quite get at what I want to say. So, here’s a shot at being concise: it will fail.
Let’s begin with Netanyahu, since it all ends with Netanyahu. People talk about him as though he were some kind of enigma: does he want peace? Doesn’t he? Could he be Nixon in China? No. Not now and not ever. He is not and has never been interested in being Nixon in China. Nixon in Cambodia, perhaps, but not in China. Sometimes the things we want to be very complicated and hard to measure are really simple. Netanyahu is one of those things: he has always had the option of dropping YB and Shas and taking Kadima into his coalition in order to have a government that could stand in the face of a peace agreement. Tzipi Livni, for all her faults, would have been happy to make such an arrangement at any time, probably swapping jobs with Avigdor Lieberman.
But Bibi has not done that. Instead, he has allowed the unhinged Lieberman to go around talking about population transfers and appeased the hardline settlers at every turn. This indicates to me one of two things: either (1) he agrees with the racial and religious politics of the settlers, or (2) he is too afraid of them to stand up to them. Given his track record, I’m leaning towards option #1, but #2 is also a real possibility since there is ample and clear evidence that these people wield disproportionate power in Israeli politics today.
That said, I have a hard time believing Obama and Mitchell and Abbas when they so scriptedly lavish Netanyahu with platitudinous labels as a “serious partner for peace”. He has done absolutely nothing to earn that title. Meanwhile, Abbas is weak, lacks a mandate and has no way of convincing the Palestinians that he is able to negotiate any kind of fair deal, so Bashar Assad is, frankly, correct when he says that these peace talks are little more than a way for Obama to look like he’s doing something important.
I say all this despite wishing fervently that it were not true. Did you see King Abdullah on the Daily Show during the UN summit? His spiel about the two-state solution and the urgency of international peace efforts, etc, was boilerplate, but he was unusually candid about just how fucked everyone is if these negotiations go the way of their predecessors, which I fear is at this point a foregone conclusion. Looking at everything–the Hamas-Fateh split, the shuttle diplomacy, the largely meaningless settlement freeze that ends just as talks begin–it all seems somehow farcical, but I see and hear and read things that terrify me to think of what a round of demonization the Jews have coming once the Israeli government is rightly blamed for screwing it up again, and blame is wrongly cast upon us all.
The trouble with this whole situation is that the loudest voices on both sides of the argument are those whose positions are fundamentally racist, religionist and incurably violent. Sadly, little remains to be found between these complete lunatics and the lame apologists who try to overlook the fact that this conflict is damning–not to mention damaging–to Zionists, Jews, Arabs and Muslims alike when viewed through eyes unclouded by longing. Yes, blind hatred of Jews has motivated the Arabs’ opposition to Israel, but yes, Zionism is a reflection of colonialism. Yes, Israel grants its Arab citizens rights they could never hope to have in any Arab country, but yes, Israel has also committed atrocities against the Palestinians. Yes, Israel has a right to defend itself from terrorism, but yes, the Palestinians have a right to defend themselves from aggression. As a friend likes to put it: they’re all assholes, all of them.
The fact that everyone comes out badly in the final analysis makes it very hard for anyone to approach this conflict objectively and constructively. Motivated by collective insecurity, everyone wants to score points and make the other guy look bad. I don’t see how anyone can make peace under such conditions. What is needed is for an Israeli and a Palestinian, both of them entirely aware of the faults of their own people and leaders, to sit down and have a good laugh and a good cry about how tragically ridiculous this all is, then work out the nuts and bolts of what everyone already sort of knows needs to be done. Sadly, nobody with that level of circumspection and capacity for self-criticism will ever obtain a position of power, anywhere, ever.
So that’s my take. Fundamental and necessary acknowledgments of poor choices have yet to take place, and the negotiating parties are both hampered (one willingly, perhaps) by the overwhelming power of their more extreme counterparts. I’m not holding my breath for an agreement anytime soon, but I hope against all reason that something good transpires. The alternative is really much worse than Bibi, Avi, and company seem to realize.