Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The elephant herd in the room...

Writing or speaking of Israel and it's conflict with it's Arab neighbors, about the "occupation" or occupation, the Palestinians or "palestinians", the territories or Judea and Samaria, and lately a more and more towards Israel hostile Western world – in short what in Israel is referred to as "Ha Matzav" (The Situation) – is to a large extent like walking on quick-sand wearing ice skates over the slippery slopes of the abyss of your choice. There are many reasons for this. First of all the topography of these processes actually is horribly complicated. Second, not one single piece of reality is considered an established fact by any of the parties involved, and every fact presented by one side will immediately be decried as a preposterous propagandistic lie by the other side, which brings us to the third problem: Irrespective of what droves of Anti-Israel thinkers, and unfortunately the current US administration, believes, this is not rational USA or UK, this is the Wild, Wild Middle East, where politicians, religious authorities and military spokespersons, down to the depressed Arab who rents an equally depressed camel for photos with visitors to the Olive Mount, will lie, lie, lie with out blinking. About everything. To themselves and to others.

And when it comes to Europe's and the US' lacking understanding of the Israeli position, another problem is deeply worrying - Israel's failure to explain to the world that the conflict is - at the very least - threefold:

1) First, we have the conflict between two peoples wishing to realize their nationalistic aspirations in the same, minuscular plot of overcrowded land. This is the European and US understanding of the problem, the understanding of Israel's far left, and the one who has given rise to the idea of the Two State Solution. The PLO has of late, at least in English, given lip service to this understanding as well. As have different Israeli leaders.

2) The conflict is also the Arab world's conflict with what they consider an insult to their honor – a Jewish state. One of the many ethnic minorities that for a thousand years had been living in the Arab world at the mercy of Arab whims, have had the gaul to break free and create a state right under their noses, a state that in only 60 years have become more successful than any modern Arab state.

3) The religious and cultural conflict where in the eyes of Islamic interpretation, a geographic part of the Islamic Dar-Al-Islam (House of Islam) has been converted into Dar-Al-Harb (House of War).

While European and US critics of Israel only recognize the existence of the first of these conflicts, where Israel to some extent can be considered the stronger party, Israelis – for reasons of self-preservation – tend to be more worried about the latter two. The Arab and Palestinian leaders are more difficult to understand. In English, they show most interest in the first conflict, but in Arabic as well as in action, they focus more on the latter two as well. This is the reason why Arafat told Clinton and Barack to "Go to hell!!" after Camp David II, and the reason why the Palestinian negotiators has turned down every offer since. It is also the reason why Abu Mazen runs to the Arab League to get every little detail in the negotiations approved – he sees himself primarily as negotiating for The Arab Nation, not for his Palestinian people.

There is a lovely American expression about something being "The elephant in the room", meaning the glaringly obvious thing that no one talks about. As for the current negotiations, or rather non-negotiations, there is a whole herd of elephants being tacitly ignored by left, right, Obama, Arabs and Israelis. I'm not certain that a negotiated peace will be forever impossible, but the already mentioned, as well as below elephants, make me absolutely certain the the current US sponsored pressure to resume negotiations is an absolute waste of time.

1) Nobody except Obama wants them. Benjamin Netanyahu is not Arik Sharon or Yitzchak Rabin. He does not have the inner strength to change his mind on the nature of the conflict, nor does he have the political strength to take on the rightist opposition in his own party, an even less to out-manouver Lieberman's ever more outrageous positioning to become the rights crown prince in the next elections. As for Abu Mazen, he ignored the build freeze in the territories for 9 whole months, in order to not have to go down in history as the Palestinian leader who compromised with the holy Right of Return and with Jerusalem. He then got on the bandwagon with one month left, knowing full well that the build freeze would not be renewed. He is currently doing everything he can to force the US into a version of a renewed build stop that Netanyahu will not be able to accept. Abu Mazen is working on his legacy, fully aware that he has almost no public support, and couldn't sell a peace deal to his people even if his life depended on it. This is why he consistently is doing everything he can to persuade the Israeli public of his lacking intentions, the latest prank was to send out one of his mouth pieces to claim that the Western Wall is a Muslim, and not a Jewish, shrine.

2) Elephant numero due - Gaza and Hamas. It is a truly fascinating fact that whether you choose to listen to the liberal Thomas Friedman in the New York Times or to rightists such as Moshe Arens in Haaretz, they are all speaking and analyzing about "The Peace Process" as if Hamas and Gaza didn't exist. But even if Abbas was Mandela and Netanyahu was King Samuel, what exactly would a peace deal with only the West Bank entail? Gaza would still be run by religious fascists, armed to the teeth, keeping 1.5 million palestinians hostage, and ready to shell Israel to make sure any peace deal wouldn't last. Which is really the incentive for Israel to give up land for peace when Israel would know for certain that it would not lead to peace?

2) And Hamas again....Hamas did not only win the last parliamentary elections with votes from Gaza. They also won in the West Bank, including in Jerusalem. The fact that Abu Mazen and Fatah is still in power there is a result of massive economic and military support from the US, not of popular support from the Palestinians. If a Palestinian state should be forced on the parties by the US, then this state would in all probability be taken over by Hamas within a year or two. And that would lead war, and most probably a re-occupation at a very steep price in human life and suffering.

Rabbi Menachem Froman, peace activist and settler Rabbi
As far as I see it, the current process has turned into nothing but a blame game, where both sides are maneuvering to make any real results impossible, while avoiding to draw the ire of the American President. And chances that such a game would yield anything but disappointment and possibly renewed rounds of violence are very, very limited. This is not to say that the situation is hopeless. Intellectuals both left and right, Jews and Arabs, are getting more and more clear that the other side is not going to disappear, and are thinking about new ways to understand the problem. And as usual, the people are often better than their leaders. So Arabs and Jews and Settlers and Palestinians keep rubbing against each other in Supermarkets, Shuks, NGO:s and settlements, and mostly refrain from killing each other, sometimes even becoming friends.

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