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Don’t be silly
By LAWRENCE RIFKIN
01/03/2013
Hypothetical questions can be useful, no matter how ridiculous they sound.
 
One of the quirks of people on the right side of the political landscape here is that they tend to avoid answering hypothetical questions.

Professional politicians of all stripes avoid them (veterans – not neophytes like Bayit Yehudi’s Naftali Bennett) because they know better than to box themselves in. So I’m not talking about them. I’m talking about the rank and file, you and me, people who need not fear defeat in the next election or the pink slip from a plum job at the public trough.

People on the Left seem to welcome hypothetical questions. Maybe it’s their openness to change and new possibilities. Maybe it’s out of some childish naivete. Or maybe they just like to dream. But those on the Right? They avoid hypothetical questions like they do Meretz election stickers.

I’VE OFTEN asked people what they’d do if, for example, the land on the other side of the Golan frontier were owned and operated by Monaco or some other non-aggressive wimp of a country. Would they consider giving up the heights? After all, we’d have nothing to fear beyond the odd casino chip landing in our humous.

Leftists? They’d probably want to know if the chip had been manufactured by some nine-year-old in a Chinese sweatshop. Free-marketers? They’d want to know the chip’s denomination. Right-wingers? They’d probably want to know whether you had just touched down from another planet.

Here’s an excerpt from a letter to the editor that was published in a recent Jerusalem Post letters column: “...What if Hamas, as the Palestinian Authority has already done, recognized the permanent State of Israel? What if the Palestinians gave Israel all their weapons? What would Israel do in return? Would it do anything? What could the Palestinians expect in return? Do not beg off with, ‘Oh, that will never happen.’ What would Israel’s response be? It is a fair question.”

Personally, I have my doubts it would be so smooth.

Still, as the reader said, it’s a fair question. It certainly would separate the ideologues from those who are merely afraid – and very justifiably so – that in our reality, any high ground given away (actually any ground at all, as low-lying Gaza so ably has proved) would introduce much more than casino chips into our favorite dish.

Witness excerpts from two replies to the gentleman’s letter: “[D]id he come from Mars?... Even a Martian who has had some contact with Mother Earth wouldn’t be quite that naive!” and “When you return from Mars, try to arrange a stopover in Israel. We ought to have a chat.”

How about that! People believe life exists on Mars yet refuse to believe the Palestinians could ever change. But the idea – at least when it’s me asking the hypothetical questions – is to know where deeply held fears end and deeply entrenched philosophies begin.

It’s like talking gun control in the US with a member of the National Rifle Association. The conversation might go something like this: Q. Wouldn’t a clampdown on guns help prevent more massacres like the one in Newtown? A. Haven’t you heard of the Second Amendment? Now that would be progress. No wussing around with statistics or red herrings like mental illness. This person goes straight to his roots, to the law that chisels in stone a citizen’s right to bear arms. No matter that the Second Amendment was passed in 1791, well before the advent of semi-automatic assault rifles and magazines that extend past your knee. It was never repealed. It’s the law of the land. So there.

I wouldn’t be gratified to hear this, per se, but I’d be grateful to have identified one more person to remove from the debate. Like those who come straight out and say they’d refuse to give up the West Bank because God gave it to their ancestors, to them and their progeny.

For the religious, this land represents something far more personal and ethereal than a mere haven for the Jews. It is where the biblical figures they revere trod centuries and even millennia ago. It is where entire communities of sovereign Jews lived and flourished. It is where great leaders gave mankind an ethical way of life and the notion that it was one deity that created the universe and that this deity remains all-capable, all-knowing and all-deserving of our awe and reverence.

How could people who feel this way give any of this up and still be considered good, devout, believing Jews? You can split hairs with such individuals, but you cannot argue about what is perceived to be a truism so great and all-encompassing that people willingly die for it, the words of the Shema on their trembling lips.

IT WOULD be wonderful to know just how many of those who say they’re against a two-state solution say so for this reason. Instead, we just hear that Arabs can’t be trusted, that they’re murderous thugs, that they respect only force and that if the price is right they can be convinced to pack up and move elsewhere.

We hear this from pretty much everyone who is against compromise.

But what about those who moved to the West Bank for the quality of life, the large homes, yards and gardens that can be had at prices considerably lower than in north Tel Aviv or even Ness Ziona? Let’s be honest: Who, having once tasted this life, would want to go back to a 60-square-meter, fourth-floor walk-up? Statistically, since the 1980s it’s been said that the settlers we “see,” the ones with the kippot and the M16s, are really a minority and that the majority of those living in the West Bank do so solely for the affordable quality of life. This means that if the government were to get serious with land reform and in moving some of the infrastructure and industry away from the pricey center of the country, there might be that much less resistance to compromise over the West Bank.

This leaves those who are afraid, who fear that Kalkilya will be the next Beit Hanun and, instead of Sderot, Ben-Gurion Airport and Tel Aviv will be the next short-range targets. It’s hard to argue with these people, too. Not because of any absolutisms, but because they – very justifiably – feel that the Palestinians can’t be trusted.

Still, my question remains: What if it were people like Grace Kelly’s and Prince Rainier’s delightful, decorous family running the place? Imagine Prince Albert II and all the other Grimaldis with their charity balls and lazy afternoons poolside. Would it be okay? Don’t tell me that’s ridiculous. I know it is. Hypothetical questions often are. But do you have the courage to answer? Because once we know how many of the people who say no or roll out insurmountable conditions for a two-state solution do so for a reason that has nothing to do with religion or history, we can gauge what is and what isn’t possible. At least on our side.

As for the other side, don’t ask me any hypothetical questions.
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