For a moment it looked like a gesture of the type that could get things going
Abu Mazen, nom de guerre of Palestinian Authority President
Mahmoud Abbas, told Channel 2’s Udi Segal on-camera something very
un-guerre-like: “It’s my right to see it [Safed, where he was born], but not to
live there.... I believe that [the] West Bank and Gaza is Palestine, and the
other parts Israel.”
Could it be? Was this a hint that one of the holy
grails of Israeli-Palestinian peace-making, the right of return to pre-1967
Israel by refugees and their descendants, was no longer a Palestinian demand? A
lot of us certainly wanted to hope so.
Israel’s president, the
eternally-optimistic Shimon Peres, called Abbas’s words “brave” and fired off a
message encouraging him to follow through. And just as reliably, Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu immediately pooh-poohed the whole thing as “empty
Perhaps realizing he might have signed his own death warrant,
Abbas quickly made it clear during a subsequent interview with an Egyptian
television station that he had been speaking solely for himself.
about Safed was a personal position and does not mean giving up the right of
return,” he told Al-Hayat TV. “No one can give up the right of
Too bad. A gesture was just what we were hungering for. Maybe a
caveat to the Egyptian interviewer would have done the trick, like: “Individuals
can give up the right of return, though, and if enough of us Palestinians do,
perhaps we can move things along.”
IN THE ARAB world, gestures don’t seem
to amount to much. Though they tend to be small, Israel makes them on a
semi-regular basis. We dismantle roadblocks and checkpoints.
We hand back
live terrorists for dead bodies and dead terrorists for nothing. We ignore our
own blockade of the Gaza Strip by allowing in foodstuffs and fuel. Small
gestures, but they add up. Funny how the culture that advanced algebra to the
standards we use today can’t do simple arithmetic.
Maybe our gestures are
just not big enough.
How about a temporary settlement building freeze? Or
a withdrawal from the Gaza Stri....
On the other hand, maybe the
Palestinians are just not desperate enough.
Many of us in Israel have
long been desperate.
“[I]f in 1977 Anwar el-Sadat had merely touched the
tarmac with his big toe and then hurried back to Cairo, it would have elicited
sufficient Israeli swoon to end up at Camp David, so hungry were we for regional
acceptance,” I wrote in 2007. “Thirty years and thousands of terror-related
Israeli deaths later, we’re a lot more hard-headed, but I have a feeling we’d
soften up considerably with the first real knock at the door." Of course, in
1977 not every Israeli was desperate, starting with the few thousand people
living in places like Yamit. Today, the number of Israelis who would define
themselves as anything but desperate is considerably greater, starting with the
hundreds of thousands living in West Bank settlements.
But there’s a
sizeable segment of the Israeli population that has grown tired of it all –
tired of the money that could go instead to weaker populations and
infrastructure, tired of the endless army duty spent protecting settlers and,
yes, tired of the hours spent in bomb shelters and reinforced rooms. Of course,
few might be convinced that giving the Palestinians what they want would
necessarily stop the rockets, but they’re still tired – tired even of a peace
process that seems to go nowhere and with each passing day enhances the allure
of unilateral moves (not that those have necessarily worked,
It’s gotten so that Blazing Saddles’s Lily von Shtupp could have
been singing our song.
Many of us here are so tired, in fact, that
gestures, and even just hints of a solution, indeed go a long way. They’re
scrutinized and dissected like a frog in a high school science lab, and then
poked and prodded in the hope that they’ll come alive and, like that amphibian
and the princess, bring forth a happy ending.
Abbas says something and we
rise in an anxious hush as our analysts swallow and regurgitate. Arafat and
Rabin shake hands on the White House lawn and we’re sure it’s the end of a
century-long war. A young Bashir Gemayel gets set to take over and already we’re
planning a 1,000-year peace treaty with Lebanon. Sadat not only touches the
tarmac but addresses the Knesset and embraces, of all people, Menachem Begin. He
gets the Sinai back and we get a peace treaty. Three and a half decades down the
road, however, we all get the Muslim Brotherhood and once again our parade is
threatened by rain.
IT’S GETTING harder and harder for those of us who
think peace is attainable, so hard that we often find ourselves mumbling the
lines to Ms. Von Shtupp’s saloon stage number: I’m tired Tired of playing the
game Ain’t it a crying shame I’m so tired Goddammit, I’m exhausted! I know I am.
It’s gotten bad enough that once in a while I look at those who say the insanity
will never end, so let’s just get on with our lives and make the best of it, and
think they might be on to something. Sometimes it’s so bad I think these
thoughts even when looking at the one-staters (ours, that is). That’s how bad it
I honestly don’t know why I ultimately remain positive, though.
Maybe it’s something in my Western upbringing. Maybe it’s in my personality or
my DNA. Whatever it is, it keeps me hoping that someday one of our adversaries
will feel the same way and come knocking.
Readers will say I’m naïve or
even stupid, but unexpected knocks on the door have actually happened. Remember
the amazement we all felt watching Sadat walk down those airplane steps? Today
we might be wary of the Muslim Brotherhood, but back then, who’da thought? An
Arab leader came to us! Yes, strange things happen.
So to our Palestinian
neighbors I say: Give us a sign, a hint, a gesture. It can come from any level –
a simple farmer in a field near Nablus who says openly and loudly that he’s
willing to live peacefully in a Palestinian state alongside me as I live in a
Jewish Israel, or a man in a suit from Ramallah who follows through and tells
his people in their own language that compromises simply will have to be
All I ask is that the gesture be sincere – and not of the