Neither the Jews nor the Palestinians have been masters of their fate. Both are small nations, subject to forces much more powerful. But the grandchildren of miserable Jews who came to Israel in the 1940s and 1950s as refugees from the Holocaust and Muslim persecution have created a vibrant democracy, ranked as one of the wealthiest of countries, with significant technology, a credible military, and a health system associated with one of the world's most enviable measures of life expectancy, In contrast, the Palestinians are stuck with the misery of Gaza or the stagnation and rampant corruption of the West Bank.

 
The competition has not been on an even field. 
 
The Jews came to the 1940s with 3,000 years of history and a record of literary, commercial, and scientific accomplishment that made them the envy of others, as well as being at the focus of jealousy and waves of killing and plunder from ancient times to the Holocaust and what came after it in several places.
 
The Palestinians have an ancient name, but began their national history barely a century ago, and remain in a formative period where national identity competes with greater loyalties to family, tribe, or locale. . 
 
The Jews had learned, through books or experience. Most often, their leadership has followed the epigram identified with Otto von Bismark (even if not knowing the source), that politics is the art of the possible. They had their dreams, but those chosen for national leadership have struggled against those who put aspiration above what seemed possible. The struggle continues within the present governing coalition, but so far the realists have kept the dreamers in line.
 
The dreamers are those who take seriously what the Hebrew Bible describes as God's promise. Even they have reduced their aspirations to the area west of the Jordan, but some of them want it all. The realists take account of who knows how many Palestinians (anything coming from Palestinians by way of statistical claims being unreliable), and push for continued accommodation rather than fanciful ideas about non-democratic control or migration. 
 
No doubt the status quo is messy to the point of defying clear description, other than fuzzy notions of fluid autonomy. However, it may be the best achievable by both Israelis and Palestinians due to the Palestinians' obsession with the dreams of turning back history to pre-Balfour or pre-1967.
 
If we begin with widely held views about international law and take the expressions coming from important governments as the established norms, then the Palestinians seem on top of things. Their demand for a state is on the agenda of those who determine what is politically correct.
 
But distance between symbolic and actual accomplishment has defied decades of multiple formulations  and negotiations that have gone nowhere.  
 
Donald Trump says he's making another attempt. His reputation as deal maker comes from the easier world of commerce. Several flubs at home may incline him to rescue a reputation abroad. We'll see how he does with Palestinians.


Not only does Palestinian history defy the epigram, that politics is the art of the possible, but it also confirms the epigram, unattributed, that those who demand everything get nothing


Be the first to know - Join our Facebook page.


Wise Jews recognize that they can't push out the Palestinians and obtain all of what some see as a legacy from the Almighty. Politicians and activists continue to hurl verbal assaults on one another, but with few exceptions have avoided anything more damaging. Palestinians, in contrast, go quickly from verbal to violent confrontation. While Jews seem to have learned from being squashed by the Romans and battered by others over the course of two millennia, Palestinians suffer from something like an Islamic cultural DNA that has produce bloody chaos across the Middle East from Pakistan, through Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Somalia and into Nigeria.


No status quo lasts forever, but the anomaly of fluid autonomy for Palestinians has been developing since 1948 or 1967 and shows a capacity to maintain itself for a while longer. How long? depends on what can happen among Israelis, Palestinians, or worthies of the world who take a serious, as opposed to a tendentious interest.


For the time being, people who matter seem more concerned with Muslim chaos than with creating another Muslim state, especially one where those claiming leadership want to undue history, expel Jews from the land they acquire, and drape the word "democracy" on something that is much different.


What to do? 


Yet another epigram, long standing but unattributed, seems most useful, i.e., Don't make things worse.


That seems to have the support of Israeli realists, and those among Palestinians willing to go along with detailed accommodation and accomplishments. They include cooperation between security personnel of Israel and the West Bank, work permits for Palestinians in Israel, access to holy places in Jerusalem, and the acceptance of special cases by Israeli hospitals. It's not the grand stuff of state creation for the Palestinians or realizing the Promise of God for the Jews. But it's been working, and may keep open the possibility of a more formal accord. As far as we can tell from 70 years of history since 1948 and 50 years since 1967, that won't mean Israeli withdrawals from where numerous Jews live in the West Bank. 


We can argue without likely agreement about the territory currently available to the Palestinians, and what can be their's if they reach agreement in another month, year, decade, or even further afield. 


Other than that, recent history is not helpful.


And to quote an epigram that came to me from my grandmother, and to her perhaps from reading the works of Ben Franklin, God helps those who help themselves.


Comments welcome
-- 
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Relevant to your professional network? Please share on Linkedin
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official position or viewpoint of The Jerusalem Post. Blog authors are NOT employees, freelance or salaried, of The Jerusalem Post.

Think others should know about this? Please share