Some years ago I began flogging the idea that policymakers and activists must be aware of problems that have no solutions.
Israel had something to do with it. This is a country with more than its share of problems, bothering nervous Jews here and elsewhere, as well as goyim who want us to adopt their well thought out ideas for solutions.
There are extremists, who we have learned to ignore. Among them are anti-Semites who want us to return to Bialystok, Baghdad, or somewhere else, and the tireless missionaries who say all will be well if we accept Jesus as our savior.
It is not only Israelis who suffer from insoluble problems. Germans have trouble implementing speed limits. Americans cannot outlaw guns or reign in profit-making health insurance companies that get in the way of medical care.
Among the responses from my professional colleagues-- that''s an interesting idea, but what''s your solution?
The point is, there ain''t any.
In the presence of insoluble problems (i.e., conundrums), one has to cope, or find partial treatments that manage the pain while leaving the basic problem to fester, avoid making things worse, and learn to live with whatever defects cannot be changed.
Never say never. Things do change. However, most of what seems fixed is likely to remain as far into the future as possible to see.
Among the elements that retard change is culture, which is more profound and lasting than the findings of the latest opinion poll. Elements in a nation''s culture may be associated with religion, and thus be reinforced by cadres of preachers who''ve been taught how to push the buttons that keep people believing. It may be difficult to find the source of a particular cultural phenomenon in the ancient texts of a religion, but "accepted practices" (what the Jews call מנהגים) are part of the religious dogma passed on within families and from the pulpit.
American individualism, which touches upon antipathy to taxation, gun control, or generous policies of public health and welfare have roots with the the Puritans, whose doctrines seeped into many Americans who have no direct connection with the Protestants of early Massachusetts.
It is difficult to separate religion from other cultural elements that impact on politics. Americans have their frontier experience and antipathy toward distant governments, as well as the federal elements built into the Constitution that give life to the NRA and the currently ascendant movement called Tea Party. Not too far in the background is what Max Weber called the Protestant Ethic and the spirit of capitalism.
Israel shows the impact of religious and cultural roots even older than those affecting Americans. Themes of the Promised Land and God''s Covenant with his Chosen People currently have governmental weight via the political party calling itself Jewish Home. Other elements of Judaism are assured a hearing by the ultra-Orthodox parties United Torah Judaism and SHAS. They restrain secular parties that would make public transportation available on the Sabbath. All of the religious parties have a problem with proposals to facilitate conversion or grant rights to single sex couples.
Israel also suffers from the culture of Bedouin, which have so far frustrated efforts to deal with tents and shanties that sprawl over desert land wanted for other purposes, and keep thousands of people far from electricity, schools, or clean water.
Palestinian obsession with the return of refugees and their descendants is one of the factors--call it cultural or political--that seems destined to frustrate any efforts or Americans or others to craft an agreement between Palestinians and Israel. Religion also plays its part, perhaps not so much the original doctrines of Islam, but in the efforts of religious and political activists to insist that the entire Middle East (extending from Indonesia to Spain, up to Britain and France, and down through much of Africa) be under the rule of Muslims and Sharia law.
Israeli settlements also qualify as largely fixed, and resist any efforts to remove them for the sake of peace.
Settlements benefit not only from the beliefs of religious Jews, but also from the distrust of Palestinians ingrained in secular Israelis over the course of decades. The removal of settlements from Gaza has reinforced a disinclination to remove large settlements and perhaps even small ones from the West Bank, kept alive by each wave of missiles aimed at Israeli civilians.
The latest blather from the Americans is sounding like a weak effort to salvage something from the mission staked out by Barack Obama and promoted by John Kerry in some 11 visits since January.
Remember the Road Map to peace produced by the Bush Administration. The current formulation is called a Framework for Agreement. Its likely impotence is apparent in setting out the general terms of an arrangement, the details of which will have to be pursued in continued negotiations.
Like the Road Map, it may keep the parties talking, or talking about talking, but its single most likely benefit will be to give Obama and Kerry a claim to have moved things forward.
Thanks to the impacts of culture described above, Americans die from violence at rates much higher than in any other developed country, and you can''t find public transportation in most of Israel on the Sabbath.
Weather also makes its contribution to insoluble problems. Americans in the Middle West dealt with many of the Spring floods, but have found no solution for tornadoes other than sirens and basements not applicable to the trailers of lower income families. Japanese worry about earthquakes and tsunamis. Reinforced structures and sea walls make Japan less vulnerable than poor countries without the resources or the discipline to protect themselves, but still require the movement of people in extreme cases.
Israel is generally free of destructive natural phenomena. It sits on the edge of the Syrian-African fault, and there is a history of destructive earthquakes. Periodically the news of serious quakes elsewhere moves the government to express itself in behalf of strengthening old and quickly built apartment blocks, some of which may actually be implemented.
We suffered an unusual three-day onslaught of winter weather, imported from Russia. The criticism of ill-preparedness has been no less severe than the weather. The Prime Minister, Mayor of Jerusalem, heads of the police, civil defense, Electric Company and several other worthies put on a prime time show, with each praising the other and saying how they were cooperating despite the hardships. Ha''aretz cartooned the Prime Minister claiming to have located a super plow via Google, referring back to his claim of having solved a disastrous forest fire by renting a supertanker, i.e., a 747 that dumped lots of water, but took so long to refill as to be of doubtful help.
The Jews of Israel are better at coping with insoluble problems than the Palestinians who aspire to replace us. We''ve been dealing with more powerful others for millennia, and have accomplished a lot. We have a good standard of living, despite that snow on the balcony.
Palestinians have been touting their misery and demanding that the world turn back the clock for 65 years.
So far it keeps ticking ahead..