Should we be whimsical or cynical?

 
Let's see if we can answer that question before proceeding with our day.
 
Tuesday's news featured a new poll showing that two-thirds of Palestinians support the current violence, and think it'll improve their chances to achieve national goals.

And Mahmoud Abbas, the sitting President of the Palestine Authority (West Bank), not recognized as such by the folks in charge of Gaza, whose term expired in January, 2009, says the he supports the efforts of young Palestinians to throw off the Israeli yoke.


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However, that poll of Palestinians also shows that about two-thirds of the Palestinians think that Abbas should resign. 


Left aside is the question of whether "resigning"  is the appropriate formulation for leaving an office whose term ended seven years ago.


Hamas is celebrating an anniversary of its founding, with parades and speeches glorifying military accomplishments that outsiders are hard pressed to describe.


Whether whimsical or cynical, we shouldn't expect anything dramatic.


The Israeli government is not inclined to make gestures for the sake of starting peace talks with the Palestinians, and neither Israeli nor Palestinian leaders have been offering novel ideas about how those negotiations should proceed.


A variety of Israeli opinion polls are hard to read. They show support for the two-state solution, but no optimism about it being possible.


Welcome to a multi-cultural bit of the world, not all that different from substantial parts of the US and Europe, where people having different histories and cultures live alongside one another, and have trouble communicating.


My guess is that we can forget about the idea of a Palestinian state for the time being.


When Palestinians are ready, Israeli officials may respond, depending on circumstances impossible to predict.


Meanwhile, we can expect that security officials will keep tweaking defense arrangements. Past experience tells us that this wave of violence will end. Optimists see signs of it diminishing. Pessimists see no end of individual Palestinians angry enough, or discouraged enough, or with enough belief, to end their lives for a dream, or to expect that martyrdom will help their families or provide them bliss in an Islamic paradise.


Fifty years of teaching public administration and experience with several national governments and two national armies leads me to respect professionals, but to recognize the problems in moving large organizations in response to new events. In past waves of violence the police, IDF, and other security services learned how to improve intelligence, training, and the assignment of personnel. Israelis have paid a lower price than Palestinians for Palestinian uprisings. So far in this wave, the death toll is about 10 to 1 in our favor, and our folks are working to improve things.


On another front that is important to us, understanding America also presents its problems.


A last minute cancellation of school throughout Los Angeles is either pathetic or a Hollywood stunt. Especially when one of the officials in charge said that the schools would not be open until he could assure absolute safety.


When has any gun toting American been able to expect absolute safety in the presence of other gun toting Americans?


The White House presents its own problems, also suitable for the comic or a cause for depression.


Barack Obama speaks time and again in ringing words, whose results are hard to find. Perhaps that Nobel Prize was really an Oscar for a great performance.


Israelis must admit that Bibi isn't any clearer. We've learned that when he speaks in favor of a two-state solution he is really opposing it.


Jewish American Democrats may be pressing the delete button at this point, while Jews to the right may be nodding their heads and getting ready to write once again that Barack Hussein Obama is a Muslim born who knows where.


The historical and cultural differences between Israeli and American Jews differ in detail,from those between Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs and Palestinians, but there are communication problems between all those communities.


I hear from Americans who think they are living the ideal life, pity us Israelis, and don't believe the social statistics that show that the US is below Western Europe and Israel, and on the edge of the Third World.


Those statistics do not apply to them or their neighborhoods.


Maybe, but they sure do apply to other Americans. And the people living in the best places, with the best pensions and health insurance better be lucky that they or someone they care about isn't in the wrong school or shopping mall at the same time as an unhappy American with a gun collection, or on the same highway as a drunk driver.


Growing up in Fall River sensitized me to the underside of America. When I began reading Census Reports in the 1950s, I learned that the average adult in the city barely reached the first year of high school. The most recent data shows a bit of progress over the course of sixty years. Now the average adult has a year of high school.


What I didn't learn from Fall River I picked up during three years as a young academic in the Deep South. It was the mid- to late 1960s, and life was changing. Ku Klux Klanners couldn't be found guilty in a state court for killing an African American Colonel in the US Army who stopped in an Athens, Georgia restaurant reserved for Whites. As one of the few Jews in town, I was present in the living room of a well preserved ante-bellum house, looking like it was made for Gone with the Wind, when the city's elites gathered to buy Israel bonds in June, 1967. 


Israel has its own social differences that affect politics. The ultra-Orthodox work hard to  be left alone, seeking to avoid military service, practical education, for many of the men any work that will interfere with their studies, while they demand payments for each child and each man who studies, and additional deals for local taxes, water, and housing. Those who are Orthodox and settlers volunteer at a higher rate than other Israelis for the elite units of the IDF, but also want special deals. They demand subsidies in exchange for living is places more dangerous than the center of the country, but designated by the Almighty as the Land of Israel. Currently settler activists are also demanding that the police go easy on young settlers accused of killing Arabs. 


Democracy does not require giving everyone, or even every large group what it demands. Israeli officials are wrestling with super patriots who want even more rights for settler activists, against civil rights advocates and judges who insist on the rule of law. However, even that is flexible, as we see in the judges' denial of access to attorneys for young people said to be Jewish terrorists.


I think that I've learned to understand all of this, and enjoy yet another dose along with my morning coffee.


For those confused, relax. It'll be all right.


Jews have proven a capacity to survive, and to live better than most. As individuals, however, we all have to die sometime.


Comments welcome


-- 
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
irashark@gmail.com 
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