As anecdote has it, George Bernard Shaw once asked an attractive socialite whether she'd sleep with him for a million pounds. After she answered in the affirmative, he offered her a mere 10 shillings. Outraged, she railed: "What do you take me for? A prostitute?" Shaw reputedly replied: "We've already determined that. We're just haggling over the price."
Now substitute Barack Obama for Shaw and our own Binyamin Netanyahu for Shaw's peeved female interlocutor. We're not saying that Bibi is a prostitute, not even in the loosest polemic sense. Indeed, given our current political setting, he's perhaps the best prime minister we can hope for. He's the lesser of available evils. What we're saying is that he had willy-nilly cast himself in the prostitute's role when agreeing to a Palestinian state, albeit demilitarized (demilitarization being eminently reversible). Netanyahu established the principle that his principles are for sale and all that's left is to fix the conditions.
It's not that Netanyahu blithely sold out his ideological virtue. He's under seemingly inexorable pressure to demonstrate "moderation." However, moderation isn't all it's cracked up to be and in itself is hardly what we should automatically aspire to. It may work in certain circumstances but bomb in others. Moderation, moreover, isn't necessarily synonymous with pragmatism.
And pragmatism isn't always wise and mustn't be confused with levelheadedness. History is replete with examples of calamitous and cowardly choices paraded as pragmatic. All too often the road to disaster is paved with pragmatic considerations. Conversely, sometimes bold and nonconformist responses prove in retrospect to have been actually pragmatic. On the eve of World War II it was hawkish Winston Churchill who was realistic and popular dove Neville Chamberlain who was the dupe.
Pragmatism is akin to focusing on specific potholes in our national path rather than sometimes lifting our eyes from the ground to scan the horizon, survey the sweep of the land and behold the full track ahead. Pragmatism is getting bogged down in details and neglecting the whole. It's quibbling about issues and forgetting the basics.
THAT'S WHAT Ariel Sharon did in 2003, when he wouldn't reject the road map to supposed peace. Instead he composed 14 reservations - like Netanyahu's reservations vis-Ã -vis a Palestinian state. But who today remembers Sharon's footnotes? America disdainfully ignored his 14 objections. These mattered temporarily only in our internal self-deceptive discourse. Same goes for Netanyahu's Palestinian state footnotes.
The blood-soaked map continues to obligate us despite Sharon's provisos. Similarly, the Palestinian state will continue to plague us after the limitations Netanyahu set for it are discarded, as they surely will be. Sharon's stipulations are down history's unforgiving all-devouring sinkhole. It would have been wiser to tear up the disastrous map (post factum deemed holy gospel) than to accept it with conditions (post factum deemed illegitimate).
Some of us benighted sorts said so in real time but were maligned as rabid fiery-eyed nutcases, foaming at the mouth for good measure. We were roundly derided for recalling how in 1967 nobody in the White House could find the 1957 document spelling out US assurances that Egypt wouldn't blockade the Tiran Straits again. American infidelity made the Six Day War unavoidable. Washington could have preempted that showdown and its derivative so-called "occupation."
ANYONE WHO ever counted on clever formulations and American promises wasn't a pragmatist but a fool. Remember US undertakings not to deal with the PLO? Count on Obama to just as cynically overlook more recent declarations against powwowing with Hamas. Obama, we must bear in mind, is less sympathetic to our cause than even his least savory predecessors. Hence his feigned ignorance of George W. Bush's understandings with Sharon regarding settlement blocks. Assurances Obama might offer Netanyahu on a Palestinian state would be just as fleeting.
Obama after all has just redefined terrorism as pesky "extremism." The corollary is that Israel's emphasis on its enemies' terrorist proclivities instead of on Jewish rights is wasted breath. It only serves to magnify the inimical trendy perception that we're in the wrong and that those who would annihilate us are desperate insurgents against injustice.
Instead of being reduced to prostitute status, we're better off going back to basics, proclaiming loud and clear that the Arabs only conjured Palestinian nationality in order to stake rival claims to ours; that a Palestinian state never existed (i.e. we certainly didn't conquer and subjugate it); that we were attacked; that we didn't drive out hapless refugees (who themselves started the war); that they caused their own downfall by plotting genocide and ethnic cleansing against us; that our only sin is surviving. We might as well remind the world of the Nazi legacy of pan-Arab/Palestinian hero Haj Amin el-Husseini.
Arabs launched a war against the two-state solution and brazenly now continue that very war under the two-state banner. If the world misrepresents this bloody dispute as being about a Palestinian state, we must protest that it's really about denying the right of a Jewish state to exist. Otherwise, to please our critics, we concede the Palestinian argument.
Israel's latest misguided position - about natural growth in the settlements - is equally damaging. It's counterproductive to stutter about the right of Jews to reside everywhere in the 22 percent of Eretz Yisrael west of the Jordan. The remaining 78% should satisfy the aspirations of Arabs calling themselves Palestinians (resorting to an epithet invented by the Romans to humiliate defeated Judea). That 78% has been renamed Jordan, primarily to further Arab irredentist designs to wrest from Jews the little left them, slice by slice.
No Obama can imperiously deny us our rights in our homeland - just as Titus Vespasianus couldn't. When we humbly implore to be permitted to make room in select settlements for baby Jews, we seem to confirm that our very presence is offensive, that we're interlopers, that Jews may not move to the Jerusalem suburb of Ma'aleh Adumim. We only beg that supplicant parents already in Ma'aleh Adumim please be allowed to keep their babies there and that Obama let them build nurseries for said newborns, even if Obama doesn't welcome their birth.
We gain as much respect via ignominious compromises as did the woman whose asking price George Bernard Shaw attempted to lower. As soon as we turn our existential struggle into something that resembles negotiations about the prostitute's remuneration, we forfeit everything because promises made to a prostitute are never kept. No one owes her a thing.
The assumption is that everything she does is illicit, that at most she can expect a little condescending pity mixed with disgust, that she resides outside normative society and cannot expect what others perceive as their natural due. Most of all she can be endlessly pushed around and her prices pushed down.
Just like Israel.