In between government jobs, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu would frequently speak to audiences in the United States. He would remind Americans that Israelis live in the Mideast not the Midwest. The Americans have demanded, pleaded, and are now begging for Israel and the Palestinians to begin negotiations. However, this is part of the problem. Those of us who live in the Middle East know that negotiations have already begun - especially those who have ever shopped in a shuk (market), Arab or Israeli. They are not negotiations around a table with everyone dressed in their best suits, but they are negotiations, Mideast style. Let me explain.
LAST WEEK I decided to shop in the Arab shuk in Jerusalem's Old City accompanied by a guide. As I walked down the narrow street, my guide said there were a lot of new products for sale. Everything looked the same to me, as if the same products had been for sale for the past 42 years. I must have been thinking out loud because an Arab shopkeeper said; "Sir, I have something new. Look at this hand-carved bowl made out of cedar."
Earlier this year US President Barack Obama announced a new "even-handed" approach to the Middle East. Israel cautiously responded that nothing had really changed. The Palestinians said they'll believe it when they see it.
My guide said he had never seen that bowl before. The shopkeeper said it was only NIS 500. I responded, "It looks like balsa wood to me. I'll give you NIS 50. No more."
The United States announced it would insist that Israel halt construction in all the settlements and Jerusalem. Israel said it would agree to a short moratorium on settlement construction, but Jerusalem was off the table. The Palestinians believed Obama had a good idea. They refused to negotiate until all construction in the settlements and Jerusalem came to a complete halt.
My guide said that was a wonderful buy. The shopkeeper said, "NIS 50? For NIS 50, my family would all starve to death. I can't part with this precious bowl for anything less than NIS 500."
"Okay," I said, "Maybe it's made out of pine. I'll give you NIS 100."
The United States said it needed positive gestures from both sides. Israel said it would agree to a demilitarized Palestinian state, but not the 1967 borders, and Jerusalem was still off the table. The Palestinians responded by stating they were not negotiating while construction continued in settlements and, by the way, Israel must withdraw from all of Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem would be their capital.
My guide said, "Wow, that's a generous counteroffer. Maybe you guys can compromise."
The shopkeeper said, "No way. Not a shekel less than 500. I'm closing my shop and going home."
I added "Compromise? I don't even have NIS 500 in my wallet."
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a speech saying Israel had done well by agreeing to some of the US demands. Israel felt that was proof they still had a strong relationship. The head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, said he was quitting and going home.
The guide said, "Don't close up yet, I think he has NIS 400 in his wallet."
I said, "Whose side are you on anyway? No way. I'm sticking to the NIS 100 unless he reduces his price."
The shopkeeper said, "First you agree to buy it, then we'll talk price."
Clinton then changed her mind and said Israel could do better. Israel reminded the US it would no longer make any unilateral concessions. The Palestinians then threatened to unilaterally create their own country.
The guide whimsically said, "How can he agree to buy something if he doesn't know the price?"
I said, "Not only that, the guy next door has the same bowl."
The shopkeeper said, "But his bowl is made in China; mine is made in Is - I mean, the holy Land."
The United States said a unilateral Palestinian state was a nonstarter. Israel said it would take its own unilateral actions if the Palestinians created a state unilaterally. As an apparent warning, Israel approved 900 apartments in Gilo. The Palestinians - and now, for first time, the United States - said Gilo was a settlement. (The head of the UN said Gilo was situated on land conquered from the Palestinians in 1967. Really? He must have a different history book than mine. Mine says Jordan occupied Gilo and the rest of east Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria until 1967.)
I'm no fool. I live in Israel now; I know how the Mideast works.
I yelled to the shopkeeper across the street, "Hey, how much for that wooden bowl? This other guy wants NIS 500."
"Only NIS 300. It's made out of real pine," he answered. The guide frowned and said, "I'm not sure that's ethical."
The United States says it's was dismayed that Israel is building apartments in Gilo, that such action by Israel does not help the cause of peace.
I never bought the bowl. The shopkeeper is still trying to sell it.
My guide was furious. He said my failure to buy the bowl did not help the economy.
The writer is a certified criminal trial attorney. He made aliya in January 2008.