When I lit up my computer on Monday morning, the lead story on the New York Times Internet site reported on Palestinian-Syrian efforts to send a mass of demonstrators toward the Israeli border on the Golan Heights. The article described the motives of the Syrian regime to distract attention from its own bloody response to domestic protests. It quoted Israeli sources about efforts to resist the border crossing with non-lethal means, and cast doubt on the numbers of Palestinian dead and wounded claimed by Syria. It noted that Lebanese and Gazan officials had worked to prevent massed challenges of their borders with Israel. It quoted an Israeli commentator as identifying peaceful border challenges as a new Palestinian tactic, likely to be polished on the basis of this experience and used again.
Official Syrian sources are claiming 23 deaths at its border with Israel. Israeli sources admit to being unsure of the numbers, but say they may be no more than 10. Deaths in Syrian domestic protests are in the range of 120 for the most recent weekend, and 1,000 or more since the protests began.
Reports from Syrians opposed to their regime say that the Assad government promised the equivalent of US $1,000 to everyone who marched toward the border, and US $10,000 to the families of anyone who would be killed.
The event is at the center of Israeli media. Among the commentary is an emphasis on the quandary of the IDF: not to allow border crossings, but not to produce a high number of civilian casualties.
More important than details of what happened at the border this time is what this suggests about the larger picture of Israel-Arab relations, and the elusive peace with Palestinians.
Once again we are seeing an Arab regime using Palestine for its own purpose, and Palestinians unable to refuse the opportunity. "Arab unity" has been a myth at least since Gamal Abdel Nasser made it his message. It is a myth that is useful even while it is deadly to the Palestinian cause that it claims to serve.
Variations between Arab and Muslim countries and fissures within them assure that there is always a regime or movement anxious to escalate the Palestinian cause. The effort of the Assad government to distract notice from its internal problems is the latest example.
The appeal of Palestine among Arabs and Muslims is widespread. It is the cultural and religious mantra, standing for injustices that all can recognize. Crowds in Cairo protesting the lack of progress towards who knows what in Egypt shout slogans accusing the current junta of not pursuing a solution for the Palestinians. The obsession of the Iranian regime with Palestine has been its international trademark. It justifies money and military supplies sent to Hizbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.
The appeal of the Palestinian cause appears in President Obama''s insistence on a halt to Israeli construction in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem, and his call to base negotiations on the borders prior to the 1967 war. Rahm Emanual, David Axelrod, and J-Street provide all the Jewish support that the President needs for what appears to be his own deeply held feelings. While the President took care to say that the lines of 1967 would only provide the basis of peace talks, the Palestinian News Network is reporting that France as well as some lesser countries "will recognize Palestine Along 1967 borders."
With that kind of language afloat in world capitals, Palestinians officials can claim no less.
Justice is elusive. It has no precise definition, but is prominent in the multitude of variations each of us can imagine. Its lack of concreteness may explain the blindfold on those statues of a lady with scales. While it is common to interpret her as weighing claims and deciding on the basis of law and truth, it is also reasonable to read the symbolism to say that because there is no absolute justice, the lady can reach her decisions without the benefit of eyesight. It is also relevant to a discussion of justice that there were no female judges, attorneys, or even women allowed to testify in many of the courthouses where such statues was placed from the 16th century onward.
It is easy to conceive of justice. We can all do it by ourselves, each of us describing our own ideals.
Deals, on the other hand, require agreement. They are harder to achieve, especially when each side has its cheerleaders insisting on formulations that have proved to be attractive.
We can argue forever if the 1967 lines or the Land of Israel is the greater obstacle to peace. The dispute is without an objective answer, but I would cast my vote for the 1967 lines as the symbol that causes the most trouble.
Israeli leaders of right, left and center (Begin, Barak, and Olmert) accepted or offered significant territorial concessions, while Palestinian leaders have been stuck in the ruts of pursuing their goals by violence or remaining fixated on historical points long ago. Those who want to turn back history by 46 years earn the label of moderate. Those who claim nationalistic or Islamic purity would send us deeper into the past.
Neither side will resolve the conflict by rhetoric. My own taste is for presenting the Israeli case via Jewish humor. One of the better examples is a Youtube video advocating giving all of the Middle East to the Jews.
Anyone who applauds the idea as a serious suggestion belong in the same dustbin of history with Palestinians walking toward the borders of Israel.