Recent headlines have featured calls by an IDF General and the US Secretary of State, saying that Israel and Palestine must begin a political process in order to deal with a cycle of violence otherwise likely to get worse and last for a long time. Some in their chorus express a fear of a great regional conflagration, as if that is not already underway to the north and east.
The bloodbath among Muslims, ranging geographically from Pakistan and Afghanistan, across Iraq and Syria, has claimed hundreds of thousands or millions of lives, depending on one's estimators, and has--except in some highly politicized fairy tales--no connection to the relatively minor tiff between Israel and Palestine.
Kerry has returned to the mantra popular with the Israeli left, i.e., a failure to agree on a two-state solution will leave us with a one-state solution with chronic bloodshed.
Along with these concerns are assertions by the current Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, and echoed by Palestinians high and low, that Jews never had a Temple or any other significant role in Jerusalem.
An Arab Member of Knesset violated the Prime Minister's call that Knesset Members stay away from the Temple Mount for the present, in order to avoid adding to the tensions. MK Basel Ghattas, associated with the Joint List of Arab parties, donned a disguise and managed to get through the police controls.
Ghattas is a Christian. One suspects a Palestinian wannabe on the order of former MK Azmi Bishara, currently resident in Qatar, after fleeing from Israel when accused of passing sensitive information to Hezbollah during the Lebanon War of 2006..
Ghattas cites a combination of Muslim religious and Palestinian nationalist reasons for his actions, i.e., that Israeli authorities have no right to control the site.
Dealing across such an intellectual and cultural divide, represented by the Grand Mufti and the many Palestinians who accept his nonsense, is equivalent to designing an aircraft with someone who doesn't believe in gravity, or trying to predict the weather with someone who doesn't accept notions of a round and rotating earth, and the prevailing winds associated with such matters.
We can argue if the Temple Mount and Jewish history are at the core of the failure of Israel and Palestinians to agree on a settlement of their disputes, or only one of the crucial issues along with borders and refugees.
An obvious historical fantasy at the core of Palestinian politics hinders decent conversation, not to mention a political agreement.
A recent cartoon of Ha'aretz suggests that even the Israeli left recognizes the problem.
John is sitting with briefcase and three empty chairs, and asking himself if he should invite the Mufti.
Alongside the comments by an IDF General that a political process would calm the current wave of violence are comments coming from other security personnel that question such a conclusion.
- Much of the recent violence has been individual, done by young people with no connection to a political movement
- Mahmoud Abbas has moved between incitement and urging quiet on his people, talking about Palestinians rights, Israeli violence and occupation, and saying that Palestinians will lose more than they gain if an intifada develops and brings a major Israeli response
- Abbas and his cadre have little standing in the West Bank; few listen to them
- Hamas is doing what it can to fan the flames in the West Bank, even while Palestinian and Israeli security forces are cooperating in arresting Hamas personnel in the area
We have to remember that the Palestinian population, in both the West Bank and Gaza, is complex, pluralistic, fluid, and pretty much obtuse to outsiders trying to understand or predict. The multiplicity of motivations and plurality of factions, and indications of much individual action by enraged individuals or local gangs of young people urge caution in seizing upon any single line of analysis and policy.
Along with the profound gap in understanding and trust, symbolized by, but not limited to recent comments of the Grand Mufti, one wonders about the merits of trying to reach agreement on such sensitive issues as borders, refugees, and holy places.
More reasonable appears the assumption that we are stuck with whatever accommodations have proven to be workable, should put on a shelf proposals for a Palestinian state, and accept as inevitable occasional outbursts that require responding with an increase in defensive measures.
Israel has not stopped the daily movement of Palestinians with work permits from the West Bank to construction sites and other jobs in Israel. Uncounted others continue to get over the border and manage to find work in Israel, with some apprehended on account of illegal entry and sent home, and some dealt with after attacking Israelis.
Thomas Friedman's audience is Israel may be shrinking to the still hopeful left, but his prominence in the New York Times occasionally prompts a friend to bring something to my attention.
Most recently, however, even Friedman seems to be wavering.
In an op-ed that is bi-polar, he begins by coming close to the old saw that Palestinians have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. They have rejected serious overtures by James Baker, Bill Clinton, John Kerry, Ehud Barak, and Edud Olmert.
Then we get to the same old Friedman, asking creative Israelis to find a way to reach an agreement. For Friedman, settlement remains the cardinal sin.
"But there has to be some alternative to doing nothing or doing everything. It needs to be an alternative that at least tests Palestinians to really control some territory — and creates some hope that the two communities can separate securely. And it has to involve Israel at least stopping all settlement-building in the heart of the West Bank, in the areas long designated for a Palestinian state. Some 70,000 of Israel’s 400,000 settlers now live in those areas, and it’s making any separation increasingly impossible."
What may be a nod to Israelis may also be Friedman not making up his mind. "It may be that Israel has no choice."
He ends with the fear that reality may be forcing Israel to commit suicide.
"But fewer and fewer can understand why (Israel) puts so much energy into explaining why it can’t do anything, why the Palestinians are irredeemably awful and why nothing Israel could do would affect their behavior. I truly worry that Israel is slowly committing suicide, with all the best arguments."
From here, it looks like Israelis are controlling things on their side of the fuzzy borders, and often on the Palestinian side, while it is the Palestinians who are committing suicide, and in danger of joining Muslims stuck in a morass of state destruction. Palestine may be next in line after Iraq, Syria, and Libya.
The one-state default if there is no agreement with the Palestinians remains an issue with some Israelis, as well as John Kerry and Tom Friedman. Channel 10 recently broadcast a four part series on demography that emphasized the Arab-Jewish balance in population between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. Professionals disagreed about the numbers, but the theme was that Israel will be overwhelmed by Arabs.
I haven't noticed in that series the name of Malthus, widely known for demonstrating that demographers should be wary of making predictions.
The strength of the one-state dilemma is that Israel has no clear borders with the Palestinians of the West Bank. It's like the US-Mexico divide between the First and Third worlds, but with Mexico being a state with nominal control over its territory..
Yet there is a tantalizing resemblance between US-Mexico and Israel's co-existence with a stateless Palestine, due to problems within Mexico and its porous border with the US.
Israel is able to deal with its problems, at some costs in tensions and casualties. It would appear that the greater threat to Palestinians comes from inside, or whatever frenzies might be contagious from Muslim warfare elsewhere in the Middle East.
Israelis are by no means nonchalant, but Palestinians have more to worry about.