Smoke and mirrors; now you see it, now you don't; the power of symbols; sound and fury signifying nothing.
Whether from Shakespeare, political science, or this morning's commentators, the meaning is the same. Use a lot of salt as you judge what's said by politicians large or small. Much of what they say is meant to beef up support from those already on their side, with limited intention to implement anything that would rock a boat.
Include in that President Donald Trump, Prime Minister Benyuamin Netanyahu, and all others who speak about Israel, Palestine, the United States, and every other country, county, city, and town.
Among what we are wondering about:
- Will the US and other countries recognize Jerusalem as an Israeli city, the capital of Israel, and the location of their embassies?
- Will Palestinians and Israelis begin a peace process without pre-conditions?
- Will there be a peace process? Will it succeed? Will it produce something more or less peaceful than what currently exists?
Seemingly associated with the nerves of one and all with respect to Trump's high profile visit to the region has been a marked increase in verbal contretemps, all of them with questionable significance for what is likely to be important.
- Nastiness between Jordanian and Israeli officials concerning a Jordanian condemnation of Israeli police killing a knife-wielding Jordanian citizen who had attacked and injured personnel in the area of Jerusalem's Old City.
- Contrary claims from Americans and Israelis as to whether Prime Minister Netanyahu had supported delay or cancellation of the embassy's move to Jerusalem
- A brouhaha focused on US officials' refusal that the Prime Minister or Israeli photographers accompany the President on his visit to the Western Wall, and the Americans' assertion that the Western Wall was "disputed territory" and not within Israel.
Somewhat lower on an Israeli's agenda, are issues that fascinate our friends abroad. There are too many to list, but among the most prominent are
- Will the US build a wall or otherwise stop illegal migrants from the South? What about those coming through seldom used roads from the North?
- Will the US reach what other western democracies provide by way of universal and affordable health insurance?
- Will Britain depart from the EU any more thoroughly than at present?
Potentially complicating all of this is a report that Donald Trump revealed sensitive intelligence received from Israel, in a boasting manner, to high ranking Russian officials.
Along with the noise about an Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and whatever Donald Trump will say or do when he's scheduled to visit Jerusalem and Bethlehem next week, are some realities worth considering. You can lay them alongside Trump facts or the blather from other politicians, activists, and journalists, most of whom don't seem to realize what exists.
Among the Americans and others who are interested in us, there seems to be more ignorance than intelligence on both right and left.
Many on the right haven't changed their conception of Israel from what was more appropriate in the 1950s. It's no longer a country heavily dependent on others for food, money, or defense. It's on the World Bank's list of the wealthiest countries, and the IDF has proved capable of defending it. To be sure, it acquires weapons and technology from others, but other countries could not produce all that they do without Israeli technology.
Opponents from the left repeat their mantras of Apartheid and other sins, without bothering to notice how Israel functions in comparison to their own countries.
When American and other politicians proclaim time and again that they will assure Israel's defense, Israelis ask themselves if the guarantee would be any better than it was in 1967 or 1973. Those wars featured American pressure in the direction of Israeli restraint. In 1973 they led Golda to decide against a pre-emptive attack in response to intelligence that an Egyptian attack was imminent. Israel fought both wars with equipment that came from the US, but Henry Kissinger delayed deliveries in 1973 in order to restrain Israel.
Jerusalem is Israel's capital, and is treated as such by just about every country that matters, even though none of them can say the words. A number of governments have "consulates" in Jerusalem, that do about the same as offices in Tel Aviv called "embassies." Some of them have apartments in Jerusalem where their ambassadors stay while doing their business with Israeli officials.
Now both Israeli and Palestinian officials are saying that they'll meet and talk without preconditions. But both have made very clear that they are unlikely to agree to anything without a number of features expressed time and again.
Currently public opinion polls in both Israel and Palestine should be depressing those continuing to believe in a formal peace. Majorities of Palestinians are unwilling to give up demands for everything over the 1967 lines or to assure school programs that treat Israel as a legitimate existence. A majority of Israelis used to support a two-state solution, but recent polls indicate that the population has turned against the idea of a Palestinian state.
The one-state solution said by leftists here and abroad to be the alternative to two states is the nonsense of the ignorant. No Israeli politician likely to get into government would agree to accept a significant number of Palestinians as Israelis.
We can wonder about the power of public opinion. The Palestine National Authority, in either its West Bank or Gaza formulations, is no more democratic or responsive to the public than any other Arab or Muslim country. Israel is as democratic as any country. It's politicians are wary of acting against the public. But its public is as fickle as any, and the prospect of a formal peace may tilt the public back to where it was in support of a Palestinian state.
Israelis and others should be careful of betting anything substantial that there'll be a formal peace accord. Yet there already is something workable that benefits Israel and both parts of Palestine. The West Bank is a lot better off than Gaza, but both are passive in accepting what their leaders provide, more or less like other Muslim populations. More than 100,000 West Bankers work legally or illegally in Israel, with proportions in respect to populations that are comparable to non-citizens working in the US or western Europe. Palestinians, especially from the West Bank, also come more or less freely for religious services, family visits, and health care not available in their hospitals.
Israel provides for the entry of supplies to both places, and intervenes for the sake of its security in ways that compare favorably with how the US has dealt with Afghanistan and Iraq.
Both Israelis and West Bank Palestinians may continue to live pretty well, compared to relevant others, without a peace process presided over by the worthies of the world. Gazans don't live like New Yorkers, but not all that different from many Africans and with greater safety than Syrians, Iraqis, Libyans, Yemenites, and Somalis.
We'll keep watching with interest how American politicians deal with the western world's most cumbersome health system, and their ambivalence with respect to illegal migrants.
If the pols succeed, and Americans learn to eat less, the country's measure of longevity may improve from something like #40 in the world.
It's easier to accuse Mexicans and others of criminality than to take guns away from home grown criminals, and its hard to get Americans to do the dirty work at the wages that migrants are willing to accept.
Politicians of Britain and Europe will deal with details no less complex. We'll wonder if the results will be significantly different from the current status of the UK in Europe but not entirely, and especially with pounds rather than euros, road signs in miles, and personal weights in stones.
As the Preacher wrote long ago, there isn't likely to be something new under the heavens.
Most of the time that's true. But not always.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem