The more we know about politics, the less we should try to explain anything, or propose how to solve problems that have proven to be insoluble.
What limits us is the great variety of influences on what happens next.
That makes politics and policymaking a crap shoot.
It's not only the economy, stupid, but culture (including religion), the personalities who have climbed to the top of government and its major components (e.g., the military, finance ministry, and other bureaucracies), as well as what happens outside national boundaries to impact on what happens inside.
Then there is the unexpected crisis, coming from who knows what. Arab youths often throw stones at the Israeli police without anything more important happening, until a particular set of circumstances sets in motion a spreading conflict.
The first intifada (from 1987) was set off by a traffic accident. Those occur several times a day, but this one served as a spark to produced wider protests and violence.
The second intifada was worse in producing many more casualties. Some say that it resulted from Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount. Others say that it came as a result of planning at the summit of the PLO, with Sharon's visit deemed a good excuse to begin the violence. Who knows for sure? Explanations are also a crap shoot, insofar as there are too many elements likely to be involved to allow any simple conclusion.
Not only explanation but proposals suffer from the abundance of things that can happen, and go wrong. Barack Obama and John Kerry should have known better than to try solving Israelis' disputes with the Arab neighbors, insofar as every other effort had failed since the Peel Commission of 1937. Borders, Jerusalem, and since 1948 refugees have been the repeated reasons for failure. Perhaps the major reason is Israel's very existence, and the inability of Muslim clerics and politicians to accept a country of infidels in what they see as their region.
At the same time, Israel has made considerable, perhaps amazing progress since 1948. Its accomplishments have come not from visionaries (although there have been many, who have protested what exists and proposed a wide range of possibilities) as much as from people with more limited aspirations working hard. The background of the Holocaust made its contribution, provoking the Jews to work together in order to avoid another disaster. Menachem Begin's surrender to the Labor Party's Hagana, rather than pursuing the cause represented by the Altelena was a landmark of political savvy. The collapse of the Soviet Union was an international event that impacted positively on Israel. It brought about a massive immigration of people who could contribute professionally in many fields, in contrast to the many people who came earlier needing more help than capable of making immediate contributions, such as refugees from the Holocaust or from lesser developed Middle Eastern countries.
Progress is more assured if proposals are limited, and realistic in terms of conditions. Idealism is good for discussions in class or among friends, but is usually a waste of time in politics. Improving water supplies by recycling waste, maintaining the quality of education, planning a road connection, moving a toxic but essential industry away from a populated area are the kinds of proposals that advance a country. Also important is maintaining the delicate balance between individual initiative, opportunity, social justice, and economic capacity.
Efforts to solve the hot button issues of Jerusalem or refugees have stumbled against religious and nationalist emotions, and are best avoided for the sake of both Jews and Muslims.
If modesty is the recipe, it is likely to come up against the egos that are an essential ingredient of political success. The result is that most proposals fail. The US Congress and the Israeli Knesset, as well as other national legislatures receive many times the number of proposals from individual members that they consider seriously, they consider seriously many more than they actually enact, and much of what is enacted is not implemented, or implemented only partly.
Getting policy to actually work is part of the crap shoot, affected by economic limitations, the resistance of bureaucrats, the continued opposition of interest groups and well-placed individuals, and unexpected crises that pull efforts in other directions.
Politics is the essence of civilization, and one of its major tasks is to filter out those proposals that may seem brilliant and idealistic to those who promote them, but come up against the contrary views of others, or limited resources, contrary international pressures, or happen to reach the agenda just before a crisis develops that takes the attention and energy of too many among those who matter.
There is no shortage of examples to illustrate these points from the countries best known to me and most of the people reading this.
The Temple Mount is a place that few Jews visit, and even fewer aspire to pray there or construct the Third Temple with all it means for animal sacrifices, animal rights activists, and environmental pollution. Yet it has descended on us now as one of the provocations of Arab unrest, due to some religious Jews wanting to pray (while other religious Jews avoid the place on the instruction of their rabbis), and some who want to build a Temple.
One should quarrel with Muslim claims of there never having been a Temple, and their own monopoly of rights. Some say that we are on the cusp of a religious war. Let's hope that such a prediction, like almost all others, will not come to pass.
We Jews, who enjoy, by some measures, the highest standards of living in this world, with the largest share of Nobels and other awards for our contributions to it, and the decent country of Israel, may benefit by objecting to Muslim nonsense about history, but not pressing our claims for a greater share of the otherworldly.
While it has proven impossible to reach agreement with the Palestinians, Israel has a valuable agreement with Jordan, which includes rights of the kingdom with respect to Muslim holy places in Jerusalem.
The ascendance of ISIS represents another crisis. We can argue if it resulted from Arab Spring, which itself got a boost from Barack Obama's naive idealism calling for equality and democracy in Cairo during 2009. Whatever its origin, the levels of barbarism associated with ISIS may yet mobilize an international military effort, work against or in favor of a Palestinian state (who knows the unfolding of the future?), or wind down in response to limited military action, procedures to discourage young idealists (including some Jews) from joining the ISIS cause, and sanctions to keep ISIS from selling Iraqi oil to Turkey, Jordan, and Iran.
Obamacare is another kind of event. It deserves praise as having been enacted after the failure of several presidents since Harry Truman to bring the US closer to western standards of medical care, Implementation has been messy, and falls short of the President's promises, but this is typical in the early years of major programs. Somewhere in the explanations are the political-cultural constraints of American individualism and free enterprise, federalism and the efforts of individual states to opt out of national programs, and what may be the impossibility of enacting a national health program without allowing profit-making insurance to take their cut of the pie..
What about the presence of Jews living over the 1967 borders? Is it realistic to expect some 300,000 of us in the post-1967 neighborhoods of Jerusalem to vacate for the sake of Palestine? And what about the other 300,000 living in small or large communities throughout the rest of the West Bank?
Israeli resistance to moving us is as hot an issue as the Palestinians' demand for the return of refugees and their descendants. It may be best to forget both about the refugees and the settlements, and to continue making limited arrangements that have a chance of improving the lives of both Palestinians and Israelis.
We can argue about all of these. Dispute prior to decision it at the heart of politics.
The point of this note is the follies or even dangers inherent in idealism. Faith and vision are somewhere at the center of our civilization. But pragmatism is also there, and we should remember that the road to hell is paved with intentions too good to work.