Some years ago I published Rituals of Conflict. It described the repeated ceremonies by which the ultra-Orthodox and Israeli authorities deal with disputes that erupt periodically whenever a rabbi wants to make an issue about the violation of Sabbath, ancient graves unearthed in the course of construction, or whatever else could make a noise and help in getting money from overseas donors soft to the touch of schnorers claiming to be the most authentic Jews.
The schnorers are already traveling, decrying the cuts to be made in the budgets of yeshivot whose students will not join the IDF or do a year or so of social service, and then go to work.. Anyone reading this who has made a donation to a yeshiva, a religious bride hard pressed to pay the costs of setting up a new home, or a Jewish orphan is on somebody''s list and should unlimber the checkbook in anticipation of another visit. In Jewish tradition, the schnorer''s occupation is just that. Part of the donation will stay in the schnorer''s pocket. It''s up to you.
Even earlier I published The Routines of Politics. It described how American politicians followed unwritten rules of behavior dealing with policymaking, and--in the case of state governments--copying the examples of other states similar to them in terms of culture and resources.
Routines look pretty much like rituals. One word is more suitable for the religious sector and the other for politics generally, but they are interchangeable to all but extremists among the pedants.
Now it''s time for another version of the same ideas, but there won''t be a book. I''m too old for that, beyond the aspirations or possibilities of royalties or academic renown.
Current headlines tell the story of routines or rituals in international politics.
Both examples comes from the upper reaches of the US State Department, with echoes heard from other Foreign Offices that generally sing in the American led chorus. Indeed, that''s another example of rituals. Follow the leader, i.e., Washington, especially if it does not cost anything in terms of clashing with one''s own rituals.
The simplest and least meaningful ritual involves expressions of dismay and caution at what is happening in Turkey. The US is standing four square in behalf of free expression, and the rights of protesters as long as they are peaceful, urging restraint on the authorities, as well as hints of condemnation at what American worthies suspect is overreaction. The LAPD''s beating of Rodney King or the NYPD''s violating the anus of a Haitian immigrant must not be repeated in the streets of Istanbul, Ankara, or Izmir.
More complex, but hardly more meaningful is the ritual of each new US Secretary of State to make several visits to Israel and Palestine, with other stops in the region thought to be relevant, in order to solve the problem that their predecessors have also touched and abandoned without resolution.
John Kerry is in the footsteps of HIllary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice. Dennis Ross never made it to the Secretary''s desk, but he also made the rounds.
The reality is that Israel and Palestine have achieved the degree of peace that is feasible, and they have done the heavy work by themselves. They may have responded in part to American prodding, but most has been done here by us and the neighbors.
The results may not be as according to the expectations or desires of the US State Department. Indeed, it is criticized as insufficient and intolerable by Palestinians and some Israelis. However, that is part of the rituals expected and complied with by all parties. Mahmoud Abbas cannot agree to give up the rights of refugees and their greatgrandchildren to return to homes that no longer exist, and other Palestinians aspiring to national leadership cannot even accept Israel''s existence. Israeli leaders repeat their self-assigned rituals of agreeing to a two-state solution, as long as the Palestinians agree to what we all should know they will not accept. President Mahmoud Abbas (four years and counting beyond the end of his term in office) is threatening, for the nth time, to dismantle the Palestine National Authority if negotiations with Israel do not start.. And we have heard several times that those negotiations will not start until he knows before they begin that he will get what he demands, which is what Israel will not accept.
The existing arrangement features Palestinian autonomy in their major sections of the West Bank and all of Gaza, with occasional entry of Israeli forces when required for Israeli security. Several cases of recent entry into West Bank Palestinian areas have been to seize extremists threatening not only Israel but also the Palestinian regime.
Jewish settlements exist, and there is additional construction, but almost entirely in the major settlement blocs and the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem that others ritually designate as "settlements."
It may not fit the models desired by State Department and White House personnel who would like to treat the Middle East like the Middle West, but the Middle West ain''t all that ideal. The Chicago Police Department is not clearly superior to those of Los Angeles or New York.
Best to look at all this as political theater, without getting excited about the waste of effort or resources, or spending time blaming the Palestinians, Israelis or Americans for foolishness, incompetence, or failing to recognize what is essential for their own good.
Don''t fix what isn''t broken should be somewhere in the discussion.
Palestinians and Israelis are getting along reasonably well. Activists wanting perfection are not happy. There are occasional tragedies caused by individual Jews or more often Palestinians who do not behave as we would like. But since the passage of Yassir Arafat (blamed on us as part of Palestinian rituals) the incidence of damage coming out of the West Bank has been far less than caused by traffic accidents.
Palestinian nationalists of the West Bank are making their ritualistic noises about a package of rights not yet obtained, but are living better and safer than many others in the region. The lessons of Syria and a few other places may be moderating their demands for immediate justice, or their inclination to risk another intifada.
We can hope for the same from the regime in Gaza as the result of the IDF''s most recent messages about the costs to them of rocket attacks on us.
Again, nothing is perfect. Rituals have their role in meeting the political needs of those in office or aspiring to office. As long as the rituals themselves do a minimum of damage--beyond annoying those who think they are silly--we have to tolerate them as one of the prices being paid for lives that aren''t all that bad.
Things change. There will be something to occupy the younger generation of academics