Talking under a cloud becoming darker

 The present stage of discussions between Israelis and Palestinians, is occurring with loud noises of complaint from both parties, with Americans also squawking, more often in one of the Palestinian choruses than in an Israeli chorus. 

There are multiple sources of noise from all sides. 

"Moderate" Palestinians criticize Israel for proceeding with the construction over the 1967 borders, overlooking that the construction is going ahead as part of a deal. More extreme Palestinians are criticizing their cousins for even talking with the Jews.

Moderate Israelis are questioning the release of prisoners "with blood on their hands," overlooking that most of those released in phase #1 have already served most of their sentences. Other Israelis are echoing extreme Palestinians in criticizing their Jewish cousins for wasting time. Their chorus is "build, build and more building."

One day this week the newscasts featured two of Israel''s darkest memories. Relatives of those killed by terrorists recalled their loved ones, and expressed themselves about the pending release of the killers. And an ancient Hungarian, who lived for decades in Canada until being identified by Nazi hunters, expired before he could be brought to justice.

Americans are stuttering and hoping for the best. By one report, a State Department spokesperson was pressured to change "illegal" for "illegitimate" in criticizing the announcement of Israeli construction.

One of my internet friends set me to thinking by asking "What is the end game?"

There is none.

And there cannot be one.

In the end, we''ll all be dead, but hopefully not all at once.

What those who live longer will see? Who knows? 

We do know that there are many actors in this and other happenings, each with their own preferences and capacities to influence. 

If Americans, with their partial information about the Middle East and usually even less understanding, want to show their flag, and participate in the style of a great power, they have to be satisfied with a minor role. 

The heavy lifting, if there is any, will be done by the locals. And as we''ve seen many times already, each of them has their own complex constituencies and fluid calculations about what they can concede and what they must appear to demand with full voice.

Somewhere on the Americans'' shelves of ideas is the admonition to keep talking and hope for the best. If they do not produce an acceptable end to this conflict, they will at least be positioned to blame someone else for what happens. In the meantime, they do seem to be trying not to make things worse for their many constituencies. 

Even that modest goal is difficult to achieve. Every comment by a spokesperson for the various units in the administration feeling a need to say something (White House, State Department, Defense Department), as well as the President and Secretaries of State and Defense themselves is parsed by commentators and politicians associated with Palestinians, Israelis, American activists of various stripes, and Europeans who also want to be part of the action.

Some may snort that all the talk is "just politics."

Talk is an essential element of politics, and politics is what keeps us out of the jungle. For those wondering what that is, notice what has been happening for a couple of years 150 miles north of here, and has now begun 150 miles to the south.

Egypt has become another active and bloody puzzle, with American idealists clucking their tongues about being humane and democratic, and thinking of throwing someone else under the bus. They helped depose Mubarak, got the Muslim Brotherhood in exchange, and now are pondering how to make the Muslim Middle East into something else.

It''s possible to blame the Americans for the whole mess of Islamic extremism and regional instability.

By this view it began with US arming and touting anti-Communism in Afghanistan against the Russians, and received another boost from Barack Obama in Cairo, calling for change in what was arguably the most moderate of the Muslim societies.

The helplessness of the Americans and Europeans with respect to Syria, and now Egypt can, in a worst case analysis, spoil whatever expectations the enlightened have for Israel and Palestine.

Think of an escalation of rocket attacks on Israel from the Sinai while the Egyptian army is busy dealing with revolt in the cities. Currently Muslims in Syria (who have come from all over the Middle East, as well as from Australia, Europe, and North America) are too busy killing one another to bother us. That might change quickly and pressure Israel to do things that make it impossible for even well-intentioned Israelis and Palestinians to make concessions to one another.  

Until the sky falls on us from Egypt or Syria, the rules are to Keep talking, and Don''t make things worse.

They are #1 and #2 of the relevant commandments. Do not steal and Do not murder were designed for another region.

With so many participants, so many demands, and so many inclinations to cause trouble for competitors, those who keep talking and avoid irreparable damage are stars on the political stage. Perhaps in the midst of the noise, something good will happen by way of an agreement.

In the forum currently in process, whose participants are sworn not to reveal what is said, the hope is for at least a bit of progress that will make Israelis and Palestinians feel safer, and willing to invest more in social services than in armaments. 

The nature of the talk is important. Participants in the game are expected to be assertive, but not aggressive, and smart enough to know the difference. Incitement of hatred is fuel waiting to be ignited. Among the points being made by Israelis is that Palestinian media and education, as well as the comments of leading Palestinian politicians ought to ratchet down and emphasize co-existence rather than the reconquest of everything between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. 

If moderation does not prevail in the inner rooms where actual negotiations might take place, then Barack and John can try dealing with something else. Those wanting decent government in Zimbabwe and the end of drug wars in Mexico may welcome their attention.

Or maybe  they can work to regularize the establishment of a Kurdish State in what used to be Iraq, and pressure the Turks, Syrians, and Iranians to give up some land so that the Kurds may get the homeland they have been working for since the end of World War I. Their claims to national unity and statehood are no weaker than those of the Palestinians.