There's another American President asserting his intention of bring peace to Israel and Palestine.
So far his string of failures, flubs, and foolishness in this and other fields provides little hope that he'll do any better than a host of others.
Yet his words, to the extent that they can be understood and believed, provide something to provoke questions of Why the interest? and What are the possibilities?
There is no simple answer to either of these questions.
Answers to the first come from a mix of theology, ideology, and simplistic politics that sees the "Holy Land" as central to many considerations, ponders the justice of Jewish and Muslim readings of history, and accepts a mantra that the solution of this conflict will settle much throughout the Middle East. We continue to hear that this is the key to much else despite the notion paling beside several years of much bloodier conflict among Muslims throughout the Middle East in lands that have been Judenrein for decades.
The question of possibilities has been muddled no less than the question of why the interest. Indeed, the two issues are mixed insofar as there has been generations of assertions, warfare, population movements and political competition in both Palestinian and Israeli communities, as well as in other countries that feel they have an interest in this place.
Those who begin their posturing with a claim of moral certainty or historical clarity on one or another side of the conflict signal their incapacity to grasp the complexities that challenge any effort to solve a problem--or more accurately a set of problems--that are classics on the list of what is insoluble.
Population movements have been with us since the beginning, whenever that was. Those which have been prominent in producing the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians began with the flight of Jews from chronic discrimination and the pogroms that began about 1880 in areas of Europe controlled by Russia, increasing with the rise of Nazi Germany and what was left in Europe after the Holocaust, matched in numbers by an exodus from elsewhere in the Middle East after 1948.
The movement of those calling themselves Palestinians has also been important, with an exodus and animosity produced by the Wars of 1948 and 1967, along with inflows of Arabs to Palestinian areas and Israeli-controlled Jerusalem due to the economic opportunities associated with the inflows of Jews.
There's been enough warfare and lesser violence to feed an endless discussion of justifications of what Jews and Arabs have done, believed, and proposed.
Important for where we are is not only the violence involving Israelis and Arabs, but the greater violence that can be traced to the turning of Arab Spring into Arab Winter. Together with the violence of the Second Intifada and chronic instances of individual violence since then, these have caused a political bankruptcy of the Israeli left and kept in office a right of center government built in part on distrust of Arabs and in part on the insistence of religious Jews that God gave it all to us, with a right to settle it sooner or later.
This puts us in an intellectual chaos with no clear path to anything better than where we are.
Jews suffer from distrust of Arabs, Europeans, and Americans, warmed by Trump's postponement of his embassy's movement to Jerusalem--and by the way a postponement of an official recognition that Jerusalem is an Israeli city and Israel's capital.
Arabs within Israel suffer from a sense of being second class citizens. They seem oblivious to their own contribution to their problems by refusing to adopt the path of American minorities and joining with the major political parties and trading support for constituency benefits. Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza have their different complaints reflecting their own histories and internal conflicts, as well as clashes with Israelis over issues of control and--in the West Bank--continued settlement.
A confusing picture of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation on security along with continued violence from Palestinians maintains tensions and reinforces something close to the status quo.
The overwhelming military power of Israel and memories of what happened to the West Bank and Gaza as a result of the Second Intifada and occasional rains of missiles from Gaza may retard or prevent another serious wave of Palestinian violence. But it may come despite the prospects of greater loss.
Assertions by Americans, Europeans, and Arab governments claiming to be well meaning add to the noise, but show no indications of moving things forward.
Donald Trump is the loudest in the present cluster of those speaking about the matter, as fits the power of his office and sitting atop the country with the greatest resources and the largest Jewish community outside of Israel. He made a hit with Israelis by seeming more realistic than his predecessor in criticizing Muslims and especially Iran, and demanding that Palestinians stop their incitement and support of terror. Yet his flip flop on the embassy, despite its largely symbolic character, will contribute to Israelis' distrust of his comprehension and intentions.
What may be a yellow light from the White House, with the State Department not yet weighing in with its opposition, has produced Israeli steps toward the approvals for hundreds of home constructions throughout the West Bank.
It's usually a long time between such approvals and the actual movement of bulldozers and other construction equipment, most likely staffed by Palestinians and Israeli Arabs anxious for work. What's called Israel's right wing government (called by some an extreme right wing government) is characteristically careful about accepting all the demands of settler activists and offending international opinion. At least part of the movement toward more construction, however, comes in response to Israeli frustration about persistent Arab demands for the 1967 boundaries and challenges about Jewish history in Jerusalem.
Issues of Who's been at fault? are as tricky intellectually as "Where do we stand?" and "What should we do?"
Arab friends express bitterness and hopelessness in speaking about their own situation. Jews speak of their fatigue reflecting a lifetime of feeling threatened, against a history of having to move on account of even greater threats than those felt at the present time.
The quandary of both communities has come to a head in recent days with protests focused in the Israeli Arab city of Kfar Kasam that pit residents against police. Residents charge that the police do nothing about violent crime within the Arab community, with a number of murders remaining unsolved. Police respond that they have no cooperation from Arabs, unwilling to inform Israeli authorities about other Arabs. Things escalated when a security guard facing a mob of stone throwing Arabs fired and killed one of them.
Against the frustration of being stuck in something unpleasant should be the weighing of relative disadvantages. Israel has come a long way, both economically and in terms of its security. Israeli Arabs and Palestinians do not live as well, but they live better and more secure, on the whole, than many if not most of the people speaking their language in other places.
Some of the latest news are allegations that Donald Trump pressured senior people in the FBI, the Justice Department, and intelligence agencies to squash inquiries into Russian involvement with his campaign, himself, and/or his aides. New details come hourly, and excite those pondering impeachment.
And a multi-pronged terrorist attack in Tehran may not only be causing some quiet chuckles among western officials expressing sympathy with the innocent victims, but will combine with the Arab blockade against Qatar and Trump's troubles to increase our confusion about what's next.
For individual Israelis who recognize the complexity and imperfect quality of life everywhere, there may be no better approach than maximizing their own opportunities, and being decent with neighbors, at least partly in the hope of encouraging mutual decency.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem