Marvin Kalb: Forget 'peace,' and learn to live with each other

Says region is tired, and the US tired of it.

Marvin Kalb 88 (photo credit: )
Marvin Kalb 88
(photo credit: )
Israelis and Palestinians should stop talking about "peace" and move toward an "accommodation" of each other, advises the distinguished American television journalist Marvin Kalb, who visited Jerusalem this week. In his deep broadcaster's voice, Kalb told The Jerusalem Post: "I don't see any immediate prospect of peace, and I have never myself used that word. I try to use the word 'accommodation.' "I try to shorten the horizon, not to have people think about this vision way off into the future, of peace, but rather a series of actions that step by step advance the process of mutual accommodation. "That the Palestinians get something, the Israelis get something; the Israelis get something, the Palestinians get something. And together, they walk toward a common humanity, which is after all the whole purpose of life." Kalb said although he wasn't in Israel to report on the latest outbreak of violence, but rather to visit "old things in their new guise and old friends," he hoped to return to the region to write about it when progress is achieved. "You don't have to get along with everybody," he said. "It's not written in the Bible that you must get along with the Palestinians, or they with the Israelis, but if you can find a way for both sides to adjust their needs so that they can reach realistic accommodations, not utopian accommodations, I think that would be an absolutely marvelous way of looking at it, and because I am an optimist, I hope I am here to cover the next step forward." Currently Emeritus Edward J. Murrow Professor of Practice at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, the 76-year-old Kalb is currently writing his 12th book, about the Vietnam War. Kalb, a tall and imposing figure, came to Israel under the aegis of the Media Line's Mideast Press Club, for which he held a master class at Jerusalem's Beit Ticho on Monday attended by a dozen Israeli and Palestinian journalists. In the discussion, he said he had observed the existence of "a fatigue factor" not only in the region, but also in Washington. "How much longer can you tolerate constant tension? Constant tension! An apprehension, not a fear, that a suicide bomber can arrive outside this room. There's the uncertainty, there's the anguish. "I have described it today in talking with a number of people. The word 'fatigue' comes up. That there is in many parts of Washington a fatigue at this whole problem. 'Oh God, not the Israelis again!' 'The Palestinians, give them a country already, enough!' "There's a fatigue factor that rushes decision-making. That you get so tired of something, that you say: 'Enough, go do it!'" If that is Palestinian strategy, Kalb said, it is "brilliant." But if it is simply the reality, that must be recognized. "Is that fatigue likely to affect the Israeli and the Palestinian people, and if the answer is yes, how? And then how does that kind of result affect the opportunity and the possibility of accommodation?" he asked. Prior to joining the ranks of academia, Kalb was chief diplomatic correspondent for CBS News and NBC News, and more recently served as moderator of the popular television show, Meet the Press. In the course of a five-decade career, he has covered wars and other world-shaking events in the former Soviet Union, Germany, Japan, Vietnam and the Middle East. Yet despite his vast and varied experience and the many awards that have come his way, there was nothing patronizing about him. Kalb exuded a gentlemanly courtesy, maintaining constant eye contact with his interlocutor. He answered most reporters' questions directly, neatly evading only one - pertaining to media terminology. Kalb told his audience about an ongoing dispute he has had with an Al-Jazeera journalist over the use of the word "martyrs" instead of "victims" when reporting on Lebanese who were killed by Israeli air strikes during the Second Lebanon War. Yet when questioned about a conflict lexicon on words such as "terrorism," he would not be drawn into any declaration on definitive terminology. Kalb was decidedly forthcoming on how journalism was changing, lamenting that "technology has transformed the industry." Whereas journalists in another era went out on assignment or took the initiative to be where the action was, today the numbers of on-the-spot reporters are dwindling. Technology and easy access to the Internet make it possible for them to write their stories without ever being at the scene, he said. This has also impacted journalistic standards, with the result that reports on wars often present only one side of the story, with little or no reference to the other, he argued, citing last summer's Lebanon war as a prime example. Kalb said he had watched hours of American television coverage of the war, "and never saw a Hizbullah soldier" - which was something that struck him as odd. "We never saw the other side. We saw lots and lots of Israeli soldiers," he said. "[Hizbullah leader Hassan] Nasrallah spoke and set the line. That was the information that was provided. Were you able to interview Hizbullah soldiers? No. Hizbullah officials? Only a few." This may have been the reason that so many people, certainly all the people Kalb spoke to in many parts of the world, had the perception that Hizbullah won the war. There was a lot of disproportionality in that war, which he has written a study about, Kalb said. "If an Israeli bomber came in and blew up an installation and killed women and children, that became the reality projected around the world," he said. In previous years, Kalb said he had argued with former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger's view that "perception becomes reality." But based on what he had witnessed, Kalb was beginning to change his mind. "If your only perception is of victims of Israeli attacks, the reality becomes the perception of that picture," he said. "In asymmetrical warfare," he said, "an open society is at a disadvantage in conflict with a closed society, because it is exposed. The media has become a weapon in this kind of warfare." "The question is, who uses it more effectively?" he asked. "During the Lebanon war, it was my judgement that Hizbullah used the media much more effectively than Israel did." Asked what advice he would give to Israeli leaders trying to win the media war, Kalb said: "I can't give any advice, but I can say that at the end of the day, it is not the success of your media strategy [that matters]. It is the success of your military and political strategy. "If you clearly win a war, that is what the message of the day will be: You have won. There's an old rule of thumb, started in the Vietnam War, if not earlier. If the insurgent force does not lose, it has won. If the regular army does not win, it has lost. And in the context of Lebanon, Israel - the regular army - did not win, so it lost, and Hizbullah did not lose, so it won." There was a time when he covered the Vietnam War that Kalb believed that he could cover any conflict and not be hurt. "That's not the case any more," he said. "Journalists are targets. Journalists in unprecedented numbers are killed, wounded or abducted. In Iraq, many journalists are afraid to cover the war, as they did only two years ago." Kalb regretted that news outlets were downsizing and reducing the numbers of their foreign correspondents, because "journalism is an essential tool for spreading information around the world." "It is the nourishment of democracy," he said. "Whatever advances a free press advances the goal of a free society."