My Word: A hard act to follow

If you try to pull out Jerusalem’s Jewish roots, all that will be left will be a few faded petals that nobody can enjoy.

Netanyahu addresses Congress 311 (photo credit: Avi Ohayun/GPO)
Netanyahu addresses Congress 311
(photo credit: Avi Ohayun/GPO)
The diplomatic drama was played out in Washington last week, but the best show in town was in Jerusalem. Or make that shows. While all eyes – or at least the global media – were watching the dueling speeches delivered by US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in the American capital, Jerusalemites went to town with the opening events of the jubilee year of the Israel Festival, street parties and other festive events.
As the two leaders both appeared to carry out a balancing act precariously traversing a metaphorical high wire, in Israel, my friends and neighbors were oohing and aahing at the free performance of Australian dance troupe Strange Fruit, who swayed back and forth, suspended between heaven and earth, on amazingly flexible stilts.
It was perhaps fitting that the speeches competed with post-Lag Ba’omer and pre-Jerusalem Day celebrations. Life here has its own rhythm.
Incidentally, even Gazans have a reason to celebrate: As The Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh noted in an item that took backstage to the events in Washington, the biggest shopping mall in the Palestinian territories is scheduled to open in the Gaza Strip mid-June. The timing is perfect: The next “peace flotilla” carrying “humanitarian aid” to the Strip is scheduled to dock at the end of that month. Maybe the activists can buy some souvenirs in the gift shops, dine at the restaurant or even catch a movie in the cinema. (I assume Footnote, the latest film by Israeli director Joseph Cedar, will not be showing even though it just won an award at the Cannes Film Festival.)
This is the second mall to open in Gaza within a year. It seems the residents are breaking out of their siege mentality faster than the activists who support them. Perhaps the self-professed seekers of civil rights should change course, and deliver the aid to where people really are starving and in dire need of medications.
If they are determined to visit the Hamas-controlled territory, at least they could carry a true message of peace from those of us this side of the border: Release the only Israeli soldier currently in Gaza. His name is Gilad Schalit and he was abducted five horrifyingly long years ago. We don’t know his address, but the Hamas leadership can certainly find him if it wants to.
Also, the human rights activists should ask for a halt to missile fire on Israel. I know it’s only a few, every now and again, but as Sderot Mayor David Buskila puts it: “If a man beats his wife you don’t say: ‘It’s OK. He doesn’t do it every day.’” Residents of the South have learned to live with the rockets and mortars, but they’d rather learn to live without them.
I’m sure most Gazans, too, want to live a normal life even though their leaders are a long way from making the kind of speeches we heard in Washington.
OBAMA AND Netanyahu both performed well. Ironically, Netanyahu’s speech went down far better in Congress than it would have in the Knesset, where a tamer version was heckled from both sides of the political spectrum just a week before. And Obama could be assured of a warm welcome were he to visit the Israeli capital (and state that it is the capital).
But these were just speeches. They were not talks. And they didn’t even set out an operative plan for negotiations.
You don’t need to be an expert in body language to see that Obama and Netanyahu are barely on speaking terms themselves, but I think we have established that the US and Israel are not at war. So far, so good. It’s just not very far.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rejected all the words of peace. It was either force of habit or, more likely, because experience has shown him that each time the Palestinians turn down an offer, the next one is bigger and better.
With all due to respect to Obama, I would be happier to hear Abbas deliver a speech acknowledging Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state in secure borders. He could start by saying it in English in Washington. If he survives that, he could try it in Arabic in Ramallah.
The problem isn’t the borders of ’67, or even ’48. There are still too many people who don’t believe that the Jewish state has the right to exist at all. A huge number of them live uncomfortably close to Israel wherever you delineate the borders.
In Israel, too, there are those who refuse to recognize that realities have changed. The question is not whether we believe that there is such a thing as a Palestinian people but whether they believe that the Palestinians exist with their own identity.
Netanyahu’s speech to Congress went down so well partly because he not only made that leap, but apparently realized what it signifies: Israel also cannot instinctively say “no” to everything. Sometimes you can say “OK,” and other times a “yes, but...” is called for. As the old road safety slogan goes: “Be smart, not right.”
Basically what we saw was Israel signaling that it would go a long way – and “be generous” in Netanyahu’s words – to achieve peace, while the Palestinians showed they’d do almost anything to get a state, other than reach a true peace agreement.
Ahead of Jerusalem Day, Palestinian Media Watch quoted an Al-Hayat Al-Jadida story that “[Palestinian] activists said, in their Internet announcement: ‘Out of loyalty to the Shahids (Martyrs), and in order to continue the path and to base ourselves upon the achievements of the revolutionaries and those who rose up, we announce forcefully and loudly that June 7th – the anniversary of the theft of Jerusalem, the ‘flower of cities,’ by the Zionists – is the day for swearing loyalty to Jerusalem in every country of the world.’”
Ignoring the obvious point that the “flower of cities” has bloomed with Israel’s tender loving care – under Ottoman, British and Jordanian control it wasn’t considered important enough to nurture – a showdown by would-be martyrs hardly seems a fitting way of celebrating the beauty of the Holy City.
Moving speeches in Washington do not necessarily translate into a move for peace on the ground.
Jerusalem can’t flourish when watered only by blood and tears. And if you try to pull out Jerusalem’s Jewish roots, all that will be left will be a few faded petals that nobody can enjoy.
The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem Post.