Triumph of Reality
wants to acknowledge the possibility that the current violence in
Jerusalem is not so much an anomaly as something like the release
of pent-up hostilities on both sides that have been papered over
that there are simply too many unresolved hostilities between
Palestinians and Israelis to make talks of a "peace process"
anything other than something of a sad delusion. Yet the possibility,
however unpleasant, should be considered. A peace process based
on wishful thinking is hardly likely to yield a peace that will
last beyond the next provocation, real or imagined.
desire for peace, even when flavored by something less noble, like
a desire for a legacy, is generally commendable. But while I bow
to few in my insistence that violence and hostility are no solution
to almost any given problem, it also seems to be the case that a
peaceful solution to a given problem, like a fine wine, cannot be
rushed. To most of us who have paid attention from time the Israeli-Palestinian
situation is particularly frustrating.
any number of issues, almost anybody can see from the outside that
insistence on a particular negotiating position by one side or the
other is a non-starter. And you just know that, for example, in
the old days when Israeli governments refused to negotiate with
Yassar Arafat and his minions because the Palestine Liberation Organization
was viewed as a "terrorist organization," the stance was
taken in part from at least a semiconscious resolution not to go
too far down the negotiating path because most Israelis simply weren’t
see the leaders of the two sides dutifully trekking to Paris to
visit with the Ambassador Extraordinaire of the imperial power in
Washington is particularly disturbing and most unlikely to hasten
the day when differences in the area are resolved or at least put
to one side for a while.
the years the two sides locked in hostile embrace came to know one
another’s buttons well enough that they could push them at will
while maintaining to the U.S. and other well-meaning busybodies
that they were trying really, really trying to find
a basis for a just and lasting peaceful settlement. I still believe
that the potential of the people of the Middle East is so great
that peace will ensue eventually as the multifarious costs of war
and hatred make themselves more apparent. But conversations with
partisans of both sides have made me believe that the time is not
this year and probably not next year or the year after.
would love to be wrong about this. But events of the last week suggest
that those who thought peace was at hand, needing only the right
combination of nudges and promises to come to fruition, preferably
before January when Bill Clinton leaves office, were less realistic.
is possible, of course, that the current violence will prove so
shocking to people in Israel and in the area controlled by the Palestinian
Authority, so horrific a reminder of what the alternative to peace
entails, that they will redouble the peace efforts and find a way
to get to an agreement. Death and violence are often part of the
process of inducing enough war-weariness to begin the search for
peace in earnest.
everybody from outside the region who pays close attention for any
period of time comes away with a deep sense of sadness about the
Middle East. To see so many people with so much potential locked
in resentment, hatred and struggle induces frustration. Why can’t
they get beyond these animosities and develop, for starters, a free-trade
region -- which wouldn’t necessarily require people to like one
another, merely be willing to make money from them from which
everybody would benefit?
recent violence suggests that both Israelis and Palestinians have
become tired of posturing for the "international community"
that floating craps game of professional diplomats and meddlers
and (sadly) are taking out resentments on one another. Unfortunately
for those who look from outside, the animosities seem real enough
and while political leaders, especially Arafat in my view,
no doubt stir them up from time to time, they wouldn’t be able to
do so if there weren’t some genuine resentments there.
might even be the case although cause-and-effect are difficult
to sort out that recent pushes from the vaunted international
community are as much to blame for the recent violence as any other
factor. President Clinton and various European leaders pushed Israeli
prime minister Ehud Barak beyond where public opinion was willing
to go (across a rather wide ideological spectrum) on the matter
of the final disposition of Jerusalem and may have created an opening
for the more conservative Likud Party. And it might just be that
some of the violence was a way of letting various leaders, foreign
and domestic, know that resolution will not be as easy as making
nice in conferences and taking money from Uncle Sam.
no surprise, then, that most international commentators want to
pin the blame on Ariel Sharon’s visit to Temple Mount, or Al Haram
As-Sharif, last week. But while Sharon no doubt knew his visit might
be provocative, the animosities go deeper and have not been helped
by outside pushing to get an evanescent "peace process"
moving on a Western timetable rather than in response to facts on
might be too late now to try a different approach, but it’s certainly
not beyond imagining to wonder whether benign neglect might have
brought resolution in the Middle East more quickly than lectures
and promises and prodding from Western mostly US diplomats
and leaders in search of a legacy, from Kissinger through Madame
Albright. What if the US had said to both sides, perhaps 20 or even
five years ago something like this?
it’s your problem and you’re the ones who are going to have to resolve
it or live with the consequences. We’re cutting off aid to both
sides, and promise not to interfere or to try to impose our own
preferences. If you’re getting very close and need a neutral place
to meet or a neutral ear to listen to both sides and offer constructive
advice as to how to get over the last couple of hurdles, fine. We’ll
be around. But we’re not interested in anything more intrusive than
tying up the last few loose ends on a deal both sides have indicated
through consensus, public opinion or whatever guides your politics
that they’re ready for.
it possible that the situation would have resolved into at least
a livable truce more quickly?
CLASH OF SYMBOLS
the likelihood that a better agreement is more likely to flow from
the bottom up rather than being imposed from the top down or from
an outside power, then, the decision of Mr. Barak and Mr. Arafat
to fly to Paris for a little negotiating fling with US Secretary
of State Madeleine Albright is hardly encouraging. It sends the
message to all sides that they should look to Big Brother
or is that Little Sister?
succor in their time of tragedy. It reinforces many of the most
destructive impulses in the region to blame others for
every ill, to expect outside help whenever the going gets tough,
to look anywhere but inward when problems are stubborn.
symbolism of the Israeli and the Palestinian leader leaving their
countries at a time of maximum crisis and stress to consult with
the keeper of the real power in the world in a European capital
is also questionable.