Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Israel and Palestine: A Roadmap to Nowhere

I'm frustrated. I'm frustrated with peace, the two-state "solution," and I'm frustrated with the effort. I'm frustrated that for nearly 60 years there has been nothing but talk talk talk. I'm frustrated that there will never be a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

I'm not a pessimist, I'm a realist. When I say that there will never be a solution, what I really mean is that the next great war, the next great instigation of demolition and destruction of the human soul and hope will arise in Israel, likely in Jerusalem.

The thing is, the talks that are going on today are not new. The people there at the talks know this. They're not naive or stupid. They know that the things they are saying have been repeated, rinsed, and repeated since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. Except, well, maybe for Bush. He seems to stay optimistic. Who wouldn't want to solve the great Middle East debacle before leaving office, especially with the striped past 6 years he's had?

[The text of the agreement to kick off the talks can be read here.]

The talks will always, always stall on one thing: Jerusalem.

Everyone has a claim on it, and you can't split the city up three ways -- to Christians, Muslims and Jews. It just doesn't work that way. And even if you could split it up (which has been talked about before, believe me), no one will go for it. That's the other big thing.

In the past, talks have often stalled because it's all or nothing.

I can't even enumerate how many options have been suggested in the 60 years since the creation of Israel. It's almost nauseating the give and take and give and take and desperation. In the 1960s there were a group of Palestinians willing to compromise, willing to seek peace and leave the "all or nothing" philosophy behind. But those people were killed, and it is believed those who died trying to create peace were killed by the very Palestinians they wanted to help. Their own people!

I almost find it hard to discuss the situation. When I worked at the Washington Post, two of my coworkers asked me what I was going to do with my future after leaving the Post. I responded that I was going to go to graduate school for Judaic studies. One asked me what I thought about the situation in Israel, and I explained that it's pretty helpless and gave her my reasons. The other suggested I make it my goal to build a better Israel for Israelis and Palestinians. I smiled, knowing the impossibility of such a thought. Not because I'm incapable, but because I try not to involve myself in the situation, neither in discussion nor in action.

My reasons were this: Jerusalem will not, and can not be divided, thus creating the world's greatest stalemate over the world's most contested area; religious fervor and war will be the end all to this discussion. Additionally, the problem that many in the 60s ran into was that Palestinians were more comfortable playing the victim than they were with peace. Everyone knows that it is easier to be in pain and be hurt than it is to seek the best, most socially responsible route to success. It's like being unhappy is easier than trying to be happy. It's not rocket science, it's just the way we are. I'm not saying Palestinians to blame, but they've raised generations of victims, and Israel -- not to mention the Arab states -- haven't done a thing to see that change. The Palestinians are comfortable being the world's largest refugee population. If you take that away from them, they're just another people. What's so special about that? And finally, the Arab world has turned its back on the Palestinians time and time again, leaving the Palestinians to exist as a refugee population, so how are they any better than Israel? In the beginning, several Arab states -- namely Jordan -- were interested in the issue with motive more than murder and genocide. Then, poof. Nobody wanted anything to do with the Palestinians. Once again, they could safely be the victim, wanting it all or nothing.

So I guess the biggest question is: What now?

I don't have an answer. No one does. You can create all the peace plans in the world. You can say "poor Israel" or "poor Palestinians." You can cut off every Arab country in the world that plans a suicide bomber in Israel in the name of Allah, and you can do the same to every militant Israeli group that seeks to rid his or her country of Palestinians. You can do whatever you want politically and socially, but it isn't going to fix the situation. I don't think there *is* a way to fix the situation. This doesn't mean don't try, it just means ... maybe time could be spent on something else.

What I do have an answer for, is the effects of the conflict. There's that old saying about prevention, how you should go for the source, don't treat the effects or however it goes. It's like the man who loses his leg in a horrible car wreck. Why focus on finding and mending the leg when you could focus instead on how his life will be changed and how to make him better as a result? I'm not saying don't fight for peace, but in reality you can't focus on fixing the problem, you have to focus on fixing the effect it has on society. You can create social organizations, you can educate people, you can give to the Red Cross, you can heal the wounded, feed the hungry. These things are NOT futile, they're necessary. They're doable.

I don't mean to be another pimple on the face of the conflict, but folks, being a realist does not mean giving up hope and being a pessimist. It just means that you understand the history of the situation and that you understand the cyclical nature of these talks, the ramifications, the stalemate, the inevitable devastation. And if it so happens that peace is reached, that a Palestinian state is created, that Israel or the Palestinians give up wanting Jerusalem on THEIR side of the state? Then I'm taking every Jew I know out for a big ole beer and some brisket. And hold me to that.

Until then, I will sit and wait for another Aziz Shehadeh to appear and fight for the two-state solution in a logical, caring manner for the Palestinian people. And maybe I'll reread Strangers in the House, and pray truly hard that peace be possible, not just this tug-of-war pot of frustration and destruction.

Sometimes I ask myself, was this *really* what Theodor Herzl wanted?