By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
When Jim Lederman, the Jerusalem based journalist and political analyst, spoke at Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto last summer, he made a strong case for water being more important to Middle East politics than any other issue. The historic agreement just signed between Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority about water sharing points in the same direction. It’s a serious attempt at cooperation for the sake of economic survival.
I also heard the matter of water referred to in an address by Professor Raphael Israeli when he spoke today about his new book, From Arab Spring to Islamic Winter. He’s a professor of Islamic, Medieval and Chinese history at the Hebrew University and the author of many works of scholarship.
In the course of his talk Israeli identified different scenarios of current Islamic political unrest. One of them he called “revolutionary” and suggested that its champions are not interested in a peaceful outcome in any conflict, only in the process that keeps the pot boiling. His examples included the rebels in Mali and – the Palestinians, as manifest in the strength of Hamas and its effort to derail every peace agreement with Israel.
For Hamas, peace with Israel is unacceptable because it’s the conflict that keeps them going; a resolution would put them out of business. The fact that scarcity of water and the resulting risk of famine have been documented recently by two Arab (!) think tanks isn’t likely to make any difference to them, because, as Israeli suggests, these “revolutionaries” abhor solutions. They’re bound to object in principle to the every deal that promises coexistence and peace.
They’ll deny or ignore the fact that Israel could help Palestinians and others in the region find water and food. The Jewish state has become one of the most effective countries in the world in the use of land and water resources. There’s very little of that among Israel’s neighbors. Peaceful coexistence would enable the Palestinians and many others in the region to prosper economically. In this sense, therefore, peace could be even more important for them than it is for Israel.
Raphael Israeli knows that there are Palestinian leaders who are aware of it and want it – hence the water accord – but he believes that the trouble makers are bent to spoil every possible deal. That’s why, for example, any rumor of progress in negotiations almost invariably gives rise to acts of terrorism and salvos of missiles from Gaza.
To tell these “revolutionaries” that they’re impoverishing and starving to death the people they purport to defend won’t cut much ice, because they believe that sacrifices are the privileges of their struggle. Martyrdom tops survival, let alone prosperity.
For similar reasons, intervention by third parties, even when proven honest and well meaning, is bound to be rebuffed: a solution would render the revolution obsolete. Aid for the masses is by definition unacceptable.
If looking at current internal Israeli politics brings a measure of optimism, especially with the prospect of a centrist government in Jerusalem, seeing the problem from the perspective of Raphael Israeli, a man who seems to know Islam and the Palestinians better than most, leads to a more pessimistic conclusion.
It’s tempting to see it his way, as do many Israelis. On the other hand, the deal between Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority tells a much happier story.