In marmur

By Rabbi Dow Marmur.

A Russian story tells of a man who lost his only cow. In desperation he went fishing to help feed his family. He caught a fish that turned to be a fairy. It offered to grant him one wish. What did he ask for? That his neighbour should also lose his cow.

I thought of that story as I read the column by Dennis Ross in Monday’s New York Times in which he reminds readers that in response to three serious offers to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (in 2000, 2008 and 2013), the Palestinians’ answer was “no or no response,” because ”they determined that the cost of saying ’yes’, or even of making a counteroffer that required concessions, was too high.”

Dennis Ross is a highly skilled diplomat with a lot of experience in negotiating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Therefore, he wouldn’t allow himself a cavalier judgment by an uninformed observer that I’ve reflected on in the past: the Palestinians seem to prefer victimhood to victory. The only victory they might possibly enjoy is, in line with the hapless farmer in the Russian story, turning Israelis into victims.

By now Palestinians should have learnt that victimhood after the Holocaust is no longer on the agenda of the Jewish people in general and the Israelis in particular. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s reactions to the recent diplomatic moves by the Palestinians illustrate the Israeli approach. He has already taken steps to punish the Palestinians and has threatened with much more. For good measure he’s no doubt also pressurizing the Americans to stop financing the Palestinian Authority.

Of course, it would have been more productive had the Government of Israel prevented the situation by a softer approach, as indeed several of the opposition parties seem to advocate, especially now before the elections. But it’s by no means certain that any government would have done better. There was no peace when Labour was the dominant party, and peace with Egypt was achieved under the allegedly hawkish Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

All this suggests that anybody who tells us that they’ve the answer how to resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians may be confusing wishful thinking with practical diplomacy. Given all the attempts at negotiating a settlement over the years, one can be forgiven to fear that the situation isn’t going to be solved, not by military power (think of the latest Israeli incursion into Gaza), not by negotiations (as per Ross’ article) and not by diplomatic moves in the United Nations and the International Criminal Court (as we witness it at present).

To say it again: the best we can hope for is that the status quo will prevail, hopefully eased by the Palestinian Authority restraining Hamas-inspired terrorism against Jews and now, alas, also the late Meir Kahana-inspired terrorism by Jews, particularly Jewish settlers, against Arabs.

This doesn’t mean that we should stop talking peace or engaging, especially on the grass roots level, in activities that promote it. However, it seems to mean that we should stop deluding ourselves that this or that politician can bring it about, if only….

My uninformed contention is that, as things stand now, what the two sides have in common is that they prefer the status quo to making concessions. My hope is that neither wants full war and, therefore, confidence building measures may be their compromise.

Jerusalem 5.1.15

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