By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
A few days ago, something of a deal was in the offing. It would allow for the continuation of peace talks (not peace itself, alas) between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and include the release of more prisoners convicted of terrorism in Israel, and perhaps even Jonathan Pollard after 29 years in a US prison serving a life sentence for spying for Israel. I was already preparing an apology for the pessimism I had expressed previously.
But it was not to be. Instead, even US Secretary of State John Kerry said something that was very much akin to pessimism after the talks failed. This was, of course, contrary to the American belief that every problem must have a solution, a belief that has, indeed, made America great, even as it has made many Americans looks naïve, especially in the eyes of decadent Europeans like me.
Kerry failed – though there’re still efforts to continue contacts, or at least pretend that they exist – because he, like so many people around the world, failed to understand that the Palestinian and Israeli narratives are irreconcilable – because both are saying the same thing: all of the land is ours and ours only, and you’re trying to take it from us!
Jews in Israel and their many supporters in the Diaspora are claiming that we’ve come home after some 2000 years of exile. Though a few Jews always stayed behind in the intervening millennia, non-Jews have moved in and usurped the rights of the Jews. Therefore, Jews have the right to live everywhere in the land and on the land. Hence the settlements and the ideology of the settlers.
The Palestinians make similar claims and see the Jews as imperialist intruders who have thrown out the indigenous Arab population by making false claims. That’s why many Palestinians will tell you that the Jewish people is a medieval invention with no roots in what they call Palestine. Jesus wasn’t a Jew but a Palestinian as was probably Abraham.
Neither side is likely to change its narrative. Therefore, all that’s left is pragmatism. The late Yehoshafat Harkabi, another former intelligence chief turned peace activist, was once asked what, in his opinion, is the ideal size of the State of Israel. “Roughly between the Euphrates and the Nile,” he replied, if I remember correctly, “but we’ve to settle for much less in order to survive and thrive as a people.”
It’s this kind of pragmatism that, according to periodically published opinion polls, informs the Israeli and the Palestinian public. However, it goes against the ideologies, alluded to above, that brought the leaders of Palestine and Israel to power. They know that if they yield to pragmatism, even more ardent ideologues will depose them: in democratic primaries within the parties currently constituting the government coalition in Israel; by similar or perhaps more drastic means on the Palestinian side.
So what’s the answer now when American optimism seems to have failed and pragmatism is seen as a threat to both governments? Probably the same things that we say when we see an individual go down because of his/her addiction: things have to get worse before they get better.
Yes, I know that it’s a very gloomy conclusion, but I cannot think of anything more constructive. Sorry.