To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle.
--- George Orwell

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Roger Cohen On ‘Israel’s Bloody Status Quo”

I don’t usually go in for pundit handwringing, or the “fie on both your houses” approach to intractable ethnic and religious conflict. But Roger Cohen’s column yesterday on "Israel's Bloody Status Quo," rang a bell for me, up to a point anyway. I do think he and those who think like him however, should start raising the issue of American financial support for Israel---$3 billion a year---as leverage on the Israelis to end or even retract settlements in the West Bank and to accept the 1967 borders with a sovereign Palestinian state. Much of the rest of the world recognizes these borders, and the two states they define, as historically fair and legitimate, though Israel sees as this as somehow a defilement of its historic “Zionist Dream” ---a dream that would certainly become far more realistic if the US- Israel “special relationship” got a bit less special and the significant monies that Congress gives Israel for the war-waging machine currently on display in Gaza were applied to American needs. Those American needs, which seem to draw either yawns, scorn or denials from pro Israel pundits and policy wonks who tend to find them inconvenient, are not insignificant, at least from an American perspective.  

Cohen is not a Lobby Denier in the style of Jeffery Goldberg or Leon Wieseltier. But he does seem to downplay the lobby's significance in setting limits on American efforts to broker peace and in undermining those efforts when they threaten the larger goal of Greater Israel and the land-grabbing, cultural chauvinism and religious triumphalism central to that, which is really what this is all about. If he put a little bit more focus on the power of the congressional purse however, he might not have to put so much faith in the power of Yehuda Amichai’s poetry, as he does at the end of his column. It’s time to play hardball--- or leave the field.  
If the central problem of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of borders, the problem at the core of the US-Israeli “special relationship” is one of boundaries—as in boundary issues. I have little doubt that resolving the latter will go a long way toward resolving the former, but until that has an effect on America's foreign aid budget, we’re stuck with the bloody status quo--- and Cohen et al will be wringing their hands again and again.   
... The story goes on and on. There is no denouement. Gaza, a small place jammed with 1.8 million people, does not recess to the Stone, Iron, Middle or other Ages. It does not get flattened, as Ariel Sharon’s son once proposed. The death toll is overwhelmingly skewed against Palestinians. Hamas, with its militia and arsenal of rockets, continues to run Gaza. The dead die for nothing.
Israel could send Gaza back to whichever age it wishes. Its military advantage, its general dominance, over the Palestinians has never been greater since 1948. But it chooses otherwise. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s talk of a ground invasion is empty. The last thing Israel wants, short of a cataclysm, is to go into Gaza and get stuck.
What Israel wants is the status quo (minus Hamas rockets). Israel is the Middle East’s status quo power par excellence. It seeks a calm Gaza under Hamas control, a divided Palestinian movement with Fatah running the West Bank, a vacuous “peace process” to run down the clock, and continued prosperity. Divide and rule. Hamas is useful to Israel as long as it is quiescent.
Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, is also a status quo man. Late in his life, he is not prepared to make the painful decisions necessary to attain a two-state peace, decisions that would include relinquishing, against compensation, the so-called “right of return” for millions of Palestinian refugees. He prefers the comforts of his position and the ambiguity of concessions not formalized.
The Palestinian unity government recently established with Hamas is no more than a marriage of convenience, sought by a weakened, unpopular Hamas to escape isolation and unmet salary obligations in Gaza, and by Abbas as a distraction from his failures. There is no unity of Palestinian national purpose. There is no Palestinian democratic accountability; election talk evaporates. As for Israel, the fig-leaf Palestinian reconciliation was a godsend for its status-quo objective. Netanyahu was in sound-bite heaven, his favorite environment, on the risible notion of peace with Hamas.
None of this is edifying. Much is abhorrent: indiscriminate Hamas rockets on Israel, Israeli killing of Palestinian civilians in “collateral damage.” Yet I find myself short on moral outrage. It is all so familiar, a recurrent curse. It is a sham fight, and so doubly inexcusable. The Jews and Arabs of the Holy Land are led by men too small to effect change. Shed a tear, shed a thousand, it makes no difference.
Of course the status quo is illusory. As Secretary of State John Kerry said in Munich (to a chorus of Israeli fury), “It cannot be maintained.” True, this violence will subside. Gaza will revert to its routine misery. Peacemakers may bestir themselves. Netanyahu will find another sound bite. Things may look the same; and the next 150 dead will be part of that sameness.
But at a deeper level, things will change. Life is flux, even in the Middle East. Nothing feeds on a vacuum like radicalization. Hamas is back from the brink
Images of blown-up Palestinian children, and that skewed death toll, will hurt Israel. Its drift toward a culture of hatred toward Arabs will continue. The murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir in revenge for the murders of three Israeli teenagers, and the brutal police beating of his cousin, were signs. Netanyahu called the Israeli teenagers’ killers “human animals.” The liberal daily Haaretz rightly observed: “Abu Khdeir’s murderers are not ‘Jewish extremists.’ They are the descendants and builders of a culture of hate and vengeance.”
That culture is reciprocated by Palestinians toward Jews. Last month Mohammed Dajani, a professor at Al Quds University, quit after being hounded with death threats for taking a group of Palestinian students to Auschwitz. He thought young Palestinians should learn about the Holocaust, a heinous affront to the ruling order in the West Bank and Gaza. Enough said. Palestinians get weaker — a 66-year trend now — because they fail to look reality in the face.

Jews should study the Nakba. Arabs should study the Holocaust. That might be a first step toward two-state coexistence. And everyone should read the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai’s lines about redemption only coming for all the peoples of the Holy Land when a Jerusalem guide tells his tour group:
“You see that arch over there from the Roman period? It doesn’t matter, but near it, a little to the left and then down a bit, there’s a man who has just bought fruit and vegetables for his family.”

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