Friday, July 3, 2009

Shades of Gray

On the night of the 9th at 8:00 pm, former Editor-in-Chief of Ha'aretz, David Landau, and former Minister for Congressional Affairs for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, Yoram Ettinger, came to our hotel to debate many of the issues we had been discussing during the past several days. It was the classic Dove vs. Hawk debate. Ettinger began in Landau's absence by claiming that in the past 1400 years, stretching back to a time when "states" as we know them today were nonexistent, there was never any inter-Arab peace between Muslim countries. Therefore, he questioned why Israel should make peace with the Palestinians at all, since a Palestinian state would surely violate the terms of the agreement and turn its guns to Israel. In his eyes, all Arabs were the same. Saudis are Iraqis are Libyans. Palestinians are swept under the same rug; grouped together with all past inter-Arab hostilities. I found it strange how someone could say, "Well, because Saddam invaded Kuwait....or 'Well, because Morocco and Algeria aren't on speaking terms that Palestinians can't be trusted with full autonomy." It's flawed logic, pure and simple. It's equivalent to saying that since Northern Ireland and Britain have engaged in past hostilities, Australians shouldn't have a state of their own. It's all very misplaced and designed to conceal the differences among the wide variety of Arabs in the this world.

When David arrived, he began with his jubilation regarding Obama's speech in Cairo. It was unprecedented in American politics. He described Obama as the first president with a true Third World perspective. His genuine care for the Palestinian people, and his public endorsement of their full rights, could very-well put him at odds with the American Jewish community. What am I saying? His stance has already lost him support from Jewish circles in the states. This is not to say that many Jews in the U.S. don't support a two-state solution, just that the Israeli Lobby is very powerful and in the past has pushed for unconditional support of Israel.

It has yet to be seen whether Americans as whole view this dramatic shift in American foreign policy as just cause for ousting Obama from office in 2012. No one is that prescient. What amazes me is that Obama is risking a severance in political longevity in going toe to toe with Netanyahu because he believes it is the right thing to do. That is what I extrapolated from Landau's shpeal on Obama's position vis-a-vis the conflict. Landau went on to discuss issues I've mentioned in past blogs, and Ettinger responded with the same tired rhetoric. What's interesting is that they both believed that they were right. I don't think either were intentionally deceptive. They were just looking at the same issues from two opposing vantage points and telling the story as they saw it to be true. If I had closed my eyes, I could have been forgiven for thinking that the debate was between a Palestinian and and Israeli, rather than between two Israelis. It highlighted the internal differences and schisms within any society. No group of people acts in a totally unified manner with the same aspirations and the same means to get there. Nuance and shades of gray are always present. Many, many Israelis believe in the rights of Palestinian statehood, but the current Israeli administration makes it hard for the outside world to see past the policies of settlement expansion and military occupation.

This may all seem very obvious, but I think many times people look to a country's leader and then apply their beliefs to the people. It's the easy way out. It's very easy to look at former President Bush's policies and view Americans as anti-Muslim and imperialistic. The "Death to America" chants speak for themselves. In the case of the Israeli-Palestinian impasse, nuance must be sought out and brought to light. Palestinians should be distinguished from suicide bombers just as Israelis should distinguished from hard-line settlers. It's the only way forward. Peace can only come when the fringe is not equated with the norm. How would American politics look today if Republicans were all seen as KKK sympathizers and Liberals were constantly accused of joining ranks with the Earth Liberation Front? Fear would permeate both sides, risking political instability and deadlock to say the least. From a domestic perspective, this would seem completely unreasonable and counterintuitive to the American public, as it should. There is a wide gap between those who want peace and those who fight against it, even if they stand under the same flag. I think this was a point that Landau was hinting at, he just never drove it home.

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