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U.N. declares 2014 as the year of solidarity with Palestinians


Is this just another bit of U.N. blather, one of 21 resolutions passed so far against Israel this year, while only four resolutions condemned activities in all the other countries of the world? Or does it portend 12 months of festivities on campuses, in union halls, liberal churches and other places susceptible to the nonsense that Palestine deserves more help than anything else?

It would be easier to ignore if Barack Obama and John Kerry were not part of the chorus.

The U.S. was one of four western states along with Israel, Canada, and Australia voting against the resolution, but there remain all those flaws in the agreement with Iran, and the America’s own obsession with Palestine. 

Perhaps it would not be too offensive to provide a lesson, suitable to an introductory course in international relations.

Point one: Some of the messages conveyed say more than the words. Subtlety is part of the craft.

Point two: It is helpful to gather facts, trying to be independent of prevailing sentiments. Much of that sentiment may be nothing more than lip service to what is fashionable, having little to do with what is actually happening.

Now some details.

Benyamin Netanyahu may have said that he favors a two-state solution, but that is not all that he has said. He has spoken at least as often about the need for Palestinians to emerge from their isolation and recognize what is alongside of them. They must accept Israel, its Jewish character, what it provides to its non-Jewish and Jewish citizens (i.e., far more than provided by any other Middle Eastern country), and that it has expanded—legitimately—over the course of five decades marked by Palestinian rejection and violence.

A recent article in The Guardian considers Netanyahu’s standing in Israel and abroad. The writer agrees with other observers that he has made something of a nuisance of himself with other government heads desperate to do business with Iran, but that he has considerable support within Israel.

Some of those claiming to look after Israel’s best interest compare the country to Nazi Germany and use the term lebensraum to describe its policy in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the West Bank. 

They will not be part of the conversation. 

Likewise those who worship at the altar of Obama and Kerry, and swear that they could not be so materialistic as to allow a desire for business to influence U.S. posture toward Iran. Such simpletons should be noting the media of recent days, describing the efforts of Indian, Russian, and western companies doing what they can to reach the front of the line to talk deals with Iranian counterparts.

Those who cannot read or listen will pay for their limitations.

Kerry says he’s coming here this week. We won’t know what he says, if indeed, he actually makes this trip. However, the betting is that ignoring Israel on Iran will hurt his aspirations about Palestine. As reported in The Guardian, “ ‘The Palestinian issue is the big casualty of this deal,’ Bruce Riedel, of the Brookings Institution in Washington, told the New York Times. ‘Now that they have an Iran deal, over the strong objections of Israel, it’s going to be very hard to persuade Netanyahu to do something on the Palestinian front.’ “

Israelis are ratcheting up their antipathy toward Obama, Kerry, and the advisers close to them. It is clear that they do not sympathize with Israeli positions on Iran or Palestine, and may not understand them.

They appear to be innocent of the Middle East, and the many features of Islam, extended families, and political movements that are not like anything in Chicago or Boston.

The Jews of Israel may be better than the goyim, or the Jews of America, at reading what others say and do. They have more than two millennia of dependence on others, without having the skills washed out of them by several generations in a friendly place. Calling us racist, paranoid, or fearful to give peace a chance does not bring Netanyahu and his constituency any closer to what Obama or Kerry wants to hear.

Subtlety is more a part of Netanyahu’s skill than that shown by the Americans he has to deal with.

He is working to keep us apart, getting some things from the U.S. but not everything, letting the U.S. get some things from him, but not all that it wants. Along with his foreign mInister, he will express his fatigue with American aspirations by shopping around for support elsewhere where they can find it, but not risk disaster by overtly rejecting American leadership.

His constituency never has to wait more than a day or two for yet another reminder that its neighbors are not anxious to live in peace. The label “collateral damage” does not fit the casualties of Palestinian violence. Civilian casualties are not unwanted by-products of what the Palestinians do. They almost always aim at civilians, like the two-year-old who suffered head injuries this week as a result of stones thrown at her family’s car in a neighborhood of Jerusalem.

The same day there was a riot outside a Haifa courthouse, when the judges gave a light sentence of several months to two years for several Israeli Arabs who murdered an Israeli soldier, then postponed the implementation of the sentence to give attorneys for the men several months to prepare an appeal.

The soldier was himself a terrorist who had turned his gun on the Arab passengers in the bus he was riding. He was presumably intent on killing Arabs in response to something that had set him off. When he was killed, he had already been subdued and handcuffed by the police, who were overwhelmed by a wild mob intent on instant and complete revenge. The light sentences reflected the complexity of the crime, but any sentence was too much for the Arabs who rioted against what they described as the distortions of Israeli justice.

Those wanting more confirmation of the nastiness we live with should take another look at the awards given by the leaders of Palestine to the prisoners who had been convicted for murdering civilians, but released for the sake of getting the Palestinians to participate in the negotiations wanted so much by Obama and Kerry. 

It should be no surprise that those negotiations aren’t going anywhere. 

Israelis who are not convinced that the Palestinians deserve special treatment appear to be in a small minority. It has long been clear that the majority of U.N. members act otherwise. It is disappointing, but not all that surprising how much it takes to convince the leadership of the E.U. and the U.S. to share the Israeli view of its neighbors.

The majority of Israelis, along with the prime minister, say that they support a Palestinian state. However, they also say that it depends on some obvious accommodations from the Palestinians. It may take a long time for them to be ready, seemingly beyond the time likely to be allotted to any of those currently engaged in the process or watching from the sidelines.

Those who are firmly in the Palestinian narrative, yet wonder why the Israelis are not also there, should consider playing in a different sandbox. 

Ira Sharkansky is a professor (Emeritus) at the Department of Political Science, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.


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