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Optimists without Hope
Last uploaded : Thursday 23rd Oct 2003 at 14:56
Contributed by : M.J. Rosenberg


[Editor's Note: On one fact in the article below by Mr Rosenberg: those living in Israel during the last years of Oslo know that suicide bombs were going off left right and centre. In two weeks in February-March 1996 four bombs went off: one in Ashkelon; two on successive Sundays on the 18 bus in Jerusalem and the horrific Dizengoff explosion. More than twelve people were killed in those bombs alone.Whenever Rabin signed a new agreement a bomb went off the same or the next day.

Israel Policy Forum
first published
10 October 2003

Lately, I have been told that I am way too optimistic about the Middle East. ?How can you be so optimistic?? ?No matter how bad things are, you write that they will get better if only the US pushes both sides to live up to their commitments.? ?Why can?t you just admit that it?s hopeless??

These critics are not completely wrong. I went back to re-read the last dozen IPF (Israel Policy Forum) Fridays to see if the criticism is accurate. And, in a sense, it is. Virtually all of these columns end with some kind of a call to get negotiations going again and to break the cycle of violence.

I would not, however, label that as optimism. Optimism, in the rose-colored-glasses sense of the word, assumes that everything will turn out fine. That is not what I believe at all. On the contrary, I believe that unless the United States gets serious about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- and about both sides living up to their commitments under the Roadmap or some similar plan -- the future of both Israelis and Palestinians will be utterly dismal.

This is anything but optimism. It is realism. After all, the other option -- continuation of the status quo in the belief that things will work out -- would be disastrous. For Israel, it would mean the loss of a state with a Jewish majority, 18-year olds patrolling Jenin and Nablus forever, a collapsed economy, and either terrorism like the Haifa horror or mega-terrorism inflicted with weapons of mass destruction. For the Palestinians, continuation of the status quo would mean permanent occupation, lives governed by the presence of Israeli troops and checkpoints, domination by terrorists and religious extremists, and Third World levels of poverty.

Those who welcome, as ?pro-Israeli? or ?pro-Palestinian,? rhetoric or actions which support the status quo are, in fact, endorsing the ruin of their respective peoples. The bottom line is that I am neither optimistic nor pessimistic per se. My hopes for a better future are predicated on significant changes in Palestinian, Israeli, and American policies and actions.

In a way, the optimists in the rose-colored glasses are those who believe that policies and actions which have repeatedly failed in the past are somehow going to succeed now.

Some examples:

? Yossi Klein Halevi, a New Republic editor and one of the more talented Israeli journalists and authors, wrote in last week?s on-line edition that ?the combined effect of military pressure and the fence could further weaken Palestinian resolve?.? He argued that ?waiting for the Palestinians to break remains a realistic strategy.?

? Veteran journalist Evelyn Gordon wrote in the Jerusalem Post that Israel has ?not been prosecuting the war as intensively as it could. ?Far from proving a failure, the military solution has proven its efficacy over the last year. What is needed now is for the government to finally make up its mind to finish the job.?

? Regular Jerusalem Post columnist Michael Freund wrote the other day that Israel?s strike at a terrorist camp in Syria ?showed that Israel has not forsaken the will to live? If it heralds a new strategy in Israel's war on terror, one in which it adopts bolder and more forceful measures which ultimately result in the elimination of the PA itself, then it just might prove to be the turning point we have all been hoping and praying for.? Now that is what I call optimism -- of a sort, anyway.

But it is a form of optimism with a very fatalistic streak. That streak is the underlying conviction that Palestinians and Israelis are destined to be enemies forever. For these critics, all Palestinians seem to be the same, and nothing any Palestinian has ever done indicates any sort of willingness to live in peace with Jews.

The Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation that reduced Israeli victims of terror to less than a dozen during Oslo?s last three years -- as compared to 893 in the three years since -- does not impress them; they simply refuse to acknowledge it. The peace and prosperity of the last three Oslo years are meaningless. All that counts is the hate, which they seem to believe is both inevitable and permanent.

Think about it. How often have you seen references to anti-Israel passages in Palestinian textbooks as compared to references to the security that prevailed in Israel from the fall of 1997 to the fall of 2000? How can it be that anti-Israel rhetoric emanating from a text book or some mosque matters more than the hundreds of Israeli lives saved because of US-brokered Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation? But it seems to, at least to those who devote themselves to collecting every piece of evidence that testifies to Palestinian hostility while ignoring all the evidence that points in the other direction.

In a real sense, this approach reinforces the Arab rejectionist view that a Zionist state in the Middle East is simply indigestible. Had Herzl, Ben Gurion, or Weizmann shared that belief, the Zionist dream would never have been translated into reality. Why bother if the Jewish state would never be accepted by its neighbors or live in security anyway?

Ironically, this neo-rejectionist view is one that raises the horrible thought that Israel may not survive in the long run. In a world where weapons of mass destruction are easily shared, a Jewish state despised by all its neighbors ? including millions within the state itself ? can never prosper.

Fortunately, the neo-rejectionists are wrong. Since the peace process began with Anwar Sadat?s visit to Jerusalem, acceptance of Israel has grown dramatically throughout the Arab world. Jordan and Egypt are at peace with Israel and even Syria has tiptoed close to negotiating a peace treaty with its sworn enemy. As for the Palestinians, most have come around to acceptance of the idea that any future Palestinian state will not encroach on Israel itself.

Those who insist that the Arabs hate Israelis, and always will, merely demonstrate that some people just won?t take ?yes? for an answer.

Of course, we won?t get to a final lasting ?yes? until leaders on both sides ? with the United States acting as credible broker ? start implementing strategies to get there.

Assuming office during the depths of the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt said that he was not sure what tactics he would use to get America on the road to recovery. But then he said, ?The important thing is to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another.? He understood that repeating failed policies is, to say the least, pointless.

Speaking in Columbia, South Carolina on May 9th, President Bush said ?The way forward in the Middle East is not a mystery, it is a matter of will and vision and action.? That was true then. It is more true now. We have seen the President?s vision: it is in his June 24th, 2002 speech. We have seen his action plan: it is his Roadmap. But we have not seen Presidential will, and we have not seen much action either. Without them nothing is going to change. And that, most certainly, is not optimism.
MJ Rosenberg (email: mj847@aol.com), Director of Policy Analysis for Israel Policy Forum, is a long time Capitol Hill staffer and former editor of AIPAC?s Near East Report.

JewishComment is grateful Common Ground News Service for copyright clearance.


Distributed by Common Ground News Service


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