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Angels in Israel
Last uploaded : Saturday 3rd Jan 2004 at 23:52
Contributed by : M J Rosenberg


This is one of those periods when it is impossible to figure out precisely what is going on with Israelis and Palestinians.

The pot is stirring. That is for sure. But who can tell whether the next stage will be the return to large-scale violence or to negotiations?

It is not necessarily bad not to know what is going on behind closed doors (assuming that something is). That way we can enjoy the sense that progress of some sort is being made.

And, in fact, there are straws in the wind -- enough for some holiday

The faith in a better future for Israelis and Palestinians rolled over me while watching HBO's production of Tony Kushner's "Angels in America," which was the finest drama I have ever seen on stage, film or anywhere else.

"Angels" is about the AIDS epidemic of the 1980's (before the introduction of drugs to arrest the disease). It is also about Roy Cohn, the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg case, Mormonism, the Reagan administration and the collapse of Communism. (Diane Sawyer, who is married to director Mike Nichols, simply described it as being "about Jews" which is also accurate).

The message of "Angels" is simple, and two-fold. The first is that all
human beings desire one thing above all else: life. The lead character, a young man dying of AIDS, puts it like this: "I want more life. I can't help myself. I do. I've lived through such terrible times, and there are people who live through much worse, but you see them living anyway. When they're more spirit than body, more sores than skin, when they're burned and in agony...they live. Death usually has to take life away...."

The second message is that "the world only spins forward." History does not go in reverse.

That may be what we are seeing in the Middle East right now. First, there was the rollout of the Geneva understandings which, for the first time ever, offered a full-blown peace treaty that would resolve all aspects of the conflict. Although "virtual," it was immediately obvious to most observers - left and right - that when real peace comes, it will come in a package that will closely resemble Geneva.

That is why it produced such an explosive reaction. Geneva may not be real but reality will certainly resemble it. Why wouldn't it? Geneva, like the other initiatives currently being discussed by Israelis and Palestinians, is built on the foundation of United Nations Resolutions 242 and 338: the exchange of the '67 lands for full peace and security.

And it is not only the left that recognizes that the world "only spins
forward." Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is a close confidante of Prime Minister Sharon and an unambiguous member of the right-wing camp. It was Olmert who recently called for unilateral Israeli withdrawal from virtually all of the West Bank and Gaza and from parts of Jerusalem to secure the survival of the Jewish state.

Prime Minister Sharon himself, in his speech in Herzliyah last week, made more clear than ever before that he understands that the dream of "Greater Israel" is dead. It is true that he did not fill in the specifics just as it is true that his words did not satisfy the Palestinians who see, just below their surface, a truncated nonviable Palestinian state. But that may be missing the point. When Olmert and Sharon both talk about withdrawals from the West Bank and Gaza and dismantling settlements, it is clear that history has just spun forward again.

The reason for these shifts lies in Tony Kushner's first dictum. Human
beings want to live. That is why the polls are showing that most Israelis are anxious to exchange peace for the territories. Israelis simply are tired of looking at their teenagers and counting the number of months until they are patrolling Jenin or Nablus. It has been 35 years. Eighteen year olds who fought in Lebanon in 1982 now have sons defending settlements in Gaza.

Palestinians feel the same way. Two weeks ago Thomas Friedman reported for the Discovery Channel on the Israeli security fence and its effect on the Palestinians. One young man was simply virulent in his determination to fight Israelis (and Americans too). But then Friedman switched subjects and the young man spoke of his dream of being accepted into the engineering school at Memphis State University in Tennessee.

In other words, he wants to live.

Israelis and Palestinians are beginning to understand that they want the same things: to live in security, to live as free men and women, and to have the luxury of knowing that they will die before their children.

The capture of Saddam Hussein followed by, perhaps, the improvement of the security situation in Iraq may mean that the Bush administration can now turn its attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. President Bush told an Israeli reporter at a holiday party the other day that he remains committed to his "vision" and that he wants to see "action not words." He was talking about both sides.

The conclusion of "Angels in America" takes place in 1990 - four years after the main action of the play -- and the characters, having survived physical and emotional afflictions, are in Central Park discussing the state of the world. A character says, "Remember back four years ago? The whole time we were feeling everything everywhere was stuck, while in Russia! Look Perestroika! The Thaw! It's the end of the Cold War! The whole world is changing! Overnight!"

Another character responds that "the world is faster than the mind," which leads the first to say, "That's what politics is. The world moving ahead. And only in politics does the miraculous occur."

?Only in politics does the miraculous occur."

That may be what is happening in Israel and Palestine right now. It is the season. And it is the place.

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