Israel: A Peacetime War or a Wartime Peace
In the library's history section all the shelves are crowded together. In the Middle East, opposing polemics are wedged up against each other. Alan Dershowitz rubs shoulders with Tony Judt who leans onto George Gilder who balances out Norman Finkelstein who flakes bits of paper on Benjamin Netanyahu. Though located in the history section, most of these books are not history. They are long opinion pieces, arguments for and against the Jewish State.
On the left there are vituperative diatribes and on the right there are earnest defenses. The Holocaust Industry contends with The Case for Israel, The Jewish Lobby with Start Up Nation. Every few months brings new combatants to the shelves. Shlomo Sand is swapped out with Peter Beinart who is swapped out with Noam Chomsky like a baseball team that is forever calling the same players off the bench to make the same plays.
Next year there will be another four books denouncing Israel for its settlements and its trickery in making the terrorists look like they don't want peace by negotiating with them for twenty years. And next to them another four books asserting that Israel wants peace and has the right to self-defense.
The four-hundred thousand word argument can be summed up as, "Israel is bad and those who live there are bad people" and "No, they aren't."
The first argument is easier to make then the second, because all countries and people have their flaws, but the second argument has gotten easier to make once the first argument switched off to, "Israel is the worst country that ever existed (with the possible exception of South Africa) and those who live there are the worst people that ever existed."
When the torchbearers of the Anti-Israel argument are the likes of Norman Finkelstein and Tony Judt, then anyone who appears less filled with violent hatred suddenly seems moderate by comparison. It allows opponents of Israel like Peter Beinart to rebrand themselves as Liberal Zionists because at least they aren't claiming that the Prime Minister of Israel ritually eats four babies for breakfast every morning.
Few of the books are concerned with the reality of Israel. They are concerned with it as an ideal. The left tears apart the ideal. The right defends the ideal. There is a growing body of books by Jewish leftists who visit Israel, stop by a supermarket outside their hotel, visit one or two sites, cringe at the guns, take in a nightspot, visit the Western Wall, visit the Separation Wall, and transmit the whole thing into a miniature memoir expressing their disappointment with the experience.
The latest such offering, Harvey Pekar's “Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me”, a 70 year old son of a Communist mother and Orthodox father visited Israel for the first time and discovered that it didn't live up to whatever mixed-up ideal his parents promised him. Pekar is already dead, but there is an entire conveyor belt along which the younger set rides to write critical books, graphic novels, blogs and tweets about their disappointing experience in the Jewish State.
Whatever books are on the shelves two years from now, it is likely that very little will have changed. The world as a whole, not just the occasional liberal brat, will continue being disappointed in Israel for not having magically and non-violently resolved the dilemma of people shooting at it no matter what it does. After all there's already a book titled, "How to Make Peace in the Middle East in Six Months or Less" on the shelf. Why not just read it and do what it says?
Regardless of who wins the presidential election, two years from now a Secretary of State will be icily dressing down Israel for building houses in provocative places, using drones to kill terrorists and refusing to make peace. As the history section will bulge with eight more pro and con books; another member will have joined the choir invisible of James Baker, Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton. While the Democrats have been worse on Israel, each administration regardless of its affiliation, has accepted the precedents of the previous administration and eventually managed to top its attacks on Israel's sovereignty.
And yet America has slowly been becoming Israel, constantly on alert for terrorists, negotiating with terrorists, seeking ways to kill terrorists while minimizing collateral damage and trying to find a way out of the same trap that Israel has been caught in. The trap of how to be an ideal while fighting an enemy willing to do anything except make peace.
The books on America's War on Terror increasingly echo the ones on Israel's War on Terror. There are the denunciations of foreign policy, the exposure of abuses and proposals for negotiations. From the other side there are the embedded journalists accompanying the troops and defenses of America's moral standing. There is no book on "How to Make Peace with the Taliban in Six Months or Less"; but that's still coming.
America, like Israel, is magic. It operates as not just a country, but a set of ideals. And ideals make it hard to get your hands in dirty in places like Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.
Countries aren't meant to be magic; they're meant to be places. Places full of houses, farms, factories and all the usual stuff. Fly a flag over the place, write an anthem and make sure that it means, "This is our place and we like it a lot, so please don't put your feet up on the furniture or try to blow it up... or we'll have to kill you."
The national anthem of the United States, like most national anthems, is a long-winded way of expressing that set of thoughts. The Israeli national anthem is still expressing a longing to return to a homeland which it already has. A homeland that quite a few of its residents leave to vacation in Cyprus or run moving companies in New York. A homeland whose biggest problem isn't getting there, but convincing its leaders not to give it away in the name of its ideals.
A sensible anthem for Israel wouldn't remove Zion or Jewish Soul, as the left would like it to, but it would have something in there about "Bombs bursting in air" from the Star-Spangled Banner, a little "O Lord, our God, arise, Scatter her enemies, And make them fall. Confound their politics, Frustrate their knavish tricks," from God Save the Queen, and "To Arms Citizens" from La Marseillaise along with the usual listings of natural features, such as the "coral isle" and "blue lagoon" of Belize, the "salty eastern beaches" of Denmark, the "golden sands" of Fiji and the "luscious fruit" of Sri Lanka; and finally some mention about refusing to be ruled by tyrants ever again.
Such a set of ideals, which amount to, "We have some nice hills and beaches that we like very much, we've kicked out anyone who tried to take them from us before, and with G-d's help, we'll do it again if we have to", are far more sensible and livable. The difference between them and Hatikvah is the difference between sitting on a couch from IKEA and living out of boxes. Dreamers live out of boxes. They also attracts thugs who think they can kick them out because of it.
The Two-State Solution talked up by politicians almost as often as the virtues of diversity, high taxes and filling out government forms, is a solution to the problem of Israel. And the problem of Israel is that it exists and a great many people would rather that it didn't. There are two possible solutions to the problem. One is to go on existing and wait for them to change their minds while humming a tune about the last time someone tried to invade your golden hills with its luscious fruit and blue beaches. Or you can try to convince them to change their minds.
We have expended a great deal of land, lives and dead trees on convincing them to change their minds. And it hasn't worked. The one baseline treaty that Israel signed will be rolled back by Egypt's new cheerfully Islamist government. And still next year there will be four more books arguing that Israel is committed to peace and would love to have peace next week if it were at all possible and four other books insisting that the Jewish Devil State has never wanted peace and only exploits the supposed unwillingness of its enemies to have peace with its vast army of lobbyists, who have thus far somehow failed to sway presidents to stop condemning it for building apartment buildings in its own capital or even convinced Mitt Romney to make the usual false pre-election pledge to move the embassy over to Jerusalem.
The books are part of an industry and industries are built around harvesting and processing stable commodities. If anyone thought that Israel would be at peace tomorrow, next week or next year; the market for pro and con books would suddenly bottom out. Norman Finkelstein, that self-described "Old-Fashioned Communist", would have to try his hand at working for a living, Tony Judt's estate would be forced to republish his essays on Marxism, and Peter Beinart would have to go door-to-door peddling vacuum cleaners or encyclopedias.
The Peace Process is a permanent state of crisis. A Zeno's Paradox in which the Jewish State shoots for peace, and seems to keep getting closer and closer to privileged observers, even as physically the arrow can never reach its target.
To pursue peace is to perpetuate the crisis and the entire publishing industry built around it. It ensures that Peter Beinart, Norman Finkelstein and the rest of the horrible bunch will have more books explaining why Israel is a horrible country because it won't solve the crisis... even though it is entirely within its power. It ensures that Jimmy Carter will drag his senile smirk into more false piety and terrorist toadying-- perhaps with another book deal. And it ensures that two years from now a Secretary of State will icily mention an apartment building in a Jerusalem neighborhood, where Jews, rather than Arabs, live, as the death of all hope for peace.
The only way to solve an unsolvable crisis is to de-crisis it, to stop trying to solve it. To declare that there is no crisis at all to solve and that perhaps all the people trying to solve it should find a real job. Netanyahu, like so many advocates from the right, has tried to prove that peace is impossible by making peace, and then showing that the other side is the obstacle.
That approach hasn't worked now. And that approach will never work. It will not work if a hundred Israeli Prime Ministers offer 99 percent of the country for a hundred years to the radioactive zombie corpse of Yasser Arafat. It will convince the occasional observer of good-will, but it will not convince a single politician, diplomat, journalist or any of the other people who are the actual problem.
Israel can withdraw from every scrap of land that it took back in 1967 and the cries of "End the Occupation" will only grow louder. It can split Jerusalem, split Tel Aviv, split Haifa and split Ben Gurion Airport and there will be forty books on the history shelf next year explaining how the Zionist Devil Entity fueled by lobbyists, tears and racism has deprived the perpetually oppressed peoples of the other half of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and Ben Gurion Airport.
And there will still be no peace. Only the perpetual crisis of constantly being pressured to urgently make peace before, that favorite phrase of diplomats and seriously serious pundits, "time runs out".
Well the time has run out. It ran out a while back.
Israel has to decide whether it wants to live in crisis mode or go back to the way things were before a drunken Prime Minister, whose only qualification for the job is that he once looked good in a military uniform, shook hands with a sleazy Oxford grad who talked a great deal about hope, and a greasy terrorist pedophile, to the brief acclaim of the politicians, diplomats and journalists who hailed the new era of peace. Hasbara is not a solution, it's crisis management, and no amount of publicity or informed responses will offset a crisis; so long as you accept that there actually is a crisis.
The longer the crisis goes on, the worse Israel's position becomes, the lower its morale falls and the fewer options it has. The crisis of unfulfilled peace cannot continue indefinitely and while it does, the only ones who benefit are those who write the books and plant the bombs.
The Jewish State can have the peacetime war of the peace process or the wartime peace of the old status quo. Jabotinsky warned once that it came down to ending the exile or the exile will end you. The ashes prove the truth of his words. Now Israel has another choice, either it will end the peace process or the process will end it.