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Some hard realities of negotiations and politics

November 28, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

By Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–In response to a recent column, an American friend wrote the following:


“In other words, you are saying that the Israeli gesture is not a good faith
effort to restart peace talks. Isn’t that what the Israelis have done before
when they offered “concessions” they knew were inadequate and not
acceptable to the Palestinians so they could claim to be the good guys
while really sabotaging meaningful negotiations?”

This response is not too different from others I have seen, which accuse Israel of taking advantage of its power in order to preserve its advantages.

Most likely true, and understandable.

My friend is retired from a career in the financial sector. I doubt that he negotiated any differently than Israeli officials, seeking to preserve or enhance his opportunities or those of his employer. If he did not seek the advantage of his employer, most likely he was violating his trust.

In my own career, which included several years of teaching and writing about religion and politics, I have encountered several people who told me about contacts with angels, or messengers from heaven. I have neglected to ask such people how angels negotiate, or if they do negotiate. Perhaps they are not self serving. Or they may negotiate as toughly as worldly folks, in their case concerned to preserve or enhance the power of the Lord.

From everything I know about politics, I expect that politicians are concerned to preserve or enhance their status, and that of their constituents. Indeed, they would be violating their public trust if they did not concern themselves with their constituents’ interests.

In other words, most Israelis do not vote for politicians who will serve Palestinians, and it is up to the Palestinians to serve their own interests.

Now we have come to the knotty problem of how two communities in a decades long struggle should look after themselves.

Not be maximizing short term advantages. Neighbors have to make concessions to one another in order to live peacefully.

As I have written in several columns, the Israeli record appears to be fair. Its elected leaders have offered concessions to the Palestinians, usually against what substantial segments of the Israeli population wants. The settlers and their supporters have the rights of citizens to express themselves, and to use their votes to select individuals who will serve their interests.

Here and elsewhere in politics, we should not fool ourselves into thinking we are talking about absolute rights and wrongs. Even in the Holy Land, the Lord has absented himself since Malachi, according to the Jewish tradition. The Almighty has left us to get on with it as we see best.

The Palestinian pattern, since the 1930s, is to maximize their demands, to rely on others to pressure the Jews to deliver, and to reject compromise.

As I understand politics and business, individuals who demand everything or nothing usually get nothing.

It’s us who are doing the work. As noted above, we do not know how angels would do it.

In the same note, my American friend also recalled a report I have made several times:

You have referenced 4% support for Obama in Israel. Does this include
all Israeli citizens or just Jewish Israelis? If the latter, you are deliberately
creating “facts” out of whole cloth. Or is that only Jewish citizens of
Israel count?

Again, my friend seems to be looking for angels where none are likely to be found.

Of course only the Jews count. Again, the explanation is political. Almost all the people who vote for parties likely to join the government are Jews. The vast majority of Arabs vote for anti-establishment parties, whose Knesset members spend their time slamming the government as unjust. Unlike American minorities, they do not play the game of going along in order to get along. They do not trade political support for concessions.

The Arabs of Jerusalem are in a separate category. They were offered citizenship after the 1967 war, and very few accepted it. As local residents they can vote in municipal elections. But for their own nationalistic reasons, usually about 90 percent boycott the elections.

Another rule of politics is that you get what you vote for. If you don’t vote, you don’t get. If you vote for parties that refuse to deal with the government, you also don’t get.

So in talking about the Israelis who feel Obama is supporting them, why bother to count the Arabs?

Tough talk? Politics is not for the innocent. It is the best way of dealing with dispute. If leaders of a community want something from a democracy, they should not expect gifts. They have to use the power of their votes wisely. Otherwise they will remain on the sidelines with nothing more than occasional screams of injustice.

No one with power is likely to listen. Especially if the community shouting injustice has a history of violence against those who do control things.

Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University

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