The ominous quiet in the Middle East

January 23, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

By Rabbi Dow Marmur

JERUSALEM–Years ago when Israeli leaders began to have meetings with Yasser Arafat and his entourage, and later still with his successors, usually under the auspices of the Americans, it was reasonable to assume that peace between Israel and the Palestinians was imminent. It seems that even as late as a year ago, President Obama was under the same impression. It now appears that such optimism was premature. Even Obama admits it.

Though Israel has halted settlement expansion for ten months, a couple of which have already passed, it continues to build in East Jerusalem probably to make sure that a Palestinian state won’t find room in any part of Jerusalem for its capital. And though even a limited gesture by Israel would warrant corresponding moves by Abu Mazen and his team, they’re not budging. Even hopes of getting back Gilad Shalit are fading.

Perhaps most people on both sides are getting used to it. Israel is emerging as an ever stronger economy which assures perhaps the majority of its population that the status quo isn’t bad after all, even without peace. Some of that prosperity is filtering through to the West Bank, where Abu Mazen is the titular head (though not to Gaza, which remains in the grip of Hamas) and this may also contribute to a growing number of Palestinians learning to live with the status quo, however unacceptable it may seem to them on paper. A kind of ominous calm is descending on the region.

Therefore, Israeli politicians who, like all politicians, measure success in short time spans, not in long terms, may be reasonably satisfied that at least their own positions aren’t under any immediate threat. Internal divisions within Israel’s Kadima party indicate that it’s unable to challenge the Netanyahu government. And Hams hasn’t enough wherewithal, not least in view of the stumbling blocks that Egypt is now putting in its way, to topple Abu Mazen’s Fatah faction. Whatever the rhetoric, most people seem to be where they want to be. Another pointer to that ominous calm.

Even the Iranian threat, though still very real, may not endanger Israel as much as feared, because experts say that Iran couldn’t attack Israel without risking the destruction of many Muslims and Muslim sites including the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount. In any case, should the Iranians wish to attack, they’ve bigger fish to fry than Israel, e.g., European targets and American bases. This, in turn means, that, unless its leaders have lost their senses (which is always possible), Israel won’t attack Iran.

And as long as there’s no peace with the Palestinians, there isn’t likely to be much progress in negotiations with Syria. Though Syria’s alliance with Iran is troubling, it doesn’t seem to constitute an immediate threat to Israel. This means that Hezbollah, its proxy in Lebanon, may make a lot of noise but, mercifully, engage in little action.

Trying to follow events here gives the impression that most of what the leaders are saying – the government of Israel; the Palestinian Authority; Syria; Hamas;  Hezbollah – is primarily grandstanding with relatively little substance. If that impression becomes widespread, things may begin to go wrong because of maverick surprise moves that can endanger us all. The calm may indeed become unbearably ominous.

All we can do, I surmise, is to hope that though Obama has now declared that he was too optimistic at first, he won’t give up on the challenge but continue to find ways to move the peace process. Any alternative can only be tolerable in the very short run.

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Rabbi Marmur is spiritual leader emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto.  He now divides his time between Canada and Israel

 

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  1. carol ann goldstein
    January 25, 2010 at 6:09 pm

    “All we can do, I surmise, is to hope that though Obama has now declared that he was too optimistic at first, he won’t give up on the challenge but continue to find ways to move the peace process. Any alternative can only be tolerable in the very short run.”

    I completely agree with this and encourage to push Israel towards a real socially just peace.

  1. January 23, 2010 at 11:06 pm

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