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Why betting people predict failure in Mideast peace talks

September 3, 2010 Leave a comment

By Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–From 1967 to the early 1990s, there was no Palestinian partner for the Israelis to speak with. Israel extended the boundaries of Jerusalem, and created major settlements near Jerusalem and the Tel Aviv metropolitan area. Additional settlements appeared here and there throughout the West Bank. There are now 50-60,000 Jews living in settlements beyond the major blocs, and beyond the security barrier that  represents Israel’s thinking about its eventual borders.

After the flurry of Oslo came the intifada that began in 2000.

The Sharon government withdrew about 8,500 Jews from Gaza in 2005. Perhaps on account of the way it was done (unilaterally without a quid pro quo from the Palestinians), or because of fixed attitudes among Palestinians, the withdrawal was viewed as a sign of Israeli weakness and produced a continued rain of crude missiles.

If the settlements remain as a major problem in negotiations, it should be no surprise. They reflect unrelieved Palestinian rejectionism from 1967 to 1990 as much as Israeli acquisitiveness. The intifada of 2000 and the response to the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 make it easy to believe that the Palestinians have not changed a great deal.

American media, Israeli media, and others have numerous items expressing hope and caution. There is the thoughtful, the superficial, and lots in between. While some are sure that only a final settlement would work, others are convinced that it would be impossible to agree on all of the outstanding issues, and have their own favorite topics for interim agreements meant to build confidence and let the Palestinians continue with their economic development and nation building in the West Bank.

Hamas remains the knottiest Palestinian problem to match those 50-60,000 Jews on the other side of the security barrier in the West Bank.

This week Hamas has claimed credit for two attacks in the West Bank. Today its activists are threatening their superweapon of suicide bombings.

A number of commentators agree that Barack Obama will be too busy to play a personal part in the negotiations. More prominent on his agenda are the American economy, Afghanistan and other places east of Eden, and doing what he can to minimize Democratic losses in November, perhaps by staying away from Democratic candidates who fear his influence on their voters. If this leaves Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to be the Administration’s point person for Israel and Palestine, we can only hope that she does better than she did with health care early in her husband’s presidency. Nuance, coaxing, building consensus, and speaking softly are not her strong points. No woman may be welcome in the inner circles of Arab politics, but that caution does not go over well West of here.

The best of the comments I have seen is an  item in the Washington Post, noting that Israel has a strong government that is capable of making far reaching offers, with substantial public support, and bolstered by an international constituency, while the Palestinians have neither strength nor public support, nor more help than hindrance from other Muslims.

According to Intrade, people willing to bet their own money are acting as if there is only a 5 percent chance of achieving an internationally recognized Palestinian state by the end of 2011, and a 20 percent chance that it will happen by the end of 2012.
Those numbers sound about right.

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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University

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Israelis jockey and make speeches as new peace talks approach

August 28, 2010 1 comment

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM — As I was still wondering who I was early this morning, I heard the 6 o’clock news report that Rabbi Ovadia Yosef had used his weekly sermon to curse the Palestinians and wish an early death for their leaders. “Abu Mazan and all the other evil ones should perish. May the Lord strike them with a plague, them and all those Palestinians who do evil upon Israel.”

The followers of Rabbi Ovadia view him as a holy man and a genius on the law of Torah. He had a term as the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, was the creator of the ultra-Orthodox party SHAS, and remains its spiritual leader. The pious kiss his hands when they are fortunate enough to get close. Political leaders and those who aspire to leadership seek the opportunity to don skull caps and enter the Rabbi’s rooms for a conference and hopefully a blessing.
The Rabbi is about to celebrate his 90th birthday, and is inclined to murky and outlandish comments. Usually one of his handlers is quick to correct or explain something likely to embarrass the community. So far we have not heard from a handler on these comments, perhaps because they are close to the sentiments of other party leaders.
Some years ago Rabbi Ovadia staked out a position of accommodation with the Palestinians. In order to save Jewish lives, it would be appropriate to make territorial concessions. He has returned to that theme, but more often has expressed himself on the hawkish side of the spectrum. He condemned the withdrawal of settlements from Gaza. Eli Yishai, the leader of SHAS MKs and Minister of Interior, is one of the most outspoken members of the government expressing skepticism about the upcoming talks with the Palestinians, and supporting a resumption of building in Jewish settlements throughout the West Bank.
Explanations of SHAS’s move to the right include the wave of violence that began in 2000, and the recognition of their voters’ tendency to distrust Arab intentions. SHAS supporters tend to be working class Israelis from families that came from North Africa, with memories of Arab hostility and being forced from their homes.
If leaders do not follow their supporters, they risk the loss of leadership.
There is also the matter of housing. Ultra-Orthodox Jews have lots of children, who marry young and have lots of children. Land is limited and expensive in the established ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods of Jerusalem and Bnei Brak. When Rabbi Ovadia made his initial comments about territorial concessions to save Jewish lives, there were no ultra-Orthodox settlements in the West Bank. Now there is Betar Ilit and Modiin Ilit, each with tens of thousands of residents and more building underway. Ramat Shlomo is an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in East Jerusalem where plans announced for further construction during Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel upset the Obama administration.
There is pessimism in both Israeli and Palestinian communities in advance of the talks scheduled to be celebrated this week in Washington. 88 percent of the 1,751 people who have so far expressed themselves on a question asked by a popular Hebrew language internet site selected, “The conversations are destined to fail and collapse.” 12 percent chose, “The conversations will reach a formulation for a peace agreement.” 

The Economist expressed guarded optimism about the talks, but noted that “Hamas is still absent from the table. This means that half of the Palestinian movement would not be party to any deal and will try hard to sabotage one.”

The campaign in behalf of the soldier held captive in Gaza also suggests that the Israeli population is more skeptical than optimistic. There were several days of paid commercials urging people to attend a rally in Jerusalem to mark his fifth birthday in captivity, and organizers hired 70 buses to bring people from all parts of the country. One media report noted that hundreds appeared, several mentioned thousands, and one estimated 6,000. The Israeli metric for a serious demonstration begins at 100,000.

Shalit’s mother used her speech at the rally to call on Sara Netanyahu, recently featured as asking her husband not to deport 400 children of illegal immigrants, to show similar concern for Gilad. Sara responded with a comment that her heart went out to the Shalit family, and that the prime minister worked hard to secure his release. The prime minister has indicated repeatedly that Israel would not pay the price demanded by Hamas as long as it included the release of terrorists likely to engage in further violence if set free.
A back bench member of Knesset expressed the hope that the prime minister would raise the issue of Shalit as part of the peace negotiations with the Palestinians. The journalist interviewing her noted that Shalit was held by Palestinians who opposed the peace process. The MK’s response was something like, “I guess that is a problem.”

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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University

Commentary: Transnational loyalties have affected many religious groups

August 27, 2010 Leave a comment

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–The issue of Islam touches a problem with ancient lineage that appears in modern societies that pride themselves on diversity, and suffer from conflicts with people who are both outsiders and insiders.

Josephus describes the civil war between Judeans who identified with the culture of the Romans, and those who rejected any deviation from what they defined as the essence of God’s law. The Roman perspective, like that of Babylonians, Persians, and Greeks before them, was to manage their multi-cultural empire by allowing considerable freedom to its parts, as long as they did not challenge the peak leadership to govern the empire as they saw fit. Keeping the balance was not easy, and failure was among the explanations for the crumbling of one empire after another. The British, French, and Russians have experienced the problem in our lifetime. The Chinese are trying their skills with Tibetans, Muslims, and religious Christians.

It is the task of Barack Obama to maintain the balance between norms of accepting variation between cultures (including religion), and forceful opposition to those who challenge his imperial regime.

The quarrels about the New York mosque touch part of this. Al-Jazeera has focused on the question: how does the American military train its soldiers, who include Muslims, to fight at a time when all the wars are against Muslims in one place or another? Al-Jazeera quotes a soldier who says, “Islamophobia Pervades U.S. Military’; ‘The Training We Get and the Information That We Are Subject To – Constitute Propaganda Against Islam”  
 
The issue appeared in World War II, although without the emphasis on religion, per se. After a debate as to whether to enlist them at all, the US Army accepted Japanese-American volunteers, kept them in one unit, and sent them to Italy. The issue did not arise about Americans with German ancestry. If it had, there would have been a problem in sending Dwight Eisenhower to Europe.

Israel faces the problem in connection with its non-Jews. Early on, the leadership of the Druze community offered its sons to be drafted, and most of them serve without ethnicity becoming an issue. During the fighting with Lebanon, however, some asked whether Israeli Druze should be sent against Lebanese Druze. Another problem involves the Druze of the Golan who identify with Syria. As Private Sharkansky, I once traveled from lecture to lecture in Lebanon alongside a Bedouin who manned the machine gun on the back of my jeep. A Druze lieutenant colonel said that he considered himself army property whenever he wore his uniform.

My father served with the US Army in France during World War I, against Varda’s grandfather in the German army. Her Uncle Albert was a sniper who once was aiming at a French soldier. The armies were close, and he heard the Frenchman saying his morning prayers, “Shema Yisrael . . .” Uncle Albert did not fire.
When I conveyed this to a Jewish colonel teaching at West Point, I gathered that he did not like the story. It goes down well in Israel.

Slogans and platitudes do not solve the most difficult matters. Most people think and speak in slogans and platitudes, but neither are likely to offer the sensitivity and nuances required. Absolutes do not help. The United States is fighting Islam, even if its leadership does all it can to resist that idea. It also must maintain working relationships with Muslim countries, and provide a decent environment for the Muslims living in the United States.

I am back to my guiding concept of coping. It does not provide details about how to deal with problems, except to emphasize that there are no simple ways to solve them once and for all times. Balance rather than proclamations, subtlety of management, low flame, compromise, and half a loaf. Final solution is a term that must be avoided at all cost.

None of this is easy. Armies and other large organizations must work on the principle of simplicity. It is essential to giving orders that are clear, and assuring that all the troops operate in concert. In domestic affairs, it is important that low level bureaucrats deal with similar cases in similar fashion.

I am pretty sure that Uncle Albert did not tell his superiors about the French soldier he did not kill.
It is at the crucial points of extreme sensitivity where simplicity must give way to nuance and flexibility. Not on the battlefield or the social service office where agreed upon actions are to be implemented. But where it is appropriate to explain actions to a complex audience in a way to minimize the need to engage in further combat.

There are times when it is necessary to fight. The task of the IDF is to train nice Jewish boys to do ugly things. Arab violence against Jews, and then 9-11 have provided their lessons to Israel, the United States, and others.

There is no shortage of Muslims, from the Middle East, Europe, and the United States, who are arguing that the location of the mosque near Ground Zero is not likely to serve the interests of Muslims in the United States or elsewhere. We will see how their fear of escalating phobia against Islam plays out against the insistence of the promoters and supporters who have invested their egos in slogans about religious freedom and property rights.

The United States military will continue to battle Muslims, and train its soldiers how to kill the enemy while devoting some of the training to religious tolerance. Israel will continue to employ Druze and other Arabs in the IDF, while seeking to preserve the balance between a democracy that honors civil rights and a country that is primarily Jewish.

Simpletons of the world–It isn’t for you.
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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University

Words of controversy: It’s ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ to some, ‘Cordoba House’ to others

August 26, 2010 Leave a comment

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM– The Ground Zero Mosque as its opponents call it, or Cordoba House according to its promoters, has become a mirror of  politics in the United States and elsewhere, and not always the best of those politics. Bottom feeders in New York see strong opposition as their best road to a nomination. Some who claim a posture of high principle do not go beyond the slogans of religious freedom or property rights to the problem that there are no rights without limits.

Relevant here is the counter slogan against those who would call fire in a crowded theater. A song in the style of American country music shows that the issue has gone far beyond New York City. Europeans are chiming in to focus on American naivite, and urging the sane to do something like their own campaigns against large mosques proposed for city centers.

Somewhere is a report that the project has only been able to raise $18,000. Insofar as the total cost is estimated at $100 million, the issue of money has been a prominent topic of speculation. The promoter has not ruled out relying on money from Saudi Arabia or some other Middle Eastern source. That raises the possibility that it may come from some of the pockets that paid for 9-11, making that tragic event into a project of urban renewal that will produce a Muslim icon in lower Manhattan instead of the World Trade Center.

Trust is an element in the controversy.

Important to those supporting the project is the notion of Islam as a religion that deserves protection in the fabrics of American society and politics. Some have signed on to the concept of Abrahamic religions to replace Judeo-Christian as the inclusive adjective for the United States. The word has an attractive ring, but I am not aware of how many Muslims subscribe to something that considers their faith as only one among equals. Also, Abrahamic religions does not include Hindus and others who may be as well represented as Muslims among immigrants who came to the United States since the 1960s.

Opponents do not deny that Islam is a religion, but they assert that it is associated with a political agenda, ancient and modern violence, and aspirations to dominate wherever it can. The principal promoter of the mosque, Feisal Abdul Rauf, has caused problems for those who admire him by refusing to speak clearly about funding, or to condemn Islamic groups widely identified as terrorist, like Hamas and Hizbollah.

Rauf has sought to convey an Islam that is not aggressive toward others, but skeptics doubt that his sentiments will assure that the lessons taught over the years in the community center, and the sermons offered in the mosque will overcome other themes that have been more prominent in Islam.

Accommodationists have endorsed the rights of the Muslims to create something like Cordoba House, without putting it on what many view as the sacred location of Ground Zero. President Obama backed off from an endorsement offered at a Ramadan ceremony to express his concerns about the wisdom of that location. The archbishop of New York indicated that he had no strong feelings about the project, but that it was his “major prayer” that a compromise could be reached.

He refered to the actions of Pope John Paul II in ordering Catholic nuns to relocate a convent from the location of the Auschwitz death camp in response to protests from Jewish leaders. According to the archbishop, “He’s the one who said, ‘Let’s keep the idea, and maybe move the address’ . . . It worked there; might work here.”

Intrade is a pari-mutual internet site that accepts bets and adjusts the odds about a large number of public events. On the subject of “Construction of ‘Ground Zero mosque’ to commence before midnight ET 30 Jun 2011,” the odds shifted during August from showing a bit over 60 percent positive probability to only 20 percent positive probability.

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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University

Direct peace talks will share Israeli dinner conversations with those about IDF, extremist rabbis and errant academics

August 21, 2010 Leave a comment
By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–While the big news of the day is the impending start of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, to open with a blessing by Barack Obama, the news that has held Israel in its grip for two weeks is a document purported to influence the selection of the next commander of the IDF.

The document became public when trumpeted on one of the commercial television channels with a taste for yellow journalism. While I have not been able to locate the text of the document, there has been no end of commentary about it. Moralists condemn the appearance of a plot claiming to be the work of a professional public relations firm, laying out plans to influence the public, governmental officials, and key military officers in order to affect the selection of the next commander. 
The document may be a parody of the maneuvering that typically surrounds those occasions every four or five years when it is necessary to appoint the next commander of the IDF or the head of the national police. The obvious candidates, and individuals who feel themselves close to them and perhaps hoping for an eventual boost to their own careers, line up potential supporters in order to influence the government ministers with responsibility for nominating their chosen candidate to the entire government for the formal selection.

Both the IDF and the national police are led by a collection of Alpha Males with the talent and the elbows to get where they have gotten, and who aspire to go further.

Parody: a work created to mock or make fun by means of humorous, satiric or ironic imitation. 
Commentators have not been able to agree whether the figure prominently mentioned in the document is the person meant to be selected, or if the campaign is really meant to tarnish his reputation and render him unfit for selection. 
If the document it is a parody or a serious attempt at strategy, it has stepped on sensitive toes. The IDF is as close to the principal icon of civic religion as can be found in this hotbed of cynicism. The lieutenant colonel who has been identified as the likely source of the document is currently on vacation overseas. If and when he returns home, he can expect to be brought to the police station from the airport for questioning. 
Two other hiccups in the national culture have also occupied us.
One is a rabbi’s publication of a treatise that is said to identify the conditions when it is permissible according to religious law to kill a non-Jew. The police have summoned the rabbi for an investigation under the heading of incitement to racism, while a number of prominent rabbis have supported his refusal to appear. The debates are a bit murky to outsiders. Most of the rabbis who have spoken up distance themselves from the book in question. Some say that they regret its publication. However, they stand along with the author for his right to express his view of religious law, which he reaches according to conventional rabbinical exegesis. They are willing to let him play in his corner of the rabbinical garden, while letting the rest of us know that he is an outlier and should not be taken seriously. 
The problem is that Yigal Amir learned a bit of religious law and tradition in the yeshiva of Bar Ilan University, and extrapolated his understanding to a justification for killing Yitzhak Rabin. 
Two centuries before Christ, ancient rabbis had already neutralized “eye for an eye,”  death penalties, and other draconian provisions that can be found in the Hebrew Bible. Jesus preached what they ruled, and the early Christians who wrote the New Testament gave him credit for what they called new doctrines that they used to contrast with, and demonize Judaism.
The Talmud documents the rabbinic modifications and cancellations of what appears in Torah, but there are some who have not accepted the message.. There is enough that is dangerous in the attic of Judaism to be wary of fanaticism. The rabbi who published the book justifying the killing of non-Jews under certain circumstances presents the impression of a scholarly impotent, but the words he has written may stimulate those inclined to madness.
The other hiccup in these dog days of August appears elsewhere on the ideological spectrum, A movement from  the right has taken aim at university departments of sociology (at Tel Aviv University) and political science (at Ben Gurion University) for being under the control of anti-Israeli leftists. They have demanded that university administrators fire the ideologues, and threaten to urge donors to avoid contributing to any university that fails to purge the errant. In response, every university president interviewed on the subject has stood fast on academic freedom, emphasizing the professional criteria employed in selecting and promoting individuals through the academic ranks.
One suspects that this will blow over, along with the other issues. People will return from vacations in time for the start of school on September 1, and the country will go back to something approaching the Israeli normal.
No doubt that there are extremists in the universities as well as among the rabbis of Israel. However, a purge of either community led by outsiders is not in the cards. Just as leading rabbis have condemned their colleague while arguing for his right to write as he wishes, so university personnel know how to deal with individuals who go over the edge of good sense. There are islands of madness in Israeli universities, just as there are islands of madness exist in other academic centers. Religious and academic madness are among the prices paid for religious and academic freedom. Both allow the mad the freedom to demonstrate peculiarities to their colleagues and students. Occasionally there is damage, sometimes a tragedy like the assassination of Rabin, but more often there is a recognition of those who are extreme and their isolation by ridicule or silence.
The big news of impending negotiations between Israel and Palestine has produced yawns, shrugs, and doubts from a wide range of commentators. According to a prominent article in the New York Times:

The American invitation on Friday to the Israelis and Palestinians to start direct peace talks in two weeks in Washington was immediately accepted by both governments. But just below the surface there was an almost audible shrug. There is little confidence — close to none — on either side that the Obama administration’s goal of reaching a comprehensive deal in one year can be met.  
Just to mention a few of the knottiest of issues: Palestinian adherence to the pre-1967 armistice lines and the rights of refugees, along with their extremists who insist that those are illegitimate concessions, against Israelis who are not sure about what to do with 50,000 Jews scattered throughout the West Bank, intense distrust of Palestinians, and insistence that any Palestinian state be de-militarized and that Israel control the Jordan Valley.

It will take a miracle equivalent to the parting of the Red Sea or virgin birth to deal with these issues, even beyond the year that the Obama White House has alloted to the process. One should never say never in this land that has claimed great events in the past, but one can guess that a year and more from now commentators will be arguing as to who should be assigned the greater fault for the failure of the talks, or for making the Middle East even more dangerous than it was earlier. Already one can expect who will assign responsibility to the Palestinians, who to the Israelis, and who to the Americans.
On the other hand, the place that saw the reincarnation of Jesus, Mohammed’s ascent to heaven, and the rebirth of Israel may yet have something else to show the world. 
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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University.

Commentary:Ground Zero mosque controversy confronts political correctness

August 18, 2010 Leave a comment

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–The issue of the New York City mosque near ground zero has awakened discussion of that big gorilla in the American living room. Despite all the platitudes slung back and forth about religious freedom and the separation of church and state, and the assertion that the problem of terror is not Islam, the gorilla will not go away.

Americans who write to me are strongly disinclined to see the reality, but they are already in the forefront of the battle in behalf of western civilization. It may not be mentionable in polite society, but a religious survey will not turn up many Christians or Jews among the enemy fighters killed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen, or still kept prisoner in Guantanamo.

The Soviet Union spent great amounts of blood and treasure dealing with Islamic radicalism in Afghanistan, just over the border of its own Muslim republics. It encountered not the cooperation of the United States, but the active opposition of American arms and money. The result may have advanced the end of the Cold War and entered the books as an American victory, but what was left behind turned against the United States. The Russians are still hurting in the Caucasus and elsewhere. Like others, they are disinclined to say that the problem is Islam, per se.. The New York Times reports the latest chapter in this story.

Dissembling may be necessary when dealing with an issue as explosive as religion. Christians and Jews can become feisty when public figures attack values held dear like homosexuality, abortion, Christmas trees, Easter eggs, Chanukah, or ritual slaughter, but they are nothing like sword waving and suicide belt wearing Muslims.

Scholars can find hateful doctrines in all the monotheistic religions, but those of Judaism and Christianity are historic relics. There are rogue rabbis who write about the conditions when it is proper to overlook the suffering of goyim, and priests who insist that the Jews really were the killers of Christ, but they are far from typical. Aggressive elements of Islam may not be statistically dominant among the faithful, but they are loud, arguably ascendant, and in control of fighters, governments, and armies in enough places to be more than a nuisance.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, prominent among the promoters of Cordoba House, has compiled a thick file of endorsements and doubts. Ambiguous comments about Hamas and American responsibility for violent Islamic anti-Americanism leave some wondering about his moderation, and the kinds of lessons that will be taught in the mosque and classrooms that he wants to build.

Dealing with Islam, or any other aggressive religious group is not simple in a society that prides itself on openness, tolerance, and moderation.

Israel suffers the disadvantage of being in the midst of a Muslim region, and having attracted the enmity of jihadists and their friends. It also has the advantage of long experience, and a willingness to invest heavily in intelligence gathering and defense. Critics speak out in embarrassment and anger about what their government does, but supporters are more numerous than doubters.

Israeli authorities know what is said in the mosques after Friday prayers. They pressure clerics who go over the line of what is acceptable. The police assemble in their thousands when the word is that something might happen. They announce that young men will not be allowed to enter the Old City, and put an observation blimp overhead. One of the most excitable clerics has been questioned about his incitement, arrested, tried, banished from Jerusalem, and imprisoned. An even more excitable cleric, based in Gaza, was sent to his Paradise by the IDF.

It is easier for Americans and Western Europeans to deal with rogue religious movements far from home, while telling their citizens that the issue is not Islam. There may be no better way of dealing with this problem while denying that it exists.

Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, and the stork also serve noble purposes.

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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University

Commentary: Palestinians, Israelis ever so slowly being pushed by U.S. into direct talks

August 17, 2010 Leave a comment

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM– Israel and Palestine may be inching, crawling, or sidestepping toward direct, face to face negotiations. 

We have heard this before. It is a long and contorted road even to the beginning of talks. Neither side appears to be enthusiastic. They are being pushed by the pathetically naive, led by the champion of brazen optimism who is trying to outdo his predecessor by choosing peace in the Holy Land over democracy in Iraq as an icon of foreign policy. European leaders can do no less than add their voices to that of a president with the status to define what is politically correct. Those in power hope that a miracle will occur quickly enough for them to claim credit.

What is shaping up is a call to negotiations from a quartet that includes representatives of Europe, Russia, the US and the UN with parameters favorable to the Palestinians. It is said to include the 1967 boundaries as the basis of negotiations, and a continuing freeze on Israeli construction over that line. Israel has already rejected those conditions, but may be willing to accept an invitation from the United States that is less unfriendly.

One can guess about the prospects of discussions that neither side wants, and which begin with each claiming to be operating according to different invitations. For Palestinians, the 1967 lines represent their major hope of rescuing something from an area shrinking and cut up with the settlements of Jews they do not want living among them.

Also important to the Palestinians is a continuation of a freeze in the building of settlements. They are also talking about a freeze in what they call Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, but one can reach a high level of skepticism about any chance of achieving that detail. A continuation of the freeze over 1967 boundaries outside of Jerusalem will be difficult enough, given the intensity of the opposition in the polity that counts for more than the Palestinian and perhaps more even than that in Washington.

Recent news is that settlers and their friends have approvals for 5,000 housing units ready to be unfrozen in September, and will not tolerate a continuation of a freeze that has failed to show any tangible results with respect to its contribution to peace.

One can only wonder at the importance of 1967 or any other date in a conflict between peoples that was already apparent to the authors of the Books of Joshua and Judges, whenever it was that they began to tell their stories.

“The Israelites lived among the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. They took their daughters in marriage and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served their gods.” (Judges 3:5)
Today there are considerable personal interactions, cooperation in the workplace and the universities, more mutual tolerance in Jewish than Arab neighborhoods, along with few romances or conversions in the directions of Islam or Judaism.
The boundaries of Jerusalem have changed several times since the British arrived in 1917, and many times before then. The walls around the Old City reflect the lines defined by the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent in the 1530s. They are only one of several walled arrangements meant to protect a city whose shape changed going back at least to the time of David.

Conceptions of “Palestine” are fuzzier. The bombast of activists represent their efforts to find some basis for a national claim in what can fairly be described as a backwater of empires thinly populated by diverse and quarreling families.

No doubt that all national claims–including those of the Jews–rest on contentious narratives more often spiritual than factual in nature. The Bible, Talmud, numerous other writings, and the success of modern Israel represent the Jews’ claims to legitimacy. It will take some time to see if the Palestinians can achieve the status of other Arab countries. The records achieved by Gaza and the West Bank indicate that the phrase “Arab democracy” will remain an oxymoron even if the Palestinians do accomplish something.

We should expect maneuvering rather than anticipate anything like a breakthrough. Part of the playbook we can write already. There will be some further hemming and hawing by the principals, with each adhering to its own rules of the game. Palestinians will emphasize those 1967 boundaries and maybe a settlement freeze; Israelis will insist that they are beginning negotiations without preconditions. If things go well, overseas sponsors may invite the principals to a party on the White House lawn, or some other ceremonial venue where they declare a breakthrough and their commitment to helping the parties reach an agreed solution within a short period of time.

The principals will put on their  frozen smiles and express mutual commitments to settling disputes peacefully, or maybe their stern faces and commitments to what those loyal to each side will see as a reaffirmation of well known principles.

Given Muslim sensitivities, the refreshments will feature fruit juice rather than wine.

Beyond these details, my predictive capacity weakens. After a brief flurry of daily bulletins, it is likely that the weather will provide more interesting news. Americans will concern themselves with who will win and lose by how much thanks to the president’s health reform, as well as the World Series and the endless parade of college sports. For Europeans there will be a new season of football.
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Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University.