I’ve become increasingly irritated of late listening to President Obama, former American ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurzer, and various Israeli politicians proclaiming that the road to peace now requires Bibi Netanyahu to make a concrete offer. Had Israel been dragging its heels to come to the negotiating table, placing absurd roadblocks to the talks (like the freezing of Arab building in Jerusalem), or naming town squares after Baruch Goldstein, I could understand the need to pressure him to lighten up. But Israel hasn’t been doing any of those things.
Instead, Obama tells Bibi he must present his own plan for peace, but without presenting any more preconditions. These include, presumably, stopping the preaching and teaching of Jew-hatred, stopping naming of town squares after mass murderers (and murderesses), and disarming terrorists–forever. Yet somehow, nothing is demanded of the Arabs.
This is not new. It’s actually a continuation of the status quo. I listened to an interview with Harvard professor Ruth Wisse by Mordechai I. Twersky recently that helps explain the reasons why Israel can’t seem to get any peace, and while she waxes eloquent on the use of anti-Semitism in Arab society to wage war against Israel and avoid the self-examination and embrace of tolerance that could lift up Arab society from the medieval mud it’s stuck in, she also observes that Israel’s plight is not just the fault of the Arabs. Some of it is pressure from third-party sources like Obama and Europe which accept a paradigm of the situation which says that this is a war between equals over a piece of land, with Israel the more powerful of the two sides, and therefore the side better positioned to offer concessions. Another piece is the worldview of the Jews which makes us feel compelled to find solutions to problems, even when we can’t. Professor Wisse says,
I’ve called Jews a failed polity in the past very reluctantly because my main point is that Jews cannot solve the problems of which they are accused, and that’s the dilemma in which Jews have found themselves for many, many centuries and find themselves in today in a different form. How can we solve the Arab situation? How can we make them accept the State of Israel? What can we do? What can we do? And it’s such a natural desire to solve this question because of course the aggression is being aimed mostly at you. I think that the first thing that has to be recognized is that you are the last people who can do anything about this aggression. The only way you can help is to make sure that the aggressor understands that he will never defeat you. And if you can do anything to change the aggressor’s need for that aggression, if you can persuade the aggressor that that aggression is ultimately detrimental to him, then I think you have a chance. But so far, neither Israel nor the Jewish people has ever understood its role in politics sufficiently to be able to begin that enterprise.
I think Wisse articulates this problem well. Strange as it seems, Israel seems to be held responsible for solving its own problems as well as those of the Arabs around it, as though they are somehow helpless, infantile, and lacking in any resources at all (despite the decades of handouts they’ve received from the world community). The fact that Israel withdrew from Gaza, leaving behind infrastructure for the Arabs to use to build their own nascent state went unnoticed or has been long forgotten.
Wisse observes that the expectation that the Arabs improve their own lot is often perceived as pessimistic. People “think that it is more optimistic to hold Israel responsible. … If I really insist that the problem begins in this unilateral aspect of the conflict and that it’s the Arabs who have to decide that they will give up this instrument of their politics, it seems pessimistic because it’s going to take a long time for the Arab world to change in that respect. But I would say that I’m the optimist because I really do expect the Arab world to change.”
Listen to the whole interview here. She has fascinating things to say about the current flotilla, the Arab Spring, her own study of Yiddish literature, what she calls “the history of Jewish mistakes,” and how Jews should endeavor to be less humorous.