The two reluctant Mideast negotiators

by Ant Katz | Dec 02, 2013

Having been virtually ignored by the international media, and even by the Jewish media to a surprising extent, the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks is now drawing to a close.

In contrast to the detailed reporting on previous such initiatives, with the accompanying ebb and flow of debate and speculation over how the complex issues on the table might be resolved, the media has generally been distinctly apathetic about the whole business. In part, no doubt, they are taking their cue from the parties themselves.

Neither the Israeli nor the Palestinian side really wanted to be there; both were more or less compelled by international pressure, spearheaded with the best of intentions by the Americans. The image that comes to mind is of two brawling schoolboys glowering at one another while their well-meaning but naïve teacher tells them to shake hands and be friends. 

When the talks finally have run their inevitably unsuccessful course, there will be the usual apportioning of blame. “Settlements” will be the Palestinians excuse; Israel will make much of the continuous, state-sponsored and apparently escalating incitement against it in the Palestinian territories.

The reality is that even the maximum concessions that Israel can safely make, fall well short of the minimum that the Palestinian Authority might be willing to settle for. I say “might”, since the latter have no real intention ever of abandoning its dream of Israel being eventually eradicated altogether, even if it does put its signature to a final status peace agreement. Nor do the Israelis by and large harbour any lingering illusions on that score.

Having been thoroughly double-crossed during the Oslo years, they know now that when their neighbours speak of “Palestine”, they do not just mean Ramallah, Jenin, Jericho and Nablus, but Haifa, Jerusalem and the Galilee as well. Hamas, of course, has never made any secret about this; it is the supposedly more moderate Fatah that engages in double-speak with an eye to keeping the world media on side, which makes it that much more dangerous.

So far as Israel’s oft-stated willingness to make territorial concessions for peace goes, how is one to interpret it in light of recent developments? In reality, there is a growing body of opinion that sees the “two-state solution” as being unachievable and the eventual annexation of most (or even all) of the West Bank as being the most realistic long-term solution.

Those who hold such a view, moreover, are not necessarily Meretz-type leftists but are often found on the religious right.

If the Palestinians want Jerusalem, the Jews want Hebron; if Haifa and Tel Aviv are in reality Arab (and Muslim) territories illegally occupied by Zionists, then Bethlehem and Shechem are Jewish historical centres not yet liberated from the Arab-Islamic colonial yoke.

Over the past decade or so, in the course of continually confronting in my professional life the brazen falsehoods and distortions about my history and heritage, I have (emotionally, at any rate) come to identify with this view. Now, I begrudge the Arab newcomers (which, in the broader sweep of Middle East history is what they are) every last square inch of the Holy Land.

At the same time, though, I realise that if an Arab resident of Hebron asked me how I could possibly deny him his moral right to call the land of his birth his own, I would have no coherent answer. Nor would I be able to convincingly assert my own intense feeling of ownership for the Land of Israel, living as I do in another continent with none of my recent forebears having come from there.

Ultimately, my identification with the land comes down to my religious convictions, which one can hardly expect non-Jewish Palestinians to dutifully accede to.

Over the past few weeks, the weekly Torah readings have primarily focused on events in Eretz Yisrael going back to the dawn of Jewish history. The six parshot from Lecha Lecha through to Vayishlach, are very largely about events that took place within the borders of the land, with only occasional ventures into Egypt and Aram (Syria).

On a number of occasions, all three patriarchs receive Divine assurances that the land will be given to them and their descendants as an eternal inheritance. Here’s the thing, though: of the 12 sons of Yaakov, who constituted the Jewish nation in embryo, all but Binyamin were born outside Israel. Even more striking is the fact that the time they actually spent living within Israel’s borders before leaving permanently for Egypt was very short – no more than 30 years.

Joseph was there for only eight. From Vayeishev onwards, the Torah increasingly deals with events taking place outside Israel, exclusively so in its last four books. Eventually, Jacob’s descendants did settle in the land, yet even then their actual possession thereof was seldom unchallenged and, of course, it all ended in mass expulsion by the dominant empires of the day.

Overall, one finds that in the 3 500 or so years of recorded history commencing with Jacob’s family, Jews have been in actual possession of the Promised Land for less than a quarter of that time.

The years 1948 and 1967 marked a partial return, but to this day we still must await the complete fulfilment of the promises made to our ancestors.


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