Israel, living in a state of denial

Does the mere act of having hope deserve the indignation of others or attempts to purge you of your love not only for your homeland, but also for humanity itself? This question comes to my mind when I remember what I have seen over the years—and what I am still seeing today—of the accusations and suspicions facing anyone vehemently opposed to the barbarity of war.

Last Monday U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice defended U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who had come under attack from Israeli politicians. Rice described the personal attack on Kerry as “totally unfounded and unacceptable.” She was responding to Israeli politicians who criticized Kerry for his remarks at the Munich Security Conference hinting at a U.S. boycott of Israel if current Middle East peace efforts failed.

Rice said Kerry remained “committed to negotiations that can secure Israeli and Palestinian futures,” adding that the U.S. government “has been clear and consistent that we reject efforts to boycott or delegitimize Israel.”

As is well known, this is not the first time U.S. and Israeli politicians have clashed—and neither will it be the last. However, if Kerry’s peace efforts fail, will it be the final nail in the coffin of the Palestinian–Israeli peace process? I’m not a big fan of making definitive judgments in one’s articles, leaving no room for possible developments. However, it is obvious that the failure of Kerry’s efforts will indeed add yet another nail in the coffin of the Palestinian–Israeli peace process, one of many that could have been avoided by politicians but which was instead appropriated to damage the peace process, which was received with jubilation by the majority of both populations.

We all know the story of the folkloric character Mullah Nasruddin, known in Arabic as Joha, who agrees to sell his house on the condition that he is allowed to hammer a nail into one of its walls. When the buyer agrees, Nasruddin adds another condition: that the nail must stay where it was hammered, neither moving up nor down, nor left or right. Again, the buyer agrees. What difference could one nail make? But Nasruddin adds yet another condition: that he may visit the nail to check on it whenever he likes. By this point, the buyer is perplexed, but agrees nonetheless to this final condition. Nasruddin happily takes the buyer’s money, hands him the keys to the house and then goes off to the market. When he returns only hours later, he knocks loudly on the door— holding the buyer to the promise. And so on it goes; Nasruddin develops a habit of visiting his nail every day. Frustrated with the deal, the man eventually decides to leave the house to him.

Expressing the pain

Of course, I do not mean to be frivolous here. The reason I mention this story is to express the pain I have been through as I see people on both sides of the conflict unable to live side by side in peace. Of course, neither I nor anyone has the right to poke fun at the demands of the Palestinians or the Israelis. No rational Israeli can view the Palestinian right of return as a nail aimed at undermining a settlement. On the other hand, no Palestinian can consider Israel’s security fears a mere pretext. In fact, both demands deserve to be seriously considered by both sides. At the same time, observers, analysts and writers have the right to seriously discuss the way each of the two sides has been dealing with the other’s demands.

It is unlikely that Kerry’s peace efforts will work miracles and reach a final settlement between the Palestinians and Israelis

Bakir Oweida

It can be said that legitimizing each of the two sides’ demands is not in itself an obstacle. However, when both sides fail to show flexibility, logical demands or historical rights become an obstacle to reaching a settlement.

It is unlikely that Kerry’s peace efforts will work miracles and reach a final settlement between the Palestinians and Israelis. Some may ask: “What is the point, then?” Some may answer: “Trying won’t hurt.” In fact, failure of Kerry’s efforts will disappoint those hoping for the normal life all people deserve in the 21st century, including Palestinians and Israelis. However, the failure of a potential peace settlement will be good news to those, be they Palestinians or Israelis, who can only imagine an Armageddon-like scenario.

Full of Palestinians

Last week I watched Braveheart, the famous movie about the Scottish fight for independence. One remark by King Edward I of England caught my attention: “The trouble with Scotland is that it’s full of Scots,” he says in the movie, to the manic laughter of his entourage. But what he said is no laughing matter. And, perhaps, one can apply the remark to anyone occupying someone else’s land by force.

Soon, despite living in a state of self-denial, the Israelis will realize that Palestine is full of Palestinians. This is not to mention those filling refugee camps in neighboring countries and the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced around the world. The Palestinians also will be surprised that Israel is indeed full of Israelis, who are Jews whether or not the Palestinian authority recognizes it.

One may say that I am running the risk of angering many on both sides. I know that, and their resentment may hound me to the grave, but I still hope that in 2048, when Israel celebrates its 100th anniversary, my grandson will lead a normal life side by side with other Israeli children without them fearing each other.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Feb. 7, 2014.

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Bakir Oweida is a journalist who has worked as Managing Editor, and written for several Arab publications based in London. His last executive post was Assistant to Editor-in-Chief of Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, responsible for the Opinions section, until December 2003. He can be reached on bakir@hotmail.co.uk and bakir@darbakir.com

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