First, the easy one. Please read David Broder's "Voter's Authentic Yearning" at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/10/AR2006051001790.html. It makes points I and others have been saying for some time now. Most people are looking for politicians that will, ya know, deal honestly with us and act from real convictions. This is why Tim Kaine won in VA. He spoke honestly and sincerely about his religious Catholic upbringing, his personal feelings on abortion and the death penalty, and his complex and highly nuanced views on the relationship between his personal feelings and his responsibility as governor to follow the law of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Democrats and Republicans both respected his conviction and the complexity of his arguments, which ran completely counter to the "dumb it down" philosophy that has permeated political campaigning. True, he lost votes on either end of the spectrum, but gained much in the middle.
Now for the Israel piece to piss everyone off. Please read this excellent op ed by Robert Eisen, "Moslems and Jews: Common Ground" http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/08/AR2006050801388.html.
First to piss off my Tziony friends. Eisen makes a point I've made many times in conversation but never had time to blog: the problem in the middle east is not even agreeing on relevant facts -- although Lord knows there is enough problems there to. No, the problem is that even when the parties agree on the facts, the parties put radically different interpretations on them.
Worse, the conflict is so intense, so personalized, that to even acknowledge the interpetation of facts by the other side, never mind acknowledging any rationality behind it, is often considered treason. To expand a bit on what Eisen is talking about, consider the following view of history.
The resuscitation of Israel as a country is a culmination of history and, if one is religious, religious salvation. Since the destruction of the Jewish state in Israel by the Romans and the forcible exile of the Jewish people to hostile lands, we have prayed for this redemption. It has been incorporated into our prayers and our hopes for 2000 years.
That's all very nice, but you guys fought and lost 2000 years ago. As for religious claims to theland -- your religious claims are null and void. As The Prophet, May Allah be content with him, makes clear in the Qu'uran, Allah, the mercifull and compasionate, gave you guys a chance at being the chosen people. You blew it. Then he sent the prophet Jesus (may Allah be content with him) to the Christians, who blew it. So Allah sent Mohamad to us and gave us the Qu'ran. Thanks for playing.
O.K., lets leave religion aside. As a secular matter, we claim a right to return to our ancestral land under the principle of self-determination. This right was acknowledged by the League of Nations when it granted a mandate over the land now known as Israel and Jordan for purposes of creating a Jewish homeland in accordance with this well-recognized principal. This was again recognized by the UN, and by the majority of nations in the world. Finally, as a practical matter, the Holocaust demonstrates the need for a Jewish state. Never again will the Jews of the world die because they have nowhere to turn.
Excuse me, all that "self-determination" and "mandate" stuff is just a fancy way to gloss over western Imperialism. Yes, we participate in the UN, and therefore as a practical matter have to buy into its legacy as a tool of the dominant western powers. But that doesn't give you guys legitimacy anymore than the US invasion of Iraq has legitimacy. And as for the Holocaust, even if we acknowledge it happened, it wasn't our fault. Get the Europeans to give you a homeland in Bavaria or Prussia or something. And shall we point out that the Reform movement and most Orthodox Rabbis consistently maintained until after WWII that Judaism was a religion, not a nationality, and that therefore a (secular) homeland was not justified?
Under international law, you need to at least acknowledge the agreements you entered into, and that previous governments have acknowledged. The entire system falls apart if governments can just abrogate treaties or wage war by terrorism. And, frankly, given that the entire rest of the world hates us, we are not going to sit by and watch you blow us up. So either acknowledge our right to exist, give up terrorism, or expect us to retaliate.
Why the heck should we acknowledge any previous agreements made under duress? And as for fighting by terrorism, we're entitled to do that because you have no legitimacy in the land. And as for the world hating you, feh. We know you guys control the United States and, by extension, the rest of the West. The EU intellectuals may give us symnpathy, but when the chips are down they will stand by while you enslave us and kill us. Up yours!
If the only resolution you can live with is our total destruction, then up yours!
This is why the current situation in the Middle East depresses me.
And what I've given is the rational version where everyone agrees on the historical facts. The nature and intensity of the conflict has been such that it develops a psychosis. On the Arab side, this has led to holding completely contradictory views of history in denial of all reality. Thus, huge numbers of Arabs have no problem believing simultaneously that:
a) Jews never lived in Israel and there was never a Temple where the Dome of the Rock now stands;
b) Jews deserved to be exiled by the Romans anyway, because it just goes to show that throughout history, all civilized people have hated the Jews.
c) The Holocaust never happened.
d) But the Jews deserved it, and we should finish it.
What is amazing is that otherwise rational people can hold all this in their heads ALL AT THE SAME TIME, while wondering why people class their conspiracy theories about Israeli chewing gum being treated with chemicals to loosen the moral of Arab women with obviously "irrational" conspiracy theories about aliens.
Meanwhile, on the Israeli side, there seems to be this stubborn idea that somehow it can all work out. On the "peace now" side, the belief is that if you just give enough, somehow that will unilaterally change the view of the other side. On the settler side, the idea is to either ignore the problem of a large hostile people interspersed with the population indefinitely, or conclude that mass relocation of several million people is somehow feasible, reasonable, and all we have to do is "get tough" to "transfer" the Palestinians (and possibly Israeli Arabs) to Jordan. And besides, those rag heads should be grateful for the opportunity to live as de facto second class citizens with little hope of economic advancement, because it is much worse in the dictatorships they COULD be living in, and we treat them a million times better than they treated their Jewish populations (or even now treat other ethnic and religious minorities).
Eisen puts the point more politely:
"Getting each side to acknowledge the perceptions of the other, let alone sympathize with them, is no easy task. Some Muslims I have spoken to balk at the notion that Jews or Israelis feel vulnerable and argue that any suggestion to this effect is manipulative and designed to evoke sympathy: After all, Israel has a powerful army and Jews are highly influential everywhere in the world. Some of my Jewish friends are equally discomfited by my analysis. They object to any equation of Jewish suffering with Muslim suffering, because the Muslim world has never experienced the kind of persecution the Jews have."
As I said, it depresses me. I long ago gave up hope for any "derech hatevah" (natural) solution, and am pinning my hopes on Elijah comming in and resolving the conflict.
[BTW, just because I understand either side, doesn't tell you where I actually stand. If you wonder, I end up sighing and going with pure tribalism. My people, I gotta side with 'em, and we can't let ourselves get wiped out. But I don't delude myself that my decision arises from anything other than tribalism here.]
Which brings me to the second point that Eisen makes-- that the only possible path forward is to foster and encourage dialog between religious factions. As Eisen explains:
"What both sides miss here is the critical point that, again, what count are perceptions. Each side genuinely feels its vulnerability and humiliation and sees the other side as more powerful, and that is all that matters. After all, it is those perceptions that motivate each side to kill. Yet there may be hope for dialogue on the basis of these perceptions. I have shared the arguments outlined here between Jews and Muslims, and some have been intrigued by the parallel between their histories -- particularly Shiite Muslims, whose sense of humiliation at the hands of West has been compounded by the humiliation they have experienced from the Sunni Muslim majority throughout their history. In this regard they share a great deal with Jews."
"Another point: The ones who respond most positively to my thinking are Muslim clerics. In my experience with interreligious dialogue in the past few years, it has become clear to me that clergy are far better than the politicians at baring their souls and sharing their emotions when talking with their enemies. They are therefore more likely to discuss the fears and insecurities motivating their respective communities to violence."
"What this suggests to me is that it's time the clergy be given a more central role in the peace process between Jews and Muslims. For decades politicians on both sides have argued over where to draw borders but have brought us no closer to peace. The clergy have been excluded from such negotiations because of the perception that religion is the problem, not the solution. Yet so much of the conflict between Jews and Muslims has been tied to religion that it's hard to imagine a settlement without the clerics. Perhaps with their help, Jews and Muslims can address the real issues between them so that a new relationship can emerge."
This usually gets met with two responses. First, that religion is the problem, not the solution. Second, that Moslems as a matter of religion can never acknowledge Jewish sovereignty because it violates the explicit injunction of the Qu'ran to acknowledge non-Moslem sovereigns on land conquered by Islam.
First, to handle objection one, which Esiner is a lot nicer on, in a way guaranteed to piss off my secular friends. No "peace process" can succeed without sufficient buy in from a sufficient number or religious Jews and Moslems. A critical cause in the failure of the Oslo process, as I warned in an essay back in 1993, was that the Oslo process was explicitly designed to exclude and marginalize religious elements in both populations, because the secular negotiators believed the religious elements were part of the problem, rather than part of the solution. And besides, marginalization and exclusion always looks like an easier strategy than outreach, concession and the whole political process.
As with the Arab failure to even listen to notions that Jews might feel vulnerable and uner attack when they have the guns and the high ground, and the ability to hold contradictory views simultaneously, non-religious Israelis have no idea just how thoroughly they have marginalized and pissed off what had once been a mainstream, moderate religious Jewish block. When you equate all religious people with Me'ah Shaarim, then, over time, that is what you get. Secular Israelis complain about religious exemptions from army service, then turn around and complain that we cannot trust "them" in the army because they will not obey their officers. Of course, the refusal of religious Israelis to obey orders that conflict with their conscience (which has not actually happened yet despite the urgings of some), is entirely different from the refusal of secular soldiers to serve in the territories or on other duties that conflict with their moral conscience, apparently because a secular conscience that takes directions from Shalom Acshav or Tselem Elokim is better than a religious conscince that takes direction from a Rabbi.
And yes, one can point to all manner of provications, increasing regularly, from the "religious" side. Nu? See above analysis. The end result is a population of over 100,000 armed people in military entrenched encampments who have been so alienated from the mainstream population (never mind why, I'm talking the reality you have to deal with) that they regard their elected government as illegitimate and their fellow countrymen as their enemies.
It's not a question of whether I agree or not. It is an inevitable result of the last 13 years. The question is whether to attempt any outreach and inclusion along the lines suggested by Eisen or pay the cost in blood.
Same thing on the Arab side. Secular Israelis and secular Palestinians wanted Arafat and the PLO because the alternative was the religious "nutcases" of Hamas. Again, the policy of attempting to marginalize the religious has proven not merely a total failure, but counter productive. Hamas IS in charge. And, by and large, are doing a better job addressing basic needs of their population than the secular PLO did. The decision to marginalize one set of terrorists based on the fact that they were religious (and tehrefore presumed irrational) in preference to another set of terrorists (who, being secular, could be "dealt with") resulted in the worst of all possible worlds.
So, unless secular Israelis and what remains of secular Arabs are willing to make an effort to cede some power in the negoitiations to religious leaders and religious elites, and genuinely include them in the process in a way that is neither demeaning or based on false assumptions, there can be no peace. The only question is when does the shooting start and who shoots whom.
On to objection to: the injunction of the Qu'ran against surrendering captured land. As an initial matter, to the extent this represents a real barrier, it is not going to go away by ignoring it. Overtures and dialog based on genuine respect for each others religious history and tradition, rather than as a secular effort to get these whackos to go along with stuff by rationalizing it somehow, cannot do any worse and may improve things.
How? I'm not a moslem jurist, and neither are most of the folks I know who make such authoritative pronouncements on Islamic law. In my own religion, I know there is an absolute prohibition on loans surviving the Shmitah year. It says so. But it was still possible to develop prosbul. There is a prohibition on carrying on Sabbath, but if I conform to certain legal protocols I can create an "enclosed area" that permits carrying.
Secular folks often look on this as confirmation that the religious are either (a) idiots, (b) insincere; or (c) incomprehensible. Indeed, other sects of Judaism than my own ask why, if the Rabbis of the talmud could come up with such contrivances, we can't do so today? Why could we create prosbul and not figure out a way to justify driving a car on shabbos or legalizing gay marraige?
I'm not going to attempt to answer that here. But the fact that I see a difference for my faith make me believe it is possible for Moslem jurists to resolve the question of Sharia raised by a continued Jewish state. Note, I do not say they certainly can accomplish it, as I am well aware that some things just are not within the feasible set. Rather like Tevyeh, not able to accept his daughter marrying a non-Jew despite accepting this less traditional life choices of his other daughters, there are lines people cannot cross and yet remain true to themselves. But I am Jewish enough, and lawyer enough, to accept the possibility that the issue is far more complex than it may appear on the surface.