Only a day after the fire, and in the midst of haggling over responsibility, another sack of something plopped onto our table.
When I first looked at my computer screen this morning, the article in the most prominent upper left hand corner of the New York Times web site was headlined "U.S. Drops Bid to Sway Israel on Settlements," Its opening paragraph put the blame squarely on Israel.
"After three weeks of fruitless haggling with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Obama administration has given up its effort to persuade the Israeli government to freeze construction of Jewish settlements for 90 days." http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/08/world/middleeast/08diplo.html?_r=1&ref=global-home
Readers who continue further will notice that the story is more complicated. It describes "another setback in what has proved to be a star-crossed campaign by President Obama." The administration is conceding that its conception of a 90 freeze "would not have produced the progress on core issues that the United States originally had sought."
An American with experience as a peace negotiator praises the administration for recognizing what it should have known.
"Wisely, in my view, the administration is bending to reality. . . The most likely scenario is that this moratorium was going to buy them a short reprieve, and was then going to plunge them into the same crisis they were in before."
American officials are flatly denying the suggestion of Defense Minister Ehud Barak that "the United States was halting its effort because it was preoccupied with the fallout from leaks of confidential diplomatic cables."
That may free the New York Times from any accusation that its publication of Wikileaks has kept the State Department from important tasks.
A former ambassador to Israel reinforced the line of the New York Times that Netanyahu could not get "his cabinet to buy into it without attaching conditions to it that were unacceptable to Washington." Then the next paragraph notes that the Palestinians share responsibility for the stalemate.
"the Palestinians also shifted their position, insisting that a settlement freeze must include East Jerusalem as well as the West Bank. Israel's initial 10-month moratorium included only the West Bank. The United States never asked Mr. Netanyahu to expand it to Jerusalem . . . "
I recall that the United States did ask Israel to freeze things in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem. I urged Varda not to buy new curtains for our French Hill apartment that lacked a designation of kashrut by the Obama Rabbinate. But who am I to argue with the New York Times' report of what happened, or with Varda's management of our apartment?
As in the case of the fire, and other events that deserve the label of crisis, there is enough material to put the blame here, there, or elsewhere, and enough politicians and commentators who know how to play the game.
Will this shape the future, or simply be another entry into the long list of efforts to deal with things left over from the Balfour Declaration?
My view of history is that the Jews of Israel are better off than any other community of Jews, in terms of their material welfare and capacity to shape their own destiny. Varda's father used to say the same about the Weimar Republic, and we know what came next. Those who are inclined to glorify the Kingdom of the Hasmoneans during this season of Chanukah ought to take another look.
The Arabs of Israel and the West Bank may also be better off, economically and politically, than any other community of Muslims. Their lack of an independent state troubles them and their international supporters, but we can hope that few will see that as a reason to sacrifice more of their lives and property.
There are other shoes to be dropped. The New York Times notes that several countries of South America
"recognize Palestine as a free and independent state based on the 1967 boundaries." That will provide some work for Israel's Foreign Ministry. It may also produce a dust up if any ambassadors to Palestine seek to reach their posts by passing through Israel.
The Palestinians could go to one of their numerous fall back positions, and seek recognition by the United Nations. That will test the American official cited by the New York Times who "reiterated that the United States would continue to protect Israel's security and fight efforts to challenge its legitimacy in international organizations."
My preferred guide to the future remains The Highwaymen. "The road goes on forever."
You want evidence?
Two hours after I began my day, the article about the peace process was nowhere on the home page of the New York Times. A story about the European Central Bank had taken its place in the upper left. It is necessary to know where to click in order to read about Israel and Palestine.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem