The coming attraction is Barack Obama's visit to Israel.
It reminds me of what I learned in Kenya 40 years ago. A presidential visit was an opportunity for the provinces. There would be money for paving the streets and repairing the buildings, as well as banners and flags, and telling the residents they were expected to line the streets and applaud the great man.
Here the equivalent of fixing the streets and buildings is the opportunity for politicians, commentators, and activists from across the spectrum to urge their panaceas as fitting the great man's agenda.
And that agenda is ? ? ?
There are some who think the principal reason for the visit is Iran. That is the idea of Israelis on the right, most prominently Benyamin Netanyahu, who do not want to move on anything else.
There are some who think that the principal reason is Palestine.
The Palestinians are prominent in that camp. Since their UN victory and the announcement of Obama's visit, they have been heating the air with marches, demonstrations, an uptick in violence, and mass enthusiasm about ending "occupation" (which some define as Israel's existence), and supporting a hand full of security prisoners doing their part via an extended hunger strike.
Just yesterday, Palestinians received the gift of death from another prisoner, who was not involved in the hunger strike. Ranking Palestinians have proclaimed that he died of torture. Israelis are saying that it was a sudden death due to heart failure. Officials have invited the man's family members, his attorney, and a physician representing the Palestine Authority to attend the autopsy. No matter what the findings, the chants will be that Israel killed him.
Also involved are two films nominated for Oscars in the category of documentaries, that appeal to those inclined to bash Israel.
The Gatekeepers presents interviews with retired heads of Israeli security units.
Five Broken Cameras is the work of a Palestinian amateur photographer along with a professional Israeli editor (producing an argument as to whether it is an Israeli or Palestinian film) showing several years' demonstrations against the construction of the security barrier on land claimed by a Palestinian village alongside the new Haredi city of Modiin Ilit.
Both films make Israelis uncomfortable, or satisfied, most likely depending on pre-existing attitudes.
The Gatekeepers shows thoughtful individuals who dealt with difficult decisions, revealing ambivalence and remorse about the conditions in which Israel exists, and their own lack of capacity--along with everyone else's--to fix things in an appropriate manner.
In Five Broken Cameras, we see angry Palestinians outweighed by Israeli soldiers and police.
An Israeli can see each film as justification for guilt. Or compare the thoughtfulness of ranking officials and the clumsy efforts at crowd control by police and soldiers to more than 60,000 deaths in Syria and perhaps a million in Iraq.
The President's visit is one of the reasons that several of Bibi's obvious partners has so far refused to join his coalition. Tsipi Livni could not overlook the obvious opportunity to get something for her six MKs.
With the arrangements for a Presidential visit in high gear, the Prime Minister needs a government in order to speak with the President about Israeli-American cooperation. The visit is four weeks away, and Bibi has three more weeks to put together a coalition. So the price is high for Lapid's, Benet's, and Mofaz's cooperation.
The Israeli left is making the same point as the Palestinians-- the President wants to quiet the Middle East by pressuring Israel to make peace with the Palestinians. Israel must make an offer that the Palestinians cannot reject without earning widespread condemnation.
There are several reasons for jest.
There is nothing Israel can offer short of sending its people back to Poland, Iraq et al that will satisfy Palestinian rejectionists.
There is no connection between Palestine and the rest of the Middle East. The Economist has it right. A recent article deals with Syria, but could also be written about every other country in the region. Each has been cobbled together from a collection of contentious ethnic and religious minorities. Syria and Iraq are currently unraveling or already unraveled. Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Iran and Palestine suffer from the same condition. Afghanistan never was a country with a functioning central government.
The plight of the Palestinians is a convenient symbol for autocrats sitting on their social volcanoes who hope to postpone the next rebellion. The problems in each of those places dwarf whatever can be said about their concern for Palestine.
Barack Obama may have learned something about the Middle East since his Cairo speech of 2009. He has spoken about downsizing aspirations. Yet John Kerry is hoping for a Palestinian State before the end of his term. No doubt there is the pressure within the Oval Office, by individuals far from this region, to make one more grand effort to use Palestine as the key to quiet the Middle East.
The Economist is familiar with the European colonial tradition that sought years ago to deal with various parts of the Middle East by the simple device of national governments put on top of diverse populations. Perhaps some on the staff recognize that their own analysis runs counter to their usual line of urging Israel to solve what no one can.
As in the case of Kenyatta's visit to a distant province, Israelis will get the flags up on the routes to be traveled by the President. There will be opportunities for the residents to applaud, with ranks of American and Israeli security personnel protecting the great man and his huge entourage. We can expect a rich collection of signs calling for an end of occupation, a Palestinian state, peace, Iran, and who knows what else.
But there may not be an Israeli government at the end of the red carpet.
Has someone on high considered that commotions due to the visit may prevent the creation of an Israeli government? And that the appropriate response is to postpone the event, and let the various parts of the Middle East attend to themselves?
It is time for someone to update that song in Fiddler on the Roof, that asks God to bless and keep the Czar-- far away from us.
Posted by Ira Sharkansky at February 24, 2013 01:52 AM
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem