Ron Paul (or his newsletter doppelganger) is better at constructing conspiracy theories than I am, but his spirit must infest those Likud Party coalition members who rarely, if ever, consider any new analysis of Palestinian leaders or their actions. Anything (disturbingly) optimistic is presented in its most unfavorable light.

Even that minimal light is extinguished when it’s sent into the RELIABLE TALKING POINTS black hole, a place where the glow kindled by good news is doomed to never escape the gravity of all the well-worn talking points — the ones that start with history lessons on the Palestinians’ perfidy and then wander through decades of reasons why peace can’t or won’t happen.

It must be a conspiracy.

What else could explain the cone of silence (other than the Get Smart “The Man From Yentasale on eBay) when Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal announced that Hamas had decided to switch tactics and accept peaceful means to end its struggle with Israel? Meshaal even accepted the idea of using the 1967 borders as the basis for a Palestinian state. Yet he was ignored and the offer was called unserious.

Meshaal’s statement is one outcome of Hamas’ quasi-merger, quasi-who- knows-how-this-will-work-out reconciliation agreement with Fatah. By one interpretation, Hamas’ acceptance of the reconciliation agreement means they also accept (without the internal political difficulties of publicly declaring it) what Fatah has already accepted in prior negotiations — an end to violence, Israel’s right to statehood, a Palestinian state along 1967 borders, and a very limited right of return for Palestinians who were displaced in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

Even though Meshaal’s pronouncement came with oversized public baggage — no immediate recognition of Israel or renouncement of the option of an armed struggle — if Israel truly wants to jump-start a moribund peace process, why not focus and capitalize on the points of agreement? Certainly there are risks in pursuing an initially imperfect peace process. There are risks in negotiating with people you have been fighting with for most of your existence as a country.

But there are larger risks to Israel’s continued existence as a democratic homeland for the Jewish people if it continues to wallow in and reinforce the currently dangerous stasis. A recent demographic study pointed to the fact that, by 2015, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and Arabs located within Israel, will begin to outnumber Jews.

At that point, in the absence of a Palestinian state, it is hard to see how Israel can retain its Jewish character unless it sacrifices its democratic nature. And if Israel continues to restrict voting rights in the West Bank and Gaza — it’s not likely that Israeli politicians would allow themselves to be voted out of office by a Palestinian political bloc — and maintains (de facto and de jure) discriminatory political, social and economic policies throughout the territories and Israel — from schooling to housing to employment to freedom of movement to even water rights and allocation of technological spectrum —Israel will not even closely resemble a liberal democracy. If that bleak picture occurs, the depth of support that Israel now receives from the United States, and also from its Jewish Diaspora, will begin an accelerated and inexorable slide.

Israeli leaders must seize the opportunity to create opportunities more than they choose to focus on a truly awful past if they hope to prevent this disaster.

Which brings us to the awful present.

Israeli diplomats, after spending their summer sheltered within the confines of their home territories, recently migrated back to Israel on their annual Christmas-time return journey to Jerusalem. (The San Juan Capistrano swallow watching still beats the El Al envoy watching, although El Al’s slight edge on “on time arrival” may not endure much longer if the envoys’ migratory patterns continue to be threatened by Israel’s seasonal fuel contamination issues.)

The diplomats, nestled within the protective confines of the basement level auditorium of the Foreign Ministry building,watched Eran Etzion, head of The Foreign Ministry planning division, present the Foreign Ministry’s succinct evaluation of the Israel-Palestine peace process: It’s dead — at least until next December’s El Al diplomatic sighting.

The large “X” over the “peace process” slide was the giveaway to those who failed to grasp the presentation emphasis.

Yet, the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) recently announced an offer to resume peace talks, without a halt to settlements, if Israel would release one hundred Palestinian prisoners. It was a rather transparent way to help the P.A. construct an internal justification to get back to peace talks, since Israel has refused to meet the P.A.’s demand to halt settlement expansion. But the silence from Israel was only interrupted long enough for Likud coalition members to decry the proposal’s lack of seriousness. Which then led to a predictable follow-up announcement by lead Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat: Israel must halt settlement construction if it expects to reenter peace talks.

The birds return to San Juan Capistrano and the envoys return to Jerusalem every year, at roughly the same time, and positive Palestinian-Israeli actions are followed by disappointing ones with roughly the same regularity.

See opportunity. End opportunity.

Then we have Beit Shemesh, the site of an extremist ultra-Orthodox group that operates under the cloak of their ersatz Judaism to engage in various forms of hostility against Israeli society. That hostility has manifested itself into rock throwing at IDF officers — officers in an army they are free to avoid serving in — organized attacks on Palestinians, and dressing in Nazi garb to demonstrate that Israeli civil authorities are acting as if they are Nazis. What they have learned from their state supported Talmudic education (which is also, for the majority of them, their state-supported profession) evidently does not fit well with modern society — a.k.a., any society within the last one thousand years or so.

This ultra-Orthodox clan has sought to apply their ancient teachings to modern day rules, such as those related to clothing, hailing taxis and even where to sit on public buses — a requirement objected to by Israel’s version of Rosa Parks, Tanya Rosenblit, who refused to accommodate her seat minders, making her case a cause célèbre throughout Israel. The community most recently stands accused of harassing an eight-year-old Orthodox girl, Na’ama Margolis, whose immodest dress violated their reading of Jewish hemline rules.

These Maccabean extremists,waging their religious battles against a Hellenistic Israeli society, claim their efforts are a way to honor women, albeit through subjugation and strict obedience to men. (I sort of understand. My fatherly studies have taught me that my role is to vet my daughters’ dates and that their role is to comply. Unfortunately, they told me that while I may have been studying, it was clear I had learned very little — perhaps a fair analogy to our ultra-Orthodox Jewish miscreants.)

The story of Na’ama is a story that made its way around the world — even to an ultra-Orthodox ally, Saudi Arabia, a place where women are regularly honored: In Saudi Arabia, women must generally remain shrouded, don’t suffer the inconvenience of voting on pre-decided elections, and need different levels of permission from their male guardians in order to drive, work, travel, marry, divorce, study, bank, and even have surgical procedures. (They are allowed, of course, to still complain about Israel and its less unique ways of honoring Palestinians.)

But what makes the story so much more newsworthy is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reaction to it — a reaction that was not widely reported. Instead of simply threatening to arrest those who violate Israeli criminal law, he offered to give the ultra-Orthodox their own half of the city.

That’s what a political bloc that represents ten percent of Israel’s population and births future voters at a rate of eight to ten per family — it’s hard to get a precise number when the birthing merry go round procreates so fast — can do to an otherwise brilliant anti-leader who is usually more focused on giving West Bank settlement groups Palestinian territory than ultra-Orthodox criminals their own cities.

And what about the latest news from Iran?

While the United States and Iran are engaging in a war of words over whether Iran will close the Strait of Hormuz, a vital waterway for about a third of the world’s oil, a real war over Iran’s nuclear ambitions may be less necessary — at least according to Israeli Mossad head Tamir Prado. Prado, speaking to Israeli envoys and journalists at the Jerusalem diplomatic nesting, suggested that even if Iran acquired a nuclear weapon, it would not be an existential threat to Israel.

Prado’s comments follow the remarks of his predecessor, Meir Dugan. Dugan has repeatedly accused Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak of recklessly leading Israel into a war with Iran as a first option, without adequately considering diplomatic alternatives.

So what have we learned from all of these disparate news events?

Perhaps it’s this: If the news doesn’t fit, then we must acquit ourselves of the notion that closing our eyes and searching for supportive “facts” can be a successful strategy to achieve anything of long-term value to Israel or Palestine. Those who can and want to still envision a path to peace and understanding must start leading the way, with eyes wide open, before Israel and Palestine descend into a Pandora’s box that no one will be able to keep shut.


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