Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Team Washington: Blinded By the Desert Sands

If you can't see what the problem is, how can you find the solution?

In an interview at the end of his first year in office, Obama admitted that, “for all our efforts at early engagement [with Israel and Palestinians], it is not where I want it to be….Both sides…have found…that it was very hard for them to start engaging in a meaningful conversation….” Now this sounds so far like an admirably honest admission of failure that might just serve as the basis from doing a better job during the Administration’s second year until the next few words, in which Obama referred to “a two-state solution in which Israel is secure and the Palestinians have sovereignty.”

Why not a world in which both have security? Because even nice-guy Obama seems as trapped in the blind Washington prejudice of putting Israelis on a pedestal just like the vicious conservatives who preceded him. Solutions will not be found until Washington can conceive of what “solution” means. “Solution” means eliminating the problem.

Netanyahu at least has a solution: ethnic cleansing. Once no more Palestinians exist, there will no longer be a Palestinian problem. No matter that his evil vision might substitute for the “Palestinian” problem a Lebanese problem or a Syrian problem or an Iranian problem: it is not clear where the ambitions of Greater Israel advocates stop nor is it clear how its neighbors might react to the fulfillment of the Palestinian stage of their grand project. But at least on paper, Netanyahu has a “solution,” a “final solution,” one might say.

Some in Hamas—born from the harsh mother of Israeli oppression--have had in mind the mirror image solution, though it is no longer at all clear who in that organization may still hold fast to its founding vision. The original Hamas solution, which quite logically turns out to be no nicer than that of the Greater Israel types, might also contain the seeds of new problems, for it would leave a helpless Palestinian state at the mercy of powerful Arab dictatorships that would see the very fact of its victory as an unacceptable threat.

But even Netanyahu and Hamas leaders dissemble in public about the solutions they seem to nurture in private. The world is supposed to be changing. The old models—the Mongols at the gates of Baghdad or the Nazis in Warsaw or…yes…white Americans stealing the West from the native Americans—seem to make everyone, even modern practitioners, a bit uncomfortable. And surely Obama does not seem himself as a member of that old school. But, tragically, neither can he bring himself to understand that the “problem” in the Levant will not go away unless it is addressed, and that will require overcoming the bias now so deep in the veins of Team Washington.

“Washington” is a tribal culture; one must accept the perspective of the elders in order to be part of the group. Labels matter little (one must have some way to differentiate you from me). The Team comprises Democrats and Republicans, office-holders and Big Finance and Big Oil and Big Arms Proliferator, but they all must prove they are “team players” by absorbing the culture into their bones. That oh-so-provincial culture includes much about which one might usefully speak, such as the core value of avoiding the embarrassment of superiors with mere facts and the insistence that short-term brutality (sorry, “realism” is the preferred term) trump the agonizing process of actually listening to the views of others. But to stay on subject, one of the core values of that culture is that “Jews own suffering.”

As long as Team Washington cries for the suffering of the wave of European colonialists that has spent the last century creating what has become a little nuclear empire more than it cries for the Palestinian victims who have lost their homes and land and freedom and all of their security, it will be unable to discover a “solution.”

If the colonialists have now had children who have nowhere else to go and also deserve a right to their own homes, then no real justice seems possible. Palestinians will have to compromise. But the compromise that will achieve a “solution” will have to be based on equality. If Israelis deserve security, so do Palestinians. For those who are politically illiterate, that is spelled, “national army. Or, dear Team Washington, did you consider the alternative option…that a “sovereign” but dependent and helpless Palestinian Bantustan would turn to a Hezbollah-like solution? No? Not what you had in mind? I thought not.

A “solution” will require the replacement of the nuclear mini-empire by a modest state living like a good neighbor, resolving the normal issues of life by shouting across the backyard fence or inviting the neighbor to dinner, as the case may be, but not by nuclear blackmail, infringing on the neighbor’s airspace, demanding the right to tell the neighbor what arms he cannot have that you have already filled your garage with, or jamming the neighbor into some tiny open-air jail in the desert.

One might imagine the solution as two states with equal rights (e.g., to regional water sources) and capabilities (e.g., for self-defense). One might alternatively imagine the solution as a single state that would reject both the fundamentalist bias of a caliphate and a "Jewish state" and that would therefore have no use for apartheid. Those are details.

But whatever the details, the “solution” will have to address the “problem.” The problem is not the existence of Hamas or the anger on which it is founded. The problem is the injustice of Israel’s oppression of Palestinians. Team Washington has not yet even caught a glimpse of the problem so how could anyone think that it would be able to imagine the solution?

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