The Middle East Times
March 20, 2009 - 12:00am

With Avigdor Lieberman set to join the next Israeli government and Israel clamping down with more Hamas arrests this week, it is even less easy than usual to generate much hope for a peaceful settlement between Israelis and Palestinians.

But there has been one intriguing glimmer of a more hopeful future emerging from that small fragment of popular culture that is shared by Israelis and Palestinians alike. Noa, a popular Israeli singer and peace activist, was asked last year to make a bid to represent Israel at this year's Eurovision song contest in Moscow in May.

Noa in turn asked her friend Mira Awad, a Palestinian actress, to join her. They jointly performed a song with the clearly meaningful title "There Must Be Another Way," with verses in Hebrew and Arabic. After a vote among TV viewers, it was chosen as Israel's official entry.

The symbolism is heavy; two young women friends and performers, using both languages and representing both cultures to represent the demographic and multi-cultural reality of today's Israel, challenge a host of prejudices and preconceptions about the country.

But with the launching of Israel's military actions against Gaza last year, Mira has inevitably come under fire from others in the Palestinian community who accuse her of becoming a pawn in the greater game of Israeli propaganda. At the same time, the success of Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party in Israel's elections has shifted the dynamics of Israeli politics.

Lieberman's party secured sufficient votes to win a prominent place in the new government, expected to be formed by Likud's Benjamin Netanyahu. Lieberman, who has in the past called for the expulsion of Palestinians from Israel, will become foreign minister. Bear in mind that his slogan during the election, directed at the Arabs within Israel, was the crudely uncompromising "No loyalty, no citizenship."

Which is the real Israel, Lieberman or Mira and Noa with their song "There Must Be Another Way?"

The obvious but tragic answer is that both represent the reality of modern Israel and the schizoid nature of its politics, just as Mira and Hamas each represent another reality - the equally schizoid nature of Palestinian politics. Two fractured communities argue among themselves in the middle of an Israeli state that is itself deeply divided, even as it continues to occupy Palestinian territory that the existing Israeli government of outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert wants to become a separate state.

This deep confusion explains the conviction among many in the Middle East that only an outside agency, and in reality only the United States, has any chance of forging a peace settlement and making it stick. The fact that U.S. engagement and pressure in the past have not succeeded, even with spasmodic backing from other players in the wider Arab world, does not seem to have shaken this view.

But just possibly there is another and more hopeful current emerging within Israeli and Palestinian society that is cultural rather than political, and Noa and Mira represent it. Wish them luck in Moscow.


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