Bradley Burston
Haaretz (Opinion)
February 17, 2010 - 1:00am

Let's face it. Viewed from North America, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a dismal read.

Seen in full context, the confrontation is suffocatingly complex. As literature, it is paralytic, sullenly wordy. The plot, for all its spasms and blood, goes nowhere. As drama, the Israel-Palestine morass is the geopolitical equivalent of James Cameron's 1997 film "Titanic": interminable, exorbitant, unwieldy, dumb without just cause. Titanic-like, it tempts the observer to bail out in mid-course, seething under the breath "Sink, already! Just #*%&-ing sink!"

This may explain why it often seems that the only participants left standing - that is to say, still interested - in the debate over the future of Israel and Palestine, are extremists. These are the evangelists of the zero-sum. They are the activists for the One State Solution, that is, One State for My Side Alone. They are the misers of spirit who believe that this land cannot be big enough for the both of us.

They are the Jews for whom compromise is spelled Auschwitz, for whom pro-Israel is the same as anti-Palestinian, for whom pro-Israel also means there is no Palestine, there never was, nor will there be. For this brand of pro-Israeli, there are no Palestinians, and these Palestinians - who do not, in fact, exist, and who all came from somewhere else - lack all claims to morality, compassion, and historical legitimacy.

They are, as well, the Palestinians for whom accommodation is spelled collaboration, for whom pro-Palestinian also means There is no Israel, there never was, nor will there be. For this brand of pro-Palestinian , the Jews of today are not real Jews, descended from people who were once here, and these Jews - who are not, in fact, Jews, and who in any case all came from somewhere else - lack all claims to morality, compassion, and historical legitimacy.

[We interrupt this essay, for a Talkback:]

For God's sake, Burston. What part of Victory Or Death do you not understand?

Both parts.

There is no such thing as victory here. Neither does death solve a single thing.

There may, however, be another approach. One that could help foster peace efforts rather than acting to thwart them.

It will require a radical redefinition of what it means to be an American who is pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian. It will require a conscious decision to get past the idea that Israel must lose if Palestine is to win, and vice versa. It will require a willingness to consider a more nuanced, much less digestible reality. One in which your side is no longer obviously, indisputably, unfailingly in the moral right, and the other cast as the perp, the unredeemable murderer, the plague of both houses - in short, the problem.

If this is to work, it will require an excruciating decision: letting go of one's self-definition as either pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian. It will require a conscious effort to become pro-Mideast.

One striking example is a recent effort by members of Congress to work toward easing the Israeli and Egyptian embargo on goods entering Gaza.

A total of 54 Democratic representatives signed the letter to President Obama. The text, a model of a fresh approach toward the Mideast, opens with an expression of recognition for the suffering of the people of Gaza, then goes on to state:

"We also sympathize deeply with the people of southern Israel who have suffered from abhorrent rocket and mortar attacks. We recognize that the Israeli government has imposed restrictions on Gaza out of a legitimate and keenly felt fear of continued terrorist action by Hamas and other militant groups. This concern must be addressed without resulting in the de facto collective punishment of the Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip. Truly, fulfilling the needs of civilians in Israel and Gaza are mutually reinforcing goals."

The letter sparked a range of responses. One of the more refreshing was that of Washington-based commentator James Besser, who came to the defense of Representative Keith Ellison, a prominent signatory. Ellison, a Muslim, is a frequent target of the pro-Israel hardliners who cite his faith as evidence of a supposed anti-Israel posture.

Writing in the New York Jewish Week, Besser noted that Ellison has repeatedly "stressed his belief that both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict need to do more to live up to past commitments and take greater chances for peace. He's spoken clearly about Israel's need for security as part of any ultimate settlement. He speaks the language of compromise - for both sides."

"In short, he sounds pro-Palestinian without sounding anti-Israel."

The Republican Jewish Coalition, meanwhile, assailed the Congressional letter as "dangerous." the RJC posted an online petition

urging the 54 signatories to recant. The lawmakers had shown "indifference to the lives of innocent Israelis, the RJC wrote, "and had "expressed no concern whatsoever about the consequences [their] ideas might have for Israelis living under the threat of terrorism from Gaza!"

In the spirit of the times, the discourse soon degenerated. JTA commentator Ron Kampeas sharply criticized the RJC as having misrepresented the letter, drawing a response from Noah Silverman, the Republican Jewish Coalition's Congressional Affairs Director, that sent the discussion to the bottom. Pointing to Besser and Kampeas, Silverman issued this message on the RJC Headquarters Twitter circuit:

"Ever feel like Jewish 'journalists' are just leftist propagandists and weasels? It's not your imagination."

Someday far in the future, we may look back on this time with both wisdom and contempt, wondering why, in the extremists' obsession with victory, all we ever reaped from the hardliners was death.

Someday far in the future, we may look back on this time and wonder why, plowing an open sea of possibility, we manage to hit every single iceberg in our path.

Or someday, far in the future, we may find ourselves grateful for those who finally decided to navigate with their eyes and minds open, and steered an unfamiliar course, a route as yet uncharted, that took them to a Holy Land that, for once, was big enough for the two peoples that deserve to be there.

At root, the struggle for peace in the Middle East is the fight of the Israelis and Palestinians against the extremists in their own midst.

We know this much, if nothing else. If we allow the extremists their victory, everyone will have lost.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017