Gideon Levy
April 5, 2010 - 12:00am

Does anybody know what Benjamin Netanyahu wants? Has anybody ever understood what his predecessors wanted? Where are they headed? And where are they leading us? One after another, Israeli politicians have been asked these questions, only to reply with the standard rejoinders: "You don't expect me to answer this question" or "Let's leave this for the negotiations." Vague answers, obfuscations, evasive and noncommittal cliches - promises, promises. There was one clear, unequivocal answer - none. There is no other country whose citizens, friends and enemies have not the slightest clue about which direction it is facing. For our enemies not to know is understandable, but don't we deserve to know more? Don't we at least deserve to know the ultimate goal?

While the Arabs have always declared their aspirations - and did so with clarity, precision, sharpness and at times extremism, the Israelis have donned masks. While the goals of warring parties in international conflicts are known to all, and while everyone knows what the Palestinians are after in the Middle East - the '67 lines, a state, a solution to the refugee problem, the right of return - nobody knows what the Israelis want. Do they wish to annex the territories? Come on. Do they want to evacuate them? Not now. If not now, when? It remains unclear. How much of the territories? Nobody knows.

A few days ago, journalists broached the question of a construction freeze in Jerusalem to a few ministers. Almost all of them refused to give a response. Why should they? This is nothing less than a scandal. A minister who is not ready to state his position on an issue is derelict in his duties. When a prime minister refrains from doing so, it is 10 times as grave. While Swedish law obligates the publication of every letter sent from the office of a minister, we cannot even extract a response from our top officials over critical issues.

The blame, as usual in these instances, is shared by us all. Through the years we have implicitly agreed that our leaders would guide us on the basis of fraud, or at the very least distortion. The mantra of there's-no-need-to-say-it-aloud has become a matter of consensus, almost an axiom.

The conventional thinking whereby striving for peace is likened to market bartering and late-night horse-trading, as if it were verboten to clearly specify a final price, has become official policy. What might work for the illusory world of advertising and marketing, or the avarice of the consumer culture, has become a philosophical cornerstone in this country. Vagueness is the message. Perhaps this country has no goal, or a way to get to a goal, and the vagueness is meant to obfuscate this disgrace.

Is the prime minister of Israel ready to withdraw from the Golan Heights in exchange for peace with Syria? Yes or no? Don't we deserve to know? Which parts of the West Bank, if any, is he ready to evacuate? And what, for heaven's sake, does our defense minister want? What are his policy goals? Does anybody know? And why is it that if we were to know the answer, this would weaken our position and not strengthen it? Is vagueness tantamount to strength? Is trickery a modus operandi?

Our amateur merchants, as is their wont, will never reveal their opinions. No wonder their wholesale marketing strategy has proved to be a resounding failure. Israel's global standing is at an all-time low due to, among other things, ambiguity and a loss of direction. Even the all-knowing president of the United States has no idea what his ally wants. Now at least he is trying to get an answer by saying, "Tell me what it is you people want." It is doubtful whether he will get the answer he is looking for.

Forty-three years after the start of the occupation, no one, either here in Israel or anywhere in the world, knows what we really want and in which direction we are heading. Thus, we have not only become the only country in the world without clearly defined borders, we are also the only country without clearly defined national goals.

In William Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice," Shylock forces Antonio to agree to a loan on highly unfavorable terms. Yet the Jew provides us with one of the most memorable monologues ever written: "If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?" The monologue given by the merchants of Jerusalem, on the other hand, is far more wretched. "If they give, then they'll receive," or something like that.


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