Neil Steinberg
Chicago Sun Times (Opinion)
July 1, 2011 - 12:00am

Did you hear that the flotilla planning to run the Israeli blockade of Gaza didn’t get off as scheduled? Insurance problems, alas, sparked by an Israeli ploy, plus one of the 10 ships had its propeller mysteriously cut.

I sure hope Alice Walker doesn’t run into a scheduling conflict — maybe a Marin County book-signing — that would call her away from yet another chance to remind the world that the Israelis are the Star Wars Evil Empire, the Nazis and the Klingons all rolled into one.

Kidding. My reaction to the delaying tactics was a smile and a thought that boils down to: about time the Israelis got their game back. Stopping the ships in port — smart. Now, assuming the flotilla eventually gets under way, if they can just see their way clear to letting it land — whoops, musta missed that one! Sea patrol can’t catch them all — the Israelis will have won a round in this endless slugfest.

That’s just today’s problem. What about the issue of the occupied territories? Peace summits aren’t doing the trick. Winning a skirmish doesn’t affect the larger struggle.

American Jews break into two camps when it comes to Israel. Either they are old-school, sing-Hatikva-and-cry, land-flowing-with-milk-and-honey boosters who might squirm at the nation’s latest misstep, might avert their eyes from all those ultra-nationalist settlers erecting armed camps in the Palestinian territories, but generally feel bound by faith to hail whatever Israel does, right or wrong.

And to the degree that they believe that Israel is the Jewish homeland, I’m with them.

Then there is the smaller camp, who toss their lot in with the Palestinians — I think of them as the kind of born radicals who 70 years ago would have been Wobblies or Trotskyites, out of the pure love of contrariness — and want Israel to withdraw to the 1967 borders, forgetting that when those borders were last controlled by Arab states, back in 1967, they still weren’t happy, but tried to invade Israel, leading to the current stand-off.

Still, to the degree that they believe that Israel didn’t struggle into existence in order to be the jailers of 1.5 million Palestinians until the end of time, I’m with them too.

But not completely. This is a situation where the zealots want to grab the wheel, as they always do, and we middle-of-the-roaders need to start helping them steer in order to avoid the ditches they keep plunging into.

Because both extreme positions are wrong. The extreme Israeli view — keep the territories and expand there, while the Palestinians learn to like it — is the path that has failed, spectacularly, for almost half a century.

And the extreme Palestinian view — the Jewish population vanishes and they get the country back — is a pipe dream based on a new holocaust which, though Iran would be happy to oblige, won’t be happening soon.

Both sides have selective vision. The flotilla folk deplore the blockade as if it were something the Israelis do because they’re bad people, ignoring that the reason for all those rules and checkpoints is the long-established Palestinian habit of blowing themselves up in public places and blindly lobbing missiles.

And the settler sorts act as if the Palestinians don’t deserve to live anywhere or control their own lives, but must remain losers in limbo. The Israeli government occasionally obliges its critics by serving up an example of ham-handed totalitarianism, like its threat to bar journalists who dare cover the flotilla.

There is a solution here. The Palestinians, to their credit, have begun to see the whole “blow ourselves up” strategy isn’t working. They’ve been better at nonviolent protests, such as the flotilla (nonviolent in theory, that is; in execution last year, they attacked the Israelis boarding the ship, as if by habit).

The Israelis have begun to dimly perceive that the world that once saw them as gritty sabras now views them as thuggish Afrikaners, as Northern Boers. And while world opinion is not a requisite for Israeli survival — they’d be long gone were that the case; the world has a traditional solution for Jews, and it seems to always involve their leaving where they live and going anywhere else, to their graves if necessary — that life as a pariah state will be even more fraught than life as the West’s darling stepchild has been.

Now they need to get rid of the territories, to spit out the poison pill. It doesn’t matter who they sign the peace with — Hamas, the corpse of Yasser Arafat, anybody. Wash your hands of it, then start doing business with those who want to do business and shooting rockets back at those who shoot rockets.

Taking sides on this issue helps neither. Plenty of folks will expound on Israeli oppression or Palestinian brutality. When each is trying to win, they both lose. This is too important to leave to those who care too deeply.


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