Neil Steinberg
Chicago Sun Times (Opinion)
November 28, 2011 - 1:00am

One of the odder aspects of the endless Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that the side you would expect to be the more active and effective of the two participants — the Israeli government — seems frequently sunk into passivity. The Palestinians cook up creative public relations ploys like running the Israeli naval blockade or appealing to the United Nations to declare it a state, while Israeli leaders sit around, waiting to see what the Palestinians do next.

That can’t be its official policy. Realizing I had no idea what the Israeli game plan might be, and assuming others must be also puzzled, I had lunch last week with Orli Gil, the Israeli consul general in Chicago, to see if she could shed some light on the situation:

There’s got to be some kind of strategy, right? What’s the Israeli government trying to do?

“The truth is, we did try to be creative and be the initiator of a new era. Even [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, when he came to power, the big speech he gave, saying [the] goal is the two state solution. ‘Two states for two people.’ Never did a [right wing] Likud leader say these five words. But things don’t work as you plan them. Because it takes two to tango.”

You have no partner in the Palestinians?

“It’s not that we have no partner, but now the partner is playing a cynical game, to see if he can earn more by internationalizing the conflict. Which means letting the world deal with it, letting the U.N. deal with it, and not directly sit with an Israeli partner.”

Hoping to win in the court of world opinion.

“Which they have every chance of doing. But it will change nothing on the ground. They will get the U.N. to have one statement and one resolution after the other against Israel. But not one soldier will be moved by that, not one settlement will be taken off the ground. Nothing will change.”

So you’re waiting for this to play out?

“No. Israel is trying its upmost. For 10 long months we froze the settlements, and it was no easy task, believe me. It’s a very, very strong lobby in Israel. The pressure was immense.”

Settlers want to grab as much land as possible, because they never want it given back.

“That’s right. The more you have, the more difficult it is to do it. The stronger they become, the more complicated it is to move them.”

What’s the settlers’ game plan? What do they see happening to the Palestinians?

“[There are] two groups of settlers. One, the religious ones. Since it’s a big mitzvah, a big thing to settle the land of Israel, [they believe] God will see that they will somehow win. Miraculously, they will wake up one day and be the majority. This is the Messianic view.”

God will take care of it.

“Yup. The other ones believe that strategically they have to stay there because otherwise Israel will cease to exist.”

To keep the tanks from rolling in because Egypt could still be coming back.

“Which is not unrational. Egypt, I’m not sure is not coming back.”

Why not declare the West Bank and Gaza a state? Israel seems much better at fighting enemy states than being jail guard to 4 million people. It seems clear Israel has to get rid of the occupied territories; they’re a poison pill.

“Agreed, not only by me but the Israel government. It’s clear to anyone who has eyes in his head you have to have a two state solution. If not for anything else, but for demographic reasons, and other reasons, very important ones: self-determination for the Palestinians. Humanitarian reasons. I don’t want to raise my kids to police Palestinians.”

Consul General Gil didn’t quite say this, but I was left with a clearer view of several aspects of the problem. We praise Israel as a vibrant democracy, but don’t grasp all that being a democracy implies. Israel not only has the Palestinians to contend with, but its own internal factions and parties, some of them no less looney than what we see here. Plus current Israeli leadership is not exactly a whirlwind of efficiency, courage or vision. Put it this way: Look at the United States right now — our government can’t even figure out how to fund itself. Imagine if it had to fund itself and pull out of Alaska too. As Gil said: “It will take a long time.” I hope they have time.


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