Election Promises in Israel and Fantasy Politics

President Assad of Syria with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi in Damascus
President Assad of Syria with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi in Damascus

Reporting from Jerusalem this month:

An astonishing statement from Benjamin Netanyahu. Not only does he have a plan to topple Hamas in Gaza through assassinations (as if that was not already tried and aborted by warriors more talented and experienced than he), but he also plans to proceed with diplomacy in his region by making clear to President Assad that the Golan will stay in Jewish hands:

“It should be clear to the Syrians and to the world, the Golan Heights will stay in our hands,” Netanyahu said.

This is a fascinating position. Either Mr. Netanyahu is delusional in terms of his understanding of Syria and the political realities of the moment, or he holds the Israeli right-wing voting public in contempt. My hunch is the latter, and I felt the same way about McCain’s contempt for his right wing in the United States. Everyone knew that ‘time was up’ in Iraq. The American occupation had to wind down, it was just a debate on how, when, and how fast–really trivial time lines divided Obama and McCain. It is the same regarding Syria. Netanyahu will cynically promise the right wing what it wants to hear, bombastic, nationalistic, emotional claptrap. Once Netanyahu is in office, and assuming the Syrian President sticks to his brilliantly subtle and convincing script, the onus will be on Netanyahu as to why he would not want to cut a deal with the major foe on his borders that is allied with Iran, the same foe that has provided a haven until now for Hamas.

Now, of course, the right wing could be counting on Netanyahu to utilize endless negotiations to fool the Arabs again–talk, talk, talk about peace with Syria but with no intention of cutting a deal. But Assad is in a much stronger position than the Palestinians and is already prepared for that tactic. He will not provide cover for this old, imperial strategy. If Assad continues to sound all the right chords then more and more of the West will side with him against Netanyahu, and Israel will become increasingly isolated in the Age of Obama, even if the White House does not openly confront Netanyahu. Staging an incident, provoking Syria in some way, counting on the Syrians to over-react, is not working lately either.

Furthermore, political parties in Lebanon across the spectrum are visiting Syria, boundaries and ambassadors are being discussed. Odd as it may seem, Syria is about to take the moral high ground as a regional force for change, yes, for peace, and there is not a thing that the right wing in Israel can do about it.  But there is not a single party at the center of Israel’s politics as of now that is telling the public the whole truth of what could happen, namely a major exchange of land for peace, for strategic realignments in the region.

The one hope of the right wing, powerful elements of the IDF, and the settlers is keeping a conflict going with Hamas–and making it ugly–thus preventing progress toward a comprehensive settlement; this  would make it difficult for Assad to officially make peace with Israel. In fact, today that hope may be realized. 80 rockets have fallen on Israel and the IDF has received permission to attack Gaza. But what the public does not know is how many officials have received clear messages that Hamas wants to make a comprehensive deal with Israel. I met one who said he even had an agreement signed in his briefcase, staring at me with exhausted despair in his eyes. Of course, the deal would involve stopping the complete siege of Gaza and accepting Hamas’ victory at the polls. Very tough thing for Westerners, accepting democracy’s results. The Israeli Jewish public has been made as unprepared for the political realities of Palestine, as much as the Palestinian refugee community has been made unprepared for the political realities of Israel.

More manipulation and obfuscation is what we can expect from Netanyahu if he forms the government, unless he simply turns on his right wing, but analysts I have talked to here aver that he has far too small a base to pull a “Nixon goes to China” on the right.

I hope the new team in Washington is prepared for Netanyahu should he form a government. It is going to get very tricky, and he is prepared to use the so-called pro-Israel lobby and the Orthodox Jewish community to the hilt as an emotional lever against the White House. But one thing he cannot do this time is play Republicans and Democrats off against each other. The majority is clear.

All of this would be interesting from a geopolitical and strategic point of view were it not for the daily suffering and misery of average people, the innocents who will keep dying, starving, despairing.

The soul of these two peoples is assaulted by religious nationalistic distortions, by despair, by extremism, by corruption, by the strangulation of dreams. It is assaulted by ten years of neglect by outside governments to intervene here in a forceful and constructive way. The outside world here is simply behaving as the warden of a prison of occupation and corruption, corruption actually on both sides. You can feel it everywhere. Thus, as interesting as the twists and turns and the rise and fall of politicians may be in this election period, there is something dying here beyond the actual victims of war. It is the soul of Palestine and the soul of Israel.

But there is always a flicker of light in this strange, holy land, a light that one should especially notice on Christmas Day and on Hanukkah, the holidays of light. On the same trip I have seen more young people joining and creating more alternatives to violence. There are no less than three new Palestinian organizations working on nonviolent leadership, in addition to Israeli organizations developing nonviolent leadership such as the Jerusalem Communities Network.

It is always important to remember the basic insight that what appears weak is strong and what appears strong is weak, and that those who appear to lead actually follow and those who appear to follow actually lead. The politicians follow slavishly what they think the people want, and different politicians divide up based on which constituencies they follow.

Here is the most important point. The Palestinian people had no choice other than Hamas because their leadership was corrupt top to bottom, no doubt in large part due to the outrages of exile and occupation. This is a fact completely ignored by Western policies. But facts are facts. When new ideas and new generations emerge that provide uncorrupted leadership that is also nonviolent then they will eschew Hamas.

I see developing here, and many other parts of the world, a determined new face of Islam, a face of Islam that was always there but buried by powerful patriarchies. It is a face of nonviolence, and it will emerge over time because it is its only face that trully seeks justice and compassion for all people. This at its heart is the most consistent dream of the Koran. But it has enemies everywhere. No one in power wants this face, and all the major powers of the world, especially in this region, have used Islam for their own purposes.

I have been privileged each time I come to be hosted by Jerusalem Peacemakers, and especially Sheikh Bukhari and Eliyahu McClean. All the people that they gather together are teaching me about a very different face of the Holy Land. And therein lies hope.

Sheikh Bukhari and Eliyahu McClean
Sheikh Bukhari and Eliyahu McClean
© Marc Gopin