This is a chilling, ominous moment for the people of Israel, yet one best captured by an old Jewish jest. A rabbi was leaving his synagogue after several years of service and at the good-bye party he was accosted by an elderly woman. “Rabbi, we hate to see you go.”
“Oh,” murmured the cleric humbly. “I am sure my replacement will be just as good.”
“Nah,” snapped the old-timer. “There have been four rabbis over my years here, and each one was worse than the one before.”
When Barack Obama promises the Muslims a new beginning, Israel has a pretty good idea who is going to bear the brunt. Not that the scenario laid out in the body of Obama’s speech is adversarial to Israel intrinsically. If all its prescriptions were carried out, we would have Hamas renouncing violence (inspired by Martin Luther King), Palestinian schoolchildren will no longer be taught to hate (inspired by Reverend Wright?), and a sleepy suburban middle-class Palestine would share the landscaping bill with its Jewish neighbor. Israel would have to give up some stuff, but nothing it has not agreed to in the past.
The problem is not with this visage, this stained-glass window into utopia. This image has been around for years. Israel signed up for this in Oslo a full sixteen years ago, later reinforcing this commitment in the Wye Accords signed by Prime Minister Netanyahu himself. On top of that Israel spontaneously withdrew from Gaza four years ago, hardly the mark of grasping power-mongers.
The problem is that this window has already been shattered by Palestinians who continue to foment hatred. Their textbooks, their entertainments, even kiddie cartoons, are saturated with vitriol against Israel. From the Gaza side they began shooting rockets as soon as they took control of the territory. Then they voted Hamas in and stood by a few months later when the Fatah members were killed or exiled to the West Bank. They kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and continue to hold him hostage. The rocketry Hamas fires is supplied by Iran, which backs it up with rhetoric promising to wipe Israel off the map.
Israelis have been involved in this process long enough to know that each “new beginning” is worse than its predecessor. The Palestinians are never asked to make the first move. Instead Israel is prodded to offer ever more gestures of good faith. They have already relinquished two huge territories while the Palestinians have done nothing in return, but the onus always falls on them to prove sincerity.
Look at the quotes from Arab leaders after the Obama speech. Not a single one refers to the concessions demanded from Palestinians or Iran, but rather to the critique of Israel. They are about evenly divided if it was strong enough or whether he should have expanded on the extent of Israeli misbehavior. This mirrors the response during the speech itself. The chastisement is greeted by silence but the slapdown of Israel gets huge ovations.
Incidentally, none of what Obama expressed is new. It has been the refrain of European nations for some time. What it indicates is America coming to echo Europe, an outcome much desired by liberals in the United States from Hollywood to the Supreme Court. It has also been standard fare in American universities for many decades. Elect a college professor to the Presidency and you know what to expect.
Benjamin Netanyahu probably has no choice but to make positive noises. But if you got to be a fly on the wall behind closed doors, you can be sure that the sound waves will curl your dainty wings. Some of the lesser Israeli dignitaries are not afraid to speak their mind in public. Knesset member Dr. Michael Ben-ari said, “We survived Pharaoh. We will survive this.” One of the settlers averred: “More Hussein than Barack.” These are some very unhappy folks.
Probably the best answer is to say Israel is willing, but only after Palestinians live up to the deals already signed, none of which they are keeping. Which leads us to another classic gag. After a magician performs, a man from the audience asks him how the tricks are done. “I can tell you,” the trickster cracks, “but then I would have to kill you.”
“Fine,” the man answers. “Then tell my wife instead.”