It was very fashionable in the era of Clinton and Blair to speak of the “Third Way” movement. The premise was that not every guy had to order a steak and every gal a salad; it was possible for them to order one quiche and two forks. Not every political problem boils down to conservative vs. liberal, they said: the path of wisdom is equidistant between right and left. That sounded great, like Abraham and Aristotle and Maimonides and all that, but in practice their centrism was a thinly euphemized leftism. A quiche is not halfway between a steak and a salad; a beef stew is.
Listening to President Bush and Condoleezza Rice speak excitedly about how the time is right for comprehensive peace between Israel and the Palestinians, I realized that we are now taking the Third Way movement into the world of fairy tales.
Anyone who follows American politics knows that our nation has long been divided between two sharply defined approaches to reality: Goldilocks and the Three Bears vs. Little Red Riding Hood.
In the first narrative, the predatory bears are cleaned up and given the role of the homey family. They may look like they have long fangs and massive mauling torsos, but they really are a sweet rural conclave that wishes no one any harm, with idyllic homes, kitchen tables and bedrooms. Indeed the sweet-seeming innocent-looking Goldilocks is actually the thoughtless trespasser, oblivious to their rights and needs as she helps herself to whatever suits her fancy.
Thus the Western world, in what is today oddly entitled the “liberal” view. The West, insensitive to the unique cultures already thriving in place, comes clomping through the global hinterlands, leaving devastation in its earnest wake. The people whose tranquility it disturbs are unfairly demonized by the superficial categories the West — half out of thick-headedness, half in negligence — assigns the societies it tramples.
The second narrative, usually associated with conservative types, fears that, quite the contrary, the West is all too unsuspecting — half out of naivete, half in complacency — of the danger lurking behind ostensibly peaceable scenarios. The little girl is headed to visit her grandmother and she cannot abandon that surge of joyous anticipation. She is so emotionally invested in enjoying this encounter that she ignores progressively more ominous signals of impending tragedy. Worse, she allows her imagination to accept modifications on the image of what a loving grandma should look like rather than accept the reality of facing a wolf.
Conservatives warn that our pattern of optimistic projection followed by reinforcing delusions is what leads us to hand over countries to the likes of Robert Mugabe and Ayatollah Khomeini, only to see them sow torture and misery instead of the pastoral paradises they promised. We make wishful maps and paint the blank spots with pretty colors to cover the blood in which they are saturated.
The “Palestinian Problem” has been with us for a lifetime, as the State of Israel prepares for its sixtieth birthday in May. We have heard those two fairy tales alternating all throughout the process. The Palestinians have a choir of supporters explaining that they are the Three Bears and the West has been Goldilocks. Israel has a cadre of backers warning us that the Palestinians are the Big Bad Wolf and all their features are just the better to eat you with, my dear.
Now we seem to have arrived at the Third Way. We have progressed to the point where the sheen of protective coloration has worn completely off. What we have now are The Emperor’s New Clothes.
There is no longer any need to wonder how the Palestinians would govern a state. We know exactly how. They have been given larger and larger land masses along with the opportunity to develop them. The world has eagerly contributed large sums of money to support the project. Their leaders have been accorded respect and invited into all the seats of great power. No President of, say, Albania could hope to visit the White House as often as an Arafat or Abbas can. Israel even handed over fully tooled factories for various industries.
The Palestinians have developed nothing. They have destroyed most of what was in place. Half of the land they control was taken away from Abbas by Hamas. They continue to attack Israel and kidnap its citizens. The idea that they can be given a state to manage is not an abstract; they more or less have one already, and they either can’t or won’t run it in any constructive way.
When will a President of the United States or a Prime Minister of Israel have the courage to say what we all know? That prospect seems to be the biggest fairy tale of all.