Bernard Avishai is Obama, a mediator, who is exposed on his flanks.
I saw him speak yesterday at the Jewish Community of Amherst, a combination reconstructionist synagogue and community center, in one of the most liberal towns in the country, Amherst, MA.
The audience was mostly older. I, at 57, was one of the younger in the audience. There were many in the audience that were utterly distrusting of literally any Palestinian assertion, had deaf ears to Avishai’s efforts at reporting first hand of a constructive, mutually respectful discussion (including Abbas, Hamas officials, Olmert, Mossad officials), and had relatively live ears to an oddly chosen “no-nik”. (My new word for the risk-aversion/fetish strategy of likud and even kadima).
Its common. There is a lot to distrust all around.
There was conspicuously virtually none of the more radical pro-Palestinian cadre that have centered around Hampshire College (also in Amherst), in support of the anti-Israel boycott/divestment/sanctions movement.
My expectation is that they would have taken pot-shots at some of Mr. Avishai’s comments that he didn’t believe that there was intentionally strategized ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in the 1948 war.
He, like I, have emphasized the more significant event of the prohibition from return, as codified in three knesset laws in 1949-1951, that prohibited immediate return, prohibited court hearings on contested land, then expropriated “abandoned” land to the state and then to exclusively Jewish semi-governmental agencies.
In his presentation, he attempted to keep the content on the constructive efforts to identify obstacles to a real peace, and particularly the obstacle of the right of return which he considered reconciliable rather than irreconcilable as is often assumed. (The language employed seems irreconcilable.)
My impression of his presentation was of hope, actual prospect, but also some naivete, extending even to gullibility in some respects. (I acknowledge that that is a presumptious word to use for a man that has spoken to many of the primary participants in peace discussions first hand and at length and candidly).
I describe his talk in that sense largely because of his de-emphasis (actually ignoring) of his flanks, their fears, and their willingness to fetishize their fears into ideology that come to fit a self-talking coherence. (It makes sense to the converted. This applies to both the right and to the left.)
The right-leaning flank was present at the talk, in a point-counterpoint format, in which a liberal must be countered by a more conservative Zionist. The counter-point was articulated by a litigator, who exzagerated doubt into the appearance of a certainty. (From that sentiment of distrust, the “responsible” likud position is to maintain the status quo indefinitely and only humane gesture is to continue to exert restraint so as not to disturb the status quo, but not to make any change in relations that would result in the end of the suppression of Palestinians. There is also the “irresponsible” conclusion from the same set of values, which is to employ intimate deterrent and pre-emptive attempts to hasten the removal of Palestinians from their prior home-land.)
The hilltop youth neo-religious zealots often think of themselves as following the model of Joshua or David, asked of God to take the land confidently knowing that God is on our side, and that disobedience to that zeal is the primary sin (to be called and reject the call).
Somehow Solomon is not a model, nor the elder reticent David, the ethical commandments ignored.
The flanks are the majority right now. The street is the majority, and that is one of the examples of Mr. Avishai’s naivete.
The pro-Israeli right thinks of all Palestinians as monolithic, that Fayyad and Abbas are just the same-thinking tip of the iceberg of Hamas, Popular Resistance Committees, Islamic Jihad, Al Quaida. So, when Mr. Avishai speaks of his conversations with Abbas and Erekat or even Hamas PR officials, the pro-Israeli crowd doesn’t get it. They don’t distinguish that the people he is talking about are the willing, the respectful and accepting. (I don’t think Hamas is the willing, they are willing lite, very lite, very conditional.)
His confidence is that among the willing, the mechanics of even difficult issues are reconcilable.
I imagine that he knows that the unwilling are currently in the majority in Israel, and even among Palestinian solidarity. The numbers and backbone of the potentially or conditionally willing are unknown.
And, sadly, as it is always psychologically easier to distrust than it is to construct trust, that is often the road taken.
I think of that process, of it being easier to distrust than construct, as an animal trait. When a dog for example confronts another dog, their pallette of responses is limited to play together, fight, or move away. Once growling starts (a warning), the palette shrinks to only fight or move away.
The response of distrust is a preliminary psychological strategem towards the conclusion of moving away.
The reality however is that the Jewish Israeli and the Palestinians are bound to each other, sharing a breadth of populable land the size of Massachusetts. The option to move away and entirely avoid each other isn’t on the palette.
The ONLY real option is the play/make-up option.
I’ve seen dogs that had fought previously stop fighting and befriend each other. Most often it doesn’t happen. Most often, the sight of the other dog stimulates their defensiveness, expressed as warning, then threat, then crisis, then move away again.
It does happen when conditions allow it, when they have room to move away, but find something common to interact about and forget that they are enemies. In the political world, a common enemy is often a stimulus to reallignment.
In the modern world that finding a common enemy won’t result in improvement, but prospective larger scale war, as a distraction from intimate war.
The areas that I see common cause that distracts from animosity, are things like the J14 movement themes of asserting for economic rights to an affordable decent life, and better yet working together for common needs (not even common political opponents).
Ecology is common. Those that claim to love the land, but willingly despoil it in war or neglect, have some severe internalized cognitive dissonance.
I want to thank Mr. Avishai for his dedication to constructive effort, and I want to remind Mr. Avishai that distractions from his emphasis on constructive effort weakens his thesis. (At the talk, he felt compelled to defend himself from some “indirect” personal insults, and more distractingly to “correct” his critic’s assertions of history and prejudices.)
I feel that the constructive emphasis is astoundingly more effective. In argument, the constructive emphasis is a more winning one if constructed conscientiously. Specifically, the identification of risks is a primary positive component of the constructive process. The criticism, “you have not addressed the risks, the dangers” is a falsehood. In that sense, the risk-aversion orientation (whether articulated by pro-Israeli distrusting or pro-Palestinian distrusting) is a smaller set, a LESS mature response, a renunciation of responsibility rather than a realistic affirmation of responsibility.
Specifically, in the current situation of the Palestinian petition being presented to the UN General Assembly next week, and the animosity towards Israel expressed on its flanks, that the plane is already in the air.
To attempt to stop the plane mid-air, and not maintain sufficient speed to keep aloft, will result in a crash. It is a childish response at this point. Hear that likud. And, if the plane is going to have to land eventually, that it is better that it land confidently safely for all passengers.
So, to Mr. Avishai, “Please keep your eye on the prize. Don’t get distracted. Don’t give up. Don’t wait. You have only one life. Better that you go all out during it.”