February 21, 2006

Living backwards

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:59 pm by yisraelmedad


Sometimes, Middle East politics need not be filtered through the wisdom of the Bible, the Quran or the Chatham House version of history.  Literary criticism methodology, though, is useful.  For example, one can gain helpful introspection to Israel’s predicament even from a book like Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass”.


In Chapter five of the book, we read how Alice becomes very mixed up about jam.  The Queen’s rule was: “jam to-morrow and jam yesterday — but never jam to-day.” Alice objects but the Queen insists, “It’s jam every OTHER day: to-day isn’t any OTHER day, you know.”  Poor Alice.  She just didn’t understand and it all was dreadfully confusing. 


So Carroll, making it clear not only for Alice but for us all, has the Queen say “That’s the effect of living backwards, it always makes one a little giddy at first.”   Alice was astonished, never having heard of such a thing, but as one’s memory works both ways, there’s a great advantage in the method.  Still hesitant, Alice remarked, “I’m sure MINE only works one way. I can’t remember things before they happen.”  The Queen then proceeded to tell of the King’s Messenger. He was in prison, being punished but the trial will not even begin till the following Wednesday.  “And of course,” she states, “the crime comes last of all.”


Alice was at this point, truly perplexed.  “Suppose he never commits the crime?” she asked.


*           *           *


Ten years ago, those who had the audacity and strength of spirit to “think backwards” about where the Oslo process would take us and what crimes would be committed were castigated and pilloried.  They were viewed as black prophets who could not see the New Middle East being fashioned and who were endangering the peace process.   We were all informed, most authoritatively, that a ‘peace for our time’ was at hand, to echo the words of another peacemaker who had spoken on the subject on September 30, 1938.  Months of secret negotiations in the northern cold of Norway had finalized into a concession of Jericho in addition to “Gaza first”, the beginning of many capitulations that encouraged the PLO that further yielding on the part of Israel would become a staple.

Arafat would send us to drink the water off the Gaza coast and the government ignored him.  He spoke of jihad in Johannesburg and the government excused his use of the expression.  There was a secret codicil on PLO institutions in Jerusalem that was hidden from the Knesset.  Ministers Peres, Beilin and Sarid covered for Arafat when they assured us that the PLO covenant was no longer a binding document.  The list of stealthy, underhanded policy manipulations practiced by the Yitzhak Rabin government is too long and too depressing and, after a decade, appears too border-line treacherous.

Nevertheless, the actions of the government and the developments of the diplomatic process were predicted time and time again by opposition MKs and the “irregulars”, the street activists who were set upon by the media and the police.  It was urged not to give them guns.  The PLO, it was said, is more interested in returning the refugees than a state.  This process, it was predicted, would ignite an irredentist movement among Israel’s Arabs. 

The political establishment, backed by a fawning press, supported by analysts in the media and the academia, encouraged by off-Dizengoff theaters, entertainers and a plethora of cultural icons, brushed off the criticism.  Shimon Peres came up with a new term, “peace sacrifices”, instead of terror victims.  They could not “look backwards”, not to mention “live backwards”.  Their opponents were puny in vision.

But, reality was upon us, almost from the first moments, when Arafat began smuggling, in his own planes and vehicles, terrorists and arms.  The numbers of the “police” force grew way beyond those permitted.  The rhetoric increased in stridency from Gaza and Jericho, and then from Ramallah.  The violent outburst in September 1996, the Tunnel Riots, were but a small-scale rehearsal.

*           *           *

In his article, “Peace is only a question of time”, published on the BitterLemons web site on September 8, Yair Hirshfield came to this stunning conclusion no less: “Failed negotiations can be of great historical relevance as they often produce concepts and ideas that do show the way for conflict resolution”.  A decade later, thousands of dead and wounded on both sides, with almost every obligation assumed by the Palestinian side violated and yet none of the enthusiasm as well as the insanity of those who reached out to Arafat and the PLO establishment have been tempered by failure.  And this is no ordinary failure. 

We may have been better off had we recalled, when Peres had broached the Oslo process, to have adopted the advice of George Orwell, who, in writing about Mohatmas Ghandi, penned, “Saints should always be judged guilty until they are proved innocent”.

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