Thursday, February 13, 2014

The world is flex

Thomas P. Friedman, better known as Thomas L. Friedman, the Mystax Maleficarum, increasingly resembles one of those computers beloved in commercial science fiction that have achieved consciousness but are broken by cognitive dissonance—"Does not compute!" Having somehow managed to learn that Palestinian people are a distinct population of human beings who like the idea of having their own state but not that Binyamin Netanyahu could be mistaken about anything, he has tipped over from the usual psychotic, but interpretable pontification into literal senselessness, a verbal hornblende from which no actual metal can be extracted.
I’ve written a series of columns from Israel in the past two weeks
(Actually from Israel and the West Bank; at least one of those columns was datelined Ramallah)
because I believe that if Secretary of State John Kerry brings his peace mission to a head and presents the parties with a clear framework for an agreement, Israel and the Jewish people will face one of the most critical choices in their history.
Wait wait, you're filing the copy from Israel this month because why?
And when they do, all hell could break loose in Israel. It is important to understand why.
OK, so Mr. Kerry may bring his peace mission to a head (exploding or otherwise) and present the parties with a clear framework, and this will force upon Israelis and the Jewish people (not to suggest that these categories don't overlap) a critical choice, upon which hell may break loose. And either (a) filing his piece from Israel will explain why hell will break loose, or (b) the breaking loose of hell will explain why he filed the piece from Israel, which is important to understand.

What the critical choice may be is not directly stated, but
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, not without reason, is asking the Palestinians to recognize Israel as the “nation state of the Jewish people,”
(which is certainly a relief; you wouldn't want him to be doing it entirely at random)
confirming that if Israel cedes them a state in the West Bank, there will be two-states-for-two-peoples.
At first I read that as the prime minister confirming the two-states, but a second look convinces me that he's making it the Palestinians' job; the recognition of Israel as the "nation state of the Jewish people" being the illocutionary act by which the confirmation will be accomplished (in the way "I now pronounce you spouse and spouse" confirms that you're married).
But, for Netanyahu to get an answer to that question, he will have to give an answer to a question Israelis have been wrestling with, and avoiding, ever since the 1967 war reconnected them with the heartland of ancient Israel, in the West Bank, known to Jews as Judea and Samaria.
(That's some Jews, Tom, and last I heard you weren't one of them. If you've joined the I-got-this-little-acre-straight-from-God crowd, please let us know so I can stop worrying about what you think altogether. Also let us know how you wrestle with a question and avoid it at the same time.)
And that is:

What is the nation state of the Jewish people?”
Because the Palestinians won't recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people until the prime minister tells them what that is. Demonstrating a certain level-headedness on their part that is not often appreciated.
Kerry, by steadily making the answer to that question unavoidable, has set the whole Israeli political system into a roiling debate,
(you can avoid the question, wrestling with it, indefinitely; but Kerry won't let you avoid the answer)
with some ministers shrilly attacking Kerry and slamming Netanyahu for even putting the question on the table
(ah, there's the question again, and if you want to wrestle with it you should go to the gym and do it on the mat)
 — as if the status quo were sustainable and just hunky-dory.
Even though the status quo is what was keeping hell from breaking loose just, oh, a couple of paragraphs ago?
For instance, Kerry recently observed at a conference in Munich that if the current peace talks failed “there’s an increasing delegitimization campaign that’s been building up [against Israel]. People are very sensitive to it. There are talks of boycotts and other kinds of things.”
For instance of what? Oh, of the non–hunky-doriosity of the status quo, I guess, and not the secretary's observations but the campaign he's been observing. Because Kerry said, more or less in the same paragraph,
“Today’s status quo absolutely, to a certainty, I promise you 100 percent, cannot be maintained. It’s not sustainable. It’s illusionary."
Which shows that Friedman isn't just pulling these clichés out of his ass. He's pulling them out of somebody else's ass. Kerry won't even notice they've gone missing.
If Kerry’s mission fails — because either Israelis or Palestinians or both balk — he will either be tacitly or explicitly declaring that this two-state solution is no longer a viable option
(so we'll know Kerry is declaring it tacitly by the fact that he's not saying it aloud)
and “that would plunge Israel into a totally different paradigm,” said [Gidi] Grinstein, who recently authored the book “Flexigidity: The Secret of Jewish Adaptability.”
Ding-ding-ding!!! It's the magic mustache word of the day!
It would force Israel onto one of three bad paths: either a unilateral withdrawal from parts of the West Bank or annexation and granting the Palestinians there citizenship, making Israel a binational state.
That's two bad paths.
Or failing to do either, Israel by default could become some kind of apartheid-like state in permanent control over the 2.5 million Palestinians. There are no other options.
Oh, well, then. But that looks like your unsustainable status quo getting sustained, huh? Only not quite, because according to Grinstein,
“the B.D.S. movement at heart is not about Israel’s policies but Israel’s existence: they want to see Israel disappear. What is keeping the B.D.S. movement contained is that we’re still in the paradigm of the two-state solution.”
It's a new existential threat! (As Sartre said when "Strangers in the Night" first hit the French airwaves, "Do be do be do".) Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions are aimed right at Israel's hot, flat, crowded heart, and if you Likud thugs manage to avoid the answer of the avoided question and fail to tell the world what a nation state of the Jewish people is, there will never be one. The worst is that it's Tom Friedman himself who will hold the neoliberal knife, weeping, like Abraham over Isaac:
being the “nation state of the Jewish people,” means that the values of Israel cannot be sharply divergent from the values of the Jewish diaspora (the vast majority of American Jews vote liberal) or from the values of America — Israel’s only true ally. Added Grinstein: “If that happens, the relationship between Israel and America and American Jewry will inevitably become polarized.”
Look, snark aside for a moment, I'm pretty sure I know what the Mustache is trying to accomplish here, and I even have a certain amount of sympathy for it. He's not talking to me or you at all, in the first place; he's speaking ex cathedra as the archbishop of neoliberalism to the Likud Party, honestly trying to persuade them in terms that they can understand that it is in their interest to allow Kerry to broker a two-state agreement. We're just eavesdroppers in his grand plan. He really thinks he's Cardinal Richelieu.

That's why he goes to Israel to type up his pieces, that's why he suddenly breaks into a ghastly reference to "Judea and Samaria". That's why he writes like a Catholic bishop in these uncharacteristically veiled metaphors  and distant duck-calls. He's on a mission, and he wants to lull them into trustfulness. But there's no way out of such an approach: if he finally breaks into any direct and unambiguous language they'll scatter right away. These are people afraid that Binyamin Netanyahu himself is a liberal! They're going to listen to some American with a mustache who thinks the future is putting everybody into online universities?

And in the end he can't say it: he can only ask them, again and again, to define their premise—"So what's a nation state of the Jewish people?"—in the hopes that they'll see the contradiction between that idea and the idea of a revived Davidic kingdom or whatever the hell it is they hope to do with Hebron and East Jerusalem and give it up. It's not going to happen. They're not afraid of boycotts. The Israeli people may be, but they'll continue to vote like idiots or vote with their feet and get out, and the Likud mullahs will try to carry on.

It can't make sense, I'm afraid, because the contradictions are just too deep.The fact is that they don't really care about the things they claim to care about, and poor innocent Friedman, like Graham Greene's Quiet American but usually not so quiet, has no idea. A solution to the Palestinian problem is not in their interest at all. They like the permanent state of war, the flow of unvetted contracts, the freedom of the government not to have to deal with housing or finance because IRAN, the whole thing. They'd like to keep it going till they die. Bless Kerry for trying so hard, and if anything can prove me wrong, it's him, but Friedman? Shut up.
This is so wrong. Sorry.

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