Chapter Fifty-Six + Bonus

 

VaporBonus:

A Mideast Moment Long Lost?’

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The following excerpt represents a still timely,

close-to-closing exchange in the 2008 tale.

This dialogue is stripped of narrative details

on where the two main characters are, how

they got there, and what happens as they

venture from here. These narrative details

flesh out and contextualize this debate, fore

and aft. Thus Saturn Rendezvous with

dovetailing (1978 & 2008) chapters,

if you’d prefer such a trajectory …

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Early autumn, 2008…

“Sooo, where to begin?”

“Well, now that we’ve candidly tendered our personal biases and bona fides, let us stipulate that we are in the realm of impossible possibilities, if history is any guide.”

“Depends on who’s leading the way, doesn’t it?”

“If you are referring to Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas,” Reese Paulen replied. “Your point is well taken, ruefully so.”

“They’re all we’ve got to work with,” I said, Two-State Solution creaking to mind. “That is if Olmert can stay in office and out of the can…”

“Problem is, it sounds as though those two might in fact be just close enough to blink and walk away again.”.

“Come on, doc, you know it can’t keep going on like that…”

“If you say so. Then let us begin with the status in quo…

“Better yet, status quo ante—as though 1967 never happened…”

“But 1967 did happen, Herbert—as I told you, through no fault of the Israelis. Fact is, the Six-Day War redrew everything in the Levant, and Israel is not about to erase those lines willy-nilly.”

“So then just reshape them a bit, already—even if it’s in pencil, not yet in ink.”

“That what Prime Minister Olmert is supposedly trying to do as we speak?”

“Precisely what he is doing—albeit through back channels. But I’ve read where the two may be meeting directly in his Jerusalem residence any time now.”

“Where on earth did you see that,” Paulen asked.

“Yediot, Haaretz, Times of Israel, with the outlines of some peace plan of his, such as it may be.

“Hmph, even should he map it all out, how much sway does Olmert actually have in his current legal straits,” Paulen countered. “Moreover, that sort of rationality doesn’t always prevail over there. Never does in a blood feud, where neighbors believe Israel is a foreign body that does not belong in their ‘hood or history, and are sworn to drive it into the sea.”

“Blood feud…dunno about that,” I said. “But what about Israel extending its hand to all surrounding states ‘in peace and bonds of cooperation to advance the entire Middle East’, like it said in its founding Declaration? Just asking rhetorically—anyway, rumors are is his staffers have quietly met 36 times with Mahmoud Abbas’s people on bridging proposals the past two years, actually drawing outlined borders for a viable, independent Palestinian State.”

“All well and good, but how does that work in reality? How does it beat direct final status negotiations, face to face in good faith?”

“Guess as long as Israel retains the right to defend itself against terrorists, beyond its borders and air space if need be, Olmert would agree to open checkpoints and an international security police force, particularly along the Jordanian border,” I said, banking defensible borders off of definable state. “Then he would pledge full reciprocal relations between the two states on ecosystems and infrastructure. It’s unprecedented. Olmert insists the Palestinians won’t get a better proposal from any Israeli government for the next 50 years.”

“Not so fast, Herbert, it takes two to tanzn. And thus far, Abbas isn’t exactly stepping up…seems he’s just as gun shy as Arafat. Meanwhile, the PA continues to teach hatred in their schools, paying martyr salaries and dedicating streets to terrorist bombers.”

“Still, gotta start somewhere, right?” As the security is paramount argument screams for my attention.

“Look, the way I read it, Abu Mazen is balking at the percentages and what he calls disconnected bantustan borders as a two-state solution, and won’t sign off on any napkin map. He disputes settlement blocks that Israel intends to keep permanently, wants built-up settlement tracts removed. But mostly, he refuses to recognize Israel as a Jewish State, saying that undercuts its Arab minority and their perceived right of return.”

“C’mon, the Palestinians recognized the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state in ’88, ’93 and ’98, albeit with right of return withing ’67 borders,” I said, struggling to balance return, right and law thereof. “They say they just want two nation states for two peoples, side by side in peace. But Israelis seem to refuse to acknowledge that at all.”

“Abbas knows very well Olmert can’t deliver on that, fearful as he is of wholesale removing those fanatical Judens and Russian immigrants in blocs like E1 Ma’Ale Adumim or Nabi Saleh, any of Area C—no Israeli PM could do that and survive.”

“And Abbas could survive if he accepted that?” Well, can you blame him,” I said. “He’s got a vengeful, hell bent on reclamation constituency to answer to, you know.”

“That’s his problem—firmly lead, or get out of the way, stop all their violence. Moreover, he publicly calls Olmert’s proposals on Jerusalem and right-of-return patently unacceptable, demanding an immediate end to Israel’s ‘illegal occupation’ of Palestinian land,” Paulen remarked. “It’s almost as if he is gambling on Olmert’s demise, or gaining a better deal with an impatient new U.S. administration.”

“So, what, you think he’s willing to stall or Arafart this chance away? It can’t be all on him, there must be resistance from the Israeli side, too…” I attempted to slip donnishly between irresistible, impossible object and immovable force.

“Look, all Abbas cares about is keeping his corrupt administration in place, so he and his PA cronies can continue feeding off their privileges and international funding whilst they quibble over land swap percentages and refugee numbers, posing his captious questions to the Israeli side. Meanwhile, they continue to pay monetary tribute to their terrorist bombers.”

“Well if he goes, so goes the West Bank jobs and security he provides with that foreign aid, dumping the entire cost of the occupation in Israel’s lap…”

“Believe me, with a jailed Hamas leader like Barghoudi as his only rival, Abu Mazen is going nowhere. In any case, I suspect Ehud is convinced he can sell his plan domestically. Although who knows what rival ministers like Tzipi Livni and a post-Stockholm Barak might have to say about it, much less Likud and Netanyahu?”

“Bibi again, god forbid,” I shuddered at the thought of another shameful, peacemealy sham. “And just think about what happened to Yitzhak Rabin for playing the two-state card. Still, they all have to man up and ultimately seize this opportunity, don’t they? I mean, for everybody’s sake…”

“So what if they don’t? There are the same painful, difficult decisions and compromises involved here” doc insisted. “Why should this be any different from the many false starts and missteps before? Camp Davids, two Oslos, Dayton, Taba, Wye River, interim frameworks, final status agreements, land-for-peace, building freezes, phased withdrawals, Clinton’s parameters, Geneva Accords, roadmaps—a slew of cross-fingered handshakes and crooked smiles, nobody ready to sign on the dotted line. Then here we are…”

“Sure, as Israel gorges on territory with bypass roads and subsidized settlement building on ‘state land’, while Palestinians waste away and radicalize in squalid camps,” I feared the peace train leaving the station, deadheading to Lethe. “Really, sounds like Olmert’s plan is but one last gasp…”

“Camps where their dodgy Arab brethren would just as soon keep them. But look, there’s no denying that if certain Israeli interests do happen to oppose Ehud’s peace piping with the Palestinians all bets are off,” Paulen said. “On the other hand, he is affording his political rivals no end of indictable fodder with which to thwart him.”

“I dunno, however much I want to like the Israel of Rabin and Peres, I’m gobsmacked by the likes of Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman. Israel needs some fresh eyes, like that young upcoming Yair Lapid dude, that’s who they really need.”

“Look, however that political drama plays out, Olmert’s fraud and bribery woes hardly lessen Israelis’ overall right to and desire for a normal, peaceful life. And who knows, perhaps Bibi could be Israel’s savior in shining armor—just like his father and brother, like Nixon to China all over again.”

“Now that’s a total stretch, but question is, would yet another failed peace process yield the same old status quo, or some kind of Third Intifada…”

“Deep down, Olmert might actually find that safer than crossing his Israeli settlers. They have become one tough bunch, who increasingly see your West Bank, their Judea and Samaria, as wholly their rightful biblical lands,” said Paulen. “Thus the more ardent among them broke no quarter with capitulation to Palestinian aspirations, particularly so the younger generation, who foresee a One-State solution—a single, solid Jewish State.”

“You mean the ‘Price Tag‘, theocracy-over-democracy crowd, many there via Brooklyn and the Bronx, for criminy,” I fought off the spectre of strong arm annexation into a one-stater regime. “But why can’t the Israeli right wing at least give Olmert an honest shot at hammering out something—yes, including refugee reparations —that Abbas can sell to his Palestinian constituency, once and for all?”

“Ridicule Likud and Shaas at your own peril, my friend. Reason being they consider neither of them honest brokers in the Begin and Sharon leadership mold, but dishonest deal breakers. They figure ol’ Ehud and Kadima are too eager, indeed desperate to give away the store, and don’t trust Abu Mazen as a serious partner who can deliver a sustainable peace, at all.”

“Yet better Abbas than Hamas, right,” I asked, envisioning the battlefronts of public order and peacekeeping along a narrow ten-mile waist. “Aren’t West Bank rock chuckers a safer bet than Gazan rocket launchers?”

“Case in point: as I’ve said, just look what Israel got for relinquishing land in good faith. A terrorist snakepit on its border that adheres to the ‘67 Khartoum Resolution. No recognition of, no negotiations nor peace with Israel; indeed, it still vows to exterminate the Jewish State altogether: So much for righteous return. Israelis simply do not want a new terrorist haven in their God-given Judea-Samaria.”

“Thus turn the Gaza Strip into an asymmetrical shooting gallery?” I batted around the folly of yet more checkpoints and roadblocks. “What good comes of that?”

“Puleeze, Islamic Jihad and the Qassam Brigades are sneaking artillery rockets in through their Sinai and Rafah smuggling tunnels this very minute, aiming them toward Ashdod and Sderot,” Paulen insisted. “And even should Israel’s new Iron Dome defense system prove to be an effective deterrent, Israelis cannot continue to live with code red sirens and shelter alerts, cowering under constant threat of attack.”

“And you think destroying Gaza infrastructure with IAF bombardments, taking out innocent Palestinian civilians in the process, will end this violent cycle and bring peace?”

“Or vicious circle, as it were. But if you have a better approach, I’m all…ears.”

“Then how about easing the embargoes and blockade? Open the border crossing gates to land that was once theirs,” I ventured, holding out hope for a greater state of equals as a goodwill gesture. “Let more food, power and supplies into the Strip itself so Gazans can actually rebuild themselves a life? Good neighbor, all that…”

“And let Hamas’s cells flood into Be’er Sheva and Dimona through their terror tunnels, those cowardly animals who hide behind their women and children? What kind of policy is that? I say keep up the targeted airstrikes and let the IDF go in and clean out that slough, once and for all, hudna or no.”

“Which is probably just what Hamas would like, suck a slew of Jewish troops into their rubble and underground spider webs, rally the entire Mideast to their cause. Hell of a plan you’ve got there, doc…”

“One hell of a dangerous neighborhood, my friend. However, I am confident world opinion will ultimately remain sensitive to Israel’s plight—even should the scenario turn worst case.”

“Sure of that, are you? To the point of preferring Gaza Strip chaos to Hamas?”

“Chaos? What are you implying, Herbert?”

“You know, break Gaza, re-buy it.” I clawed away at images of crumbled concrete and shattered glass. ‘I mean, it just seems Israel is already a red-hot pimiento in a big, fat olive, surrounded by Arab antipathy from day one, and steadily searing in. So what do you say about that?”

“How appetizing—but so stipulated, with some seven wars to prove it. On the other hand, hmmm, prime beachfront property, like here…”

“So was Omaha…”

“Nebraska? I scarcely see how…”

“No, Beach, for crissake.”

“Yet that volatile Mideast neighborhood remains relatively stable these days—the mullahs and autocrats are seeing to it.”

“Just ask Saddam Hussein. But who says the region won’t blow up at any time?”

“Point being, Iraq is preoccupied with its Shia and Sunni family squabbles; Hezbollah has been quieted for now, and the Golan overlooks a relatively quiescent Syria. Turkey is a trading partner, and Israel can still rely on peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan,” Paulen surveyed. “So just keep an eye on the Sinai and constrain Gaza Strip extremists—seems doable, a veritable walk in the park, with a spring in Israeli steps around Tel Aviv, at that.”

“Springtime along the wall, huh, all so nice and tidy,” I asked, fending off the prospect of any more Gazas or little Irans. “Until you factor in Iranians, remember them? And that whole nuke pursuit of theirs…”

“Well, no doubt Persia is the existential threat to be focused upon, raison d’ etre for staying diligently engaged. Although there is hope that international sanctions will put a damper on that centrifuge business…”

“Speaking of sanctions, how do you think another failed peace prospect and continued occupation would be received by the world at large? I mean, in terms of Israel and…”

“And what, Herbert, the blame game? We already know that’s in the hater and Holo-denier pipeline, no matter the outcome of any plan or negotiations. And it is rather clear where that venom is coming from, now isn’t it…”

“Hey, don’t ask me, I…”

“The U.N. and human rights busybodies are understandable—they’ve been hot and heavy against Israel since its Lebanon campaign in 2006. But quite frankly, this recent Boycott, Divest and Sanction nonsense is far beyond the pale.”

“Yeah, well maybe that’s because to them, BDS could also stand for blockades, detention and settlements,” I snapped. “So activists are organizing and mobilizing in response, from the campuses on outward. More and more of them are in the Palestinians’ corner, while Israel just gets more cornered.”

“But without it, won’t Israel only further isolate itself in the court of world opinion? Or worse, split Jewry left and right, hawks and doves, Observant and Reform, maybe even Ashs and Mizrahi Sephs?”

“That won’t deter Likud-Beitenu, Shas/settler and Ultra-Orthodox parties from coalescing to oust the PM and pave the way for a challenge from the likes of Binyamin Netanyahu, who has already stated his solid opposition to any such peace proposals and support for settlement expansion.,” doc replied. “Au revoir further Israeli magnanimity, security comes first…that is what border bans and separation barriers are for.”

“The same extremist Ultras who torch Palestinian homes, dodge the draft and wall off their own women,” I asked, thrashing out the darker implications of ‘Never Surrender’. “Talk about progressive—just imagine what they’d do if the Palestinian Authority in turn headed to the U.N. on their own for statehood or observer status, let alone joining the International Court over IDF war crimes.”

“Thank god the U.S. always has Israel’s back in the Security Council. Meanwhile, Bibi would be a shoe-in, if only by playing the terrorism and security card. While Abbas’s inciteful side shows and any peace process would be certain to get the Knesset boot, no matter who or what preconditions are involved…”

“Even if that means your walk in the park becomes a yellow cakewalk with neighbors like Tehran? Really, sounds like a recipe for reheated Intifada or a nuclear bake-off. What’s the point in that? Anyway, from what I can tell, Netanyahu serves up enough bully and bombast to piss everybody off,” I said. “Another dose of his chutzpah can only make Israel look bad and worse…”

“Hmph, just more red meat for the anti-Semites to gnaw over.”

“Old or new anti’s?” The very portent had me chewing over thoughts of a better way.

“Old, new; analog, digital; anti-Zionism or anti-Israel—it’s the same tired bigotry. The Muslim and neo-European variety is proving especially popular of late, but it’s essentially nothing the Jewish people haven’t weathered before, nothing a united Jewry can’t combat, wherever anti-Semitism slithers forth.”

“And while it’s internally debating Zionism of numbers versus Zionism of borders, Palestinians continue propagating like rabbits and the world closes in to further isolate the Jewish State. Europe already denounces Israel’s escalating occupation, and Israelis and the diaspora split over the country’s policies: namely proud, open nationalism versus provocative, isolating supremacy playing out a peace charade..”

“May I remind you that Israel remains our only dependable democratic friend in the Middle East. But fair enough, for starters. Now let us get down to your nub, our nitty-gritty, Herbert, whilst we still can…”

Return to Chapter Fifty-Six

Chapter Fifty-Seven