For generations, Israel has been making the case for peace. Not survival, peace. Survival was never to be dependent on the choices of others, only the price of survival.
The absence of peace has been costly to Israel, but also to those who have declared Israel to be their enemy. By the 1970s the alliance between Egypt, Syria, Libya, and Iraq had become costly to Egypt. According to reports at the time, it became evident to Egyptians in the streets of Cairo that the alliance was an increasingly bad deal. Syrians, the saying went, were willing to fight right down to the last Egyptian.
When Sadat visited Israel in 1977, it was, as much as anything, a recognition of the hard facts of conflict.
Israel has made the case to Palestinians for as long as I can remember. The embargoes and blockades that keep the world's commerce away from that impoverished people would have been an act of war if it had been conducted against a sovereign country. The back-against-the-wall necessity has made what would otherwise have been unacceptable into a condition of national survival.
Basic needs are barely met. Deprivation has been normalized. What is regarded in most of the world as a normal part of existence is seen in those fenced in areas as luxuries.
Jews are seen as "the other" as they have been in the United States in the past, as they frequently are in other parts of the world. There is an additional sense of violation three generations removed, as Palestinian cling to the idea of diaspora, a removal from homeland. What turns historical grievance into active rage is the immediacy of prosperity, just out of reach. The "other" becomes the enemy partly because of casual wealth next to agonizing deprivation.
The constant message of successive Israeli governments has been that the grinding hardship is more than regretful, and more than necessary.
The terrorism, the launching of missiles into Israeli neighborhoods, the kidnappings of stray soldiers, the assaults on civilians, all play to that central theme. If peace would come, if acceptance became the norm, if fences could be torn down without a loss of security, the Palestinian people would have a home. More than that, they would be full partners in prosperity.
The core case that Israel and the United States have both made has been constant for nearly 65 years. All that stands between Palestinian prosperity and hardship is an imprisonment constructed of Palestinian hatred toward the Jewish nation.
At least that was the consistent message until this week. Mitt Romney spoke of the three to one ratio of income between Palestinians and Israelis. In fact is is a little over 20 to 1.
Culture makes all the difference. Culture makes all the difference. And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things.
The primary additional thing he mentioned was providence.
Of course, it caused an uproar. Gone was the hard core appeal for peace. It wasn't conflict and hatred that made barriers to trade economic development necessary, it wasn't the threat to Israeli survival that stood in the way of full economic participation in regional prosperity. It was cultural inferiority and the will of God.
An aide later explained that the Governor had been misinterpreted. "This was not in any way an attempt to slight the Palestinians. And everyone knows that."
Well, maybe not everyone. Palestinian leaders were furious, speaking out as Romney departed for Poland. They ranted about racism and cultural inferiority. One said that he had never heard any representative of Israel say that culture or God determined the poverty of Palestinians. He is undoubtedly correct about that. The singular search in Israel has been for peace and survival. It has never been about the establishment of cultural supremacy.
The Israeli government sent Defense Minister Ehud Barak to speak on American television. He pointedly told Wolf Blitzer of CNN, "I should tell you honestly that this administration under President Obama is doing, in regard to our security, more than anything that I can remember in the past."
In Poland, to the astonishment of reporters who had recorded his words, the Governor denied ever speaking about culture and the Palestinian economy. "That is an interesting topic that perhaps can deserve scholarly analysis but I actually didn’t address that. I certainly don’t intend to address that during my campaign. Instead I will point out that the choices a society makes have a profound impact on the economy and the vitality of that society."
Scholarly analysis has its place, of course. An analyst who happens to be a major contender for the Presidency might want to apply actual scholarship to his dissertation. Poverty in the region is not regarded by either side as caused by the will of God or by cultural determinism.
A potential President might want to weigh his words in an area of the world where even dispassionate words often inflame, where children die every day, where throwing matches at ammunition piles can hurt real people.
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