Israel: Part I

November 5, 2009

Israel has been overwhelming and illuminating, and every minute of time has been filled with speakers and seeing, and 3am baseball games.

Our program started on Monday, meeting with Avigdor Lieberman, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, followed by a trip to the Knesset, where we met with Professor Avishay Braverman, the Minister of Minorities, and then MK Tsipi Livni, the head of the opposition party.  It was a serious line up, with Lieberman giving a speech he’s given a million times, and the diatribe’s of an academic after.  Livni was amazingly impressive, young, and clear and convicted.

Monday evening we heard from a fairly moderate Palestinian, who was challenged with the question: Why haven’t the Palestinians said yes, yet.  Or yes, but.  The Israelis have put nearly everything on the table–the 1967 boundaries, ideas about settlements and refugees, and the Palestinians have not yet said yes.  The question resonated with me.  We met after with Daniel Taub, a legal advisor to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  He talked about the Goldstone Report, about the lack of certainty, the different nuances of the situation here–again something that has come up over and over again.  The Palestinians are not a cohesive group, they don’t have a strong leader, with a majority backing.  There’s nothing to say that even if an agreement is signed there’s anyone to follow through with it.  One thing that Tsipi Livni said was that she thinks “Principles are stupid.”  She pushed for detailed lists, definitive actions, not statements like “Israel will do whatever is necessary to ensure safety.”  She says, what does that mean? It leads to nothing.

In wondering why the Palestinians haven’t said yes to the deals that have been on the table, it seems they don’t really have much incentive to.  They don’t have anything except their ideology.  They are muslim (different kinds, threatened greatly by Hamas unless they are Hamas) and they are against Israel.  If they can no longer be against Israel, what do they have?

On Tuesday, we headed up to the Galilee, driving north through olive groves and banana trees, and along the fence/wall/barrier of the West Bank.  We met wtih Lt. Col. Grisha Yacobowitz, Commander of the Efraim District, who talked about the security fence, what it’s like for the Jews and Palestinians living along it, what it’s like to have to cross, to have to grant permits.  As someone squarely in the middle, his position was pretty unique.

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