Friday, May 7, 2010

Proximity talks and satellite photos

The inability to see a bigger picture or a broader perspective is often termed as “looking at the forest from the trees.” What I have found is that in addition to this truism, the opposite is also true. One cannot see the reality on the ground when looking at the forest from thousands of miles away. While the former affords the perspective of the limited view by sitting on a soft patch of moss while leaning against the trunk of a tree, far below the leaves and far too deep inside the forest than to be able to see more than a few trees away until it all becomes a blur, the later perspective yields a view where all one can see is a green speck. When looking at the forest from thousands of miles away, but looking up close with the aid of satellite photos, one can't see the leaves of the trees and their distinctive shapes or colors. One can't see the fauna in its natural habitat. One can't see growth or rejuvenation of life from season to season. One can't see how the flora and fauna are interdependent. One can't see when there are challenges and threats to the delicate ecosystem. With the impending beginning of new “proximity talks” to try to make peace between Israel and the Palestinians, I can’t help but feel that President Obama is attempting to initiate something, albeit well intentioned, while simultaneously being in the forest looking at the trees, and from looking at the forest from thousands of miles away. There’s every reason to question whether Obama really gets it. I can’t help but feel that at every turn, he’s tripping on his good intentions and in the process, making matters worse. Sitting in the forest, after the first 20-30 feet, it seems that all Obama sees is a blur of leaves and trees. Trees and leaves. At a glance, one might think that because the leaves high up, and the trees are rooted in the ground, they are separate and can be dealt with separately. One might think while sitting under a vast green umbrella of foliage that the two don’t relate to one another. One might find an occasional branch on the ground or bed of rotting leaves from the previous fall as being an irritation to the perspective of the two being separate. With all of the intricacies of this ecosystem literally at arm’s length, one might be forgiven for not being able to have the full perspective on life in the forest. Stepping outside the forest may help provide that perspective. However, when looking at the forest from thousands of miles away as Obama also does, he is far too distant and removed to be able to appreciate the things that make the forest unique, or threats to the forest itself, much less how to relate to these. For instance, when Obama started to raise the bar on expectations from Israel as more than those the Palestinians ever demanded just to consider renewing peace talks – total freeze of construction in Jewish communities in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria), terming major Jewish Jerusalem neighborhoods as “settlements,” and calling upon Israel to freeze construction in Jerusalem’s Jewish neighborhoods, by setting such high and unprecedented demands he helped push Palestinian leader Abbas so far up a tree that he got stuck in the leaves. Obama has yet to build a ladder that can reach Abbas, much less help coax him down. Proximity talks are the current best effort, but there’s no sense that this will even bring Abbas down from the tree to the table, much less persuade him to negotiate sincerely if all he sees is Obama relentlessly holding Israel’s feet to the fire while giving the Palestinians a free pass in a way that would make even Yasser Arafat blush. Another reason Obama may be driving Israel and the Palestinians further apart is the Administration’s use of trial balloons to threaten imposing a solution if one cannot be negotiated on Obama’s timetable. Not only does this not bring a solution, it encourages the Palestinians to dig in deeper. Why should Abbas make any concessions if Obama’s position is more extreme than the best offers they have already received, or can expect to get? How does threatening to impose a solution give either party more confidence in the role of the US, or any motivation to proceed and progress in peace talks? It lends one to think that someone is inhaling a little too much of the helium needed to keep these trial balloons afloat. Independently, there is a wide enough gap between the Israeli and Palestinian positions and expectations. We don’t need Obama to drive us further apart. But on the ground, in this delicate ecosystem that Obama can’t seem to see, not everything is all bad, and pushing too hard without paying attention to the outcome may yield far worse results. Last fall, shortly after the imposition of the building freeze, I had the privilege to host a group of American Christians in my home. They were greeted by the mayor and who hosted them on a tour of our community and surrounding area. Overlooking an adjacent Arab village, he spoke about the positive relations, partnership and even a new water pipe being built in our community to service the Arab village next door. As we were standing there, two young Arab men from the village approached and greeted the mayor warmly, in fluent Hebrew. They complained to the mayor that the building freeze was hurting them, and that we should continue to build anyway, despite the restriction to do so! Lack of building in our communities is bad for the Arabs financially and, as a result, has the ability to create social problems in their communities and even open the door for Islamist extremists to make headway brainwashing and corrupting them and their kids. More recently, a man just outside the entrance to my community paved over an empty lot and opened a car wash. Had this been an Israeli Jew, no doubt the army would have been there to bulldoze and uproot the crude foundation, the same way Israeli army entered our community to destroy the foundation for a new synagogue they say was poured after the building freeze started. But the entrepreneur was not an Israeli Jew but a Palestinian Arab. Making his new business all the more interesting is that both the printed sign and spray painted graffiti announcing his business are written in Hebrew. Why? It shows that Arabs and Jews are inter reliant. Arabs are living from our business at the car wash, and an adjacent hardware store. Further up the road, more Hebrew signs for “Marble World,” and in other areas Arab doctors advertising in Hebrew as well. We rely on Arab labor to build our communities. In fact, looking outside the main entrance of many Israeli communities in this area one sees a scene reminiscent of a parking lot at a commuter bus or train station. Except the cars are all those of Palestinian Arabs, with the distinctive white and green license plates. Rather than commuting to “Downtown” anywhere, USA, they are parking their cars outside and entering our communities where they are as free to work as they are in their own communities. I don’t have a problem with this at all. In fact, it underscores a thesis of the Netanyahu government to help create economic infrastructures and stability within the Palestinian Authority and help make the quality of life better in little ways that can make a big difference in the long run. I am all for peaceful coexistence and interdependence as long as nobody is trying to kill me, my family or my neighbors, or deny our right to live here. I don’t mean to pick on President Obama, though he’s a big boy and can take care of himself. I want him to succeed. I want there to be peace. A real peace, not one imposed from Washington. But Obama’s efforts are naïve and misguided. By trying to make peace by looking at satellite photos of Jewish construction in the West Bank, while sitting at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, he does not comprehend the reality on the ground, and that’s bad for us all. In making sweeping statements and raising the bar higher on Israel, he only lowers the possibility of proximity talks leading to face to face negotiations and a peaceful anything.

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