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Key question for Israel, Palestinians: What’s next?

Updated: February 18, 2014 6:03AM

What happens next?

A child’s question, really, something naive, blurted out when the tale goes on too long. Cut to the chase, Daddy. How does the story end?

The last time I bothered talking to Israeli leaders in Chicago — more than two years ago — I sat down with the then-consul general and trotted that question out, my device for cutting through the endless seesawing of blame. Forget blame, forget history — that’s done, the rope both sides use to play tug-of-war as the years roll by and nothing happens. Stipulate history as having occurred; what about now? You’ve got these 4 million Palestinians living under your control, in Gaza and the West Bank, for approaching 50 years. What is going to happen to them?

At which point there was a lot of talk about settlers and land and the two-state solution and how there is no Palestinian leadership with which to make peace.

All very true; none of it an answer. The Palestinian leadership, or, rather, “leaderships” since there are several, can’t come up with an answer either. They issue a wail of grievance, some legitimate, some not, one heard again last week when former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon died, years after suffering a stroke. They brand him a mass murderer for allowing Christian militia to slaughter Palestinians in Lebanon in 1983.

Yes, yes, all true. But what do the Palestinians want now? You would think, as oppressed as they supposedly are, they would be hot to push some immediate practical solution. But they’re not. Their vision involves the Jews magically vanishing and the country returning to them in its 1947 condition; not that it was theirs in 1947 either, mind you. If there’s a Palestinian plan besides the Israelis handing the whole country over to them on a platter, I haven’t heard it.

No wonder I’ve barely mentioned Israel since ... November 2011, because nothing has changed, and stasis is, well, “boring” is the wrong word. How about “tragic.” It’s the definition of tragedy — those involved squirm against their natures but do nothing as fate bears them toward their doom. This situation was penned by Arthur Miller.

For Israel, pulling out unilaterally just gives the terrorist minority freedom to lob rockets into Israel, again. To stay continues the civic nightmare that ebbs and flares.

So where does that leave us? Israel could keep going in this fashion. The world scowls, but luckily for Israel, its existence is not a referendum. The world doesn’t have to love Jews in order for them to survive. My filter for viewing the situation can be summed up in four words: “They hated us before.” Before Israel was created, a good number of otherwise civilized countries viewed the Jews who had lived there for centuries as a foreign presence who could be guiltlessly killed. Kind of how the Palestinians often view Jews to this day. That is the key that unlocks the mystery of a world that yawns off centuries of atrocity in most places but sits up, takes notice, and waves Israeli misdeeds as proof of ineligibility to exist. And the Palestinians? They’re lucky in that, unlike, oh, the Kurds, their jailer is the Israelis, who the world, for reasons mentioned above, keeps on a short leash. Otherwise they might languish in limbo forever, like Turkish Kurds and, guess what? They still might.

Shall we end on an optimistic note, false though it may be? As a Jew, I have a dog in this race: I liked to think that Judaism means something, that it isn’t just the brand of people in power in a particular sliver of land in the Middle East. Judaism isn’t just matzo balls, but an attitude toward justice, in theory, so that if grinning history places 4 million unhappy people under your authority, you don’t just shrug their lives away and push them into increasingly small, impoverished and desperate corners of a land they don’t own. You figure it out, eventually. Israel has tried — that old devil history, creeping in — and it hasn’t worked. But guess what? Israel has to keep trying. It has to figure it out, using that vaunted Israeli strategic thinking that once got it out of pickles like this. What happens next? The fence was smart — define a border, keep the bombers out. Now they have to take the next step, move from this problem to the next set of problems, whatever it will be.

Never leaving is not a forever strategy. The Palestinians have an advantage over the Kurds or other recipients of the short end of history’s stick in that a swath of the world is happy to make them the poster children for the Further Crimes of the Jews. But they shouldn’t mistake that dubious honor for actual concern about their lives and future. That, they must come up with themselves. It would be a good start. What happens next?


Twitter: @NeilSteinberg

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