There's a story (apocryphal, no doubt ) about a man who was sentenced to death by electric chair in one of the states in America that still allows such punishment. But when the execution was due to take place, it turned out that the guilty party was too fat to fit in the chair. A stay of execution was granted and he was ordered to consult a dietitian and to lose a certain number of kilograms in six months - or else. When he set foot on the scales six months later, oddly enough, he had not lost a gram and, in fact, had even gained weight. When asked why, he retorted simply: "I don't have the motivation."
Not that I am comparing the man's situation on death row to Israel's predicament, but whenever the issue of the never-ending (i.e., never-starting ) peace process in the region comes up, one begins to wonder if the lack of progress doesn't have something to do with the motivation of the parties involved.
If we consider the leaders, first of all, our side has been famous for its peace-related rhetoric for years. There is a well-known anecdote about how Levi Eshkol, Israel's third prime minister, looked over his inaugural speech before the Knesset - which had been drafted by speechwriters - and got to the final sentence: "And we extend our hand in peace to all our neighbors ..." He peered at his aides and asked: "Kinderlach, do we know what to do if they extend their hand back to us?"
Indeed, while repeating again and again over the years that Israel truly seeks peace (and security ), it seems that in essence our leaders are actually keen on letting the situation remain more or less as it is. Especially if they can keep their seats in the Knesset or cabinet at the same time.
While we're on this subject, something should be said about an idea being bandied about, according to a recent article ("Endgame," Haaretz Magazine, July 16 ), by spokesmen of the Israeli right: Suddenly, several of them (politicians Moshe Arens, Reuven Rivlin, Uri Elitzur and Tzipi Hotovely, and activist Emily Amrousi ), are expressing concern and dissatisfaction about the situation of the Palestinians in the West Bank, and proposing to grant them full citizenship after annexing that territory to the State of Israel. While understanding the right-wingers' motivation (annexing the West Bank was always their aim anyway ), one has to wonder why they think the Palestinians would be motivated to accept such a magnanimous offer.
As to the issue of motivation on the Palestinian side, Hamas, a radical Islamist movement that perceives itself as the underdog in the conflict with Israel, does not even preach about the need for peace; a state of unrest and uncertainty apparently serves its purposes better than a peaceful solution. The Palestinian Authority, on the other hand, is caught between a rock and a hard place: It cannot allow itself to be perceived as less committed to its people's cause than Hamas, but it is not willing to relinquish its leadership. And of course there is the issue of the Gaza Strip and the rule over it. Even if the PA is indeed motivated to achieve peace, there are more pressing matters to deal with on a day-to-day basis.
If the leaders on both sides lack the motivation to pursue peace - or relegate that pursuit to a secondary status - what about the people themselves? Even if reports about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza are sometimes exaggerated for reasons of propaganda, there is no doubt that the average citizen is in truly dire straits there. However, even if this should, logically, motivate someone to yearn for peace, daily life there does not allow for the luxury of such thoughts. Nor is popular opinion a factor that Hamas leaders take into account.
Much has been written about the different situation of Palestinians under the PA in the West Bank. Reports from Ramallah and elsewhere describe a normal, even Western, lifestyle in many cases. Salam Fayyad's government is working hard to build the infrastructure for a future state, and improved relations between Israeli and PA security services have allowed the removal of a few checkpoints. The daily life of West Bank Palestinians clearly leaves much to be desired, but apparently it is not bad enough to motivate them to create a powerful popular movement for peace.
And what about Israeli citizens' motivation? No doubt we are peace-motivated, but it seems that it is peace of mind that we really want. Let the economy prosper, let the security issues recede to the back sections of the dailies - and on the whole we will be content with things as they are. So why support a change in the status quo that ultimately may not guarantee a better life for all concerned?
While trying not to sound too harsh, it seems to me that our motivation - for whatever personal or collective reasons - is not strong enough for us to strive and work toward peace, no matter what.
So, what is the prognosis? I honestly don't know, but I'm reminded of yet another anecdote, this one involving the British conductor Sir Thomas Beecham. He was known for his sharp tongue, which was as famous (if not even more so ) as his musical skills. Once, when recording a particular aria in an opera, with a tenor of questionable ability, to put it nicely, Sir Thomas was ready to move on, but the singer asked for another "take."
"But why?" asked Sir Thomas. "It can only get worse."
The tenor was unfazed, and protested. "But, Maestro, why not assume that it can get better?"
This was just the sort of comment the conductor was waiting for. "My dear man," he said, "For a better rendition of that aria from you, we don't have enough time."
Why am I bringing this up? Maybe because it's all about time running out.
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