To call "House of Cards" a bad show feels, at this point, like stating the obvious. What began as a dark, thoroughly enjoyable take on Washington politics has become, by the third season, a mélange of tired moments, insufferable dialogue and ridiculous plot twists. "House of Cards" has always been silly – it is, after all, about a House majority whip who games the political system, kills those who stand in his way, and becomes president in less than two years – but this season (currently available to download on Netflix in the United States, and on HOT and Yes VOD in Israel), the show has finally jumped the shark.
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Actually, it did somersaults over the shark.
Of the third season's many ridiculous plots - a U.S. president illegally appointing his wife to a serious ambassadorial position, despite Congress’ disapproval; a White House chief of staff flying to Caracas to beat up a hacker in the middle of an election campaign; and the most insane jobs plan ever conceived - there is one "House of Cards" narrative that stands out as especially preposterous: the Underwoods (played by Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, respectively) in the Middle East.
In a storyline more absurd than a Frank Zappa lyric, the new season follows Frank Underwood’s plan to resolve an imaginary security crisis in the Jordan Valley – the elongated strip of land between Israel and Jordan, and Jordan and the West Bank – by sending a UN-peacekeeping mission there to maintain order. Because that worked out so well before. Given UNIFIL’s problematic record keeping the peace in South Lebanon, this premise is ridiculous.
In a long series of negotiations, Underwood and the first lady (acting as U.S. Ambassador to the UN) succeed in getting everyone on board with their plan to facilitate a full Israeli withdrawal: Israel, Palestine and Russian President Viktor Petrov (played by Lars Mikkelsen, a transparent stand-in for Vladimir Putin), who voices concerns about U.S. troops entering the Jordan Valley because of its “proximity” to the Caucasus (a statement ludicrous in so many ways it is beyond comprehension).
The plan, as expected, backfires. Eight Russian members of the peacekeeping mission die in a bombing that is strongly alluded to be the Russian president’s own doing. The U.S. sends a Navy SEAL team in to investigate, and the Russians kill one of the U.S. troops. Things get even more bonkers from there: Israel institutes a no-fly zone over the Jordan Valley, and Putin ... erm, Petrov, violates the no-fly zone by personally flying there himself, causing the U.S. president to do the same. This leads to a mano-a-mano confrontation between the two world leaders in a dingy bunker in what looks like downtown Fallujah more than it does the fertile Jordan Valley.
That meeting in said dingy bunker, by the way, takes place with both leaders wearing green camouflage outfits. In the middle of the desert.
What is wrong with this storyline? For one thing, the year is still 2015 in the "House of Cards" universe, but there is already a Palestinian state, complete with a seat in the United Nations (as opposed to its current status of “nonmember observer state”). Anyone who follows the news at all probably remembers last year’s failed attempt to force the UN Security Council to recognize an independent Palestinian state. Apparently, this does not include the writers of a certain show about politics.
Furthermore, the mere thought that Israel would welcome UN peacekeepers into the Jordan Valley, in exchange for a full withdrawal, is laughable. It totally ignores the deep level of distrust and at times outright hostility Israel has for the UN and its institutions. The season 2 threesome between the president, the first lady and his bodyguard was more believable than Israel willingly evacuating the Jordan Valley and trusting the UN to keep the peace.
Not to mention the fact that the Jordan Valley currently includes some 7,000 Jewish settlers and 21 settlements. Their existence is not mentioned at all during the show, but presumably Israel must have evacuated them prior to withdrawing its forces from the area.
Israel evacuating 21 settlements quickly from a region that not even Yitzhak Rabin considered giving up, like it’s nothing? That’s enough to make your head spin. When then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon evacuated the Gaza settlements during the unilateral disengagement of 2005, it took him more than a year to rally the political system around this idea. And the plan was so controversial, so traumatic, it remains an open wound – and, in the eyes of some Israelis, a failure, given that Israel regularly goes to war in Gaza.
Imagine the same outrage, minus the popularity of Sharon, and you have a more plausible scenario of what would happen if an Israeli prime minister was to give up the Jordan Valley.
Israel’s relationship with the Jordan Valley is complicated and has a lot to do with the debatable claim that it is has major strategic importance, an idea that goes back to 1967. Over the years, many Israeli security figures have said it is no longer of strategic importance and that Israel can defend itself even if it was to withdraw from it. Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak essentially gave up the Jordan Valley during the Camp David talks in 2000.
But this is not the 1990s, and any discussion of handing back territories, especially ones as entrenched as the Jordan Valley, is probably doomed from the beginning. Early last year, when the possibility of including the Jordan Valley in a future peace accord came up, right-wing MKs rushed to visit the area, and even tried to pass legislation that would annex it to Israel. And that brouhaha was just caused by rumors.
But the biggest thing "House of Cards" missed about the Middle East? The inertia. The idea that a territorial compromise could be reached within a short time, with both Israel and the Palestinians buying in and jumping into action, goes against everything the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict teaches us.
"House of Cards," of course, is a fictional television show, and a cartoonish one at that. It doesn’t claim to be realistic, nor should realism be expected of it. It is, after all, a show where the president’s chief of staff has the time to go on undetected murder sprees.
Still, there’s theater, and there’s theater of the absurd. The third season presents a Middle East many Israelis and Palestinians would love to live in: one where peace is difficult, yes, but possible; where decisions are made fast and acted upon even faster; where the biggest obstacle to peace between the Israelis and Palestinians is Russia.
Mostly, it presents a U.S. president whose sheer willpower is enough to move mountains in the Middle East. If only Israel was farther from the Caucasus, maybe things would have turned out OK.