Can Netanyahu Create a New Reality?

We’ve tried the path of war, occupation, terror and hatred dozens of times, so why the rush to permanently divorce ourselves from peace after a single failure?

Niva Lanir
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Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference about the Gaza operation, August 2, 2014. Apart from us and a few guys at Fox News, nobody buys his spiel.Credit: AFP
Niva Lanir

There are sentences I wish I had written — for example, this one by J.M. Coetzee, which encapsulates a fascinating idea: that humanity “would rather live through the misery of the reality we have created... than put together a new, negotiated reality.” Coetzee wrote that sentence in April 2010 in a letter to Paul Auster (“Here and Now: Letters 2008–2011,” by Paul Auster and J.M. Coetzee, Viking), describing the financial crisis of 2008 and its deadly results.

Auster liked that idea and used the conflict in the Middle East as an example in his reply. “Now that hope is gone, and when I consider that this conflict has endured for what amounts to my entire life, I believe the time is long past due to begin thinking about radical and hitherto unimagined solutions,” he writes. “I have come up with several quixotic ideas over the years, but I believe my latest plan is the best.... A perfectly rational solution, it seems to me, and yet of course it will never happen. Why? Because, to use your words, ‘we would rather live through the misery we have created.’”

I will not specify what Auster suggested. His idea, which is exciting but has no chance of ever happening (p. 119), explains what is delaying the resolution of the Middle East conflict — in other words, what is holding up the creation of a new reality: the adoption of a different way of thinking, innovation in thought and the avoidance of fixations in the psyche. And so, when “we would rather live through the misery we have created,” hope for change is dashed time and again.

We, the Israelis, did not create the misery in the Middle East by ourselves. We have partners in its creation. But what are we, the Israelis, willing to do to change it?

“We only seriously tried the path of peace with the Palestinians once, in 1993,” the author David Grossman said in his address at the Haaretz Israel Conference on Peace. “It failed, and from that moment on, it’s as if Israel decided to seal off that option once and for all. Here, too, see the twisted logic of despair at work: We’ve tried the path of war, occupation, terror and hatred dozens of times, never wearying of it or giving up on it, so why the rush to permanently divorce ourselves from peace, of all things, after a single failure?... He whose policy is essentially a thinly veiled, profound despair is placing Israel in mortal danger.”

Commentators are saying that the penny finally dropped for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during Operation Protective Edge. They say, with caution, that he gave good marks to Mahmoud Abbas. He is not a partner yet, but Netanyahu gave him some encouragement — on condition, of course, that he not go too far in agreements with Hamas. So once the operation is over, when quiet is answered with quiet, maybe there will even be talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Perhaps both sides will walk into the room like grownups, even without John Kerry — and if that should happen, it will be cause for rejoicing. Hallelujah.

How ridiculous the nine months of talks that blew up seem now. How miserable the defamatory statements made about Abbas seem. Who in the government, from the highest- to the lowest-ranking minister, has not wiped his feet with him? Will he be “rehabilitated” as a partner for peace talks, now that they have made a doormat out of him? Are we capable of leaving the miserable reality we have created to build a new reality? Is Netanyahu capable of doing that? Are his ministers?