Sunday, November 14, 2010

Day 318-It's not murder, it's a metaphor

Dear Mr. President,

While reading an article about the way our brain reacts similarly to the literal and metaphorical feelings of pain and disgust, I cam across this passage about Palestine and Israel:

in a world of sheer rationality where the brain didn’t confuse reality with symbols, bringing peace to Israel and Palestine would revolve around things like water rights, placement of borders, and the extent of militarization allowed to Palestinian police. Instead, argues Axelrod, “mutual symbolic concessions” of no material benefit will ultimately make all the difference.

This got me thinking about the military aid offered to Israel in exchange for a 90-day extension of the settlement freeze. The terms of the freeze are largely symbolic; settlement construction could continue in East Jerusalem, the ostensible future capitol of a Palestinian state, and no extension of the freeze would be requested after 90 days. The objections to this plan from the Israeli right are largely symbolic, as well. It makes me wonder how much we'd be willing to pay for symbolism. 3 billion a year in aid? Unlimited cover at the UN? What about any potential future peace in the region?

The deal you've offered is trading just that. You've sent a message to the Palestinians that they have 90 days to make peace and after that they are on their own. No US support for Palestinian statehood unless it is on Israel's terms. No US diplomatic pressure to keep the settlements from expanding again in 90 days. The unconditional agreement of those new bombers, which the US will provide to Israel regardless of a peace deal being signed or not. It's an offer so good, it should have it's own infomercial. The unfairness of the whole situation, and the utter absurdity of the Israeli right balking at such an offer is mind-boggling.

Instead of settling for symbolism, why didn't you decide to leverage our special relationship for an agreement that would have practical results? It seems as though you'd settle for the illusion of progress so long as it makes every one (except, of course, the Palestinians) feel better and look good, rather than a less popular, more difficult long-term plan that will actually hold Israel responsible for curtailing settlement activity? Instead of trading away a guarantee to do everything in our (not inconsiderable) power to prevent recognition of Palestinian statehood by international organizations, why wouldn't we threaten to do everything in our power to support it, if Israel doesn't follow international law? I just don't understand.

I would never argue that this conflict is simple or that achieving peace won't be a complicated process. But when lives and homes and the basic human rights are at stake, we can't afford to sacrifice the protection of these things for the sake of symbolism. Water rights, housing demolitions, settlements and security are practical points of disagreement that must be addressed seriously and with respect to the needs of people on all sides. Instead you have practically increased Israel's capacity for violence and symbolically granted the political cover to wield it with impunity. Symbolically, and practically, this was a total failure.

Respectfully yours,


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