Really good reading, but I disagree that the Israeli-Palestinian situation is hopeless because the Israeli are not stupid or pig-headed enough to 'go it alone'. That said, at the certainty of American Jewry blocking any run for a second term, Obama should now and immediately tell Netanyahu "Stop building on the West Bank or I will do every and any thing I can to block all military and financial aid to you -that from private citizens included".
June 7, 2009 Los Angeles Times
Amos Elon and the Death of Hope
The late author took a hard look at the Middle East and saw a place where peace is now not possible.
THE PITY OF IT ALL. That was the essence of Israeli writer Amos Elon's attitude toward the Middle East in the final years of his life, and it was evident the last time I saw him. His New York audience that night in 2004 had come looking for hope,
but he had none to offer. Even his long, stork-like body seemed to despair as he stood at the lectern, his shoulders sagging, his lips curling down as he traced the historical path that has brought the Israelis and the Palestinians to the point of mutual
rage and fear and humiliation. Speaking with a lingering trace of the Viennese accent of his childhood, he told a truth people didn't want to hear: "It is possible a solution to the. Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be delayed for another generation.
Perhaps much more than one." His voice was soft. His manner formal. He seemed more an academic than the Israeli journalist he had been since the 1950s. He was above all a man of intellect, of the Enlightenment, as baffled as many in the packed room by
the messianic quest that passed for politics in the Middle East and George W. Bush's America. "Alas," he sighed, "we no longer live in a rational world."
Amos Elon died in 2009; he was 82.
In that gray hall, as in decades of articles and books, Elon, who died last month, used irony and ideas to oppose the passions of religious nationalism. For him, the conversion of the Israelis to the mystical, the fanatical, the God-and- History claims to land have been a fatal mistake making'peace no longer possible.
He marked 1967 as the turning point.Israel's Pyrrhic Victory in the Six-Day War, he said, changed the liberal, secular tradition of its founders in ways that still shadow the present. He described the euphoria and hubris that caused a rush to settle the West Bank by "religious nationalists who knew exactly what God had said to Abraham in the Bronze Age." He scolded Israel's Labor Cabinet for not defending its secular values and resisting the pressure to occupy,
It was not surprising that the man who had written a biography of 19th century Zionist leader Theodor Herzl, and a book called "The Israelis: Founders and Sons" could manage a compliment for the pioneer generation. Elon praised former Prime Minister DaVid Ben-Gurion for not taking territory after the 1948 war for independence. "Ben-Gurion," he said, "was a cautious man and didn't overreach. He was more interested in legitimacy than in real estate, even if it contained the Wailing Wall,"
But he didn't spare the pioneer generation from criticism in his work, He admired Herzl's courage but not his European tradition of ethnic nationalism, a philosophy that ignored the "Other." Even Ben-Gurion was criticized for not paying attention to those who weren't Jewish. Elon, as a man of the Enlightenment, was on the opposite side of the European philosophical divide, a believer in reason, in liberty, equality, fraternity. "The Israelis" was one of his first books written in his country to deal with the national aspirations of the Palestinians.
Yet there was no smugness, only regret, when he spoke of the ethnic nationalism that made the pioneers ignore the Palestinians, and the '67 generation's religious nationalism; which fueled the occupation. Elon had been one of the few at the time to write that occupation would be a disaster. That night in New York, explaining his countrymen, he said that the emotions of religious nationalism blinded them and caused them to miscalculate, made them assume the Palestinians weren't a military threat and wouldn't be in the fuure. "Hell is the truth understood too late," Elon concluded, surveying the burning landscape of suicide bombers and vengeful tanks.
There was a special poignancy about his frail figure because he believed Israel had missed a chance for peace in the summer of 1967. He had been a reporter for Haaretz in that time before Hamas. He learned that his country's intelligence agents were saying the Palestinians were willing to sign a separate peace no matter what the other Arabs did. "That report," he said, anger 'edging his regret, "was shelved by Moshe Dayan."
Elon and the audience were caught between the past and the present, the weight of history and the squandering of time. Longing for an out, a man in the audience asked wistfully, "Couldn't the Labor Party eventually make peace?"
The writer dismissed the possibility with a wave of his hand.
Then a disembodied baritone voice from the crammed back of the room asked the inevitable question: "Is peace still possible?"
Elon answered simply: "It's too late." There was now too much fanatic religious nationalism -among both the Palestinians and the "chosen people." Beneath his pessimism that night in New York was his pain. Speaking slowly, pausing frequently, Elon said: "Even if we withdraw from all the settlements, a solution still may not be possible. ...It has taken many years of occupation, repression and humiliation to produce the terrorists and suicide bombers. ...It will take many, many years ...to unproduce them." He predicted two equally awful prospects for Israel: perpetual violence or ethnic cleansing. His words chilled. The audience kept trying to shake him with questions, hoping a solution would emerge. These too were rational, pragmatic people. They believed that if there was a problem, it could be fixed with compromise or clever language. They did not reckon with the intoxication, the certainty, the mythic dreams of Israeli and Palestinian nationalists who in defense of their tribe would destroy it. Elon did not allow illusions. "I tremble at the thought of results far more terrible than those we are now witnessing," he said in the final minutes. He ended by quoting Yeats: "We had fed the heart on fantasies. The heart's grown brutal with the fare."
Marlene Nadle is a foreign affairs journalist and associate of the Transregional Center for Democratic Studies at the New School in New York.
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