There is currently no place on earth called “Palestine” – certainly not in any meaningful legal or diplomatic sense. Nonetheless, most of the world prefers to think otherwise. This basic misunderstanding and misrepresentation is now as common in great universities as it is in ordinary politics. Indeed, wherever one looks for commentary about the Middle East, a symmetrical condition is widely presumed to exist between two fully sovereign and hence equal states.
Israel and Palestine. International law and jurisprudence? Forget about it!
If this were the only pertinent falsehood here, Israel and its few allies could still deal effectively with the attendant problems. In fact, however, certain “moderate” Palestinian factions still pretend to favor a “Two State Solution,” and Jerusalem – endlessly pressured by Washington – still goes along with the charade. It follows that an authentic state of Palestine may actually come to fruition, and that this 23rd Arab country will bring about a de jure as well as de facto equivalence. Such a development would be inherently unstable. It would lead, in short order, to major assaults upon Israel.
Israel, after the creation of “Palestine,” would await a tragic fate. Yet, because of the fact that the Jewish State will have been actively complicit in such creation all along, a different dramatic genre would then more accurately reflect Israel’s reality. Like the minimalist poetics of Samuel Beckett, this entire “play,” however tragic, would also be preposterous. The great Romanian playwright Eugène Ionesco labeled some of his work a “tragic farce,” and this odd juxtaposition would likely be the most suitable description of Israel and Palestine.
Both Israel and the Palestinians have long been engaged in an elaborate pantomime. Both have managed, by immense clamor, by vast rhythmic repetition, by ceaseless reliance upon platitudes, to make genuine thinking impossible. Now there is great danger that a continuously elaborated fiction of Palestinian statehood – a concoction governed by an inscrutably perverse and destructive logic – will soon become historical fact.
Let us go back in time, to a much earlier era. The early Greeks, of course, did not share the monotheistic Jewish understanding of One G-d. But both the Greeks and the Jews did subscribe to the perfectly reasonable idea that all human beings and societies are obligated to ward off disaster as best they can. Saadia Gaon included freedom of will among the central teachings of Judaism, and Maimonides affirmed that we humans stand alone in the world, “…to know what is good and what is evil, with none to prevent him from either doing good or evil.”
Free will, however, must always be oriented to life, to the blessing, and never to the curse. For Hellenes and Hebrews alike, the binding charge was to strive in this mandated direction of self-preservation through intelligence and through disciplined acts of decision. In circumstances where such striving was consciously rejected, the outcomes − no matter how catastrophic − could never truly rise to the manifestly dignified level of tragedy.
The ancient vision of “High Tragedy,” as it evolved from fifth century BCE Athens, is always clear on one crucial point: The victim is one whom “the gods kill for their sport, as wanton boys do flies.” It is this wantonness, this caprice that makes tragedy unendurable to human reason and sensibility.
Let us be candid. With creation of “Palestine,” Israel’s lamentations would be largely self-inflicted. The drama, as it is now unfolding is thus at best a disturbing page from Beckett or Ionesco, from the recognizable genre of the absurd. There is certainly no hint of any cathartic element drawn from Aeschylus, Sophocles or Euripides. At worst, Israel’s tragic fate is torn directly from the pages of irony and farce, a demeaning form ofcomedy that relies principally on contrivances of plot and on inherently low levels of credibility.
In a farce, matters often end badly except for a last-minute rescue via deus ex machina. No such rescue could await the increasingly imperiled State of Israel. Understood in explicitly Jewish terms, we should recall here the words of Rabbi Yanai: “A man should never put himself in a place of danger and say that a miracle will save him, lest there be no miracle….” (Talmud) Perhaps Israel’s prime minister does not expect a miracle, but then upon what precise manner of calculation does he now construct his farcical policy of Land For Nothing?
In Judaism, there can be no justification for deliberate self-endangerment, and in classic Greek tragedy, there can be no deus ex machina. In tragedy, the human spirit remains noble in the face of a largely inescapable death, but if there should remain anything tragic in Israel’s incremental capitulations to “Palestine,” it would lie only in the original Greek meaning of the term − “goat song” − from the dithyrambs sung by goatskin-clad worshippers of Dionysus. In every other sense, Olmert’s surrender plan exhibits behavior that desecrates Israel’s Jewish heritage and obligations.
Oddly, Prime Minister Olmert proceeds with the expectation of a “Two State Solution.” Yet, his “moderate” Palestinian “partners in peace” are still openly dedicated only to a single Arab state. Israel does not even exist on the maps of Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah. As for the still unrevised Fatah constitution, Abbas’ (Abu Mazen) intentions for Israel are plainly identifiable as Crimes Against Humanity. As a professor of international law, I can confirm this in an entirely literal sense. Like Hamas, Fatah has plans for Israel that constitute genocide according to authoritative and unassailable standards of pertinent international law.
Mahmoud Abbas’ only solution for the Israel-Palestinian conflict is therefore the all-too-familiar “final” one. And this from the man insistently described in both Jerusalem and Washington as the “moderate” Palestinian voice.
Aristotle understood, in his Poetics, that a tragedy must elicit pity and fear, but assuredly not pathos, a kind of suffering substantially less heroic than what is to be expected of a tragic figure. Aristotle identified the tragic with “good” characters that suffer, in part, because they commit some error (hamartia) unknowingly. Prime Minister Olmert, on the other hand, has continued his country’s march to disaster not because of any such error, or even because of wantonness or caprice, but (in the most charitable explanation) because he steadfastly clings to myth and self-delusion.
Israel is currently in a tragic dilemma, a situation initially created by Rabin/Peres, sustained by Netanyahu, heightened by Barak and Sharon, and potentially to be “finalized” by Olmert.
Today, a Prime Minister of Israel still works to codify jihad-centered rule over essential and expanding sectors of the Jewish State. Yet, Holocaust denier Mahmoud Abbas was mentored by Yassir Arafat, and Arafat, in the words of Gustav Hendrikssen, professor emeritus of Bible Studies at Sweden’s Uppsala University, “is the heir of Hitler and the Palestinian Covenant is a more disgusting document than the Nuremberg laws.” Significantly, when this self-described “aged and bitter Gentile” recalled his reactions to awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to “one of the most despicable figures in our century,” he saw in that event the drama not of tragedy, but of pathetic farce: “When I saw the Prime Minister of Israel and its Foreign Minister standing next to this murderous clown,” says Prof. Hendrikssen, speaking of Rabin and Peres, “I had to think again about the meaning of the term “friend of Israel.'”
A Christian for whom Israel had always been a “divine message,” Hendrikssen confirmed our understanding that Israel’s ongoing surrenders lack even the stuff of tragedy. If, after all, “…the Jewish people digs its grave with its own hand,” it is a coming death without dignity. “Even the devil that dances on its grave is of its own making.”
Soon, if “Palestine” is allowed to go forward, each and every soldier of Israel will be asked to fight battles that are already lost. Fawning upon their own doom, Israel’s leaders will still refuse to recognize that the spheres of reason in this world are terribly limited, or that George W. Bush and the American Jewish Establishment will not save them. For the latter, which is certainly well intentioned, Israel will still remain a quaint diversion, a proper place to send donations and a fine place to visit with the children. For the former, the underlying and essential drama of Israel’s redemption – the very raison d’etre of the renascent State of Israel − is entirely beside the point. Naturally, nothing will change in this regard with the election of the next president of the United States. Nothing at all.
Israel is now entering the final phase of an unwitting self-parody. Fortunately, the last act has not yet been played. Israel can still put an end to the “tragic farce,” but only if its people and government can finally understand why they have been ingathered in the first place.
Citizens of Israel should have no illusions. There is nothing about “Palestine” that will save them from the fury of enemy terrorism or catastrophic war. On the contrary, as should have been learned long ago, the smell of carrion will only inflame the vulture.
There is still time for Israel to reject its pathetic descent into tragedy, but only if its Jewish citizens can finally understand that “Palestine” would only lead them to the grave.
Copyright © The Jewish Press, June 27, 2008. All rights reserved.
LOUIS RENÉ BERES (Ph.D., Princeton, 1971) is the author of many books and articles dealing with Israeli security issues and international law. He is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.