Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Don't forget, September is coming...

"Hamas and Fatah have signed a unity pact. They have agreed to hate the Jews together." - Stephen Colbert

Well the news of a Fatah/Hamas reconciliation sure makes life look complicated. Ultimately, it may just be another successful part of the broader Fayad unilateral Statehood plan. Which, of course, has the possibility overall to cause a tectonic shift in the entire conflict. 

It doesn't seem that the Netanyahu government has any idea what to do with or about it. Their entire strategy seems based on stalling and maintaining status quo. By September, the status quo may be history. The Israeli government seems steps behind, as the Palestinians seem to have taken the opportunity to not miss an opportunity. And even if the US vetoes the unilateral declaration of statehood in September, will that really matter? The GA will almost certainly recognize it. Then what? The two sides negotiate the resolution of outstanding issues based on what was left over at the Taba summit? What happens to Jews living all along the Jordan river? Take a look at the map, it couldn't be more complicated. 

Why isn't everyone talking about the looming declaration of a Palestinian state by the UN? It doesn't really matter what your political opinion is, or how you think things should do in the future. If you care about Israel and its future, this is the big story to pay attention to.

Its probably a game changer.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Ahab's Quadrant

I was struck by a particular moment in Moby Dick, when Captain Ahab violently destroys his own navigational tool. ( I started the novel months ago on jury duty, as I mentioned in a previous post. I finally finished) In terms of plot it provides another step in recognizing how his monomania and obsession is ultimately self destructive. But who is immune from noticing deeper symbolism in this, the great American novel?

After spending a significant amount of time and effort calculating the ship's position using a quadrant, Ahab declares, "Thou sea-mark! thou high and mighty Pilot! thou tellest me truly where I AM--but canst thou cast the least hint where I SHALL be? Or canst thou tell where some other thing besides me is this moment living? Where is Moby Dick?"

 He then fiddles with the tool and declares, "Foolish toy! babies' plaything of haughty Admirals... the world brags of thee, of thy cunning and might; but what after all canst thou do, but tell the poor, pitiful point, where thou thyself happenest to be on this wide planet, and the hand that holds thee: no! not one jot more! ... Science! Curse thee, thou vain toy; and cursed be all the things that cast man's eyes aloft to that heaven..."

Why is Ahab so furious at both the tool, (the quadrant) and the kind of thinking it represents (science)? Science and technology only describe the Universe as it is, but cannot give direction or guidance in the way that he wants. Or, for that matter, in the way that many religious fundamentalists want. Reality and its assessment may challenge parts of the narrative that they are basing their lives on.

But, as the poor sailors on the Pequod are well aware, knowing where you are and what is going on can be quite useful indeed. An honest, unblinking assessment oft can be very helpful in avoiding looming disaster, if nothing else. And it may be a great gift from God himself that our species has the ability to form such tools to help us see the world as clearly as we do. 

At least when we are paying attention. 

The next time that I read or hear about a religious or doctrinaire dismissal of facts in support of their worldview, I think I will picture Ahab smashing his quadrant. It is not a pretty picture. 

P.S. The novel is great, but for REAL fun, I can't recommend the pop-up version by Sam Ita enough. It will surprise and amaze you, and change the way you look at pop-up books!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Why supporters of Palestinians should be against the 1 State solution

From: X
Date: Wed, Apr 6, 2011 at 9:06 AM
To: Michael Unterberg

Hi Michael,
So I'm having this argument on fb with a very left leaning friend, who tells me that he thinks that a two state solution is unjust because
1. it doesn't allow for the right of Palestinian refugees to return to Israel proper.
2.He also thinks a JEwish state which inherently establishes the supremecy of one particular ethnicity is problematic  (his words, roughly).
It gave me pause for thought.
I was thinking regarding #1 that allowing the return of all Palestinian refugees to ISrael, (besides the logistics of that- how would that go exactly, just randomly kick people out of there houses in the German colony???)  would lead to tremendous danger to the JEws, as they would become a minority in an Arab state , which would likely lead to bad things.
Regarding #2, I was thinking that he is just wrong. Israel doesn't establish the supremecy of one ethnicity over another, besides a JEwish holiday calendar, and no busses on the Sabbath. Other than that, all are equal under the law. IS this so diffeerant than America marking Christmas as a national holiday?
I'd love to hear what you think, since I know you've thought and taught about these sorts of questions.
Thanks man!
How would you respond to these two contentions?

From: Michael Unterberg 
Date: Fri, Apr 8, 2011 at 12:43 PM
To: X

Can I respond in reverse order?

2) The term "Jewish" in Jewish State refers to Nationality, not ethnicity. That is the Zionist view. Or nation has had two states in antiquity, miraculously survived exile, and now find ourselves as the only nation in history reestablish a government after a 2,000 year break The fact that Jews (sadly) renounced their national identity after the Emancipation is in no way binding on us today. 

Israel does indeed give full citizenship and rights to over a million non-Jews. But putting that aside for a moment, and look at a hypothetical. Would Italy be racist or guilty of discrimination if it treats Italians differently than Poles or Mexicans? As descendants of the citizens of Judea (the source of our name) Jews can all claim automatic citizenship to the renewed state called Israel. This is the essential claim of Zionism. We believe these things to our core.

Your friend can dispute our claim to nationality, but that seems an odd thing to do when defending the Palestinian's right to one. If they can assert a National identity in the middle of the 20th century, we can certainly reassert ours in the 19th. I would argue that its fruitless to argue at this point that there is no such thing as "Palestinians", and therefore nobody to give self rule to. The self perception of millions of Palestinian Arabs makes this argument moot, as does international acknowledgment of same. 

Of course, this works both ways. Millions of Jews see our national identity and rights as valid and self evident, as does the UN, the EU, and most individual nations of the world, including some Arab and Moslem ones. Do your friend think that can be argued away? Seems unlikely. At the very least, Tzahal's mission is to defend our position and perception. 

So who is being helped by trying to theoretically argue reality out of existence? Palestinians have no intention of surrendering their identity or national claims, and neither do we. I can think their claims are unjustified, and they can think mine are too. And that gets us absolutely nowhere. 

The question is, do we continue to have a theoretical argument about ideology or look for a solution to a real problem? I think that there has been enough suffering for all involved to make debating abstract concepts a luxury. Neither side can get all that it thinks it deserves ideologically and morally. What is called for now is compromise. Which brings us to point 1. 

1) Really? Have you wondered why international third parties have been proposing the 2 state solution since the 1930s? Its because anyone who has taken a pragmatic look at the problem only sees the one solution. Why? Well, take to people with divergent identities and perspectives, who have repeatedly demonstrated the willingness to kill and die for their side, and try mushing them into one state. You're looking at another Yugoslavia, with better weapons. Why would you advocate a solution that practically guarantees bloodbaths and ethnic cleansing all around.

Even this could somehow be avoided, (and it can't) the demographics would lead to the end of a Jewish democratic state. Now, perhaps for your friend this would be a victory. But since, again, millions of Jews, non-Jews, States, and international organizations agree to the right of a free Jewish state, it makes the solution unacceptable. We Zionists believe in our right, need and mission to build a great, powerful, free, democratic and Jewish state in ancestral homeland. 

So practically the 1 state idea doesn't belong on the table, and Israel would be committing suicide even in theory. Even Chaim Weitzman eventually gave up his hope of one shared state. The only hope is compromise that will divide the fairness and unfairness over both people.

By the way, the Jews have agreed to do this since the UN 2 state proposal in November of 1947. The Arabs have ideologically always rejected it. 

Which brings me back to my earlier point. The time to dispute wether  Israel is a good idea ended on May14th, 1948. Its here, that's clear, deal with it. It has been time to make a 2 state compromise for many decades. If your friend cares for the Palestinian's future, he should advocate for its implementation before it becomes a century.

In the Cold War, the threat was MAD, mutually assured destruction. In this conflict, perhaps it could be called mutually accused delegitimization. Its time to move on.


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