David Grossman: Netanyahu and Palestinians both missed an opportunity

David Grossman, one of Israel’s most respected and politically-engaged writers, who backed the Geneva Initiative in 2003 and lost a son in Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon — and who agreed to give Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu the benefit of his views on the eve of Netanyahu’s big speech on Sunday 14 June, has now expressed his disappointment at the result.

He accused both sides of “desistance” — or do-nothingness — which he said he fears means there will be no peace unless it is imposed upon both sides.

Grossman wrote in mid-week in Haaretz that “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech was indeed, as it has been decribed, the speech of our lives. Our bogged-down, hopeless lives. Once again, most Israelis can snuggle up around what appears to be a daring and generous offer, but what is in fact, as usual, a compromise between the anxieties, the weakness and the self-righteousness of the center just-to-the-right and the center a-little-left. But what a great distance between them and the harsh demands of reality, as well as the legitimate needs and rightful claims of the Palestinians, now accepted by most of the world, including the United States.  Now, after every word of the speech has been analyzed and weighed, we should step back and look at the whole spectacle, the big picture. What the speech exposed, beyond all its juggling and parities, is the desistance we have come to, we Israelis, in the face of a reality that requires flexibility, daring and vision. If we turn from the skilled orator to his audience, we will see how passionately it barricades itself behind its anxieties, and we will feel the sweet stupor from pulsating nationalism, militarism and victimhood, which were the heartbeat of the entire speech.

“Other than acceptance of the two-state principle, which was wrung out of Netanyahu under heavy pressure and sourly expressed, this speech contained no tangible step toward a real change of consciousness. Netanyahu did not speak ‘honestly and courageously’ – as he had promised – about the destructive role of the settlements as an obstacle to peace. He did not look the settlers in the eye and tell them what he knows full well: that the map of the settlements contradicts the map of peace. That most of them will have to leave their homes. He should have said it. He would not have lost points in future negotiations with the Palestinians; rather, he would have allowed these negotiations to begin. He should have spoken to us, the Israelis, like adults, and not have swaddled us in more insulation from the facts known to all. He should have related specifically and in detail to the Arab peace initiative. He should have pointed out the clauses that Israel accepts and those it does not. He should have initiated a challenging call that would have allowed them to respond, and begun Israel’s most essential process.

“He spent many minutes regaling the audience with the promises and assurances that Israel had to receive from the Palestinians even before negotiations began. He did not speak of the risks Israel had to take or its desire to achieve peace. He persuaded no one that that he really intends to fight for peace. He did not lead Israel to a new future. He only collaborated with its old, familiar anxieties. I looked at him, and at the impressive data on the support he received after the speech, and I knew how far we are from peace. How distant, and perhaps even whithered within us, are the ability, the talent and the wisdom to make peace, and even the instinct to save ourselves from war. I saw my prime minister in his tight-lipped juggling act, a sophisticated performance of close-eyed rejection. I saw how his ever-ready internal mechanism turns every attempt-to-talk-peace into self-persuasion that an edict from heaven commands us to live by the sword forever. I saw, and I knew that none of these will bring forth peace.

“I also observed the Palestinians who responded to the speech, and I thought that they are the most faithful partners to desistance and missed opportunities. Their response could have been much wiser and more prescient than the speech itself; could they not have grasped even the drooping branch Netanyahu offered them, unwillingly, and challenged him to begin negotiations with them immediately, as he proposed at the beginning of his address; negotiations with some chance that the two parties will climb down from the lofty heights of reverberating declarations onto the soil of reality, and perhaps to each party’s promised land. But the Palestinians, trapped like we are in a mechanism of contention and haggling, prefered to speak of the thousand years that would pass before they would agree to his conditions”.

It seems, Grossman wrote, that “there will be no peace here if it is not forced upon us”.

David Grossman’s analysis can be read in full here.

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