FLOTSAM & JETSAM: How the media and the politicians make the Mid East worse

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

How the media and the politicians make the Mid East worse

Although Hamas says it is interested in a political truce with Israel, the news got little attention and even in the AP story it was coupled with a death dealing qualifier:

"The Palestinians' incoming prime minister said Sunday that Hamas is interested in a long-term truce with Israel but has no intention of seeking a formal peace agreement that would recognize the Jewish state."

The implication is that if Palestine won't "recognize" the Jewish state, then nothing much has changed. In fact, a political truce is a highly desirable goal whatever Palestinians and Israelis continue to think of each other. It's a little bit as if the Catholic Church were interested in ordaining women but still refused to approve of contraception. The two issues are important but they are not inexorably intertwined. Americans should be able to understand this being a society which has integrated much of its life but still leaves the Confederate flag flying abundantly.

The best way to make progress in such situations is to concentrate on people's behavior, not their beliefs and symbols. Both Israel and Palestine have arguable mythical versions of the past that will last for the indefinite future, but at the moment debating whatever should have happened decades ago to the land in dispute does not advance sanity or peace one iota. In such situations it is far better to win a compromise over reality than a controversy over myth.

What is needed is a Palestinian and a Israeli state based on the most reasonable agreement that can be reached to this effect. Every increment in this direction should be hailed and used like a cane to help the weak legs of those in conflict make the next step. The symbolic syrup that politicians and media like so much - such as "recognizing Israel's right to exist" - will come naturally after far more important work has been achieved, which is to get the two sides to stop killing - and start dealing with - each other.