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Angels in Israel
This is one of those periods when it is impossible to figure out
precisely what is going on with Israelis and Palestinians.
The pot is stirring. That is for sure. But who can tell whether the next
stage will be the return to large-scale violence or to negotiations?
It is not necessarily bad not to know what is going on behind closed
doors (assuming that something is). That way we can enjoy the sense that
progress of some sort is being made.
And, in fact, there are straws in the wind -- enough for some holiday
The faith in a better future for Israelis and Palestinians rolled over me
while watching HBO's production of Tony Kushner's "Angels in America," which
was the finest drama I have ever seen on stage, film or anywhere else.
"Angels" is about the AIDS epidemic of the 1980's (before the
introduction of drugs to arrest the disease). It is also about Roy Cohn, the
Julius and Ethel Rosenberg case, Mormonism, the Reagan administration and
the collapse of Communism. (Diane Sawyer, who is married to director Mike
Nichols, simply described it as being "about Jews" which is also accurate).
The message of "Angels" is simple, and two-fold. The first is that all
human beings desire one thing above all else: life. The lead character, a
young man dying of AIDS, puts it like this: "I want more life. I can't help
myself. I do. I've lived through such terrible times, and there are people
who live through much worse, but you see them living anyway. When they're
more spirit than body, more sores than skin, when they're burned and in
agony...they live. Death usually has to take life away....”
The second message is that “the world only spins forward.” History does
not go in reverse.
That may be what we are seeing in the Middle East right now. First, there
was the rollout of the Geneva understandings which, for the first time ever,
offered a full-blown peace treaty that would resolve all aspects of the
conflict. Although “virtual,” it was immediately obvious to most observers
– left and right
– that when real
peace comes, it will come in a package that will closely resemble Geneva.
That is why it produced such an explosive reaction. Geneva may not be
real but reality will certainly resemble it. Why wouldn’t it? Geneva, like
the other initiatives currently being discussed by Israelis and
Palestinians, is built on the foundation of United Nations Resolutions 242
and 338: the exchange of the ’67 lands for full peace and security.
And it is not only the left that recognizes that the world “only spins
forward.” Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is a close confidante of Prime
Minister Sharon and an unambiguous member of the right-wing camp. It was
Olmert who recently called for unilateral Israeli withdrawal from virtually
all of the West Bank and Gaza and from parts of Jerusalem to secure the
survival of the Jewish state.
Prime Minister Sharon himself, in his speech in Herzliyah last week, made
more clear than ever before that he understands that the dream of “Greater
Israel” is dead. It is true that he did not fill in the specifics just as it
is true that his words did not satisfy the Palestinians who see, just below
their surface, a truncated nonviable Palestinian state. But that may be
missing the point. When Olmert and Sharon both talk about withdrawals from
the West Bank and Gaza and dismantling settlements, it is clear that history
has just spun forward again.
The reason for these shifts lies in Tony Kushner’s first dictum. Human
beings want to live. That is why the polls are showing that most Israelis
are anxious to exchange peace for the territories. Israelis simply are tired
of looking at their teenagers and counting the number of months until they
are patrolling Jenin or Nablus. It has been 35 years. Eighteen year olds who
fought in Lebanon in 1982 now have sons defending settlements in Gaza.
Palestinians feel the same way. Two weeks ago Thomas Friedman reported
for the Discovery Channel on the Israeli security fence and its effect on
the Palestinians. One young man was simply virulent in his determination to
fight Israelis (and Americans too). But then Friedman switched subjects and
the young man spoke of his dream of being accepted into the engineering
school at Memphis State University in Tennessee.
In other words, he wants to live.
Israelis and Palestinians are beginning to understand that they want the
same things: to live in security, to live as free men and women, and to have
the luxury of knowing that they will die before their children.
The capture of Saddam Hussein followed by, perhaps, the improvement of
the security situation in Iraq may mean that the Bush administration can now
turn its attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. President Bush told
an Israeli reporter at a holiday party the other day that he remains
committed to his “vision” and that he wants to see “action not words.” He
was talking about both sides.
The conclusion of “Angels in America” takes place in 1990
– four years after the
main action of the play -- and the characters, having survived physical and
emotional afflictions, are in Central Park discussing the state of the
world. A character says, “Remember back four years ago? The whole time we
were feeling everything everywhere was stuck, while in Russia! Look
Perestroika! The Thaw! It’s the end of the Cold War! The whole world is
Another character responds that “the world is faster than the mind,"
which leads the first to say, “That’s what politics is. The world moving
ahead. And only in politics does the miraculous occur.”
“Only in politics does the miraculous occur.”
That may be what is happening in Israel and Palestine right now. It is
the season. And it is the place.
M.J. Rosenberg (email: email@example.com <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>
), Director of Policy Analysis for Israel Policy Forum, is a long time
Capitol Hill staffer and former editor of AIPAC’s Near East Report.
Source: Israel Policy Forum, December 23, 2003,
Hassan A. Barari,
Analyzing five of “Israel’s Options” to resolve
the Arab-Israeli conflict, Middle East expert Hassan Barari encourages the
Israeli leadership to build on the “groundbreaking development” of the
Geneva Accords as “this is the first time that Palestinians and Israelis
have succeeded in signing a document, albeit an informal one, that addresses
the most complicated and knotty issues.”
(Source: Jordan Times, December 10, 2003)
Prince Hassan Bin Talal,Toward a Popular, Moderate,
Reasonable and Rational Movement
In this article, Prince Hassan Bin Talal of Jordan
encourages the role of civil society and intelecutuals to formulate a
sensible movement “to enhance democracy and plurality” in Arab and Muslim
nations. As part of this movement, Bin Talal outlines guideing points that
will also play a role in bringing peace.
(Source: Al-Hayat December 22, 2003)
M.J. Rosenberg, Angels in Israel
Taking the message of the value of life from an HBO
television special on AIDS in America, M.J. Rosenberg looks at the desire
for life and the role that desire plays in the Israeli-Arab conflict.
Rosenberg states “Israelis and Palestinians are beginning to understand that
they want the same things: to live in security, to live as free men and
women, and to have the luxury of knowing that they will die before their
(Source: Israel Policy Forum, December 23, 2003)
SPECIAL SUPPLEMENT: ARAB PEACE INITIATIVE SERIES
Series Article Eight
An Israeli View of the Arab Peace
Former Israeli Ambassador to Egypt and Jordan, Shimon
Shamir analyzes in detail the “lukewarm” Israeli reaction to the Arab Peace
Initiative put forth at the Arab Summit of March 2002. Shamir states that
the Initiative “generated a wealth of potentialities for the political
process” but advocates that the next step must be “visionary and courageous
leaderships” on both sides to take advantage of those possibilities.
From the Common Ground News Service