A dog and pony show is a performance by politicians, inspired by what happens in a circus. It involves actors speaking predictable lines, talking past one another rather than responding to one another, and finishing the performance with no expectation of anything beyond polite applause.
That's what it looked like when John Kerry and Benyamin Netanyahu were standing side by side, each speaking their piece, then shaking hands with something other than fulsome smiles or genuine warmth.
Who should expect warmth from politicians? Remember Harry Truman, "If you want a friend in this town, buy a dog."
Kerry spoke about helping the Palestinians and Israelis reach a framework agreement. It would not be an American dictate, but formulated on the basis of what the sides had said. It would not be a real agreement. He did not mention a signing and ratifications, but a way to continued discussion of details. Ultimate success would require hard work and sacrifice from both parties.
Netanyahu responded with doubts about having a Palestinian partner for those discussions. He cited Palestinian inciting of violence against Israelis in school programs and the public pronouncements of the Palestinian leadership, including the man he and Kerry would have to deal with. He spoke about the celebrations focused on the murderers of Israeli civilians. He said that the Palestinians would not be ready for a peace agreement until they made peace with themselves about living alongside a Jewish state.
The show came in the context of heavy media coverage about former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. He had been in a coma for eight years, and was showing signs of reaching his end. Among the items was a clip of Sharon speaking after the disengagement that he implemented from Gaza by withdrawing Jewish settlements. He said that there would be no more disengagements; that Israel would have to maintain its defenses; and that the major impediment to peace was the failure of Palestinians to accept the legitimacy of Israel's existence.
Netanyahu could have been reading from the same script eight years later.
Sharon had done his own dog and pony shows with George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice.
We've been seeing these performances, more or less the same, for who knows how long.
Prominent figures from the great powers appear to be fascinated with Israel and its lack of fit in this neighborhood, and have come with their ideas. Israelis also seek solutions. There is a lot of talking about us, and by us talking among ourselves. What has been lacking are true dialogues, of talking and listening, give and take, between Israeli and Arab leaders.
Remember the Arab oil embargoes after 1973, and the enormous pressures on Israel to make concessions in order to save itself and western civilization, along with comments about the liklelihood of America tiring of protecting Israel.
Israel complied, with better results for its future than for those of Egypt or Syria. A few years later, it included some words of accommodation with the Palestinians as part of the agreement with Egypt. Israel is doing a lot better than the Palestinians. We can argue as to whether the Palestinians are doing better or worse than the Egyptians.
Peter Beinhart is a recent addition to the list of commentators whose work circulates widely. One of his recent pieces is hard to place on one or another side of supporting boycotts of Israel or opposing them
. Another deals with the declining support of Israel among young overseas Jews. He goes a bit too far when seeming to threaten Israel with the Modern Language Association.
"The Palestinians are ready with a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign that shifts the struggle to arenas where the American Jewish establishment lacks influence. In the Russell Senate Office Building, Howard Kohr and Malcolm Hoenlein’s opinions carry weight. In German supermarkets and the Modern Language Association, not so much."
With all due respect to my colleagues in Departments of French, Spanish, Italian, et al, I can't see the Modern Language Association overcoming the Israeli government or the IDF in the West Bank.
Nearly 40 years ago, the man who has been my colleague and friend since then, Yehezkl Dror, recruited me to the Political Science Department of the Hebrew University, after I had written a less than positive review of what still stands as one of his major books. He told me that the Department needed someone different from him.
Since then we have agreed on some things but not on others. With respect to his recent op-ed item in Ha'aretz, I am left wondering about the prospects for his projection of what Israel must do in order to survive and thrive. It's the same list of painful decisions the Israeli left has been promoting for some decades.
"All this should take place within a comprehensive regional peace – including full relations between Arab and Islamic states and Israel, shared action against people acting as obstacles to peace, and parallel steps to advance a cultural-psychological peace atmosphere. Accordingly, the negotiations with the Palestinians will be expanded into a component of advancing regional peace."
The doubts expressed by Sharon and Netanyahu seem to fit closer with what is heard from ranking Palestinians.
Without a roadmap through the current morass in Syria and the threat of Iran, I see nothing in my own finite future but more dog and pony shows.
John Kerry is the principal instigator of the moment. After a dozen or so visits in the past year, he remains optimistic, but has been a lonely source of optimism about his progress. And even he has buffered hopefulness with admission about the difficulties faced by each of the parties.
From Israelis and Palestinians, we hear criticism of the other for failing to do what is necessary.
Well placed Israelis have come close to ridiculing John Kerry for his persistence, and what seems to be his failure to understand what Israelis and Palestinians have known for years, that several fundamental disagreements continue to prevent agreement.
If something positive and substantive does emerge from the Kerry process, it will be a surprise, and an embarrassing event for the commentators of both Israel and Palestine comparable to that experienced by US intelligence agencies at the quick collapse of the Soviet Union.
Alongside the expression about a dog and pony show, is an expression often used in Israel, about climbing down from a high tree. It comes when politicians have spoken too much, about something that is unobtainable, and they must get their feet back on the ground.
Among the topics of our conversations is how to get Kerry to climb down, without hurting himself, Palestinians or Israelis.
As has been usual among Jews for millennia, not all agree.
Yair Lapid supports what the Secretary of State is offering, while Naftali Bennet has threatened to withdraw his party from the coalition if there is any threat about withdrawing settlements.
Ehud Olmert is supporting Kerry, from his own tenuous status of former prime minister, who could not reach an agreement with Mahmoud Abbas, and is currently on trial for corruption.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has sounded like the government's voice of moderation. He said that Israel should help the United States with its complex foreign policy agenda, and keep talking with Palestinians even if no agreement is possible.
Some observers were surprised by Lieberman's assertion that the Kerry proposal looks to him like the best alternative available. But then came his own deal breaker. He returned to his proposal of years ago, that an agreement should include the transfer of several Arab cities of Israel to Palestine.
It's a deal breaker because the political leaders of Israeli Arabs have opposed it. Apparently they and their constituents feel themselves more comfortable with the political rights and social services they enjoy in Israel, and expect much less of both in what would become Palestine.
Another problem is lurking in the realities for those who would draw lines on a map to solve the problems of Israel and Palestine. Surveys show that most Palestinians living in Jerusalem prefer the status quo.
We may be in a realm of competing disinformation. Kerry claims that his ideas found support at the pinnacles of Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Other sources claim that ranking voices in both places were negative.
Most important may be what is heard from one Minister and one Knesset Member known for their close ties to the Prime Minister.
One has compared the anti-Semitic incitement of Palestinian teachers and political leaders to the propaganda of the Nazis. Another has spoken about Israel's need to plan for the day after everyone realizes that the Kerry mission has come to an unglorious end.
Someone close to Kerry ought to tell him that that those two politicians are speaking for Netanyahu. Then that adviser ought to tell Kerry how to climb down from his high tree, without doing even more damage to Israel and Palestinian than he has already caused.
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