It is of course easier to repeat mistakes than to learn from them. Hence Einstein’s famous crack about repeatedly banging your head against a brick wall in the expectation of getting a different reaction. There is something hallucinatory about the efforts of President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry setting about their version of Einstein’s head-banging, namely forcing another round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. This has been going on for six decades and more, and will go on for another six decades or more.
The foundation of the state of Israel certainly presented the Palestinians with the difficult choice of resisting, or accommodating, or finding some path between. Their misfortune has been to have leaders determined to resist. Violence has brought them nothing but loss of life, loss of territory, and loss of pride. Just imagine the horrible mixed feelings of greed and shame that a Palestinian must have hearing that Kerry wants to hand them four billion dollars, just buying them off.
Their leadership, from the notorious pre-war Mufti of Jerusalem to Yasser Arafat and now Mahmoud Abbas and the Hamas group in Gaza, has succeeded in making violence seem a collective response. Any and every Palestine with a smidgeon of authority has to subscribe to this response, which is why little boys are now training to become suicide bombers.
It didn’t have to be like this. It was, and still is, possible to be a proud Arab and find accommodation with Israel. Ever since I first went to Israel I have known such a man, and his name is Atallah Mansour. A journalist, he was the Haaretz correspondent for Galilee. He was the first Arab to write a novel in Hebrew, titled In a New Light (full disclosure: I wrote the introduction to the English translation.) Now he sends me a reprint of his memoir, Still Waiting for the Dawn. If he has a secret, it is that his parents brought him up to feel no resentment against Jews. Which does not mean that he cannot criticize them if they deserve it. He has shown the respect for all human beings without which there isn’t going to be any peace.
A friend of his was Rashid Hussein, author of the sort of nationalist poems that form the base for violence. In his house, bony hands came around the door to proffer food but I never saw the face of his mother who had prepared it. One day he fled the country and became a PLO propagandist in the States. His eventual suicide seemed to be the natural end of choosing violence and so symbolized the Palestinian plight. Until some Palestinian has the authority to convince others that standing up for themselves is not a matter of killing Jews, the call of American presidents and secretaries of state for peace negotiations is just whistling in the wind.