A few days ago Raphael Magarick wrote a piece at Open Zion about seeing Israel's conflict with the Palestinians from Israel and from America. Apparently he's here right now (or was last week), and it's his first war here, and as he ran to take shelter in Tel Aviv one day he pondered wether the experience placed him better than previously to have an opinion. Not surprisingly he answered himself that no, it didn't. On the contrary, for all the immediacy of being here and not seven time-zones away, he felt the experience was more likely to befuddle his clarity of thought; thus, having an opnion about the conflict from New York is actually more useful and clear-sighted than having one from the place the opinions are all about.
It's an old argument, and isn't going to go away anytime soon.
The obvious response is of course that it's not a matter of distance-induced clarity, but rather of proximity-induced destiny: Bad decisions will cost the lives of the subjective locals, not the cool-headed foreigners. But that's also a worn argument (for all that it's also true).
It seems to me the more significant consideration is that given peoples' natural dispensation to follow events or not, the average Israeli keeps track of them better. This has been very clear to me this past week as I've had to listen (or read) pontifications from all sorts of people who mostly haven't been paying all that much attention. The admonitions to reach out to the moderates better than we've been doing: there's been all sorts of reaching over the past decade, but so far as most of us can see, there hasn't been much serious reciprocity. A number of people who regard themselves as serious observers have told us this week, in what appears to be complete sincerity, that if only we'd stop building settlements the moderate Palestinians would eagerly reach an agreement with us; and if not, we should try a spot of unilateral disengagement, becasue that would certainly work. (Gaza, anyone?) I won't go over the entire list of all these statements, but there are lots of them, they are always offered in the spirit of Mr. Magirick: We're fundamentally on your side, but since we're untroubled by the local dust we can see whith clarity that you're not managing things very well, so if you'd only listen to us you'd see that everyting will work out.
I will tarry for a moment on the single most problematic thing that folks with clarity can see, while the locals should know better: the settlements. In spite of my return to blogging this week I'm still a civil servant, and I'd trying to stick to the Israeli consensus. So I'm not saying whether settlements are good or bad or irrelevant or the eye of the storm. I'd just like to remind readers of some dry facts:
1. The last time a settlement was set up was in 1997. The last time an unofficial outpost was set up which then became a settlement was in 2003. Almost a decade.
2. There is no settlement activity in Area A.
3. There is very little settlement activity in Area B, though in a number of places along the edges of Area B there are some local cases of overstepping the line. Which means that for all the failure of the Oslo process, Israel is still respecting its transfer of control to the PA.
This is not to say there's no construction going on in any settlements, Of course there is, and it's the official policy of the current government. Yet the stereotypic view from afar, about how the settlers are gobbling up the West Bank and thereby preventing peace, looks a bit different when you carefully look from close up. As do many things about this conflict.