Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving 2012

As Thanksgiving dawns, I find myself very pleased with the news from Israel. All of you surely know that a ceasefire has been in effect between Israel and Hamas since last evening. And, as I write, it appears to be holding. Of course, a ceasefire is just that—a cessation of hostilities—not a guarantee of permanent, lasting peace.  I suppose it is possible that ceasefires can eventually morph into permanent states of non-violent co-existence even between enemies unwilling for political or emotional reasons to sign a formal treaty pledging their commitment to mutual non-aggression, something along the lines of what has been in effect between the two Koreas since even before I was born. Obviously, that would be preferable to war! But the great goal that lies off in the distance, but away from which none should dare turn, is not to settle for a mere cessation of hostilities in Gaza, but to work ardently and purposefully forward towards the establishment of a “real” peace between Israel and the Palestinians, both those in Gaza and those on the West Bank.

I know it sounds almost unimaginable that this could ever happen after so many years of enmity and so much bloodshed. But Korea, in a sense, is the anomaly. If Germany and France—after the Seven Years’ War, after the Napoleonic Wars,  after the Franco-Prussian War, after the two World Wars (and I mention only the wars of the last three hundred years)—if after that much endless barbarity and bloodshed, Germany and France can live in peace, then it seems ridiculous to assume that Israel and the Palestinians could not also move past their state of mutual hostility and live as neighbors and even, as is surely the case with France and Germany today, as allies. The same could be said about present-day Germany and Poland. Or about Russia and Finland. Or about the United States and Great Britain. Or between Denmark and Sweden. (For the record, Denmark and Sweden went to war on eleven separate occasions between 1521 and 1814. But who can imagine closer allies today?) Or, for that matter, about the United States and Vietnam, a nation to which we granted “most-favored-nation” trading status less than thirty years after the fall of Saigon. U.S. losses in Vietnam were horrific, our losses exceeding fifty-eight thousand dead. But countless millions died in the conflicts mentioned just above. And yet in all these cases, war was followed not by a ceasefire (except in Korea) but by some version of peace. (Can you imagine any scenario at all, no matter how fantastic, that could lead to a war between the U.S. and Vietnam today?) That the day will one day come when we will say the same thing regarding the Middle East is my Thanksgiving prayer for the world, one in which I invite you all to join me.

A point of special interest for me in the events that led to the ceasefire was the specific role played by Mohamed Morsi, the president of Egypt. A member of the Muslim Brotherhood, President Morsi last week encountered his own “threshold” moment, a first opportunity to test his mettle on the international stage not as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood or as the president of Egypt per se, but as a statesman, as a diplomat, and as a peace maker. Did he pass the test? It appears that he did. Whether this turns out to be a truly defining moment in the after-history of the Arab Spring, on the other hand, remains to be seen.  In other words, the hope we all harbor—that the reform movements that swept away Ben Ali, Mubarak, Saleh, and Gaddafi turn out not merely to have led to the installation of extreme-Islamicist regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and Libya that are no more respectful of those nations’ citizens’ human rights than the dictatorships they replaced—that obviously remains to be seen. And yet, I feel at least tentatively hopeful at how this has played itself out so far.

President Morsi appears to have understood that this was his moment, that once the Turks fully alienated the Israelis with ridiculous show trials and endlessly vituperative language, the cup passed to his lips…to see if he could act both as a leader of the Arab world and as a reliable friend of the United States and as a man of peace granted a unique opportunity to end an armed conflict in his neighborhood that could easily have turned into a full-scale war. I am not enough of a Pollyanna to imagine that President Morsi is planning any time soon to abandon his affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization implacably hostile to Israel’s very existence. But I feel buoyed by the knowledge that when the opportunity came to make peace or to wage war, President Morsi—who the press are reporting had six separate in-depth phone calls with President Obama in the course of the final few days before the ceasefire was declared—saw himself as someone uniquely positioned to bring an end  to the conflict, or at least to a temporary cessation of hostilities.  Will he move forward from here to an attempt to broker a real peace between Israel and the Palestinians? Certainly, he can’t do any worse than anyone else who has tried! And maybe this really will turn out to be Mohamed Morsi’s personal “only-Nixon-could-have-gone-to-China” moment.

Am I dreaming? Maybe a little bit I am! But I find myself unexpectedly filled with hope this Thanksgiving morning…and I invite you to join me in my dream, even if just for the duration of the day. And who knows? It’s true that you eventually wake up from even the most pleasant dreams! But it is also true that there are dreams that somehow manage to transcend their original setting deep within the brain and to become part of  extra-cranial reality! My personal hippocampus spins out the same kind of bizarre, often inexplicable, nighttime fantasies all of you know from your own private dreamscapes. But it is onto the campus of the world that I would like to focus my personal Thanksgiving prayer. Peace has returned to Gaza and to Israel. Those in a position to do good from the outside—and principal among them Presidents Obama and Morsi, and Secretary of State Clinton—behaved forcefully and admirably.  I  believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu had no choice but to respond forcefully to protect the citizens of Israel against aggression that no nation at all would tolerate. And yet he too found the strength to desist when the other side signaled its willingness to stop its attacks against Israeli civilians. Even the leadership of Hamas—so grotesquely willing to valorize suicide as a legitimate means to accomplishing with violence what seems unattainable through negotiation—found it in them to agree at least to a temporary peace. So far, I guess, so good. But now the hard part starts, the part that’s going to require political leaders to take unprecedented chances and for national populations to agree to compromise on what they have heretofore been told were things regarding which no concessions would or should ever be possible.  It’s all a dream…and it’s also my Thanksgiving prayer for you all, and for the world.

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