New dirt, same shovel – the unsustainable, status quo

“If Netanyahu thinks that 1967 lines are an illusion, then peace for him is an illusion.” – PLO Executive Committee member Saeb Erekat, reacting to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s principles for peace set forth in Washington, DC, over the past few days

Turning the earth to sow seeds is a good beginning. Certain people, when they show up in Washington, we hand them a shovel because we want them to grow a garden. Michelle Obama took it literally, and as her garden grows, so does her cause celeb – healthy eating, healthy habits. President Obama plants policy seeds that sprout, but because it takes an act of Congress to keep those plants growing, most end up stunted and malnourished.

Then there are the world leaders, those with an agenda. We hand them a shovel, too, because, as Americans, we expect results. The past five days, we put a spade in the hands of Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, asking him to turn the ground, so we could see how our “best of friends” was growing his garden of peace. Today, in a rare address to both houses of Congress, Bibi took the shovel firmly in his hand and said, “Peace would herald a new day for both peoples.” Then, he pushed into the ground, turned over a rock and said, “But, oh, see? Dirt,” and then he thanked us for the faith in his being able to grow a garden, thanked us for the shovel, and left.

Were Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to come to DC, we would hand him a shovel too. He may even tear into that same bit of ground as Netnayahu, turn it over, and say, “Look, a rock.” Then he too would thank us for the shovel and leave.

When President Obama pointed out last Thursday that the garden shed was open and the quartermaster was ready to hand out tools to those willing to do the work for peace, there were many who said, “He’s handing them a tool, and then he points to a rocky outcropping and says dig there? He knows that if Bibi plows there, the blade will shatter into spear points and hurt Israel’s security! I told you he doesn’t support Israel’s pursuit of peace.”

When Bibi dug and the spade did not splinter, they wanted Obama to dig next, sure that it would splinter for him. So certain are they that this administration is against the Jewish state, they discount the evidence, right in front of them, that the earth can, in fact, be safely turned. Indeed, they even ignore the drying, decades old lumps of clay turned before, by Republicans and Democrats, right along the same lines.

But this exercise was a failure to begin with, because even if they dig a long trench, there’s no fresh seed to plant, no fertilizer to nourish it, no gardener who can tend to it unhindered by political and “demographic realities.” There is no prospect right now. There is only the status quo, the one President Obama calls “unsustainable.”

If to avoid talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would have been a mistake in last Thursday’s speech at the Department of State, then talking so much about it may also have been an uncalculated error. Bibi seized on it as a PR opportunity, an extra boost from AIPAC and other supporters, the same way the RNC or DNC jumps on statements from elected officials affiliated with their respective opponents to rile their respective bases to shake their respective money trees.

Was that the plan all along? Was it a trial balloon? If so, Netanyahu deflated it at his speech to the joint Congressional session, acknowledging the president’s clarification at his speech, Sunday, to AIPAC. “[A]s President Obama said,” the prime minister declared, offering cover to the president’s misunderstood statements, “the border will be different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. Israel will not return to the indefensible lines of 1967. ”

With that diplomatic language, Netanyahu picked up his shovel and walked away. He left behind little doubt where this Likud coalition government in Israel stands: a demilitarized Palestinian state; Israeli troops within it, along the Jordan River; no right of return for Palestinian refugees inside whatever the final line between Israel and Palestine ends up being; and “Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel.” All this, only if Hamas renounces violence and recognizes Israel’s right to exist.

In his speech, Netanyahu promised any possible Israeli concessions in a peace deal with the Palestinians would be “painful” and “generous” to the Jewish State. The Palestinian Authority reportedly disagrees, with Nabil Abu Rudaineh, a spokesman for Abbas, telling the Jerusalem Post, “What Netanyahu proposed in his speech won’t lead to peace, but would instead place more obstacles in front of the peace process.”

This is the “unsustainable” status quo which President Obama spoke about, Thursday, the impediments to peace from just one of the sides in the conflict. There will be no peace talks. As Netanyahu said in the Oval Office on Friday, “It’s not going to happen.”

Unsustainable or not, all that is left behind from this visit is the status quo – more turned earth, left to dry in the summer sun. If the status quo is maintained, the UN will vote to recognize a Palestinian state in the fall. That’s why, as Bibi said, it must be dealt with “tomorrow. And when I say tomorrow, I don’t mean some distant time in the future.  I mean — tomorrow.”


Full text of Netanyahu’s speech to the Joint Session of Congress

2 thoughts on “New dirt, same shovel – the unsustainable, status quo

  1. Wonderful use of analogy. However, your picture is incomplete. You failed to mention the poisonous effect that the indigenous Arabs have had on the soil since the mid sixties. The role that the PLO, Yassir Araftat, the PFLP and others played in infecting the soil from airline hijacking to cruise ship murders, school shootings, bus bombing and more…much more. The soil is so damaged that the Arab children fear there neighbors, see them as monkeys and pigs. They view them as occupiers, devils, blood suckers, warmongers and worse. You did not mention that the soil was worked and nurtured for over 40 years and has produced blooms in the desert, literally. The children of Israel have built a judicial system while their neighbors have not. They have built world renowned universities, hospitals, road systems and legislature and more. The same soil that has produced great museums, orchestras, dance, theater, have produced nothing similar in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon or Egypt. Why talk about planting and turning the soil when your neighbor, dumps garbage on your plants, pees on your seeds and has his friends trample on your saplings?


    1. Great, AT! I appreciate the continuation of the metaphor 😉
      You echo Bibi’s speech nicely. Yes, the Palestinians live impoverished, difficult lives. Maybe they could have done more for themselves, had they not been so committed to their assault on Israel. They hold on to their own illusion that they will get all of Israel back, someday. Still, what has this Israeli government reasonably given them to hope for? The two sides have no basis for compromise for peace. When you know you will not get what your people are asking for, one becomes indignant. Rather than resign themselves to the Likud way of doing things, they go to the militant crazies who support their struggle with money and other resources. They need the help of Iran and her surrogates, who have an idealistic interest in them not being too comfortable. Our job is to let the Israeli government know we support peace for the State of Israel, one that comes from serious talk and compromise for all involved. When you show genuine compassion, you elicit the sincere support of the entire world.


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