Follow by Email

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Yevus, Yevus, Yevus

Three stars in the sky and she left us for another week. As Shabbat exited, the J Street Leadership Mission entered.

We opened with a dinner featuring Bernard Avishai, the author of a NY Times Magazine article detailing how close Israelis and Palestinians were to negotiating a final peace agreement in September 2008, and Sufyan Abu Zaydeh, a former Fatah Cabinet Minister, who been taken hostage and had his home destroyed by Hamas.

Sufyan spoke first, as he was scheduled to make a television appearance on a Hamas broadcast. News had broken earlier this week that the two major Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, who had been in open and sometimes violent conflict with each other, reached a reconciliation agreement. Much of the Israeli press and an overwhelming majority of Israeli politicians greeted the announcement quite harshly, with Prime Minister Netanyahu telling Fatah they must choose between Hamas and peace, and President Shimon Peres, calling it a "fatal mistake."

Sufyan, who welcomed the reconciliation, explained that he expected Netanyhu's reaction because it provided him with a convenient excuse for refusing to negotiate. But Sufyan was surprised by Peres's statement. Sufyan believes that a unified Palestinian body politic is necessary in order to have the legitimacy to conclude a deal with the Israelis. In fact, that is the precise point Israelis had made to him in the past - that without a unified Palestinian partner, there was no use negotiating. And now that it appears that the Palestinian factions are uniting, the unification is being offered as an excuse not to negotiate.

Bernie provided a look into the Israeli political map. He posited that Israelis are basically divided into two unofficial political parties: the Greater Israel Party and the Globalist Israel Party. The Greater Israel Party, he said, was made up of about 35% of the population (tracking the percentage of respondents in a poll who felt that Yigal Amir, Yitzhak Rabin's assassin, should be freed). The Greater Israel Party had little regard for democracy and could never be persuaded to agree to a two-state solution. To this 35%, he added another 10-20% who are favorably disposed toward them. That leaves 45-55% in the Globalist Israel Party, who want to be bring about a deal, recognizing that the businesses in European countries, to whom Israel exports billions of dollars of technology, will be unwilling to continue business as usual if Israel proceeds on its current path. Accordingly, we are now witnessing the Israeli business class's emerging support for a two-state solution. Strangely enough, my former roommate from my Jerusalem days made a similar point just yesterday, telling me that he will be selling his Israeli stocks ahead of the planned September UN vote on Palestinian statehood. My former roommate has a bit of a track record here. Coming back from his reserve duty in Gaza in 1991, he told me, "Richie, we have to leave that place. I've never seen such hate in people's eyes." It took a little while, but Israel eventually left Gaza.

Bernie explained that while the business elites had been unwilling to take on the "Judeans" referring to the hardcore 35%, for the sake of the Palestinians, they would be willing to do so for their own interests.

For me, Bernie's point provided some optimism. A law professor of mine once explained the golden rule: those with the gold make the rules. If this holds true, there may yet be room for hope.

Bernie's wife, Sidra Ezrahi, a professor of comparative Jewish literature concluded the evening with three love poems. So after suffering through this somewhat sluggish post -- it's approaching 1:00 a.m. and I'm hoping to get up and run to a place in Jerusalem where I used to live for a short while once upon a time, and make it back in time for breakfast -- I'll leave you with her final reading, a Yehuda Amichai poem, Jerusalem 1967:

The city plays hide-and-seek among her names:
Yerushalayim, al-Quds, Salem, Jeru, Yeru,
Whispering her first name: Yevus, Yevus, Yevus, in the dark.
She weeps with longing: Ælia Capitolina, Ælia, Ælia.
She comes to anyone who calls her at night, alone.
But we know who comes to whom.


  1. Are you kidding me? Thirty-five percent of Israelis want the assassin Yigal Amir freed? All the Israelis I've ever met have been completely decent, upstanding people. Then again, I've never actually been to Israel, so...


    It is pretty scary.

  3. Scary as it is, let's not overreact. According to the article, the thirty (not thirty-five) percent number refers only to those who think he should be released in 25 years. That number drops to five percent when restricted to those who want him released now. As a comparison, a CNN poll taken in March 2010 ( revealed that eleven percent of Americans do not believe that President Obama is a natural-born citizen.
    There is, of course, the legitimate worry that as Israel's religious population grows, this could change, but for now, such feelings strike me as being marginal in Israeli society.

  4. The figure came from Avishai himself, a pretty diligent journalist. I hope to see him again before I leave and will ask him about the numbers. The poll cited by my brother - thanks for the assist - is from 2006. 30, 3 percent, not sure there's much of a difference here. My sense is that the numbers have gone up since then. And I'm not buoyed by the fact that they think he should be released after 25 years. I don't imagine their support for his release is based on a penological perspective.