Welcome to you, 2009!

EDITORIAL, 5 Jan 2009

#44 | Johan Galtung

With some trepidation.  There is that Rumanian joke born out of pessimism tempered by realism: it will be an average year.  Average?  Yes, worse than 2008, but better than 2010.

The emblematic expression for 2008 are two whirling shoes thrown at the US Empire in person, expressing disgust and contempt. The emblematic expression for 2009 so far is a cartoon in El País New Year’s eve; a tank, obviously Israeli, breaking through the gates to the new year, Happy 2009! That other empire, the regional one, born out of Isaiah 2:3-4. Oh no, Jerusalem, it will never be. You will never be in command.

What will happen?  Cease-fire of course, for some rest and new supplies, from the USA and Iran, and then on it again. Of course Israel is right: no country will accept being the target of missiles. And of course the Palestinians are right: no nation will accept being occupied – since 1948 in part, since 1967, and so on, and so on. Two wrongs for Israel, one for the Palestinians leave the moral high ground to the latter, and so the world reacts. Israeli conquest of land and massive state terrorism killing women and children against pinprick terrorism will not stand. Israel is walking blindfolded into the abyss with such markers as Intifadah I, Intifadah II, suicide bombing, Hamas missiles from Gaza, Hizbollah missiles from Lebanon. Of course more is coming, down that road of death, death and death.

And then suddenly there was that rare light of insight and foresight based on hindsight: Ehud Olmert’s interview in Yedioth Ahronoth September 29 2008 (New York Review of Books, December 4), excerpted in International Herald Tribune September 30 and used by Roger Cohen in “Olmert to Obama: Think Again” (IHT, December 1). Thus speaks the dove inside the hawk (from NYRB):

–  I’d like to do some soul-searching on behalf of the nation of Israel.

– we have a window of opportunity – a short amount of time before we enter an extremely dangerous situation – the decision we have to make is the decision we’ve spent forty years refusing to look at with our eyes open.

–  We must reach an agreement with the Palestinians, meaning a withdrawal from all of the [occupied] territories. Some percentage of these territories would remain in our hands, but we must give the Palestinians the same percentage [of territory elsewhere]-without this there will be no peace. Including Jerusalem, with, I’d imagine, special arrangements made for the Temple Mount and the holy/historical sites.

–  For a significant portion of those years I wasn’t ready to contemplate the depth of this reality.

–  I’d like to know if there is a serious person in the State of Israel who believes that we can make peace with Syria without, in the end, giving up the Golan Heights.

–  I reached this conclusion when I was still able to do something about it. I established contacts with the Syrians long before the police opened investigations on me.

–  I’d not doubt that we’d defeat them [the Syrians] soundly. Israel is the strongest country in the Middle East. We could contend with any of our enemies or against all of our enemies combined and win. The question that I ask myself is what happens when we win? — Are his [the prime minister’s] efforts directed toward making peace or are they directed toward making the country stronger and stronger and stronger in order to win a war?

–  With them [our generals] it’s all about–holding this or that hill.  But these things are worthless.

–  Our goal should be, for the first time, to designate a final and exact borderline between us and the Palestinians–so that the entire world can say–These are the recognized borders of Israel and these are the recognized borders of Palestine.

–  One senses a megalomania and a loss of proportion in the things said here [in Israel] about Iran.

–  This phenomenon [like Knesset members calling Sharon a “gangster”, “criminal”, “despicable”, “thief” for disengagement from Gaza August 2005] is not new. It started on the eve of the Rabin murder and it brought about [that] murder (italics mine).

–  But the true lesson is–that in contemporary wars the home front is the front, the home front is engaged in battle.

The words of a has-been, out-of-power, hitting back? Also that, but that is uninteresting. What matters is that all of this is inside him. Like in most other Israeli politicians.

That inner doubt, that inner dialogue, that search and struggle. Olmert merits credit for speaking the unspeakable words regardless of his circumstances, and if they include some personal enrichment so be it, a minor price. Of course it reminds us all of the last years of the apartheid regime. What follows is the outer dialogue, in secret, behind closed doors. Then the doors open. And the United States, meaning Obama, will also turn 180 degrees, trying to be ahead of the events to pose as their Creator. US client states will follow. The massacres in Gaza right now also had parallels in occupied South Africa.

Every Olmert word has a solid ring of truth. There is something to learn from that, known to anybody with mediator experience. From the outside the top figure of the pyramid in a hard conflict looks as monolithic as the pyramid. Come closer, and there are nuances. The right circumstances and questions may unleash tied-up words longing for life in public space. “Olmert to Obama: Think Again”. And Palestinians, be merciful. It is not easy to admit giant mistakes, like Olmert does in

“I was the first person who wanted to maintain Israeli control over the entire city, I confess. I am not trying retrospectively to justify what I’ve done for the last thirty-five years”.

Of course, we should not be carried away by this. But if there ever was a crack in the wall of shame built under Olmert’s supervision, this is the one. Also of course, peace presupposes more than an internationally recognized border. An end to conflicts over land and numbers is good, cooperation projects building some harmony–like a Middle East Community–equally good or better. Changing the drift, the course away from the abyss. Punish Olmert, if he has broken the law. And make him the Israeli spokesperson. Hoping he will keep his life and not share the fate of his predecessor, Rabin.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 5 Jan 2009.

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