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June 18, 2014

                                                                 NERO’S FIDDLING

I fear for the lives of Nftali Frenkel, Gil-Ad Shaer, and EYal Yifrah. The three youths are victims of an inhuman act, and they must be safely returned home. That said, and as politically incorrect as it may seem at a moment when the three teens’ fate hangs in the balance, it is nonetheless important to be clear about the storm that is gathering force, in the wake of their abduction.

Benjamin Netanyahu is surely delighted. This security crisis is playing into his hands. His consistent obstruction of anything threatening to advance the peace process has now received a strong wind from behind, as the West Bank roils. Soldiers bursting into hundreds of homes in Hebron, spontaneous demonstrations erupting across the field, 200 punitive arrests, a Palestinian youth shot dead, Israeli threats of mass deportations….the territories are on fire. Isolated in his condemnation of Fatah-Hamas unity, Netanyahu has been provided the chance he awaited, to say “I told you so….” by linking the abduction to the new Palestinian political arrangement, showing the world “the real face of Hamas,” while Hamas’ involvement in the kidnapping has yet to be confirmed. By his own admission, 30 such abduction attempts were thwarted in 2013, long before the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation. But now Bibi has a “successful” abduction, agonized mothers of the three on the front page. Netanyahu is milking this to the extreme, relentlessly pushing his anti-peace agenda forward, eager to justify his repeated claim that “there is no partner for peace.”

I attended a meeting with Abu Mazen in Ramallah recently, along with some 250 peace activists, at the invitation of the Palestinian president. In attendance were also some 100 leaders of Fatah. We milled about, schmoozing with the Palestinians who were demonstratively happy to have us there. As Abu Mazen sat before us, explaining his reasons for inviting us and sharing with us his reality, I felt his authenticity. He said, “We live minutes apart and we don’t know each other. We must close the gap.” When popular Israeli singer Ahinoam Nini asked that he encourage exchanges of artists, Abu Mazen earnestly replied, “We need music and art and cinema as a tie for getting to know the other side. I will do what I can to encourage all such initiatives.” He spoke warmly, easily, and his desire to bring us closer was palpable. An organizational psychologist for the past 30 years, I think I have developed some intuition about people. This 79 year old man, this committed leader, is the real thing. With weary irony, Abu Mazen spoke of the inaccessibility of our prime minister. “Before our joining with Hamas, Netanyahu said he could not negotiate with us since we didn’t represent all of the Palestinians. Now that we have linked with Hamas, with very clear parameters for their joining with us, Netanyahu says he will not negotiate with us because we have joined with a terror organization.” So who is “not a partner?”

Does not Netanyahu share in responsibility for the current crisis? As agreement for continuing negotiations was imminent in April, this is the man who reneged on his promise to release the fourth group of Palestinian prisoners at the critical moment and, two days later, announced the building of 700 new housing units in East Jerusalem, strengthening his hold on the ruling coalition, and sending John Kerry away with the peace process shattered.

And what of the general Israeli population? The current outpouring of empathy for the three teens’ families is moving. Yet it is hard to understand the lack of empathy for the families of hunger-striking prisoners or the families of the two youths we shot in cold blood just weeks ago. Where is our empathy for three million Palestinians living under a cruel occupation for the past 47 years? Can empathy be selective?

Endless articles are appearing, chastising the state and the settlers for not taking better care of the young settler hitch-hikers in the territories. Calls for funding public transport, armored shuttles, and assorted bandaids for a condition that clearly demands surgery. A settler leader even recently published a “humane” piece calling for treating the West Bank Palestinians more decently. Nero fiddling while Rome burns.

Of the 60% of Israelis who support the two-state solution, many voted for Netanyahu in the last election. How can we explain this? On Friday, a small group of Israelis will convene at Jewish-Arab village Neve Shalom to seek and design a fresh approach to reaching out to Israelis, in order to help shift public opinion. The shift will not happen by itself. Netanyahu’s transparent finagling around the election of our next president may have awakened some to his true agenda. But we need a profound change in the attitude and willingness of peace-loving Israelis to take action, if we are to turn things around. Time is working against our attempts to rescue the three boys. But time is also leading us to a third intifada, a new round of violence and counter-violence, an abyss from which none of us will return unscathed.

                                                Yoav Peck, a Jerusalem organizational psychologist,                                                                                                                                                                  serves on the Board of the Sulha Peace Project


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One Comment
  1. Gilead Meroz permalink

    I totally agree with the above written, about Netanyahu’s righteousness & total lack of commitment to achieve peace.
    Still the alliance with Hammas is very problematic given Hammas’s own stand towards Israels’ right to exist.

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