1,096 nights: Bibi, Scheherazade and the impossibility of peace

Daily News Egypt
6 Min Read

One of the most internationally well-known pieces of Arabic literature is “One Thousand and One Nights , in which a new bride forestalls her execution by spinning yarn after yarn for her homicidal husband. After watching Benjamin Netanyahu deliver his “endorsement of the two-state solution yesterday, it was clear to anyone paying close attention that the Israeli PM is Scheherazade to President Obama’s King Shahryar, with Netanyahu trying to forestall peace rather than death.

Netanyahu delivered his tale in response to Obama’s entreaties for peace two weeks ago in Cairo, hoping to deflect American pressure to freeze settlements and move toward final status talks. He spoke movingly of peace, telling his audience “Let us join hands and work together in peace, together with our neighbors. The response from the US so far indicates that simply by saying the magic words “two states, Netanyahu may have bought his government at least another thousand nights to solidify control over a West Bank that it never intends to relinquish.

At one point he took a break from defending Israel’s legitimacy and declared, “Now I will talk about the need for us to recognize their rights, and then never elaborated on what those Palestinian rights might actually be. He told the Palestinians that Israel does not want to rule over them, but committed his government to continued control over vital swaths of their land conquered illegally through warfare. And while he accepted the idea of a Palestinian state, he did so in a way that made it clear it will never happen on his watch.

Netanyahu demanded a demilitarized Palestinian state, unable to make treaties with its neighbors, disallowed control of its own airspace, with borders yet to be determined. Netanyahu is probably saving that story for the next time he wants to lull Obama to sleep. His reference to the West Bank as “Judea and Samaria articulated a clear belief that the territory belongs to the Israelis.

He repeated the now-popular demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as “the national homeland of the Jewish people without granting any such recognition to the other side. Instead of recognizing Palestinian claims to the land, he argued that there “now lives a large population of Palestinians in Palestine, as if they were swine-flu ridden AUC study abroad students who materialized yesterday in a land that, by remarkable coincidence, happens to be named after them. How inconvenient!

Netanyahu told the Palestinians, “Let’s begin negotiations immediately without preconditions, and then declared that Jerusalem will remain forever the united capital of the Jewish people. He is hardly the only character in this drama to pull this trick, but that doesn’t make it any less dishonest. The Syrians have tried this for years to no effect.

Netanyahu is, of course, a creation of the political consensus that elected him. The Israeli mainstream is not ready, and may never be ready, for the kind of sacrifices that would bring real peace with the Palestinians. Israelis have spent the vast majority of the past 32 years electing right-wing governments committed to the settlement project. And so Obama’s gesture will go the way of the Geneva Accord, the Arab Peace Plan, Camp David, and every other attempt to bring about a Palestinian state.

At one point the Prime Minister extolled the economic and social potential of regional peace and then asked, “Friends, with the advantages of peace so clear, so obvious, we must ask ourselves why is peace still so far from us, even though our hands are extended for peace?

Had he been staring into a mirror instead of a teleprompter, he might have had part of the answer. There is no greater obstacle to peace today than the current government of Israel. Peace cannot be achieved by announcing your opposition to war and then reaffirming the policies that have perpetuated it.

The Israelis have colonized, appropriated, and divided the land intended for a Palestinian state, and kept the millions of Palestinians living in what remains of the West Bank in a state of impoverished statelessness, refusing to either grant them independence or to annex them and allow them to enjoy the rights of Israeli citizenship.

The tale of Palestinian suffering, though, is one that the Israeli Scheherazade could not allow himself to tell. He said, “I am speaking today with courage and honesty when in fact he was speaking with neither.

Different versions of “Alf Layla Wa Layla have different endings, but in all of them Scheherazade is spared. Netanyahu apparently believes that if he can keep talking, for the 1,095 nights and one more of the first Obama Administration, he can avoid the painful compromise that would lead to the beautiful peace he claims to so fervently want.

The sad part is that he’s probably right.

David Farisis a PhD candidate in Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania. He is currently doing research in Cairo.

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