Ed: 39: June/2014
Ari Shavit's My Promised Land may well be the most commercially successful, yet also critically acclaimed book by an Israeli writer explaining his country's complicated history to English-speaking readers.
Some of this adulation is well deserved. Shavit is the most talented Israeli journalist of his generation. Like most of his Haaretz colleagues Shavit started out as an enthusiast for the Oslo accords and the peace process, but then experienced second thoughts. He broke with the Israeli left after becoming convinced by facts on the ground that the Palestinians were not reliable partners for achieving a compromise, two-state solution.
On balance, most commentators rejected the accusation Bob Carr made in his published diary of his stint as Australian Foreign Minister - alleging that Melbourne's Jewish leadership, in particular AIJAC, exercised an "unhealthy" influence on Prime Minister Julia Gillard regarding Australia's Israel-Palestinian policy.
The apparent failure of US Secretary of State John Kerry's Israeli-Palestinian peace talks initiative - launched under a self-imposed nine-month deadline last July and concluding at the end of April - was unfortunately not altogether unexpected.
Nevertheless, it was a disappointment for those of us who support a negotiated two-state peace resolution between Israel and the Palestinians.
Reading the reviews and commentaries of the recent publication by the Foreign Minister in the government which was ejected by voters at the 2013 Federal election, then Senator Bob Carr, I note one common assumption seems to be that the writer was telling the truth, or something close to it, in his accounts of meetings, discussions and processes.
Having been personally present at some discussions recounted in the book, and having spoken to quite a number of parliamentarians and others who feature with varying degrees of prominence, I can state with some confidence that the subjective interpretations of events by the former Senator do not accord with the interpretations of just about everyone else in a position to comment.
Extreme critics of Israel tend to argue that Israel's existence as a Jewish homeland is inherently racist. Never mind that most countries in the world have some sort of ethnic identity associated with them - including almost all of Israel's Arab neighbours - and that both Israel's constitution and Israeli public opinion are very clear that the national goal is to both embody the Jewish people's right to self-determination and be completely democratic, with absolutely equal rights for minority citizens.
So April 29th has passed, and the nine-month period allotted by the current US Administration for its effort to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute has come and gone. Entirely predictably, it has failed, in its entirety.
What can be learned from the failure?
The failure of the talks was predictable first and foremost because of the irreconcilable positions of the sides. This is not a matter of small details, as is sometimes maintained...
The April reconciliation agreement between the Palestinian Authority's dominant Fatah faction and the Islamist Hamas movement has come as a shock to many. It shouldn't have. In the weeks before the deal, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had already taken steps with a profoundly negative impact on the US-sponsored peace talks. Building on his modest success in winning a 2012 UN General Assembly vote to upgrade the Palestinian Authority's status to that of a non-member state - a designation it shares only with the Vatican - Abbas returned to this unilateralist strategy of peace avoidance by signing 15 applications for membership in a variety of international agencies, conventions, and treaties.
As narratives about the root causes of the impasse in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations take shape, US leaders have a major decision to make about whether to disengage from diplomacy or deepen involvement in less high-profile ways.
The contours of that choice emerge from a detailed, impassioned, and painstakingly evenhanded speech delivered by Ambassador Martin Indyk to The Washington Institute's Weinberg Founders Conference on May 8, 2014, chronicling the nine months of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations he stewarded on behalf of Secretary Kerry.
Following a seven-year term in which he rehabilitated the Israeli presidency and became the country's public darling and the world's elder statesman, 90-year-old Shimon Peres is ready to pass on the baton, come July 15.
The politicians, however, are not ready. Nine candidates are vying for the ceremonial but influential position, and the Prime Minister currently appears to have no viable candidate at all.