Stopping the Crazy

The other night on the Oprah Show, Jon Stewart, America’s comedy sweetheart, announced he was hosting a "Rally to Restore Sanity" in Washington DC next month. The rally, he surmised, was for the silently busy majority of Americans who could finally make their voices heard to the less sane minority that is ruling their country.

"Seventy to 80 percent of the people in this country are reasonable, nice individuals, may disagree on principle on things, but could come up with rational compromises, could accomplish things, could get things done, could live with the results. And then the other 15 to 20 percent of the country run the place," he quipped.

In Israel, America’s other sweetheart, the same could be applied. Two days ago, the so-called 10-month moratorium on settlement construction came to an end. Jewish settlers took to the streets in celebration. In Revava, a West Bank settlement, settlers released 2,000 balloons symbolizing the number of housing units that will be immediately constructed. "Today it’s over and we will do everything we can to make sure it never happens again," one joyous settler said.

According to Israeli media reports, construction is slated to begin in eight settlements with work already underway in the illegal settlement of Ariel, one of the largest colonies in the West Bank.

Extension of the settlement freeze has been the number one bone of contention between Israel and the Palestinians ever since direct talks between the two were begrudgingly launched at the beginning of the month. President Mahmoud Abbas was adamant in his stance that the Palestinians would walk out of talks should Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fail to extend the freeze. Netanyahu, on the other hand, seems not to have had any intention of extending the freeze from day one. So, lo and behold, the threats from Abbas kept coming –” albeit less severe –” and Netanyahu remained non-committal to any proposals or pressures the US may have put on him to save face (Israel’s and their own) by coming up with some formula on the settlements. Instead, citing coalition pressures, Netanyahu let the 10 month deadline expire without offering any hope in return.

What is so absurd is that the majority of mainstream Israelis are not supportive of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. According to a Truman Institute survey conducted in March of this year, 60 percent of Israelis support the dismantlement of most settlements in a final peace agreement with the Palestinians. The fact is, settlements are more of a hassle for most Israelis than anything else. They are not ideologically attached to them and they don’t appreciate the fact that so much of their tax money and so many of their children are made to serve the enterprise.

Jerusalem settlements may be a different deal. The abovementioned survey dealt with West Bank settlements even though those built in and around east Jerusalem are technically West Bank, Palestinian territory according to international law. However, many Israelis view these settlements as suburbs of their "capital" a unified Jerusalem that has not been recognized even by the US itself. They were not included in Israel’s "hardly-there" slowdown and they are not up for negotiations in this last round of talks. But let’s not get into the faultiness of the negotiations, at least not here.

The point is, Israel’s government is –” and always has –” catered to that part of its population that represents an extremist minority. In the current government’s case, this extreme minority is amply represented. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has made no secret of his intentions to continue building settlements on occupied Palestinian land (among other preposterous suggestions such as demanding loyalty to the state from Israel’s Arab citizens), nor does he make apologies for wanting to transfer Palestinian-Arabs out of their homes yet again.

What does that say about Israel? Like the United States, which has driven its country and citizens into crazy wars in foreign lands because of the questionable agendas of those who rule, Israel is much the same. The government, whether right or left, has systematically and continually supported settlement growth, even during the years after Oslo when settlements were not to progress an inch. Decisions back then were not made by Likud-nik Bibi Netanyahu or by the even more extreme Israel Beytanu Avigdor Lieberman. On the contrary, settlements thrived in the early nineties under the watchful eye of the perceived Labor dove, the late Yitzhak Rabin. Today, even as the majority of Israelis would opt for a solution where most settlements are dismantled, their government continues to coddle its right-wing minority, pouring funds and manpower into security for the settlements and jeopardizing its credibility in the international arena over its declared intentions to arrive at peace.

In all of this, the Palestinians are not blameless. Abbas is dragging his feet at the moment as to whether his negotiators will call it quits in light of continued settlement construction. The leadership –” while paying lip service to its original threat of walking out if the freeze is not renewed –” is now saying it would make a final decision after the October 4 Arab League meeting.

In the meantime, Netanyahu’s green light on resumed settlement construction has emboldened settlers across the board. In the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, settler leader Aryeh King is boasting that by the end of the week, three more Palestinians will be kicked out of their homes and replaced by Jewish families. "’Crazy’ gets on television, but ‘normal’ has to make dinner," Jon Stewart surmised.

Stewart should come to Sheikh Jarrah, or to Revava or to Ariel. There’s a lot of crazy right here.