President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel produced a tumult of commentary that reflects all the clash, hope, despair, realism and unreality swirling around the Jewish Palestinian problem. My friend Joshua Sharf offers a brilliant rebuttal to critics who call it a destabilizing move:
Let me get this straight. Syria’s got a civil war. Iraq’s got a civil war. Lebanon is being slowly digested by Hezbollah. Yemen’s got a civil war. ISIS is operating in Egypt. Hamas is doing what Hamas does. The Palestinians are paying people to stab Jews. Libya is butchering Nigerian slaves. (Re-read that one.) Iran is building nukes to go on their missiles. Iran is trying to subvert Bahrain.
But [by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capitol] Trump is going to set the region aflame. Right.
The controversy brought up a dim personal memory of the summer I unknowingly worked with a future leader and advisor to the Palestine Liberation Organization. About 30 years ago, I was a summer intern at the Denver office of an international law firm. One of the other interns was a very able and appealing Palestinian American who went by Trig, I assume because he had been a math wiz in high school.
It was a summer of self-important ferment of aspiring lawyers from fancy schools at fancy firms working on intern-size legal projects and solving the world’s problems in dorm style conversations at nice lunches and after hours receptions. Of course, Trig’s Harvard was fancier than my Berkeley, and he seemed to be a step ahead of most of us in most ways, thinking and talking and drawing a laugh just a little quicker than the rest.
I don’t mean to overstate our association. We didn’t become fast friends. He probably doesn’t remember me today, and I only remember him because of a handful of dots that happened to connect. Some years later, reading an article in the Wall Street Journal about the Israel/Palestinian conflict, I came across a quote from Michael Tarazi, who was described as a Harvard educated American attorney who was a legal advisor and spokesman for the PLO. Wow. I was pretty sure Michael Tarazi was Trig Tarazi from my summer internship.
Google and the internet were not yet ubiquitous, but a little searching by means I don’t recall that are probably similar to archeology and reading dusty scrolls confirmed my suspicion. And I recalled a long ago conversation with Trig about the very issue he was addressing in the world’s best newspaper: How to solve a problem like the Holy land.
I don’t remember if I initiated the topic or he did, but in commenting on how Israel should approach what was the current burning branch in the thicket, I observed that whatever they agreed to would have to be consistent with their security and survival. It seemed like a tautology to me—whatever Israel agrees to has to be something it knows it can live with, literally. Trig’s response surprised me. Why he asked does any agreement have to ensure Israel’s survival? I don’t remember precise details of our exchange, but I remember the concepts. Because, I said, Israel has an interest in its own survival; Israel is in a stronger position than the Palestinians, and human nature dictates that it won’t enter an agreement that worsens or eliminates its security. Why should it?
Again, I don’t recall Trig’s exact response, but I have a vivid recollection of his puzzlement that I assumed Israel’s survival as a condition of resolving the issue. And that was equally puzzling to me. Why should Israel agree to anything that doesn’t assume its survival?
Well, Trig became, or reverted to, Michael, finished his Harvard law degree, had a whirlwind of international ascent, and became a top adviser and leading spokesman for the Palestinian cause, quoted in major media all around the globe. And I have to say, his quizzical response to my insistence that Israel cannot be expected to commit suicide seems to fit the dominant views of his cause.
The quips and aphorisms such as: If Palestinians wanted peace, there would be peace. If Israel wanted war there would be no Palestinians have a persuasive logic. The Palestinians have never accepted and committed to a lasting two-state solution. Indeed, Michael has gone on to a different and interesting career in finance and financial transactions in developing nations, but, the last advocacy on the subject I can find from him rejects a two state solution, insisting instead on a single state with a single government—which you can bet will not be liberal Jewish democracy. In fact, most observers recognize Arab proposals for a single state as more restrained expression of: we will drive the Jews into the sea.