NEWS

There is some good news after all from the Middle East, says Amos Oz

The good news from the Middle East – says eminent Israeli writer and longtime peace activist Amos Oz – is that most Israelis and Palestinians are ready for a clenched-teeth compromise of a dual state. And Europe can best help by offering both sides empathy and encouragement, rather than its habitual finger-wagging self-righteousness. In town to promote the Greek edition of his latest book, «A Tale of Love and Darkness,» published by Kastaniotis, Oz addressed a packed audience at the Hotel Grande Bretagne yesterday on «Prospects for Peace in the Middle East: the Opinion of a Novelist» at the invitation of the Constantinos Karamanlis Foundation. Introduced by Israeli Ambassador Ram Aviram as «a better ambassador than I am» and by Greek Education Minister Marietta Giannakou as «a sober voice» on Middle Eastern issues, Oz spoke with passion and humor on a seemingly intractable topic. He began by invoking the long-lived ties between Greeks and Jews. «The DNA of European culture is Greek and Jewish,» he said, «though the two peoples have not always lived in peace. In antiquity, there was philosophical, ethical and eventually religious competition between them. We have to resume the dialogue between the two fountains of civilization; we need to talk of deeper things.» Oz made it clear that he was not a spokesman for his government or anyone else: «I represent nobody; on a good day I can just about manage to represent myself.» What does a novelist have to offer the debate on the Middle East? «Coming from a country of 6.5 million people who all have their own opinion: 6.5 prime ministers, prophets and messiahs, where everyone has a personal formula for instant redemption, where everyone talks and nobody listens,» said Oz, «I listen sometimes, and that’s how I make a living.» He celebrates that anarchist tendency in Jewish society, one that goes back to the Bible where Abraham argued the toss with God. That pluralism is a cultural strength, explained Oz. «Criticize Israel, its policies, the prime minister as much as you like. Some Israeli will have done so before you.» Not black and white «For peace-loving people, the major conflicts of the 20th century were clear-cut, he said. «It was easy to take sides over fascism, Nazism, colonialism, Vietnam and Apartheid. But the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not black and white. It’s a tragedy almost in the Greek sense – a clash between right and right, and sometimes a clash between wrong and wrong. It’s a clash between two victims.» Oz asserts that the European pacifist tradition of labeling villains and victims leads to allegations of blame rather than pragmatic attempts to do something about problems. Oz is regularly invited to idyllic locations in other countries to meet Palestinians as if, he said, «by drinking coffee together, intellectuals will understand each other and the problem will be solved. Many Western pacifists think that all peace problems are based on misunderstandings; that a little bit of group therapy, some family counseling, will solve problems – but this problem is not based on a misunderstanding. «Both the Palestinians and the Israelis have deep, powerful and convincing claims to the land. Palestine is Palestinian land – the Palestinians have no other homeland and neither do Jews – as peoples, that is, not individuals. The Palestinians were kicked out of other Arab countries and the Jews were kicked out of Europe. «Rivers of coffee will not solve this problem.» His approach is pragmatic. «We have to look things in the eye; we have to find a compromise. In the eyes of idealists, especially young idealists, compromise seems dishonest, sneaky; it shows a lack of integrity and principle. But not in my vocabulary. Compromise is synonymous with life. Where there is life there are compromises.» That does not imply capitulation or turning the other cheek to one’s enemies, explained Oz. «A happy compromise is an oxymoron. You have to give up something that is close to your heart.» Though Palestinians and Israelis see in each other the image of their former European oppressors, public opinion polls regularly indicate that some 70 percent of Palestinians and Israelis want a two-state solution, a chance that was missed in 1948, he noted. Now, Oz said, «five wars and 150,000 dead later, it is time to divide this very small house into two parts for two families.» «Europeans,» he said, «need no longer choose between being pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli, they can be pro-peace.» Emotional issues, such as the sovereignty of the holy places should be left open, he recommends: «Let everyone worship but nobody fly a flag.» Acknowledging that the two peoples will not become one overnight, Oz promised it would not take them as long as it took Europe – which has caused more bloodshed than all other continents combined – to become united.