Not until TV journalists, Western foundations and UN consultants turn their backs on the Middle East and leave both Israelis and Palestinians to their own devices -- not until then will there be a chance to make progress toward peace. That is the argument presented by SPIEGEL reporter Henryk M. Broder. In reply Erich Follath, his colleague and co-author of "Gebt den Juden Schleswig-Holstein!" ("Give the Jews Schleswig-Holstein!"), submits a peace plan just as unusual and radical. The keywords are iPad and iPeace.
My dear colleague Broder,
Yes, that is one effect of having published a book with me: dependence, ties and chains everywhere you look.
Thank you for the flowers, by the way -- I too had a great deal of fun debating with you, even if some might suspect me of having masochistic tendencies because of it. I know no other person with such stunningly wrong-headed views -- and who can formulate those views so wonderfully well. "I suspect you see it precisely the opposite way around," you wrote me in one of your very clear-sighted moments and my goodness, Broder, that's exactly how it is -- allow me to attest emphatically to that!
And that's just how it should be: Despite all the mutual respect, there should be no false pleasantries. Bearing this in mind, I've taken a look at your summary of news from the Middle East and your audacious peace plan.
First to your analysis of the situation. You say the human factor throughout the course of history is overestimated. That may be, but it does surprise me that you take this position, since nearly the only others who base their arguments on the legitimacy of historical processes are members of the Left Party, which you so despise ideologically.
I don't know if there is a natural law -- determined by Marxism or otherwise -- that allots Jews the role of victims in world affairs; you are correct in your assessment that they have faced pogroms and other persecution far too often. But the Palestinians don't see why the "recompense" for this historical injustice should now come so exclusively at their own expense. And seen from their perspective, I dare say this is understandable.
Apropos overestimation and politicians drawing unacceptable parallels, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu takes the biscuit here. He compares Ahmadinejad to Hitler, Iran today to Munich in 1938 -- what nonsense. And I am obliged to confront you again with the current horror cabinet in Jerusalem: with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who would like to shoot Palestinian prisoners and blow up the Aswan Dam; with Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, who according to his own statements would be happiest instituting the Torah as law in Israel -- presumably without stoning sinners, as prescribed, although he has yet to go into this in detail.
Netanyahu Has Even Messed Things up with Angela Merkel
And then there's Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon, who insulted Israel's left-wing peace movement using Nazi jargon, calling it a "virus" within society. On top of that, we have misanthropic Hamas radicals in Gaza and corruptible leaders in Ramallah. I agree with you, it's quite tempting just to let them all stew in their own juice. If only so much of the rest of the world didn't depend on there being peace in the Middle East.
Did you hear how Prime Minister Netanyahu also messed things up with Chancellor Angela Merkel, his best -- meaning least critical toward Israel -- friend in the West? No? Then let me tell you about it.
In early April, US President Obama urgently asked the chancellor to take a clear position, finally, against the illegal Israeli settlement policies. She was the only EU leader yet to take a stand. However reluctantly she may have done so, Merkel subsequently called her Israeli colleague and appealed to him to agree at least to a comprehensive moratorium on construction. Netanyahu heard her out politely, but kept his cards close to his chest. Both leaders agreed on strict confidentiality. Imagine the surprise in Berlin the next day, to hear that Netanyahu had told Israeli journalists all about his call with Merkel.
Still more surprising was his version of that conversation -- there was extensive consensus, according the to Israeli prime minister. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung got wind of the incident, and even Merkel, who usually shows such solidarity with Israel, had had enough, lashing out at Netanyahu's settlement mania in the presence of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who was in Berlin on a state visit. The Israeli prime minister subsequently made known his regret over the "error," saying he had mixed up the subject matter of two separate telephone conversations, Netanyahu claimed, and confused Merkel with, of all people, Silvio Berlusconi.
A Rather Different Lobbying Group for Israel
But back to our book and our plans for the Middle East: You write, and you are entirely correct, that we have avoided suggesting solutions for the Israel-Palestinian problem so far. (And where should groundbreaking ideas for peace come from, this implies, if not from us? I share your healthy degree of self-confidence, of course.)
To your peace plan for the Middle East: I must admit, I gulped as I read it. If we journalists call for journalists to be sent away -- even if this is "only" meant to affect our colleagues in television (and only for a certain period of time in a certain location) -- aren't we digging our own graves and making it far too easy for those in power?
Forcing Happiness on Israelis and Palestinians
Nor does your dressing down of NGOs and the UN have me completely convinced. As much as some of these self-important groups do get on my nerves, and as much as we could indeed do without some of the agencies operating in Israel, it wouldn't make the Middle East better or more peaceful. Especially since, as you correctly point out, Israelis and Palestinians left to their own devices aren't capable of peaceful coexistence.
Here I find a new initiative much more interesting. It's called J Call and made its official launch at the EU Parliament in Brussels in early May. J Call is a rather different lobbying group for Israel, created by prominent liberal European Jews. They plan to put pressure on Netanyahu et al and call for an end to settlement policies, thus providing a counterpoint to the heavily right-leaning leadership in Jerusalem, but also to traditional representatives of the Jewish diaspora, who generally present themselves as unswerving apologists for any Israeli government.
The philosophers Bernhard-Henri Lévy and Alain Finkielkraut, politicians Daniel Cohn-Bendit and former ambassador Avi Primor are all part of the initiative. Denouncing them all as "self-hating Jews" or even "anti-Semites" will likely prove difficult.
But I don't believe in any case that the Israelis and Palestinians should be left to their own devices. We have to force them to take hold of their (and our) own happiness, using gentle but perceptible force. And it shouldn't be done as quarter-heartedly as things have once again become under the aegis of long-serving US mediator George Mitchell, who is currently shuttling between the two sides in so-called "indirect peace talks," bringing nothing in his toolbox but goodwill.
These American efforts lack bite, and that can be seen in the fact that the provocative construction of new apartments in East Jerusalem could soon demolish even these extremely fragile attempts at negotiations. No, talking at cross-purposes with the help of a third party can't be the way to do it.
The Solution Is Called iPeace
Here is my Middle East peace plan, no less radical and meant no less seriously than yours. First of all, we need a new mediator for Israel and Palestine. This is nothing against Mitchell, who is a proper Obama representative through and through, but he's conventional and old-fashioned.
What the region needs is a revolutionary who is respected, even admired, by all sides. No one could fit that description, you say? But I can think of one such person, and Obama should commission him as soon as possible. "Think different" is his maxim, he's considered a genius and a guru, a messiah and a slave driver, a cool visionary with solid footing in the mainstream. He is known for his fearlessness in the face of political authorities, for his ability to "swim with the sharks," as one of his employees put it, and for the fact that he's no stranger to censorship. I'm sure we can both agree these are all qualities that, God knows, wouldn't go amiss in the Middle East. Our man for Jerusalem-Ramallah-Gaza is:
Steve Jobs, CEO of the computer and entertainment corporation Apple, billionaire businessman and "philosopher of the 21st century." He's the one who should mix things up in the Middle East. He gave the world the iPhone and the iPad. He's our man for a new peace enforced using peaceful means of communication. He's our man for iPeace.
Jobs Thanks to Jobs -- in Israel and Gaza
As an entrepreneur, Jobs has achieved everything he could in life. He has also sensed the finite nature of life in terms of his own health. A person like him is looking for a place in history -- and he could gain that for himself in the Middle East. Obama should argue this or something similar when he goes to recruit Jobs, to encourage him to make an investment on both sides of the battle lines. Then the president should leave the details to the entrepreneur.
It could look something like this: Jobs offers Israel the prospect of investment worth billions. (And don't say Israel is so economically successful that no one would be interested in such an offer; yes, the country's economy is doing very well thanks to a massive amount of American aid, but still not so intoxicatingly well that anyone would want or be able to pass up high-tech investments.) There's just one condition to this deal: At least 20 percent of those employed must be Arabs, which corresponds to the percentage of Palestinians among Israeli citizens.
But Jobs wouldn't introduce new jobs only in Israel. The other half of Apple's billions in investment go to the Palestinian territories -- and especially for the production of iPads. All young people in Ramallah, Hebron, Nablus and the villages of the West Bank receive one of these high-tech communications gadgets for a symbolic price equivalent to €1 ($1.23).
And the most important part of the plan: This high-tech production takes place partially in the Gaza Strip, where the devices can pass directly to local adolescents, unimpeded by Israeli border controls. This is one of the main conditions that Obama and the ever-watchful control freak Jobs must set for their billion-dollar deal. If Netanyahu puts up resistance to the initiative, Washington will cut deliveries of arms and other aid mercilessly. If Hamas puts up resistance, its last EU contacts and indirect aid will be taken away.
That's the iDeal -- a Shared Feeling about Life
What stands to be won by such an unconventional initiative? Little, probably, from older people, who are walled up in any case in their mutual cynicism. It's the next generation that's more important. This iDeal would bring young Israelis and Palestinians closer together, making accessible to them not just a product, but also a feeling about life.
This would put an end to the lack of prospects, the powerlessness and the feeling of isolation in Gaza in a single stroke, catapulting young people there into the "cool" part of the universe. They would have access to new opportunities in terms of workplaces and job training. A new, interactive meeting place could develop in a region where, until now, hatemongers have had a monopoly on adolescents' recreational activities.
Take a moment to imagine it: Suddenly Arabs would be participating in a cult that has nothing to do with suicide attacks; instead of vague promises of virgins in heaven, they would have shows with superstars on a portable high-tech device, in the here and now. Palestinian and Jewish Facebook friends could carry out amicable communication, telling each other about their lives, their worries and their hobbies, competing against each other in online contests. (For all I care even in virtual war games, if need be.)
Sounds pretty far-fetched, you say, pretty fanciful? My dear colleague Broder, you're right, of course. But just consider: Once already, a visionary from the same part of the world -- it was a few thousand years ago, I admit -- fundamentally changed humanity with a tablet and a few commandments written on it. Why shouldn't Steve Jobs succeed as well, as a modern Moses with a modern tablet? Isn't Jerusalem the undisputed world capital of miracles?
With kind regards,