Phil Weiss caught this remark from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as she headed for a meeting with Israel’s President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem last week:
[Peres] understands better than most the fundamental reality facing the State of Israel, that the status quo is unsustainable — now, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be sustained for a year or a decade, or two or three, but fundamentally, the status quo is unsustainable — and that the only path to ensure Israel’s future as a secure and democratic Jewish state is through a negotiated two-state solution, and a comprehensive regional peace.
As Jesus is reported to have said, fundamentally “the meek shall inherit the earth.” He declined to say when.
And as Dr Martin Luther King Jr said: “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” It might bend in that direction, but will it actually get there? Or is it more like a rainbow bending towards a pot of gold?
Israelis — and anyone else who lives outside the US — probably balk at the idea that Americans can teach them lessons on the principle of sustainability. As a nation that is home to more cars than people and whose 5% of the global population consume 25% of the world’s energy resources, we’re hardly in a position to say we understand much about sustainability.
Still, when it comes to this assertion — that the status quo is unsustainable, what might at this point be called the signature of Obama’s approach to the Middle East conflict — what is worse is that a deceptive catch phrase has been received as though it carries real diplomatic weight.
Firstly, to say that the status quo is unsustainable obscures the fact that the Israel has always rejected the status quo. Expansionism views the status quo as something that can be perpetually modified to ones advantage.
Secondly, this image of unsustainability hints at some kind of moral universe bending towards a two-state solution. The unsustainable must give way to the sustainable in accordance with a natural ordering process, right?
Maybe in a cosmic sense — maybe with the same inevitability with which the meek shall inherit the earth.
Meanwhile, the struggle for justice in this world, is a struggle against deeply entrenched injustice — injustice largely deaf to the appeals and concerns of its critics.
The arc of history bends more easily towards acquiescence than justice. Grievances are less often rectified than they are soothed. Thus Israel has less interest in peace with the Palestinians than it has in the pacification of a restless and sometimes violent population.
Justice, won rather than found, has less to do with the status quo being unsustainable than it has with the defiance of those unwilling to tolerate injustice.