Alex Kurtagic: Over the years, every time I have come across this historic photograph of Rabin and Arafat signing their 1993 accord, I find myself irritated by it. Why?
The problem is Bill Clinton, and the fact that I cannot help thinking this photograph was painstakingly planned and choreographed well in advance. I can imagine Clinton’s advisers debating over what colour tie and suit he should wear, whose hand he should shake and in what order, where he should look and for how long, and what facial expression he should pull and for how long. Or maybe not — perhaps Clinton wholly or partly thought of it himself. All the same, the image looks very deliberately staged, consciously designed to be iconic, and amounts, therefore, to an insult to the viewer’s intelligence.
In the video footage, Clinton takes the lead by first shaking Rabin’s hand. He then proceeds to shake Arafat’s, before spreading his arms magnanimously and nudging Arafat in Rabin’s direction, encouraging him with his gaze and through gentle physical pressure as well, to shake the Israeli Prime Minister’s hand.
Big and dopey Clinton smiles with satisfaction as the crowd cheers, right on cue.
Notice, in addition, how Clinton keeps his face fixed on Arafat. Why does he not look at Rabin? Perhaps because he or his advisors have worked out that by angling his head so that he and Rabin look in the same direction he would emphasise graphically the fact that Israel and the United States are united on the same side.
Arafat — not the sharpest tool in the box — takes up the role with gusto, and proceeds to shake everyone’s hand, to everyone’s (except Clinton’s) bemusement. It is clear that it never occurred to Peres to shake Arafat’s proffered hand.
In the end, of course, the peace accord came to nought, as have all subsequent attempts at a negotiated agreement. Why?
Because the Israeli leadership is not, and has never been, interested in peace: they are only interested in conquest and hegemony over the region. It is — or should — be obvious to everyone with half a brain and eyes to see. Negotiations and proposed peace accords are best seen as a chess game, a tactic for keeping up appearances while the cutthroat war to the finish rages on on the ground and politically behind the scenes.
The following video, leaked and aired in Channel 10 in Israel not long ago, is instructive. It shows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking candidly back in 2001 at a constituent’s home about the Oslo Accords, the peace process, Bill Clinton, and the United States. It includes his famous comment on the power of the Israel Lobby in America: ”America is a thing that can be easily moved–moved in the right direction.”
Personally, I am not particularly bothered as to which side wins the contest, fairness or unfairness notwithstanding. Humans have attempted to conquer and oppress one another for thousands of years. I am only exercised about this particular — and otherwise tedious — conflict in the measure in which Western support for one faction affects my bank balance and my security in the streets and at the airport. As I see it, America’s unquestioning support for Israel (qualified as ‘absurd’ by Netanyahu himself) is the reason I am having to put up with delays and insane security every time I travel — and why the money I am obligated to use does not stretch as far as it once did.
Selfish? Perhaps. But I cannot care about everyone — there is a limit, and charity begins at home.