Tunnel vision, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is defined as “a condition in which there is a major loss of peripheral vision; also, one in which anything away from the center of one’s field of view escapes attention; also, inability to see more than a single or limited point of view.” All of the above also define, according to my view, what Israel and Hamas are sharing not only in their semi-annual semi-wars in Gaza, but in their political outlook, policy and action as regard to the Israeli-Palestine conflict at large.
Let me explain: As for Hamas, it is somewhat an easier case to understand. They see everything through the barrel of the gun, the launch apparatus of the rocket, or through the tunnels they had built with so much effort and money, now all but destroyed. Since they are still under occupation, according to their definition – even though Israel has left Gaza in 2005 – they declared an arm struggle of resistance against the “Zionist regime.” It was in Gaza, in 2000, that a jubilant crowd received Yasser Arafat as the great hero – I believe the chanting was hailing him as the new Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn – when he returned from Camp David, where he refused to sign a most generous peace deal with Israel, under then president Clinton’s auspices. Had he chosen otherwise, Arafat; had Hamas chosen a civil, non-violence struggle, it is more likely than not that they would have had by now an independent Palestinian state. Or, at the very least, would have been much closer to such a state.
Mahmoud Abbas came to the realization of this saner, wider point of view some years ago, and began a process of non-violence engagement and peace-negotiations with Israel, and belatedly even brought Hamas into the process of building a unity government. But the occupation, and settlement building continued. Israel and Netanyahu’s inability to see the peripheral view and larger picture, took over for good following the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Sadat, Rabin – even Sharon, to a degree – paid dearly with their lives for bringing, or for trying to bring peace to their people. But not Netanyahu, too clever, too calculated and too careful for that. He doesn’t lack guts; what he lacks is a wider, larger field of vision. He has, as the leader of a state among the nations – not a terrorist organization, or a liberation force – a severe case of tunnel vision.
It is because of this impaired condition that he is unable to see where the continuous rule over other people leads his own people; where the continued occupation and building of settlements lead his nation; where the choice of war over peace leads the Jewish people as a whole. Not only was he responsible, mostly, for the collapse of the latest round of peace-negotiations; not only he did not come through on the agreement to release the last group of Palestinian prisoners – which as conditions for the start of the peace negotiations he much preferred over putting a stop to the settlement project of greater Israel – but following the collapse of said negotiations, when the Palestinians, PLO and Hamas announced their unity government; the best opportunity, as Europe and America well understood, for a good result to come out of a bad situation, he torpedoed it immediately. He sew it – still does, actually – only through the crosshair of the gun, or of the telescope. In short: through his tunnel vision. He got the peace process destroyed, but was left with his tunnel vision intact.
In his insightful op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times during the first stages of this latest Gaza war, writer Etgar Keret had mentioned a meeting that was held with PM Netanyahu about two years ago: “I interviewed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. During the interview, I asked him what he was doing to resolve the Middle East conflict. Netanyahu answered at length, discussing the Iranian threat and the instability of other governments in the region. But when I insisted, almost childishly, in getting an answer to my original question, he admitted that he wasn’t doing anything to resolve the conflict because the conflict was unresolvable.”
It’s no wonder then that a leader who has decided that the conflict is “unresolvable,” has also decided for quite some time now that peace is unachievable, and he’d better stick to his guns; i.e. to the “status quo.” Therefore, he had rejected any genuine offer for peace: from the Arab League of nations, from the Palestinians and from the Americans. His response to Abbas’ announcement that a unity reconciliation agreement is in the works between the PLO and Hamas was not surprising, then: he didn’t even give this baby a chance to grow, see if it could walk properly – renounce terrorism, for instance, and recognize Israel – but threw it out of the bathtub with the water. Hence the latest war, and hence his responsibility for it.
The Iron Dome, fantastic as it is in shielding Israel from the raining Hamas’ rockets, will protect you only so much, and for only so long. It may give you an edge, but not a victory, and can be used as metaphor for the current situation. As did Uri Misgav, when he wrote so poignantly in Haaretz at the early days of “Operation Protective Edge:” “It doesn’t appear in the technical specifications, but Iron Dome does not intercept only missiles. Apparently it intercepts free thought as well. It dooms its users to blindness, deafness and dementia. Has anyone asked himself how and why the present round of escalation began? Who escalated it? Whom and what does it serve? Why are rockets suddenly falling out of the sky?”
It makes one desperate almost to think that the Israeli leadership, and maybe its people as well, have all but given up on peace, whether as a viable option or as a desired outcome. Because, quite clearly, in this Middle East neighborhood, in the absence of peace – there is war. And if the occupation continues – there is war (on and on it goes, as we speak). And if the establishment of a greater, mighty Israel from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea continues – there is no Jewish and democratic state. Only one or the other. And that, asides from being very sad and tragic, seals the fate of the nation and confirms for many generations to come the old biblical parable: “Live by the sword, die by the sword.”