The Danger of Reducing the Bible to a Political Fairytale

April 20 2017

In The Beginning of Politics, Moshe Halbertal and Stephen Holmes seek to identify the political lessons of the biblical book of Samuel. David Wolpe argues that this approach, although it yields some worthy insights, is inherently flawed:

Some of [the authors’] observations are deep and resonant. But throughout they struggle with the slippery reality that a great story resists reduction of this sort. Classic narratives defeat analysis by those who view such stories through too narrow a lens. Fairy tales have morals; more complex stories must embrace human contradiction.

As we would expect with two such able observers . . . there are many penetrating observations here about dynasties, their dangers, and the rippling effects of attaining and losing power. . . . But at too many other moments Halbertal and Holmes descend into the pedestrian. They do not have much that is original to say on their subject. They observe that “when it helps consolidate rather than undermine the ruler’s hold on power, justice is much more likely to be done.” Well, yes. Or this: “Where the choice comes down to killing or being killed, the very distinction between the moral and the instrumental, so important to those of us uninvolved in power politics, may effectively disappear.” I would hazard a guess that when it comes to killing or being killed, the distinction between the moral and the instrumental disappears for those not involved in power politics [as well].

Read more at Commentary

More about: Biblical Politics, Book of Samuel, Hebrew Bible, King David, Religion & Holidays

How the White House Can Bring Mahmoud Abbas to the Negotiating Table

April 28 2017

Next month, the Palestinian Authority president is expected to arrive in Washington to meet with President Trump, perhaps as a prelude to a summit between Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu under American auspices. A Palestinian delegation is currently in the U.S. to conduct preliminary meetings with administration officials. Eran Lerman discusses what can be accomplished:

The most important aspect [in the present discussions] may remain unspoken. It can be defined as “strategic reassurance”: the realization that after years of uncertainty under Barack Obama, the American administration . . . is once again committed without reservation to its friends in the region, the so-called “camp of stability.”

President Obama’s abandonment of [the former Egyptian president], Hosni Mubarak, regardless of the merits of the case, was catastrophic in terms of the loss of any residual political courage on Abbas’s part. Obama was sympathetic to the Palestinians’ cause, but his policies generated an acute level of uncertainty for the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, laced with what seemed like a measure of support on Obama’s part for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and elsewhere. This was not an environment in which to take fateful decisions.

The Trump team seems to be working to restore confidence and reconstruct [alliances with] both Israel and the pro-Western Arab states. In this new environment, it could be safer for Abbas to take measured risks and enter into an open-ended negotiation with Netanyahu. The effort may still fall apart, if only because the Palestinians have fallen into the habit of posing preconditions. But there seems to be a better chance of drawing them in when they feel that their traditional patrons in the Arab world, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, are once again basking in the sunshine of American strategic support. . . .

At least in theory, it should therefore be easier now for . . . the White House to persuade Abbas to accept a point of entry into negotiations that stays within the two-state paradigm but is no longer predicated on strict adherence to the June 4, 1967 lines.

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Donald Trump, Hosni Mubarak, Israel & Zionism, Mahmoud Abbas, Peace Process, U.S. Foreign policy