The WORD – 9/22/11. George Carlin used to rant about the “illusion of choice.” He used that phrase to express his frustrations in a number of areas. For example, Carlin lamented the fact that cities which used to have three or four newspapers now only have one. Or, he pointed to elections which had only two pre-selected candidates (and some “elections” that had only one candidate).
Jodi and I started using this phrase when we became parents. We might ask one of our children: “Do you want to clean up your room and then take a bath or would you prefer to take a bath and then clean up your room?” The illusion of choice.
I was thinking about this concept as I have followed the news coming from the UN General Assembly this week. Representatives of the PLO have come before the UN Security Council and asked the UN to recognize Palestine as a full member country. In numerous statements, the Palestinian leadership has said that Israel has left them with no choice. For example, chief Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath said, “The UN statehood bid is the only alternative to violence.” It is either violence or this peaceful bid for statehood at the UN.
It seems to me that the Palestinian leadership is operating under an illusion of choice. They are artificially creating two options – the UN or violence. But, what about direct negotiations with Israel? Isn’t that a possible way to move forward from the current impasse?
Israel has made its share of mistakes in its relationship with the Palestinians. Prime Minister Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Lieberman do not have reputations as great statesmen. Nonetheless, Israel has no foundational texts or documents that state as their purpose the destruction of the Palestinians. Over a million Palestinian Arabs live as citizens in Israel with more freedoms and opportunities than their fellow Palestinians living in Muslim countries. There are Palestinian Arabs in the Israeli Knesset, in civil service, in the judiciary and in many other parts of Israeli society.
On top of all that,Israel made substantial offers to the Palestinians in 2000 and 2008, either of which would have established Palestine as an independent state. One could argue that these were not perfect offers, but the Palestinians never even made a counter-offer. Compromise with Israel has never really been considered one of the choices by Palestinian leaders. They continue to operate under the illusion of choice – violence or some outside party will make Israel go away.
In this week’s Torah portion, God said to the Israelites: “See, I set before you this day: life and prosperity, death and adversity (Deut. 30:12).” It’s all out there. The choices we make influence whether or not we will experience the blessings of this world. But, in order to make real choices, we have to understand all the options. We have to look beyond the one or two choices that leaders may put before us.
I pray that the Palestinians will reject both violence as well as the UN option, that they will recognize the illusion under which they’ve been operating. Instead, I hope that they will choose to negotiate and compromise.