Sunday, May 30, 2010


Didi Remez and his young crew have a great blog going, called Coteret, or "Headline." There is much in the Hebrew press that is either not translated or slips through the cracks. Coteret is on it.

Traffic Patterns

A couple of posts back, I alluded to the driving habits in this country--that perhaps they revealed something. Last night, driving home from a dinner with some former students, I was cruising along Highway One to Jerusalem, and at about 11 PM, I noticed a long line of cars crawling in the highway's two lanes in front of me. In the distance, a flashing red light; an ambulance siren sounded from behind--obviously, there had been an accident, and Highway One would be stop-and-go for a while. Fine: I had Brahms on my iPhone. Yet there seemed much more stop than go on the way to the flashing light, and I soon began to realize the problem.

This was exactly the place where Highway One's two lanes ran adjacent to the two lanes from Route Six, the central toll road, for a couple of kilometers--that is, the place where drivers from Six might join One, or vice versa, before the roadways split again. I noticed that cars from the two long lines behind me were pulling out in large numbers, joining Route Six to the left, and then speeding up to where One split from Six; that is, they would jump to the head of the line on One and force their way into the lanes where the people who had patiently waited their turns were queuing to get through. This meant that the choice for courteous drivers was either to let the person cutting you off get in, or plow on and risk spending days getting your car fixed, even if the other guy's insurance would eventually be forced to pay. Of course, all the line jumpers were getting in.

Now, you have drivers like this on, say, New Hampshire's Interstate 89 near my summer home. The name for them in the sociological literature is prick. But when you are in line for an accident in New Hampshire, perhaps two or three try to cut you off. Here, on Highway One, by my rough count, more than 70 cars pulled out of perhaps a couple of hundred in line. Even worse, a dozen Egged Company Buses did so. For those of us with shame, a wait that should have lasted 15 minutes lasted 35. By the fourth variation on a theme of Haydn I was furious.

TWO OR THREE out of 200? Deviants. Seventy out of 200 and virtually all the bus drivers? A culture. When my turn came to be cut I refused to give way. To hell with the paint job, I said, This is Kulturkampf. I put down my window and began lecturing the four young men in the offending Subaru about patience, and maturity, and "derech eretz." (I may have started the lecture by giving them the finger, but never mind.)

The response was curious and revealing. They did not get aggressive--at least not yet. They initially looked surprised, even a little hurt, as if it were me who had misunderstood them. Of course what they were doing was not exactly Kantian. Of course they were not doing unto others. But this is Israel, is it not? Would the country have ever happened, they seemed to imply, if ordinary moral reciprocity had been a governing principle among the favored, the ambitious, the strong? Besides, everybody does this. The ones who don't are friarim, suckers, naive. If everybody does this, how can you say this is not just preemption? I did not expect them to be left behind, did I? What's so wrong with bending the rules when the prospect of being left the victim of everybody else's aggression was so palpable?

Some will say this brazen self-centeredness is charming--a negation of the diaspora in the jargon of classical Zionism--or at least of a piece with the country's entrepreneurial culture. What if not a kind of healthy narcissism, a willingness to break ordinary rules, accounts for 4000 start-ups over the past twenty years? For what it's worth, the students I had had dinner with had just sold their company to Google, and were blowing their former (and now obviously superseded) mentor to a meal. There was nothing in the way they started up their company, or ran it, that suggested attitudes of this kind.

On the contrary, the ways of the greater world had sunk in: the business, one had told me, was an expression of ordinary decency, of "values": you treated colleagues and customers as if they mattered; everything else is one thing after another. At Google especially, where structure was uncertain, what you really had was a good idea and the promise of your integrity if you hoped to get something done. You did not learn such things from Israeli traffic patterns.

I KNOW IT may be a sign of an obsessive disorder to say so, but the evening seemed to me in microcosm the basic choice Israelis face, between global Israel, in which moral reciprocity is taken for granted, and Greater Israel, where the claim of "historic right"--of really, really wanting something--seems the only necessary justification. Anyway, I could not get out of my mind the hackneyed idea that Israel seemed on a very dangerous road. And that it mattered who would be driving.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Hebrew University On The March

Yesterday, about 800 faculty and students marched down the hill from Mt. Scopus to Sheikh Jarrah. The full story is here. A snatch of the march from my iPhone, below. The movement is not petering out; on the contrary, the weekly Friday protests are starting to feel like a congregation without which the Sabbath Bride cannot be fully welcomed.

l video

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Establishment, Morphing

I just read Connie Bruck's long profile of Haim Saban in The New Yorker, and so should you, especially if you are still mulling over the curious state of the "American Jewish Establishment." It left me with that vaguely jumpy feeling writers get when they think about money, influence, sex, philistinism--or all of these at once--and wonder if the disdain is not envy, or the shame of envy, or the suppression of shame, or just disdain.

Saban seems so much the Israeli driver in his Hollywood cockpit—you know, the kind that sits on your tail and then passes you from the right at 80 miles an hour just to gain a place ahead of you at the next stop light. He is no friar, and its hard to tell whether he owes his negotiating successes and tax holidays more to the experience of fighting in a tank or playing dumb around KPMG auditors. He made his fortune bringing stupefying things to our children and to the public realm more generally, from Mighty Morphing Power Rangers to Murdoch's network. His conception of politics is full of personality and proteksia and a measure of self-congratulatory smarminess; he has, he is sure to tell Bruck, seen Bill Clinton in his undershorts, apparently not sure his $1.7 billion is enough to guarantee himself proof of intimacy (or at least intimacy as great as Jennifer Flowers). Yet you read and read and suspect that, indeed, one check from him is worth more than a lifetime of writing earnest books, articles, and blogs.

We should thank him for Martin Indyk, whose center at Brookings is more solution than problem, all in all. ("Indyk was at the Brookings Institution at the time, and he suggested that Saban set up a center there. “What’s Brookings?” Saban wanted to know. “We invited him here for lunch,” Indyk went on. “I showed him the wood-panelled rooms, the portrait of Robert Brookings. He turned and said to me, ‘We’ll do it here.’”) But if Jerusalem blows up--not from an Iranian bomb, but from simple Palestinian rage--I can hear him shouting “I told you so” into some phone, trying to muscle himself into ownership of the "anti-Israel" LA Times, thinking of ways to sway a new generation of watchers and readers his businesses have helped turned clueless.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Beinart And 'The American Jewish Establishment'

Peter Beinart's timely polemic on the "American Jewish Establishment" works as planned; and as a knowledgeable columnist-friend emailed me, it deserves to be something of an event, since Beinart is young, thoughtful, a former Marty Peretz mentee, a former booster of the Iraq War--in short, the kind of apostate the Church of AIPAC can't ignore. Who can disagree, moreover, with the piece's main message, which is that America's Jewish leadership is seriously out of step with the great majority of especially young American Jews? (Actually, I made much the same case in Harper's almost two years ago, sketching out how J Street might organize around the netroots and prestige of Jewish supporters in the Obama Campaign.)

Yet Beinart's argument seems flawed to me in its basic framing, and I raise the issue, not to pick nits, but because he inadvertently perpetuates a kind of comfortable American Jewish presumption about how organized American Jews naturally claim privileged participation in Israel's future not only as globalist democrats but as Jews. It offends--dare I say?--the cultural Zionist in me, implicitly promising a kind of Jewish organizational life in America it could never deliver on. If we buy into Beinart's argument, that is, we'll not understand, first, why liberal American Jews would naturally have drifted away even from an Israel that Pete Seeger could still rhapsodize about; and, second, why the American Jews who feel most passionate about Israel are not only bound to be orthodox, but why they both connect to, and threaten, what's most precious about Israel in ways American liberals cannot.

TO MAKE HIS case, Beinart defaults to the words of Hebrew University political scientist Yaron Ezrahi, whom I greatly admire, and whose formulations seem yanked into a context I'm not sure he'd approve of. Ezrahi, Beinart says, believes that "after decades of what came to be called a national consensus, the Zionist narrative of liberation [has] dissolved into openly contesting versions”:

One version, “founded on a long memory of persecution, genocide, and a bitter struggle for survival, is pessimistic, distrustful of non-Jews, and believing only in Jewish power and solidarity.” Another, “nourished by secularized versions of messianism as well as the Enlightenment idea of progress,” articulates “a deep sense of the limits of military force, and a commitment to liberal-democratic values.” Every country manifests some kind of ideological divide. But in contemporary Israel, the gulf is among the widest on earth.

As Ezrahi and others have noted, this latter, liberal-democratic Zionism has grown alongside a new individualism, particularly among secular Israelis, a greater demand for free expression, and a greater skepticism of coercive authority. You can see this spirit in “new historians” like Tom Segev who have fearlessly excavated the darker corners of the Zionist past and in jurists like former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak who have overturned Knesset laws that violate the human rights guarantees in Israel’s “Basic Laws”...
But in Israel today, this humane, universalistic Zionism does not wield power. To the contrary, it is gasping for air.

For Beinart, then, this is the choice; for Ezrahi I'd bet it is more complex. There is bad Zionism, a kind of reactionary nationalism rooted in pessimism and a sense of victimization, and, a good Zionism, rooted in enlightenment, progress, and individualism. In both cases, "Zionism" is a statement about what is good for the Jews, that is, a judgement about potential political arrangements. (In neither case is it about what, if anything, is potentially beautiful about Judaism.) The vast majority of American Jews--so Beinart continues--are enlightened and liberal like their parents, and therefore natural supporters of the good Zionism. But the American Jewish Establishment (don't we still love the ominous vagueness of the word "Establishment"?) has, for its AIPACish reasons, been trying to force feed them on the bad Zionism. The result has been pathetic:

For several decades, the Jewish establishment has asked American Jews to check their liberalism at Zionism’s door, and now, to their horror, they are finding that many young Jews have checked their Zionism instead...Because they have inherited their parents’ liberalism, they cannot embrace their uncritical Zionism. Because their liberalism is real, they can see that the liberalism of the American Jewish establishment is fake.

NOW, ONE MIGHT argue that Beinart's psychological archetypes--distrustful vs. progressive, etc.--can be useful in explaining the personalities and even tribes that dominate current Israeli politics (like Ezrahi, I have used them to some extent myself). But these archetypes are of no help in understanding the rival Zionisms that created the state and still have significance in debates about its fate. Nor do they help us to understand what are the serious ways American Jews might yet connect to Israelis.

Actually, the real distinction, from the beginning, was between Zionists who thought in terms of rescue and Zionists who thought in terms of cultural revolution. The former, "political Zionists," tended to focus on the psychology of powerlessness, depict the militant state as a kind of therapy, counting on Antisemitism to define Jewish identity. For them, all Jews (including Diaspora Jews) were nationals, because their efforts at assimilation would lead to disaster. The latter, "cultural Zionists," tended to focus on modernizing a failing Hebrew religious vernacular, which they considered their patrimony, and loved and hated in equal measure. They thought assimilation of Western Jews into liberal society was perfectly possible, if not inevitable. That would be the disaster. They saw the state as custodian of a unique cultural opportunity, which could be inclusive of anyone coming to the land and participating in the revolutionary national life.

And in today's Israel--this Beinart does not see, it seems--you can detect the strains of political Zionism in both the right and left, reactionaries and peaceniks. Hardliners talk about Iran and pal around with AIPAC types. (Think of people like Bibi's brain, Uzi Arad.) Political Zionists in the peace camp, for their part, talk rather about demography. (Some, like Kadima's Haim Ramon, came to the J Street conference.) Both focus on Israel as a Jewish majority state, and are not too bothered by what Jewish means, for they assume the rest of the world will remind them. They are frantic about Israeli Arabs. They think of diaspora Jewish organizations as various political assets to be mined.

The cultural Zionists, however, are almost all on the democratic left, for they think of "Israeliness" as a work-in-progress, requiring critical thinking and democratic spaces, distinct from, even transcendent of, traditional Halachic life. Ironically, cultural Zionists have natural sympathy for diaspora orthodoxy the way a synthesis has a natural sympathy for a thesis. They suppose the Hebrew culture resilient enough to provide a home for all strains of Jewish religious imagination, strong enough to compete in the world, and eclectic enough to assimilate others. They are not afraid of Israeli Arab assimilation into a Hebrew republic. Interestingly, they have no problem with diaspora Jews--indeed, all people everywhere--holding the Israeli state to democratic standards. But they find diaspora Jews arguing about joint responsibility for Jewish civilization pretentious.

WHERE IS BEINART in all of this? Clearly, he fits in a corner of the political Zionist map. He told Jeffrey Goldberg: " grandmother used to say, 'the Jews are like rats,' we leave the sinking ship. So yes, I'm a Zionist. I'm close enough to people who still have their bags packed." He takes for granted that American Jews constitute a distinct "community," replete with communitarian institutions and an "Establishment"; that the most important question to be asked about it is, Who will lead it, people with reactionary or liberal attitudes?, sort of the way you ask questions about elections to the Knesset. Halachic Jews, in this context, are a dangerous influence--as Beinart implies "a potential bonanza" for bad Zionism--since they are increasing in number relative to young liberal Jews: "The 2006 AJC poll found that while 60 percent of non-Orthodox American Jews under the age of forty support a Palestinian state, that figure drops to 25 percent among the Orthodox."

It seems not to have occurred to Beinart that American Jewish life is not a parallel political universe to Israel but actually vindicates the cultural Zionist prophesy (much as Germany arguably vindicated the political Zionist one); that America proves the inevitable debasement of Jewish cultural life in modern liberal societies, and the impossibility of sustaining a serious community life there. In America--Beinart shows but does not acknowledge--assimilation is so advanced and congenial that if one is not Halachic to some degree there is no real point to any affiliation with Jewish community life at all.

Oh, sure, if you are of a certain age, you can be vicariously excited taking sides in that great distant drama, about the Jewishness of Israel, or the unity of Jerusalem, or whatnot; you can, like Goldberg, ironically count Jewish home-run hitters the way our parents, less ironically, counted Nobel Prize winners. But as I myself argued in the New York Review more than 30 years ago, the preoccupation of American Jews with whether Israel's "narrative" is good or bad--the preoccupation with Israel altogether--is not so much resistance to assimilation as a symptom of it.

Beinart cannot see, in other words, that there really can be no American Jewish Establishment other than the one we have; that the alternative to an Establishment "defending Israel" is not one liberally critical of Israel but the evaporation of secular communal institutions altogether. Groups like J Street are not a solution to the benevolent diaspora crisis cultural Zionism anticipated. They can, and should, rally American Jewish liberals (along with non-Jewish liberals) around a foreign policy vision much like the one President Obama set out at West Point this week: to be pro-peace is to be pro-Israel, and so forth. They can, as democrats, insist on democratic values. But J Street cannot provide "identity." When I walked around the J Street conference, I felt vaguely dizzy hearing, again and again, about tikkun olam.

The point is, if American Jews are going to connect to Israel they had better learn its language, not just its "narratives." If they are not inclined to, fine. If they wish to advance democratic values in Israel as anywhere, great. But Israelis will be forgiven for sensing that American Jews cannot have a real politics without real political institutions (as opposed to "major organizations") and that the Anglo-liberalism in which most American Jews marinate distances them from the culture of Israel, which has great strengths. Even Israeli liberals will be forgiven for connecting more intuitively, if tensely and antagonistically, to American Jews steeped in Halacha. At least with Halachic Jews, there is something to punch against and make poetry from.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Michael Oren's Safe Bet

Brandeis' newspaper, The Justice, has protested the university's invitation to Israel's ambassador, Michael B. Oren, to deliver this year's commencement address. The editorial in The Justice says, among other things, “Mr. Oren is a divisive and inappropriate choice for keynote speaker at commencement, and we disapprove of the university’s decision to grant someone of his polarity on this campus that honor.”

The paper was echoing the attitudes of many faculty and students on the campus. Veteran activist Prof. Gordon Fellman said, "His role obligates him to defend Israeli policies. That includes defending the Israeli incursion into Gaza, housing policies of the occupation, and so on. And I think for many people that’s a third rail. And why mess up a commencement with a third rail?"

All of this sent Oren's friend and colleague at Jerusalem's Shalem Center, Daniel Gordis, into full op-ed mode. "This is where we are today," Gordis laments; "For many young American Jews, the only association they have with Israel is the conflict with the Palestinians. Israel is the country that oppresses Palestinians, and nothing more." And what bothers Gordis especially, it seems, is the column of Jeremy Sherer, president of the Brandeis J Street U Chapter. This is how Gordis rehearses it:

"Sherer wrote to The Justice, 'I am... bothered [by the invitation to Oren] because I disagree with his politics.' That’s what education is now producing--people who want to hear only those with whom they agree? 'I’m not exactly thrilled,' Sherer wrote, 'that a representative of the current right-wing Israeli government will be delivering the keynote address at my commencement.'"

Gordis is hardly doing justice to Sherer's words, but never mind. It's fair to say this is not the buzz Michael Oren had in mind when he took the job. Yet it is hard not to feel that Oren is himself largely responsible for the persecuting spirit that has been unleashed among Jews in America in recent months. Look at San Francisco's Jewish community currently threatening academic freedom at Bay Area Jewish Studies Programs. Listen to Dershowitz on Goldstone. Oren should try to put an end to it when he addresses Brandeis' students. The students, for their part, should give him the chance.

OREN IS A decent man, a skillful writer, a serious scholar (especially of the Suez War), a gifted teacher, and (I fear this is starting to sound patronizing) good conversation. It doesn't hurt that Oren is good looking and well-spoken, or even that he knows it. He started out running from Italian kids in New Jersey in the 1950s, and volunteering on left-wing kibbutzim in the 60s. He saw action in Lebanon in 1982, a war he--like most worldly Israelis--only half believed in; though like many American Jews who served in the IDF, he speaks of this experience as a rite of passage, a kind of graduation from Alex Portnoy's couch. Oren then became an aide to Yitzhak Rabin until the prime minister's assassination, and then found himself a foreign ministry advisor, which means not sure what's next.

As the Oslo process ground on, and especially after the Al-Aqsa Intifada began, Oren started drifting to the right--not the ideological right, but what might be called the reactionary right. And the force he was reacting to was Yasir Arafat's leadership in the Palestine Authority, which he discovered--so he said--to be sadly representative of Palestinian attitudes as a whole: not just hostile to Israel's actions, but hostile to Israel's very existence. He was not alone here. Benny Morris, Ari Shavit, and many others took this path.

In 2002, Oren wrote a history of the 1967 War--the good war, the safe bet--which became a best-seller, and made his lectures necessary in American synagogues. About the tragic consequences of that war--the occupation, Jerusalem, etc.--Oren was, well, centrist. He wanted peace, but was there a partner? Sure the settlers were extreme, but why pick on them when the Arab world is so threatening? Gee, who can stand people who think this is all our fault. Even Labor thought a united Jerusalem was ours.

Oren, meanwhile, became the house "liberal" at the neocon Shalem Center, whose chief patron was Sheldon Adelson, Bibi Netanyahu's money-bags; his colleagues were, among others, Natan Sharansky and Boogie Yaalon. Oren followed that book with another, about America's Middle East century, and settled into (what seemed to the rest of us poor bastards) an enviable salary and bi-continental career.

SO WHEN NETANYAHU was finally elected, and turned to Oren to be Israel's ambassador, I confess I found the choice rather inspired. Oren had come by his rightist leanings honestly. He was no dogmatist. His chief job would be to manage Israel's brand in the US media, much as Bibi had done for Yitzhak Shamir. Oren, I thought, could be as effective as Golda Meir, without pandering to the Greater Israel types. And unlike Bibi, he had no deep connection to the neocon world. There was much Oren did not see, I believed, or found it inconvenient to see. I suspected he liked just a little too much the 1967 idea of an Israel that was a kind of world Jewish commonwealth, standing up to the toughs, the goyim, where Israelis were the bronzed leaders, and American Jews the shmendrick (though, gratefully, rich) followers--a commonwealth in which he could play a kind of global Prince Valiant. (Listen to this shmooze with Jeffery Goldberg, and you'll get the idea.)

Yet I also assumed that Oren, unlike Golda Meir, would be able to talk with, or respectfully manage relations with, a wide range of dissenting (or plain indifferent) American Jews, whose criticisms of the occupation often mirrored that of non-Jewish friends; criticisms that sounded very much like criticisms in Israel--anyway, America now had troops in the region, and the conflict with the Palestinians could hardly be thought Israel's internal affair. I also thought that, as an American with a cultivated sense of irony, Oren could funnel back into the cabinet the restiveness of American Jews--also a sense of their diversity and intellectual range--and provide more of a global perspective.

There was, after all, another way to to look at American Jewish attitudes. That democratic ideals were paramount, and national feeling was everywhere increasingly hybridized; that the most powerful elements of Jewish national identity in Israel were linguistic and cultural--not something you picked up running from Italians in New Jersey, or even from Nazis in Poland, for that matter--and that Hebrew culture was bound to create a mild sense of bafflement or even alienation between Israelis and most American Jews, which Oren, with patience, could bridge without hiding under a yarmulka.

ANYWAY, IT WAS not to be. I was surprised and dismayed last fall when, after almost no time on the job, Oren refused to accept J Street's invitation to address its founding conference in October, claiming J Street's positions "endangered Israel." This seemed to me very much out of character. In effect, Oren was doing the safe thing again, just taking direction from Netanyahu's brains-trust, or reading the polls and counting on Obama's presidency imploding like Jimmy Carter's had, or counting on the resilience of the AIPAC world, in which his star power was intact--or all of these at once.

Talking about J Street's supporters in this way seemed to me irresponsible, particularly in view of the composition of the Israeli government, which Oren did not really have to endorse to do his job. Endanger Israel? Really? One could make the case, obviously, that it was a shortsighted clinging to the status quo that endangered Israel; that the question of what works or doesn't work diplomatically was arguable; that particularly after the Gaza operation, the idea that the Israeli military could be trusted to know what is and isn't dangerous for Israel in the world was also arguable. (On my panel, the former head of Israel's Secret Service, Ami Ayalon, argued a security strategy far different from Netanyahu's.)

What was most irresponsible about Oren's decision to shun J Street was the drawing of lines in ways that seemed calculated to intimidate dissenters from Israel's official line. Nobody was asking Oren to agree with everything people said at the conference. But Oren knew full well that what J Street was asking for was a kind of space in which what was good for Israel could be reconciled to what was good for Americans and Palestinians--an endorsement of humility and moral tact.

Which is precisely what Oren refused to grant, at the very moment J Street was struggling to be born. "J Street endangers Israel" was code for there is no Israel but Israel, and AIPAC is its prophet. To be a good Jew you recognize how Zionism created an institutional power whose defense is the only real choice good Jews make. It is what Limbaugh meant by "American" during the Bush administration. Or Sen. McCarthy meant by "un-American" in the 1950s, when Oren was running from bigoted Italians.

SO IT REALLY does feel a little insolent to hear Oren (and Gordis) speak of freedom of expression with respect to the Brandeis commencement. "One suspects, says Gordis, "that the students would have been thrilled to hear Obama, despite the fact that many do not agree with his policies." Yes, but has Obama declared any opposing views "dangerous"? Leave aside that Oren has made himself almost irrelevant to the public conversation among Jews in America by his original effort to stifle what he now argues for. He has helped unleash something ugly that has come around to him. To be safe, Jews do not just disagree with dissenters; they have to isolate and scorn them.

This is not entirely new. I got a pretty good dose of Jewish pack behavior when I published The Tragedy of Zionism back in 1985. But it is worse than I have ever seen before--or more flagrant--and it does not have to continue. Oren, who helped start this most recent fire, has a golden opportunity to put it out. He should go to Brandeis and more or less apologize for the things he said about J Street, or at least promise to address J Street's next convention. He should also promise that the Israeli diplomatic corps will, so long as he is ambassador, respect the standards of vigorous debate that have marked American Jewish freedoms, even identity. Oren may believe he's found an answer in Israel. Itfadal. But American Jews, as Irving Howe said, live on the questions.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Third Force In Palestine

A few days ago, I joined the J Street delegation on a visit to Ramallah, to meet the Palestine Authority prime minister, Salam Fayyad. The meeting was cordial and unexceptional. Fayyad is among the most popular people on the planet these days, and his handling of us proved why. People say he is a technocrat; but he actually has that Obamaesque ability to take a a tense moment, or a hostile question, and exude sympathy and intelligence.

Fayyad focused on the improved security situation in the West Bank, but made clear that the American trained police force, which is largely identified with him (or at least his strategic vision), cannot hold things together for long if we don't get a clear political horizon with a Palestinian state on it. Law and order, yes. But no defense of the status quo, which translates as a defense of Israeli interests. That would be fatal for any Palestinian leader: he is promising the development of a state within the womb of the occupation, sort of the way Ben-Gurion and the Histadrut incubated a state within the British Mandate.

At the same time, there is something in Fayyad's notion of law and order that is also bound to put him into conflict--not only with Hamas sympathizers, for whom non-violence is anathema--but the old guard of Fatah as well. Fayyad likes to quote Martin Luther King, but feels more an acolyte of John Locke. The purpose of law and order is not just the suppression of anarchy and fanaticism, but the working through of market liberties. For Fatah, this is an incipient threat. Everybody who decodes Palestinian politics knows what is implied here.

There are two pent up energies in the Palestinian territories, in other words, insurgent and entrepreneurial. The most ambitious young people need to feel that they can improve their lives. They know Israel suppresses the first energy, while the corruptions and monopolies of old Fatah cadres thwart the second. So law and order means the foiling of armed militias, but it also means that you can start a business without having to wet the beak of ministers and PA hacks.

For Ben-Gurion, all knew, getting rid of the Mandate and declaring a state meant gaining control of immigration, so that a million refugees, trapped in Europe, might come. For Fayyad, there are also refugees to consider. But getting rid of the occupation and declaring a state means gaining control of the conditions that will allow for economic growth. The state will need to work. The point is to free up billions in financial capital, trapped in bank accounts, with no credit worthy business plans to invest in.

Will Fayyad actually form a third movement or party? In effect, he already has, though it isn't clear it will be independent for some time from Fatah and the PLO, which provides a residual umbrella of legitimacy. But you can get a sense of this third force gaining in strength by reading this, a no-nonsense article in The Hill, by Palestine Investment Fund CEO, Mohammed Mustafa, and listening to this, a penetrating interview with Mustafa Barghouti, on Chris Lydon's indispensable "Radio Open Source."

Needless to say, this force is the best thing that ever happened to Israelis who are serious about a just peace, and a very good thing for Obama's peace initiative as well. Needless to add, it is an elite force--or should I say a force backed by an elite--so its power does not command deep sympathies in the streets and refugees camps. Like a water skier, Fayyad needs forward motion to stay up. Think about this every time you hear the Netanyahu government, or its pathos-trafficking apologists, insist on deferring critical decisions to a time after "confidence building measures" succeed, as if the status quo builds anything but hate.