“Reality:” Between Surrealism and Hyperrealism

by Hazem Saghiyeh
The term “virtual,” initially coined by its key designers, Yasser Abed Rabbo and Yossi Beilin, has cropped up repeatedly when describing the Geneva Accord. Yet, even if it stays virtual, and never becomes part of Middle East realities, it seems to reflect reality, in any fair and forward-looking reading of the facts. The Geneva Accord envisions a middle ground that stands between each side’s ideal and what is possible, with a geographically contiguous and viable Palestinian state, and an Israel existing without fear. In other words, the Geneva Accord places the parties in a position higher than they would be under the framework of a sheer “balance of power,” but lower than they would be if they relied on “rights” as an absolute concept.

Operating under the sole framework of the balance of power cannot possibly be acceptable to the Palestinians, now or in the future. A Hobbesian imposition using immoral behavior will continue to immerse everyone in a fight that has no end. Working within the framework of rights alone is impossible for the Israelis to accept, now or in the future. It is therefore a utopian fantasy that lapses, upon practical application, into a war of destruction and self-destruction. And being utopian to this extent, it carries within itself the seeds of a utopian dictatorship that devours the Israelis’ rights, and threatens to devour their lives, without restoring to the Palestinians the rights for which they are fighting.

The Geneva Accord is realistic in another sense. Both sides are experiencing total exhaustion from wars, the persistent exchange of death, the deterioration of the Israeli economy, and the collapse of the Palestinian economy. History provides many examples of deals that were struck as a result of failure in waging war. The fact of the matter is that the idea of tolerance itself (and we in the Middle East are still a long way from it), emanated from the horrors of religious wars and the feeling that persisting in this manner was a sure recipe for devastation.

Furthermore, the accord is realistic in the sense that it is full of details, contrary to previous peace plans that included only conceptions and visions, leaving the rest to the dynamics of chance and to good intentions, though experience has taught us that bad intentions, hostility, and the urge to dominate can be much stronger.

Despite the logic of the Accord, it will not come to fruition without realists who have the courage to say that it is possible. These realists are invited to deliver this message to the two opposition groups that carry two different interpretations of reality: a surrealistic Jewish opposition, and a hyperrealistic Palestinian (and Arab) opposition.

Surrealism, as we know, leaves a wide space for dreams and unconsciousness to operate, and this irrational dimension of it is what we see evident in the rhetoric of “Greater Israel,” which cannot be but a dream in the post-colonial era, as manifested in the establishment of settlements, and building a wall separating people, in defiance of globalization and the current trends towards communication and interconnection. We seem to be facing fantasies that some mean to become reality, formed from that strange link, making a collage of a biblical history from the depths of time, and the present day Brooklyn.

The truth of the matter is that the mice that played around inside Salvador Dali’s head in his Parisian years towards the end of the 1920s, expressing themselves in burning giraffes and melted wrist watches, are often similar to Ariel Sharon’s talk of a policy that can be resumed only after “terror is eliminated.” This view ignores the fact that the most significant function of politics is, explicitly, to block the path of violence and terror.
All those who doubt this surrealist metaphor to be accurate have only to go back to what Israeli deputy prime minister and Likud party guru, Ehud Olmert, said in a moment of confrontation between his fantasy and reality, to Israel's leading columnist, Nahum Barnea of Yediot Aharonot: "I often ask myself what is happening to me. Am I cut off from reality or are some of my friends living in an imaginary world with no relation to what is really going on?" (quoted in International Herald Tribune). Olmert, who borrowed words from the language of repented Mafiosi, could have spared himself this uneasy awakening from nightmares, had he only listened to the four former Shin Bet chiefs, who each assumed the responsibility of security service in Israel (their job was, in less cosmetic terms, to oppress, humiliate, and torture Palestinians), or had he paid attention to the disobedience of pilots, who are assigned the responsibility of the most powerful tool of the Israeli army, or to the figures of economic and tourist decline and the increase in the unemployment rate. Eventually, though, Olmert did see reality, and we saw him surprise the world in the same December 5th interview, shortly after the unveiling of the Geneva Accord, expressing the view that Israel should give up some land, unilaterally, on which a Palestinian state may be established.
On the other end of the spectrum from the surrealists, the hyperrealistic Palestinian opposition continues to resort to the excuse of the right of return. Among the features of the hyperrealistic school of thought, whose reference and model is the camera, is its attention to all specific details, to the extent that its paint seems almost similar to photographs. Are not the Palestinian refugees such a part of reality, that we can see them and witness their tragedies in many Arab cities? Any satellite station can send its reporters to one refugee camp or another to bring back to us not only pictures, but also voices asserting the “sacred” right of return.

Although to prove the truth of something, we sometimes say “as real as a camera photo,” in actuality, cameras always lie. The photo, as Susan Sontag taught us in her brilliant book, On Photography, can show very little of an immense and complicated reality, freezing it in a rigid and still moment, separated from its dynamics and transformations. The same applies to the tragedy of the refugees. It is true that Israel is responsible for creating it, and nobody can ignore this fact after all the books authored by the “New Historians” in Israel. But Arab regimes and societies, including the Palestinian national movement itself, played roles in that tragedy that we Arabs are not supposed to discuss. It is true that the problem needs a human and moral solution, yet the achievement of peace requires the abandonment of solutions that result in larger crises. The intentions of the hyperrealists appear so bad when they ignore “balances of figures and statistics” and worries of the minorities in the midst of the region that hardly own anything but this “wealth.” The latest example is what we presently witness in Iraq!

There is no doubt that the refugee problem requires a solution that can be handled by compensation and help from third-party countries, including opening the gates of migration to some refugees. This would be in addition to numbers of refugees that can be absorbed in countries of the region, and those who may move to the Palestinian state, and the “small symbolic” number of refugees that may return to Israel. But there is a need to beware always the political manipulation of the problem that makes the solution, any solution, more difficult. As for assurance that Israel is living in a state of crisis, it only proves once again the photograph theory, as it highlights the political crisis of the Hebrew state, and obscures the historical crisis of the Palestinians and the Arabs of the East. The time has come for the Arabs to commence building their states and societies, improve their educational systems, liberate their women, and attract some investments that launch economic growth in their countries. They are called upon, especially now that they are incapable of waging war, to promote the policies of one who is capable of waging peace.

It is all right, as long as we place the attainable reality in front of hyperrealism, to state that transforming the virtual instrument into a real one requires bringing down the Sharon government and getting Beilin into the Knesset, leading forty representatives, which is not an easy task to accomplish. It is necessary that the efforts of the hyperrealists do not result in re-empowering Sharon, in the same manner that they brought him to power three years ago. It is all right to say, in closing, that Palestinian refugees have changed a great deal since the time they came to be, and new generations have sprung that are in no way connected to historic Palestine, which is now a different place under dramatically different conditions. The Emigrant of Brisbane, hero of George Chehade’s play, returned to his village and his people to find a different village and a different people. This is entertaining on stage, but is another form of useless suffering in the lives of human beings. Palestinians, inside Palestine and elsewhere, have had enough pain.

- Writer, commentator, and columnist for the Arabic newspaper al-Hayat in London, and author of books on Pan-Arabism and Political Islam. This article is part of a series of views on the "Geneva Initiative" published in partnership with the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).
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The Geneva Accord: Penetrating the Stagnation
Hope and Glory - Geneva
A Flicker of Light in the Dark
Why Geneva? A bridge between justice and wisdom
The Geneva Accord - Issues missed in the public debate
The Missing Component in Geneva
What happened to the Geneva Accord?
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Other articles in this series

The Geneva Accord: Penetrating the Stagnation by Tawfiq Abu Baker
Hope and Glory - Geneva by Avraham Burg
A Flicker of Light in the Dark by Mohammad Daraghmeh
Why Geneva? A bridge between justice and wisdom by Akiva Eldar
The Geneva Accord - Issues missed in the public debate by Jonathan Kuttab
The Missing Component in Geneva by B. Michael
What happened to the Geneva Accord? by Dr. Abdel Monem Said