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Disillusion v. lethal weapons: the Obama-Romney choice

The least bad: the US elections from Israel-Palestine

For Palestinians and Israelis, a Democrat victory would be bad and a Republican victory worse. While Obama continues to seduce the deluded among us, Romney is making lethal calculations

Antonio Ungar, Open Democracy
October 31, 2012

I live in Israel, a state that is part of the United States of America in more senses than one. And so the unfolding of the US election campaigns affects me in a very real way. Far-fetched as it may seem, my immediate plans (my work prospects, the school my kids can go to, whether or not we can buy an apartment) all depend not just on my wife and me but also – and much more than we’d like – on Messrs Obama and Romney. Much as we might not like it the candidates have granted themselves the power to decide how reality will play out on the ground, in these distant lands. They have already told us, for example, that wars await. They have told us what arms they will be fought with, and how fast. They’ve been more specific, too, when it’s suited them. They have established which people will be able to live in the city of Jerusalem, and which people won’t. They have established whether or not armed colonists can continue stealing land in the West Bank. They’ve even decided whether or not the Palestinians will be able to have a state.

For my family, as for Palestinians and for Israelis, a Democrat victory would be bad and a Republican victory worse. There’s one thing that won’t change in these promised lands after 6 November: the Israeli government’s policy towards its Palestinian subjects. Let’s imagine for a moment that Obama wins. His victory won’t prevent another four years of Israeli expansion into the West Bank. Nor will it prevent indiscriminate attacks on the civilian population like the bombardment of Gaza in 2008. On the ground, basic injustices will follow their usual course. In the intangible realm of words and gestures, though, those of us who feel the creation of a Palestinian state alongside an Israeli one is an act of common sense and elemental justice, as well as a necessary step for the survival of both peoples, will feel less alone. If Obama wins, we, the deluded, will continue urging ourselves to think – like children suspending our disbelief in a game, or adults high on our illusions – that Obama is on our side. That we’re not swimming alone, against the current. That at long last the Israelis will let the Palestinians be. Yes we can. We know all too well that it won’t happen, but thanks to the great Democratic rhetoric, we dreamers aren’t about to let go of our illusions.

The idea of a Romney victory, on the other hand, leaves no room for doubt. It would be lethal for the Jewish state and for Palestinians on both sides of the border. Netanyahu’s government is publicly making calculations and concluding that it is worth attacking Iran now, while it doesn’t have a nuclear bomb. That attack, the prime minister has said, would mean the deaths of a quarter of Israel’s population in the war that would immediately be triggered – a number that sounds to him like good news. The bad news, he has stated, is that if the attack does not go ahead now, Iran will develop a nuclar bomb and Israel would be condemned irreversibly to annihilation. In the ruthless equation of the far Right (Netanyahu is further to the Right than the bosses of the army and Mossad, both of whom are against the attack), there is no room for this slice of common sense: a negotiation with Iran and a serious, ratifiable agreement on nuclear non-proliferation would result in no deaths on either side. Nor does it fit into the Republican calculus. An eventual agreement for guaranteeing security in the Middle East would, of course, require the support of the president of the USA. It would also require an even more impossible condition: that Israel destroy hundreds of its nuclear warheads, an eventuality that only exists in the mind games that we, the deluded ones, play.

My wife and two children live with me in Jaffa, Israel. We don’t find it very pleasant to think that, if the wishes of Netanyahu, Romney and Ahmadinejad were granted, at least one of our family would die in the bombardment, obliterated by the infallibility of statistics. If it were up to us, we’d be fiercely against being collateral damage in the war that those fanatics want to wage, trying to guarantee themselves the infinite electoral victories of the future.

Antonio Ungar is a Colombian journalist and author. He has won Colombia’s Simón Bolívar prize for journalism, and his short stories have been included in twenty anthologies in over fifteen languages. His most recent novel, Tres ataúdes blancos, is being adapted for the cinema. He lives in Jaffa, Israel.

Translated from the Spanish by Ollie Brock.

This article is part of the ‘How it looks from here’ openDemocracy feature on the 2012 US elections. 

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