Progress toward Middle East Peace is measured on many levels. Sometimes a word or even a gesture conveys a sense of hope for the people of this troubled holy land. I read a headline in Haaretz about Egyptian intermediaries, the economic stardust of Tony Blair or Barak agreeing to eliminate a few checkpoints and I am filled with possibilities.
But I live in Pennsylvania an ocean and a sea away from Jerusalem and the thousand daily aberrant acts that sharpen the real borders between Palestinians and Israelis. The Wall, which provides security for one, defines the dimensions of the prison for the other. And living so close and yet largely separate lives that are differentiated by a successful 21st century economy adjacent to a broken largely backward third world economy that can neither import or export goods in any meaningful or regular way is in itself a kind of torture.
Beyond these divisions lies the continuing conflict fought between the 4th most powerful military on planet earth and a non-nation, without tanks, ships, or an air force. The trouble is it's a tough neighborhood and all the Arab states have weapons and are making or buying more, (in some cases directly from the United States). Hamas has taken Gaza after capturing a parliamentary election and an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit. Hezbollah fought the Israelis in Lebanon to at worst a standoff that became a UN monitored ceasefire that has enabled it to resupply the thousands of rockets it launched on northern Israel. These militias are the picadors for their Iranian/Syrian sponsors, constantly prodding the Israeli bull with new contests along its borders and a constant low level rocket barrage from Gaza that does just enough damage to keep every resident of S'derot and the surrounding communities terrified of the next 15 second Code Red alert before the rocket strikes.
Oil is the golden mean with vast reserves in Iran and Iraq as well as Saudi Arabia. China and India are buying and using oil at rates that approach a hungry America not so long ago. The competition for this critical resource is fierce.
I read about the efforts of Prime Minister Olmert to negotiate the return of the Golan Heights to the Syrians and their President, Bashar al-Asad. I considered the corruption charges against the Israeli Prime Minister, the results of the Winograd Commission Report on his failed conduct of the War with Hezbollah in Lebanon and the continuing call for the fall of his government by ministers in his own Kadima Party as well as the opposition led by Benjamin Netanyahu.
There is a growing existential threat to the very existence of the State of Israel in the words and deeds of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. To make matters worse it seems that Hamas as well as Hezbollah is increasing the range and accuracy of the rockets it receives primarily from Iran. So now Aschelon, a city of 120,000 is in range and has been hit from Gaza.
It seems to me that an elightened person would recognize that it is exceedingly necessary to negotiate a peace agreement before the Middle East devolves into a war without winners. The problem is that neither, Olmert or Abbas or even Bush is powerful enough to overcome the political forces within their own countries and negotiate terms for a real Israeli/Palestinian two state peace agreement. So, for someone separated by an ocean and a sea who spends time seeking peace in the words and deeds of a thousand times a thousand more good Israelis and Palestinians and many others, it seems that the clock is now ticking away toward a horrible countdown that will require strength and passion and unusual statemanship to prevent.