June 20, 2002
A ‘Shattered’ Portrait of Israel
"Shattered Dreams" a "Frontline" documentary on PBS, illustrates the "even-handed," "well-balanced" style beloved of Boston's WGBH (produced in association with France 2, Abu Dhabi Television and Tel-Ad Israel). It is guaranteed to deeply aggravate partisans on all sides -- Israelis, Palestinians and friends (and enemies) of Bill. That aggravation will assure the producers that they got this story of diplomacy gone awry right.
But so much of the story was left out: Hamas' recalcitrant insistence on "Palestine" from the river to the sea; the bitter, belated politics surrounding the PLO's ostensible deletion of the clause demanding Israel's destruction; Yasser Arafat's venality; his collusion and direction of terrorists and terrorism as a "negotiating" strategy. So, too, is elided the width and depth of Palestinian rejection of Israel's legitimacy.
Arafat's resistance to a comprehensive settlement; Palestinian rejections of Ehud Barak's offers, and Arafat's out-of-hand dismissal of Jewish historical claims against the Temple Mount are defended by the suave and persuasive Saeb Erekat. However, in the program's last words, Erekat insists that "at the end of the day, I know it's doable, and I know Palestinians and Israelis can make peace."
Erekat and his Israeli counterpart, Gilead Sher, present the diplomatic efforts at its most hopeful stage. The set piece failings, with exceptions, belong to Israel. Hamas is blamed for terrorism in passing, but Arafat joyfully visits Sheik Yassin upon his release from Israeli detention. Benjamin Netanyahu is a saboteur, Ariel Sharon is a provocateur and Barak suffers from overwhelming ambitions. Israeli democracy harbors a lack of vision.
Two lacunae and one presumption deeply flaw this work. Nowhere is it mentioned how the Soviet Union's implosion impelled Arafat to seek other sponsors and thus lead to Oslo in the first instance. Secondly, the stultifying refrain, "cycle of violence" was repeated in a seemingly endless chorus, as if evil individuals were exempt from moral responsibility for their actions because of some external structural coercion. Last, and quite importantly, the recent local warfare in Israel is considered with no reference, not even in passing, to the attacks of Sept. 11.
A world war is brewing, of which Israel and the Palestinians are only one front, and the producers deem that matter irrelevant to the present local situation. On the other hand, perhaps we need lofty and sanguine commentators to assure us of our own lack of nuance and balanced temper. "Shattered Dreams" airs Thursday, June 27 at 9 p.m. on PBS.