Courtesy Reuters

A Small Peace for the Middle East

THE CLASH OF ABSOLUTES

The dream of perfect peace is also the enemy of peace. The world can no longer avoid the somber insight of Isaiah Berlin, who wrote that any ideal taken to its very end brings not redemption, but pain and horror. Great conflicts, as Berlin realized, are insoluble because they involve absolutist principles and uncompromising visions. In wars of religion, no peace can be made between true faith and idolatry. In wars of ideology, no true revolutionary can compromise with false visions. And so wars continue, endlessly and insolubly. The only way to stop them is to abandon ideals -- whatever they may be -- and to make, in the here and now, pragmatic arrangements that stop the killing.

This precept holds for the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians, which has been made worse, unutterably worse, by such a dream of perfect peace. In this case, the dream took the form of one of the most glorious and creative movements of the last century: modern Zionism. A hundred years ago, some of the most vital elements in the Jewish community all over the world attempted to join the modern world by rejecting the passivity of their ancient messianic religion. They embraced modern nationalism with great enthusiasm and entered the lists of modern politics in order to establish a "normal" nation in the ancient homeland of the Jews, a goal that would free their people from confined existence in ghettos. The Zionists thought that Jews would achieve a kind of redemption by ceasing to be different from and persecuted by the nations of the world. Somehow, they thought, the inevitable discomforts and conflicts with the Arabs would be resolved. The Jews would find peace and acceptance in the land where their ancestors had once fashioned their religion and culture. But it was not to be. Instead, from its very beginning to this very day, Zionism has confronted a century of war.

The Palestinians have no corresponding messianic

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