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When Israel Met Palestine

Recasting the conflict as a romantic comedy

Liel Leibovitz
January 04, 2012
Harry and Saeb Erekat.(Rotten Tomatoes/Getty/Ye Olde Tablet Photoshoppe)
Harry and Saeb Erekat.(Rotten Tomatoes/Getty/Ye Olde Tablet Photoshoppe)

Yesterday, Israeli and Palestinian representatives concluded another in a long line of futile meetings by agreeing to meet again next week in the same place, the Jordanian capital of Amman. Most people probably interpreted this denouement as another meaningless gesture. But I’m an incurable romantic: immediately, I imagined Israel and Palestine as Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr in An Affair to Remember, pledging to meet each other once more atop the Empire State Building to prove to each other that their love is real.

It’s not as preposterous a comparison as you might think. After all, if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was ever made into a movie, it would have to be a romantic comedy.

Like all romantic comedies, this one begins with two protagonists who meet and despise each other, while all along their attraction and compatibility is evident to everyone else. If An Affair to Remember is before your time, think of Israel as Harry, obnoxious and spouting bombastic theories about life (and also Jewish!), and of the Palestinians as Sally, sensitive and insistent on fairness and decorum (and also not Jewish!). If only he gave back a bit of land, and she got rid of her crazy, crazy girlfriend Hamas (played by Carrie Fisher), they could finally be together and spend eternity doing the things they both love to do, like shopping at the Gap in Jerusalem.

But we’ve an entire reel to fill, and so the lovers cannot be united right away. First, they must overcome a series of sweet and preposterous challenges, like dating the other’s best friend or insisting the other recognize his right to be a Jewish state. She shallowly responds to courtship, he responds by building more settlements; the final embrace is postponed yet again, leaving us agitated but hopeful.

Israel, Palestine, here’s a word of advice: when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.

Liel Leibovitz is editor-at-large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.