Can making Middle East peace be funny? Read this book
You have to admit, if you’re strolling through Borders and you see a book on a shelf with the title “How to Make Peace in the Middle East in Six Months or Less Without Leaving Your Apartment,” something inside you just yearns to read it.
I mean, what if it’s true? What if you really can make peace in the Middle East in six months or less without leaving your apartment?
Well, you can’t. At least no one has managed yet to do it, but the author of this book, Gregory Levey, actually tried, and he’s recounted his experiences here for all to read.
His story is equal parts hilarious, serious, sobering, eye opening, and — thankfully — hopeful.
To start with, Levey is not some wacko who woke up one morning and decided to pull off the diplomatic coup of the millennium. He actually has some experience with this issue.
An author and professor at Ryerson University in Toronto, Levey effectively began his career as a speechwriter and delegate for the Israeli delegation to the United Nations before moving to Israel to become Senior Foreign Communications Coordinator for Prime Ministers Ariel Sharon, then Ehud Olmert.
After 2 years, Levey had had enough. He returned to the States thinking he left the whole Middle East quagmire behind him. As he tried breaking into journalism, though, his editors kept asking him to write about the conflict.
“I seemed to have unwittingly developed an area of expertise,” he wrote.
He also got several requests to appear on radio and television talk shows to discuss — you guessed it — the Middle East.
Determined to put the whole ordeal behind him, Levey, who already had one book to his credit, decided he personally would make peace in the Middle East and write a second book about the process.
Lest you think he wasn’t serious, Levey made an incredible effort. He didn’t just approach the project from the Israeli perspective. He talked to Israelis and Palestinians, conservatives and liberals, provocative professors (including Stephen Walt, part of the Mersheimer and Walt duo who argued that the Israel lobby, not America’s best interests, sets the U.S. Middle East policy), Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League and Jeremy Ben Ami of J Street.
His quest to find a workable peace plan took him to an AIPAC convention in Washington, a model U.N. session in New York (in which a class of Muslim day school students from Queens played the role of Israel) and to his neighborhood grocer — a Palestinian who proclaimed “They (all sides) just want to fight.”
Pittsburgh gets a shoutout in this book when Levey plays Peacemaker, the software game developed at Carnegie Mellon University and invented by a former captain in the Israel Defense Forces. Peacemaker is a virtual Middle East, with all its political complexities, and players can choose to portray the Israeli prime minister or the Palestinian president.
Levey played as the prime minister. His missteps caused the Third Intifada. “Game over,” he wrote.
Does our hero even come close to making peace? What does he learn in his six-month odyssey? No spoiler alert is necessary, but here’s one piece of advice: Don’t be fooled by the title.
“How to Make Peace in the Middle East in Six Months or Less Without Leaving Your Apartment,” is not just some collection of Middle East shtick (but it’s in there, too). Levey has written a fun, thought provoking read. In doing it himself, this amateur peacemaker went beyond the headlines to show us some of the pitfalls — and some fresh perspectives — that must be understood to make peace in a region that sorely needs it.
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at email@example.com.)