Film Review: State 194

Clear-headed and utterly reasonable and engrossing doc suggesting why Israel and the Palestinians cannot finally consummate the long-talked-about, generally accepted two-state solution to Middle East antagonism.

Clear-headed and utterly reasonable and engrossing doc suggesting why Israel and the Palestinians cannot finally consummate the long-talked-about, generally accepted two-state solution to Middle East antagonism. State 194 delivers hope, frustration and more evidence that politics should not be left just to politicians.

So many documentaries and fiction narratives have circulated about the Arab-Israeli stalemate and the punishing, even global consequences that there hardly seems room nor rationale for another take on this terrible dilemma. Yet Dan Setton’s sober and eye-opening State 194—the title refers to what the Palestinians are hoping will be the UN’s 194th recognized state—could serve as a primer to this global problem. Most interesting here are where repairs are compulsory if Palestine is ever to achieve statehood. (The State of Israel got that UN recognition after three tries in 1949.)

Filmgoers with any interest in solving stubborn major world conflicts will be mightily rewarded for their attention. This sober doc may even stir further activism on behalf of a Palestinian state and get wheels turning in a direction to remove the obstacles.

As Setton presents it, major obstacles are threefold: the Israeli occupation and aggressive and ongoing Jewish settlements on lands (the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem) designated for the Palestinians; the Palestinians’ inability to bring their two antagonistic parties together (the more moderate Fatah party that governs the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the more militant Hamas that controls the Gaza region abutting Egypt); and Israel’s understandable need, after a history of Palestinian terrorist attacks, for more Palestinian assurances regarding security.

Good luck in resolving all that, yet Setton has brought together a number of well-spoken, impressive and even prominent personalities—younger-generation activist/bloggers, older activists from both sides, and politically significant individuals from Israeli, Palestinian and American corners.

President Barack Obama, in his 2009 Cairo speech, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (both presented via news footage) proclaim their approval of a two-state solution, although the latter hobbles the wheels of progress with hard-line but understandable demands regarding peace negotiations.

The real hero at the center of the doc is Salam Fayyad, a former economist who founded the progressive Third Way Party as an alternative to Fatah and Hamas, and who was appointed Prime Minister in 2007 by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The articulate and likeable Fayyad is seen forging a dynamic PR effort to end the Israeli occupation, stanch the Jewish settlements and establish the Palestinian state. He emphasizes that such powerful organizations as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and even the UN have indicated approval for the two-state solution. (Only a few months ago, Fayyad resigned as Prime Minister.)

Other voices in the doc are as compelling in their calls for a Palestinian state and an end to the ongoing and inflammatory Jewish settlements in occupied territories. On the activist side are young Palestinian bloggers Mahmoud El-Mandawi and Madj Biltaji, the latter in a plea for a non-violent solution and calling for unification of Hamas and Fatah; Israelis Yitzhak Frankenthal, who lost his son to Hamas killers and founded the Parents Circle of people seeking a two-state solution (“I want a moral state, not one that rules over other people”); artist Sara Benninga, adamant in protesting the ongoing settlements; former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, another two-state advocate who sees that solution as the way for Israel to adhere to its values of democracy and harmony; and former high-level security operative Avi Dichter, who believes that security for both sides is critical.

Another among many important voices heard on behalf of the two-state solution is that of former U.S. Special Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell, who realistically shares that while he believes that most Arabs and Palestinians would prefer that Israel were not in the Middle East, they know and accept that Israel is there to stay.

Using much archival footage, Setton—cutting to the core of what is inhibiting the two-state initiative—has left related issues of anger, prejudice, violence, terrorism and oppression to other filmmakers. In doing so (and in presenting an ending regarding how the UN to date has dealt with Palestine’s fight for statehood), his doc stirs interested filmgoers to do their own thinking about getting past the obstacles so poignantly depicted and grappling for possible solutions that are so obviously within reach.