“The Human Factor” aims to be a sort of “how we got here” depiction of the impasse in efforts to obtain peace between Israel, the Palestinians and Syrians in the Middle East.
Israeli filmmaker Dror Moreh (“Sharon,” “The Gatekeepers”) limits its scope to the decade when seemingly meaningful treaties were signed, and even more meaningful ones seemed within reach — the 1990s.
There’s validity in at least some of that narrowed focus. His interviewees celebrate tantalizingly near-run-things with the Bush I administration and poker-player James Baker’s bluffs, explain the role the 1995 assassination of Yitzhak Rabin had in stopping everything cold as that led to the rise of the dogmatic and authoritarian Bibi Netanyahu, and discuss how the aging/dying of Syrian dictator Hafez al-Assad and the Palestinian Authority’s Yasser Arafat stopped progress at other times.
The film begins with Baker’s 1991-92 push, and climaxes with the failed Camp David summit of the summer of 2000.
But as Moreh skips past 9/11, Bush II and Obama efforts to break the gridlock and gives us a clip of Trump promising more than Netanyahu was ever going to allow at a press conference that the various “peace team” Americans describe as “farce,” you grasp the myopia of it all.
At one point, Moreh notes that almost every interview subject, every member he talks to from that State Department “peace team” is, like himself, Jewish. For just a moment, he and the person on camera he is speaking to consider the optics of that. Forget the later suggestion that these negotiators have been or are at least have let themselves be perceived as “acting like Israel’s lawyers.” Actually, you can’t forget that.
“You are biased,” Moreh declares off-camera, to a little bit of hemming and hawing about “everybody’s biased” from this mediator and “Well, I’m not an OBSERVANT Jew” from that one.
We can only imagine how that plays to the other parties in Middle East peace talks. Because Moreh doesn’t talk to anybody from the Palestinian Authority or from Jordan, Egypt or from any of the surviving Secretaries of State or presidents who invested so much of themselves in this time-and-money-and-soul-sucking “process.”
That’s not to say the bleeding ulcer that has been the Arab-Israeli can be laid at the feet of those who provide the continuity between administrations, as Bush I failed to get re-elected and “get a deal,” as Clinton’s team botched early efforts to get Syria and Israel to sign on the dotted line and then staged a summit with no concrete goals as Clinton was a lame duck.
But perhaps there’s somebody in Palestine or Jordan or Lebanon or Egypt who might say, if asked, “Maybe they needed to change up the ‘peace team,’ diversify it or at least bring in new blood.”
Because the current gridlock, with Israel altering the geography with West Bank Settlements and Israeli voters backing the extremists who demonized and then murdered Rabin, isn’t going away.
The ’90s timeline that Moreh presents is memory jogging and sad. But despite his investment in the outcome of these efforts and his earnest attempts to show what went wrong and how, his film’s monotonous one-sidedness can leave the viewer frustrated, with fewer answers than 100+ minutes of questions should have provided.
MPA Rating: unrated
Cast: Dennis Ross, Gamal Helal, Aaron Miller, Martin Indyk
Credits: Written and directed by Dror Moreh. A Sony Pictures Classics release.
Running time: 1:48