In a recent meeting held with leadership of the United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ and its Community Relations Committee, David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy quipped, “No one ever lost money betting that the Israel-Palestinian talks would fail.” Cute, but as we shall see, not entirely true.
It was Churchill who observed, “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.” In the more than 60 years of Israel’s existence, which includes at least six wars with all or some of its neighbors, no hostilities took place while talks were in progress. The current talks are slated to last for a year; a year of peace is all to the good.
There is the old joke about a Jewish telegram: “Start worrying — letter to follow.” That’s the way we are: We have been conditioned to expect the worse and, somehow, we are disappointed if it does not happen. In his Yom Kippur sermon, my rabbi, who I love dearly, pieced together a series of quotes and photos from Time magazine’s notorious recent cover story and the Star-Ledger to prove how hostile the gentile world is to the State of Israel. Never mind that over 60 percent of the American people favor Israel in the Middle East conflict and less than 20 percent the Palestinians.
The CRC of North Jersey is sponsoring a program entitled “Israel Under Siege.” Is this the same Israel whose GDP increased by 5 percent last year when the rest of the Western world hovered around zero percent? Is this the same Israel with representation in some 100 countries and which was welcomed into the Organization of Economic Development and Cooperation? Hardly “developing,” Israel is now in the major leagues.
Siege? Ask those who lived in Jerusalem in 1948 or those who lived in Leningrad during World War II. These were sieges.
This is not to say that there aren’t real issues that must be dealt with. As the immediate past chair of the Israel and World Affairs Committee of the MetroWest CRC, I am very aware of them. However, calling them “crises” or saying that we live “under siege” debases the language.
Makovsky’s quip about failed negotiations is not entirely true. A better case could be made about the hostilities that took place when there were no negotiations. From 1948-67 there were no negotiations while the Arab nations strove futilely to snuff out the Jewish state. Engaging in hostile acts ranging from terrorism to boycotts to secondary boycotts to outright war, there was nothing that the Arab states would not do to undermine Israel’s existence. This culminated in the famous proclamation after the Six-Day War: “No Negotiations, No Recognition, No Peace.”
Now here we are, some 43 years later, and there is peace with Egypt and Jordan (cold though it may be, it is infinitely better than war). There is, according to Makovsky, cooperation between the Mossad and the intelligence arms of most Arab countries.
There is still a long way to go before the peace that we long for is attained. Yet, compared to where we were, the situation is infinitely better. If nothing else, Israel has some control in determining its future rather than being totally at the mercy of outside forces.
This, in fact, is the real meaning of Zionism, which in its essence is concerned with Jewish sovereignty and self determination.
Israel and the Palestinians are again embarked on negotiations. In the past, they came close to succeeding. In the Olmert-Abbas talks, Israel demanded 3 percent of the West Bank while the Palestinians were willing to concede one-and-a-half percent. Hardly a deal breaker. Prime Ministers Olmert and Sharon were products of Israel’s right wing, yet Sharon and Olmert, upon becoming prime minister, came to the realization that it was not in Israel’s interest to rule over so many Palestinians and that maintaining a democratic Jewish state meant giving up territories revered in Jewish history yet today populated by Arabs.
A question in these negotiations is whether Prime Minister Netanyahu, another son of the Right, is similarly willing and, if so, able to withstand the pressure of some of Israel’s most militant factions. PA President Mahmoud Abbas, too, will have to take the steps which will see the creation of a Palestinian state but will subject him to cries of “traitor” from those unable to compromise and disabuse themselves of the illusions they have carried for more than 60 years. Perhaps the time has arrived to go against the odds and bet on the talks succeeding.