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January 11, 2011

Heroes Who Defy Status Quo Can Save Israel

http://www.jewishjournal.com/opinion/article/heroes_who_defy_status_quo_can_save_israel_20110111

If you know this old Jewish joke, just skip it.

Two Jews come to the rabbi to settle a dispute. The first Jew complains about the other, and the

rabbi says, ``You’re right.’’ Then the other Jew makes his claim, to which the rabbi says, ``You’re right.’’ The rabbi’s wife, who overhears this from the kitchen, asks, ``How can they both be right?’’ The rabbi responds with a sigh, ``You’re right, too.’’

It seems that everybody is right in their explanations as to why the peace process in the Middle East is at a stalemate.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is right when he blames the Palestinians for always looking for excuses to stay away from the negotiating table. Hasn’t he accepted the notion of a two-state solution, unthinkable for him before? Hasn’t he agreed to a settlement freeze? And what did he get in return?

Nothing but more complaints from the Palestinians, who haven’t seemed willing to yield an inch.

The Palestinians have a point as well. They claim that Netanyahu’s speech was lip service only, because it is the facts on the ground that matter. What Palestinians see in the West Bank, they say, is a constant growth of Israeli settlements, which defeats rhetoric.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the new chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is right, too. Speaking to the Jerusalem Post recently, she echoed what most Israelis — not necessarily right-wingers — think.

``This feeling that [Palestinian President] Abbas and [Palestinian Prime Minister] Fayyad are the good guys — if they’re the good guys, then we should start praying for Israel’s safety right now, because these are folks who have not wanted to be true partners for peace,’’ she said. 

Yet it is the essence of a Greek tragedy that everyone is right. While this makes a good drama on stage, in reality, this is a disaster. Especially in the Middle East, where with the absence of a real peace process, standstill is always a prelude to another round of violence.

Indeed, before our eyes, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza are arming themselves to be able to hit Israel’s rear again when the opportunity presents itself. Emboldened by Syria’s formidable surface-to-surface missile arsenal, and the looming nuclear capability of Iran, enemies of peace with Israel are feeling stronger.

Concurrently, the Palestinians are moving ahead toward declaring a state, maybe in September 2011. They have done it before, in 1988, and it came to nothing, because they had no shred of sovereignty. The situation today is different. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has done quite a good job of nation-building, and many countries have already expressed their intention of recognizing it, if the issue is brought to the United Nations.

Such a move will only make things worse. A Palestinian state where? In the West Bank? Will it be able to sustain itself? And what about Gaza, ruled by the Hamas? And what will happen with the Israeli settlements? In short, more instability, which will only empower the radicals.

A Greek tragedy, then?

Never, if you ask a sworn optimist like myself. Tragedy can be avoided by heroes who defy determinism. Ariel Sharon was one. He pulled Israel out of Gaza and was focusing on the West Bank before he went into a coma.

Salvation will not come from the Palestinians, who always delude themselves that if they keep bargaining forever, they will get a better deal. President Obama is not a savior as well, given his inexperience and the general decline in America’s world power.

We are left with the Israelis, then. Two out of three of us here want a two-state solution. Netanyahu is no De Gaulle, who pulled France out of the Algerian quagmire, and he is not even Sharon. But if he wants to stop the one-way rush to disaster, he can reshuffle his government, dump the rejectionists and bring in Kadima Party. Backed by most of the Israelis, he can then engage seriously with the Palestinians, and if this fails, turn to a unilateral step in the West Bank.

It would be a pity if only another bloody round of violence will bring us exactly to the same conclusion.


Uri Dromi is a columnist based in Jerusalem. He blogs at jewishjournal.com/jerusalemview.

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