September 22, 2011
An urgent call to work for a better future for Israel and the Palestinians
The High Holy Days are a time when we are enjoined to reflect on old behavior and look to new ideas, to reach out within and beyond our communities to find healing, not just for ourselves or the Jewish people, but for the entire world.
What we are enjoined not to do, is remain mired in the mistakes of the past.
For decades, the American Jewish community has had but one prism through which we view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: That of a zero-sum game, in which what’s good for the Palestinians is bad for Israel. And the results, frankly, speak for themselves: continuing bloodshed, generations of despair, no settlement and no peace.
The fates of the people of Israel and the Palestinian people are bound together – one cannot thrive while the other does not. As a community for whom Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state is of primary importance, American Jews need to acknowledge the truth and to support those who strive for a two-states for two-peoples resolution of the conflict, a State of Israel that is the homeland of the Jewish people, and a State of Palestine, a homeland for the Palestinians.
As former Internal Security Minister and Member of Knesset Avi Dichter recently said “[a]Palestinian state is a national Israeli interest, not less than it is a Palestinian one” – but even though we’ve come to understand that only a two-state resolution can bring real peace, too few of us have grasped that such a peace requires more than hopeful words coupled with zero-sum thinking.
Indeed, recent weeks have seen frantic diplomatic and advocacy activity surrounding the Palestinian statehood bid at the UN, with a dispiriting if unsurprising return to entirely predictable positions.
We hear the chorus of voices calling for a cut to Palestinian aid, in Congress and among leading members of our community, as if this will serve Israel. There is blindness here, an unwillingness to understand that aid to Palestinians serves as a bulwark against extremism, and according to American and Israeli security experts, has served to create an decade-long low in terrorism.
A small cross-section of American Jews understand this. Last week, groups ranging from The Israel Project to J Street came out in support of continued aid, as have influential figures such as David Makovsky and Elliot Abrams. In the course of my career, I’m not sure how often I’ve seen those names all on the same page.
And of course, they’re not all on precisely the same page: Some are focused on the Palestinian security apparatus, others on the connection between humanitarian crisis and extremist activity. But all have come to see that the line between Israel’s fate and that of the Palestinians’ is much thinner than we had supposed, and that if we want what’s best for Israel, we must also want what’s best for a future Palestinian state.
It is upon us who see what is really happening in the Middle East to call on President Obama to reinvigorate diplomatic efforts, and work vigorously to provide public, bi-partisan support for such efforts.
It is also upon us to make clear to Congress that across the board, the American Jewish community stands behind the two-state for two-peoples solution, and shares a powerful concern that such a solution is in danger of being over-run by history.
This requires a concerted effort on our part. The Jewish community’s advocacy must move beyond merely calling for direct negotiations to actively promoting the sustained and meaningful engagement of the American government in an urgent and relentless effort to achieve a two-state for two-peoples solution.
The challenge to honestly assess mistakes of the past and make new choices is part and parcel of the holiday season for every Jew – but in the case of Israel, the consequences are monumental. We stand at a crossroads. The opportunity to build and maintain a strong, Jewish, democratic state is quickly passing from us.
If we want to see Israel not only survive but thrive as the homeland of the Jewish people, if we want to see it live up to the values of pluralism and egalitarianism on which it was first established – then we have to move, and move quickly. We have to recognize that Israel’s future is tied to that of the Palestinians, and that a two-state for two-peoples solution has to mean just that: An actual resolution of the conflict, with two viable, successful states living side by side.
This is what the Psalmist meant by “Seek peace and pursue it.” We cannot expect peace to simply happen. It is upon us to take action to make it happen.
It’s absolutely vital to Israel’s future that the rest of us step in and provide all the support we can. I fear the conversation we will have next Rosh Hashanah if we fail to do so.
Rabbi John L. Rosove is Senior Rabbi of Temple Israel of Hollywood, Los Angeles. He writes here as an individual. He is also a member of the Rabbinic Cabinet of J Street.