We can get very jaded about these Middle East diplomatic endeavors now under way in Washington, D.C., but we shouldn’t. If you care about Israel, you have to care about peace. For Israel to maintain its identity as a Jewish state it must find a way to allow for Palestinian self-determination. For Israel to thrive economically, diplomatically and culturally, it must reach an accord with its neighbors. That’s not peace-nikky platitudes, that’s the finding of every serious study of Israel’s long-term prospects.
At the Milken Institute’s Global Conference in 2008, Israeli venture capitalist Yossi Vardi spelled it out to me plainly. “You simply don’t get real growth without peace,” he said.
So there’s no brilliant future for the Jewish state without peace, and no peace as long as both sides can’t contain the incitement and violence of their fanatics.
On the Palestinian side, unfortunately, fanatics control the entire Gaza strip.
Hamas won control of the 1.5 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in the 2007 election pushed by the Bush administration. Hamas rejects the state of Israel and opposes the peace process. Children living under Hamas rule are treated to cartoons depicting Israelis as monsters and the Palestinian Authority as collaborators. In one cartoon last year, a Palestinian child mocked captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit as Shalit, shivering in a corner, calls out, “Mommy!” Shalit convinced the child to kidnap more soldiers to strike fear in the whole Israeli army. Every time I close my eyes and try to imagine a two-state solution to the Israeli Palestinian problem, I keep seeing Hamas cartoons.
But let’s be clear: There are extremists north of Gaza, too.
Over the past week, the world has gotten a taste of Israeli fanaticism. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the 89-year-old leader of the ultra-Orthodox Sephardi Shas party, a key power broker in Netanyahu’s government, called for all Palestinians to be destroyed.
“May God smite them with the plague,” he said.
History shows that the 17-year-long direct peace process between Israel and the Palestinians usually goes off the rails because of bad faith and extremism. Either the Israelis and/or the Palestinians just aren’t as committed to compromise as whichever American president knocking their heads together is, or extremist sentiments or actions on one side or another blow a hole in the proceedings.
So there’s no real future to the Jewish state without peace, and no peace as long as both sides can’t contain the incitement and violence of their fanatics.
What to do?
Some analysts believe that if Israel and the Palestinian Authority under President Mahmoud Abbas can reach an agreement that leads to an independent, sound Palestinian state in the West Bank, Palestinians under Hamas rule will vote the P.A. back into power in Gaza. They point to a June poll in Gaza that gave Abbas 54 percent of the vote versus Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh’s 39 percent.
If those numbers hold, and if Palestinian terrorism or Israeli actions don’t derail the process, and if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abbas can reach and maintain an agreement, there can be a two-state solution.
You’ll notice a lot of ifs in that sentence.
And the big ifs always come back to this: Can we marginalize the extremists?
I don’t know the answer. But I have come to believe that there are two sides in the Middle East conflict, and they have nothing to do with race, nationality or religion. There are Jews and Arabs who want compromise, and Jews and Arabs who want to demonize and eradicate their neighbors. The moderates will find a way to compromise on every issue — not because they love their neighbor or because they believe their neighbor loves or even fully accepts them, but because moderates believe that, in the end, their cause is best served through compromise.
Fanatics will do everything in their power not to compromise, not with the enemy, not even with one another. Hamas brutalizes Palestinians who disagree with it politically or don’t adhere to its own twisted standards of Muslim morality. In 2008, Hamas security forces beat a 10-year-old Palestinian boy in the face with iron bars because he was sitting with some Abbas supporters. Back in Israel, Rabbi Yitzhak Shapiro recently published a book declaring that “there is nothing wrong with the murder” of gentiles, because one day they might be a threat. I do wonder if their fanatics wouldn’t get along better with our fanatics than we moderates do, and vice versa.
I’ve often wondered, too, if the solution is not two states, but three: one each for Jews and Palestinians willing to live side by side, and one for those Jews and Arabs who think God tells them otherwise: Israel, Palestine and Fanatistan. The populations can shift according to their predilections. I imagine plenty of Jews will see eye to eye with the strict standards of modesty Hamas enforces, and plenty of Palestinians will prefer the cafes of Ramallah to the bar-less streets of Gaza City.
The fanatics can all go to Gaza and continue screaming and killing one another. We moderates can get on with building two great nations.
A couple of years ago, I even bought the Web domain www.fanatistan.com. As a first act of peace, I will give it away, free, to the Jews and Arabs who will lead their future nation of Fanatistan — right into the grave.