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Jewish Journal

The P Word

by Rob Eshman

November 15, 2001 | 7:00 pm

Are you prepared for Palestine?

Earlier this week, President George W. Bush brought the world closer than ever to the reality of a Palestinian state side-by-side with Israel. In a speech to the UN General Assembly last Saturday, he said, "We are working toward the day when two states -- Israel and Palestine -- live peacefully together within secure and recognized borders."

This coming Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is expected to outline a plan toward ending violence in the region that will make clear the ultimate goal of a Palestinian state.

What's remarkable is that after more than a year of fresh blood and graves, Jews here and in Israel and Palestinians want Washington to take an active role in ending Israeli-Palestinian violence. In a Gallup poll released in Israel last Friday, 54 percent of the respondents said Israel should accelerate efforts to achieve a peace agreement with the Palestinians. This from a nation which has suffered terror's full measure, and amidst warnings from Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer that, "the number of terror attacks against Israelis may soon escalate."

Even Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said he supports the concept of a Palestinian state.

Sure, simply waving the name Palestine in front of Arafat might be enough to lure him out of his do-nothing stupor. When he awakes, the U.S. can press him to crack down on terrorism and incitement. Despite Bush's public statements, his administration is angry with Arafat, and wants to see actions, not words.

It might work. Word inside the upper echelons of Palestinian leadership is that Intifada II has fared as badly as most sequels. Palestinians are dispirited. P.A. Jerusalem representative Sari Nusseibeh has said it is time to recognize that the Palestinians' greatest enemy, Israel, must inevitably become their closest partner. Arafat has a chance (Chance '254,987) to take them to the Promised Land.

How should we American Jews attend the birth of Palestine? Hard to imagine we'll be there with the box of cigars and some "It's a State!" balloons. But should we turn our backs and scream in protest?

The truth is we are ill-prepared for this birth. Many of our leaders have been busy blaming the Palestinians, CNN and the L.A. Times for the ongoing conflict. They fire off e-mails listing historic reasons the Palestinians don't deserve a state; or they try to warn us that Palestine means Israel's imminent demise. But Israel's prime ministers have always pursued negotiations. Unlike many of us, they never lost sight of a simple fact: the Israel-Palestinian conflict cannot be solved militarily.

The American Jewish community, from New York to L.A., has always treated Israel the way most Americans relate to their local football teams. Call it the Fan Theory of Diaspora-Israel Relations. The vast majority of us -- say, 70 percent, are supportive, but hardly active. We care when the team makes the playoff, or faces extinction, but otherwise we just follow the big headlines. A smaller percentage of us, maybe 25 percent, go to some home games. We read the op-ed pieces, maybe give a little money, visit Israel once or twice. A far smaller number represents the die-hards -- the kind of football fans who go to every game, paint their faces team colors, and think they call plays better than the head coach.

This is the 5 percent that have controlled much of the rhetoric of American Jewish-Israel relations. They have for the most part opposed compromise with the Palestinians. They have been educating the rest of us to deny the eventual reality of a Palestinian state. So here we are, shocked, shocked to see that nation-building is going on here.

Well, it is.

We should support our president's efforts to seek a compromise that brings about the P word for the Palestinians and the S word for the Israelis -- security. We should work to make sure that any deal includes the obliteration of anti-Semitism in Palestinian textbooks and government-sponsored media. We should applaud this week's statements by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Jordan's King Abdullah urging Arab states to ensure Israel's security in order to secure a Palestinian state.

In short, those Jews in the bleachers need to move down to the sidelines, and start cheering for Israel loudly as it faces the hard, inevitable compromises to come.

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