Jewish Journal

The Shared Initiative

by David Margolis

Posted on Sep. 26, 2002 at 8:00 pm

Since I live beyond the Green Line and am therefore a war criminal in the view of much of the left, I was surprised to be invited to an all-day meeting at the Tantur Ecumenical Center in Jerusalem that brought together about 50 Jewish and Palestinian peace activists -- organizational professionals and concerned laypeople, all of them wanting an end to conflict, many of them deeply discouraged now, of course. The aim of the discussion, the first of a proposed series sponsored by the Dutch Foreign ministry, was to create a grass-roots initiative that would, by taking "shared responsibility" for the current situation, somehow affect it.

If this goal sounds vague, maybe that's because nobody really knows any more what to try -- the mission statement's hope for "developing better community relations" between Jews and Palestinians seemed a bit naive. Still, as a recovering peacenik who found the event often annoying, I tried to be helpful. However, while I haven't completely given up all hope for a rational settlement, my sympathy for Israeli leftists is mainly nostalgic: I can remember believing, like them, in the Oslo process and peaceful coexistence. Now, I see them as delusional while I notice how many of the stock phrases used in Palestinian-Israeli dialogue require quotation marks ("moderate" Arab states -- there's a good one).

For their part, the Palestinians, locked in their own delusions, remain crippled by a nearly absolute refusal to take responsibility for what has happened to them. The head of a Palestinian "nonviolence" project, for example, approached me after the meeting to deny my claim that the Palestinian media incites hatred of Israel and Jews. "It's only inspirational material, to keep people's spirits up," he assured me, and though I quoted him abundant chapter and verse of precisely what the Palestinian leadership has spent years inspiring its people to, he remained adamant.

More problematic was the assertion, by the director of an educational nongovernmental organization in the East Jerusalem school system, of an equivalency between the Holocaust and the Palestinian "Naqba." One wishes that the Holocaust had involved nothing more than the dispossession of a few hundred-thousand Jews (who would all soon have been resettled through the generosity of other Jews -- end of Holocaust). Whatever the shock caused to Palestinian society by the establishment of Israel, their "catastrophe" grew out of their rejection of the U.N. Partition Plan and their cooperation with the pan-Arab attempt to destroy the Jewish state. However, having so thoroughly trained Israeli leftists to apologize to them for everything from closures to checkpoints, even the smartest Palestinians don't question their own innocence.

The Palestinian participants in the meeting, an evolved stratum of their society, were committed to a two-state solution (we didn't discuss borders). But the survey a few months ago indicating that a majority of Palestinians are fighting to wipe Israel off the map suggests something grimmer: These people who allied themselves with Nazi Germany and rejected partition in 1947 are now allied with Iraq, Iran and Hezbollah, which call for the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews, and refused the offer two years ago at Camp David that would have given them a state.

So I'm a slow learner, but I finally figured it out a while ago -- me and a lot of other Israelis: The Palestinians don't want a deal. Journalist Yossi Klein Halevi, writing in The New Republic some months ago, offered this elegant formulation: "The Palestinians presented us with an unbearable dilemma, forcing us to choose between the two nonnegotiable demands of Jewish history: not to be oppressors and not to be naive about our enemy's intentions."

I'll choose being an "oppressor" over my neighbors' long-term intentions, which -- and I think this hypothesis explains Palestinian actions over many decades -- seems to be a Judenrein Arab state from the Mediterranean Sea to the Iraqi border; that is, a Palestinian state in all the territory of the British Mandate for Palestine.

But since I remain a sucker for dialogue, I invite the Palestinians, especially their leadership, to implement the following four-part initiative in order to emerge from the morass into which they have plunged us:

1. Stop trying to kill me. I take it personally.

2. Instead of all the tendentious nonsense, by you and your "moderate" Arab brothers, about maybe "recognizing" the State of Israel (that settler-colonialist catastrophe), acknowledge openly, even if not happily, the deeper reality -- that the Jewish people has finally returned to its homeland. Then figure out a way to work with that truth. (The truth can make you free.)

3. Take responsibility. Yes, Israel has made mistakes and sometimes acted oppressively. But grow up, for goodness' sake. Only children think they've been grounded for no reason or reject any history that might explain their troubles. Look in the mirror.

4. Replace media incitement with publicizing of facts like this one: Every time the Israeli electorate has seen even a small chance for a reasonable settlement, it votes for it. That's how Barak got elected, and it's why, when you squandered the chance, Israelis voted the other way. I do believe that once you rebuild the shattered trust with Israelis, we can move forward together. However, what distinguishes me from the rest of the Israeli "peace camp," I'm sad to say, is that I don't believe that you can, will or want to rebuild. That's why we're at war. And that war is why the subsequent meeting for the shared initiative, scheduled for later in the summer, got "postponed."

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