I read John Kerry’s speech to the AJC. Rhetorically, he boxes up us skeptics and doubters into a neat little package and sends us to the far sidelines.
How I wish that Secretary Kerry’s next stop were to Michigan to urge the Palestinian community there or to the American Muslim Council to support his peace initiative for the very same reasons that he has urged that the American Jewish community to support it. That the URJ is one of the very, very few American Jewish organizations to do so ought to signal something to us in the Reform movement.
Secretary Kerry asserts that time is running out to establish a two state solution and that this Arab Spring period is the perfect time to forge this “solution” while so many Arab states are in turmoil and Islamic regimes crouch at the door and/or attempt to rule their broken countries. He paints a picture of what could be were Israel to be recognized by her neighbors, a picture that Israel herself has asserted for decades only to be repeatedly rebuffed and reviled by these very same players.
The Secretary then goes on to repeat the oft quoted statement which, for some of us, has become a stale cliché, that Israel can either choose to be a Jewish state or a democracy; but, unless she makes peace with the Palestinians, she cannot and will not have both. He asserts that the status quo simply cannot stand and will not be viable over time. Well, so far as I can see, neither of those assertions stands up to reality. They aren’t supported by recent demographic studies and they don’t stand up to the way Israel is operating or coping.
The Kerry Initiative’s putting millions into the Palestinian economy falls into the same bucket which, now that Salam Fayyad is gone, may well become an open trough for the PA to line their pockets while defrauding the American taxpayer. (We may wish for another outcome, but without direct oversight, we’ll be even less able to determine where those millions have gone than we could the billions of U.S. dollars that went down the drain in Iraq). But what Secretary Kerry doesn’t understand or refuses to acknowledge is that Israel is right there, ready to negotiate a two state solution. The Palestinians are nowhere close to coming to a peace table, consumed as they are with asserting their preconditions.
In fact, not only is Abbas not moving forward, he seems at every turn to be walking backwards and away, turning toward the United Nations where he receives support that must feel to him like an international warm blanket in a cold wind. Indeed, I empathize with Abbas’ position. He has terrorist, rejectionist Hamas at his throat and a wary, weary West Bank populace on his head, neither of which he can please or satisfy by entering a dance of peace with Israel. His days are numbered and his power, waning. He helped to create and continues to feed the monster of Jew-hatred among his West Bank people and this sown bigotry now ties his hands in even considering talks with his avowed enemy.
Secretary of State Kerry believes that improving the Palestinian economic condition will help bring about peace. But Palestinian economic progress isn’t what’s going to bring the Palestinians to the table. That progress, even if graft and fraud is controlled, is many years off. Those millions will need time to take root and blossom into jobs and industry. What can Israel do in the meantime? She can continue doing what she has been done…employ Palestinians where she can and support joint ventures. Small successes. Small, incremental advancements. But can Israel convince Palestinians to give up their hatred of Israelis (read: Jews?) Can she convince the West Bank establishment to go to the polls and elect a government that, then, would have the legitimacy to negotiate peace? Can she paint a picture of anything she hasn’t before and which Secretary Kerry so artfully captured, which isn’t wildly and unrealistically messianic? I am not asking the question of whether anything that might even be reached in a prospective settlement can be guaranteed. I don’t want to put that cart before the horse, but it is a question that weighs on my heart especially as I anxiously watch the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
I hate that Palestinians are living without being able to direct their own futures. I hate that Israel must live in a fenced-in state. I hate that “victim-hood” trumps the argument for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. I hate the fact that 18 year old Israeli soldiers must maintain check points and learn to be brutal in the face of constant threats to their lives.
I hate that Arab perfidy has once again pumped into the world the anti-Semitic canards we Jews have faced for centuries. But, I do not fear the world court and I do not respect the United Nations, the former being a forum to which Israel might soon be invited to state and argue her case, and the latter the reliability of whose peace keepers, vis-a-vis Israel, has repeatedly been proven a total sham and a vile joke…in Sinai, in Lebanon and now on the Golan Heights, and whose Human Rights Council is a mockery of truth and anything close to applying a standard justice evenhandedly.
The Secretary listed many of the times wherein we who support a two state solution got our hopes up high and were let down. I remind my readers of the violence that followed those failures in which too many innocent Israelis as well as Palestinians lost lives and limbs. I truly would hope that Secretary Kerry could win a Nobel peace Prize for having achieved this peace between Israel and her Palestinian neighbors. But, I await a sign of Palestinian willingness to do anything other than obfuscate. If I am to jump on board Kerry’s initiative, I have to see that Israel’s willingness to negotiate is being met half way. To date I have no reasons to be hopeful. Israel seems now to have even less reason to let her guard down. Peace must be a two way street…and commitment to peace asserted by both parties in all languages their leaders use, especially in Arabic. We’ve been down this road before and know better than to give into naiveté or zealotry. So, please excuse me while I withhold my full-throated support for what the Secretary is trying to accomplish.
I do not know what may untie this Gordian knot that will settle this ongoing problem, ha-matzav. There are those who say that over time and by small steps will come an accommodation, a tacit understanding between our two peoples. There is more proof that this approach may work than there is for this present attempt at diplomacy.
It isn’t for nothing that one of the first words we all learn when in Israel is savlanut. I do not believe there is a reason to believe that this is Israel’s last chance to achieve a two state solution. There may soon come a day when the anxiety over the shrinking amount of land that the Palestinians may well be able to secure for themselves by trying to out wait Israel may trump their other demands and concerns. Meanwhile, I am willing to sit tight. I am certainly not of the camp that is willing to throw plaster at a crack in the wall, hoping that something will stick. I believe that approach is extremely dangerous given the outcomes of past attempts like this one. Ultimately, the ball is in the Palestinian’s court. Israel repeatedly has iterated that she is ready to negotiate a two state solution. Now she and Secretary wait for something other than demanded preconditions.
I believe that it’s time to give time a chance. I don’t see any other choice.
Rabbi Joel R. Schwartzman
Rabbi Emeritus, Congregation B’nai Chaim