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We Gave Peace a Chance

January 10, 2013

Give4“What was the hardest thing about making aliya?” people still ask me.

They expect, I imagine, that I’ll say something about our kids going to the army. Or about living in less than half the space we had when we lived in the States. Or, if they knew, they might imagine that I’d mention having one car for four drivers, rather than two cars for two drivers.

For me, though, it’s not that. What’s been hardest has been watching the worldview on which I was raised crash and break like a ship washed violently against a forbidding shore. I was raised in one of those (then-) classic American Jewish suburban families. Democratic voting, opposed to the Vietnam War, passionate advocates for civil rights, my parents taught their kids that most people were reasonable and that all conflicts were solvable. When it came to the Middle East, the prescription for resolution of the conflict was clear – we would give land, and we would get peace. The only question was when.

We were not the only ones who believed that, of course. A significant portion of Israeli society believed the same thing – until the Palestinian Terror War (mistakenly called the second intifada) – that is. Those four years destroyed the Israeli political Left because they washed away any illusions Israelis might have had that the Palestinian leadership was interested in a deal. And, to be fair, why should the Palestinians be interested in a deal? Their position gets stronger with each passing year. No longer pariahs, they are now the darlings of the international community. They have seen the world shift from denying the existence of a Palestinian people to giving them observer status at the UN. If you were the leader of the Palestinian Authority, would you make a deal now? Of course not. With the terms bound to get sweeter in years to come, only a fool would sign now.

Our enemies are not fools. But they are consistent. Hamas’s Mahmoud al- Zahar, in a much-quoted statement, said last year that the Jews have no place among the nations of the world and are headed for annihilation. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared to Egyptian TV that he would never, in a thousand years, recognize a Jewish state. Bibi gave the Bar-Ilan speech, but Abbas refused to return to the table; he still insists on the refugees’ right of return, which he knows would spell death for the idea of a Jewish state. Egypt’s Mohamed Morsi makes no bones about the fact that he would like to annul the treaty between Israel and Egypt. In videos recently posted by MEMRI (which were recorded in 2010, before he was worried about being closely watched), he openly described Jews as descendants of pigs, called Zionists “bloodsuckers” and said that Jews “must not stand on any Arab or Islamic land.They must be driven out of our countries.”

When Bashar Assad falls, will the Syrian victors be more likely to accept Israel’s existence? When Jordan follows, will the quiet on the Jordanian border persist?

ISRAELIS LIVE in a world of utter cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, our region is becoming ever more dangerous and our foes ever more honest about their desire to destroy the Jewish state. And on the other hand, much of the world insists that “land for peace” simply must work; some American Jewish leaders actually urged Israel, even in the midst of the Gaza conflict, to return to the negotiating table. It would be funny were it not so sad and so dangerous.

That is why the upcoming election, sobering though it is, may actually prove important. Israelis across the spectrum are acknowledging what they used to only whisper: the old paradigm is dying.

Naftali Bennett of the Bayit Yehudi party explicitly states that “land for peace” is dead and advocates annexing the portion of the West Bank known as Area C. Yair Shamir of Yisrael Beytenu says that regardless of Netanyahu’s Bar- Ilan speech, the Likud never endorsed a Palestinian state. Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party’s website makes no mention of going back to the negotiating table.

Neither does the Labor Party platform.

Even Meretz recently acknowledged that Oslo is dead.

To give up hope for peace is not to choose war. Egypt’s present and Jordan’s future indicate how little is guaranteed by a treaty; the Palestinian present shows that we can have quiet even in the face of stalemate. What Israelis now want is quiet, and a future. Nothing more, nothing less. And most importantly, no more illusions.

The demise of the peace addiction is no cause for celebration; it is merely cause for relief. There is something exhausting about living a life of pretense; with the death of illusion comes the possibility of shaping a future. After a new government is formed, a genuine leader could actually lead Israelis into a “what next” conversation. Deciding what comes next, now that we sadly know that the idea of “land for peace” is dead, will not be easy. Israel could make wise decisions or terrible mistakes.

But if, as a result of this election, we begin to have a conversation about a future that we can actually have, the Jewish state will be much better off.

Israel, though, is likely to make much better choices if it is joined in its hardearned realism by forces outside the country too. Now that Israelis are getting honest, the question is whether the international community – and then American Jews – will follow suit. On the former front, there are occasional causes for optimism. The Washington Post, for example, recently acknowledged that the international community’s rhetoric has become an obstacle rather than a help. “Mr. Netanyahu’s zoning approval is hardly the ‘almost fatal blow’ to a twostate solution that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described… If Security Council members are really interested in progress toward Palestinian statehood, they will press Mr. Abbas to stop using settlements as an excuse for intransigence – and cool their own overheated rhetoric.”

Amen to that. But what about American Jewish leaders? They will likely find admitting that “land for peace” is dying no less difficult than anyone else. Will they listen carefully to what the Israeli electorate, across the spectrum, is saying? I hope so. Because loving someone means helping them to fashion a future that is possible, not harboring an exhausted illusion that can only yield pain and disappointment. The same is true with loving Israel.

In the midst of the cacophony and sobriety of this Israeli election, a new, mature and infinitely more realistic resignation seems to be emerging. Those who care about Israel might see it as failure, as moral weakness or as sad exhaustion. Alternatively, we could see it for what it is – the enduring Israeli desire to live, to thrive and to work not for a future that others pretend is still possible, but rather for one that we can actually build and then bequeath to our children.

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