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I. Articles

Dangerous Certainty About Israel

As published in The NY Jewish Week

By Judith Stern Peck
March 29, 2002

Sometimes I am amazed at the certainty that some of my Israeli and American Jewish friends have about what Israel needs to do in its nascent war with the Palestinians.

Some of my closest friends in Israel are distraught, confused and unable to find answers. Thatís perfectly understandable. But other Israelis - the tens of thousands of right-wing protesters who demonstrated in Rabin Square recently - and the American Jews who support them, donít seem confused. They seem absolutely convinced that no cease-fire can work. Some even think it is time to invade the territories with even more force. Ignore Zinni, Cheney and Bush, they say, and just topple Arafat. Wipe out the Palestinian Authority and all of its institutions. Set up house in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Some go so far as to say that if things donít get better, the Palestinians should be put on trucks and ďtransferredĒ to Jordan.

There is usually little point in arguing with those who already have made up their minds. They dismiss you as naive or as a Palestinian sympathizer or as someone who is willing to leave Israel vulnerable and in danger. I understand their motivation and itís not surprising they think this way, given how sure they are about the correctness of their position. But my fear is that this very sense of certainty is blinding them to some of the real dangers facing Israel.

It seems to me that nothing being suggested by these Israelis and American Jews is likely to protect our Israeli friends from getting blown up or shot, sooner or later, by young Palestinians who prefer death to the horrible conditions in which they live - conditions that would be further worsened by an all-out military assault. The last few weeks are ample evidence of that.

Yet these activists still advocate a way of thinking that no longer works, an approach that risks dragging Israel into a regional war, creating thousands of new Islamic recruits around the world for suicide bomb squads and, eventually, nuclear or biochemical terrorism, and ruining relations with the U.S.

Most Israelis and American Jews, thankfully, donít subscribe to this approach. And while many still arenít sure about exactly what will work, we do know that no solution to this conflict will be achieved if it relies too much on military means, that after two days or two years or two generations, Israelis and Palestinians eventually will need to sit down and talk seriously about a real plan that will result in a Jewish state of Israel living alongside a Palestinian state. And we do know that in the next few days and weeks, there are some very specific things needed in order stop the violence:

  • Right now, the only way to protect Israelis is to put pressure on Yasir Arafat to mop up terrorists. Ultimately he may not be the right partner for negotiating borders and the status of Jerusalem, but he is the Palestinian leader with the greatest ability to stop Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the military wing of Fatah and others who are willing to kill Israeli diners and shoppers.

  • American pressure is essential in order to make Arafat do this.

  • Leaning hard on Arafat does not mean the Bush administration cannot still serve as a credible mediator between Israel and the Palestinians. The administration has and should continue to take both sides to task when appropriate. That does not mean there is any so-called ďmoral equivalency.Ē It simply means that in order to bring an end to the horrific violence, the United States needs the leeway to insist on confidence-building measures like a ban on incitement and a freeze on settlements (if and when Arafat clamps down on violence), as was suggested in the Mitchell plan.

  • America also needs to be able to make creative suggestions, such as bringing in a small group of American monitors and then expanding that group to ensure that a cease-fire holds. And if those monitors notice violations by either side of an existing agreement, America must be able to work with the parties to redress the problems.
  • That kind of diplomacy is the only way for the U.S. to get Arafat to budge, and to protect our friends in Tel Aviv, Haifa, Netanya and West Jerusalem. That is why the certainty of those who almost automatically say it is terrible whenever the U.S. differs with Israel frustrates me. These days, those differences can be life saving.

    The assumption that the United States is not being true to its special relationship with Israel if it publicly disagrees with any of Israelís policies is not only irrelevant to the current situation, it will make it worse. Only the U.S. has a chance to mediate and monitor an end to violence, the gradual restoration of calm and an eventual return to negotiations. Israelis want and desperately need the administration to do this, and that will only be possible if the Americans are viewed as credible mediators by both sides, not just one.

    Judith Stern Peck is president of the Israel Policy Forum.

    Copyright © 2002 The Jewish Week-- All Rights Reserved.