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Seeking Peace, Pursuing Justice

Seek peace...and pursue it : Psalm 34:15

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The Forward
To Bring Peace, Israel Needs a Policy

By Leonard Fein

OCT 26, 2001

Just yesterday we were certain that the terrorist attacks of September 11, however tragic, would strengthen Israel's position, that the world at large and America in particular would finally understand what Israel has been living with these many years. There would be new sympathy for Israel, new understanding of its resistance to terrorism and new appreciation of its hard line with regard to concessions to the Palestinians.

Good morning. Now we understand how wrong we were, how naive. America needs Arab support for its war against terrorism, and the price of that support is and will continue to be pressure on Israel.

That pressure on Israel is not necessarily a bad thing. I realize, of course, how inflammatory a statement that is. Although many Jews as individuals may agree with it, the institutional Jewish community quite decisively regards it as heretical. When Israel faces American pressure, our job is to sound the alarm and schedule solidarity rallies. Our job is to justify, rationalize and explain it away. Too much settlement expansion? Too many house demolitions? Too punitive a military policy? Too flaccid a peace policy? Never mind. All that is as nothing compared to the wrong-headedness and illegitimacy of American pressure. Swallow the doubts, circle the wagons; shout out the slogans: Israel's at risk.

Yes, Israel is at risk, but the risk these days is less from American pressure than from its own myopia. The risk has lately become so serious that the refusal to acknowledge it is an act of betrayal.

Given the norms that govern our public discussion of these matters, I know that I must immediately and definitively assert my contempt for Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority, which I herewith do with a whole heart and without mental reservation. But it has always seemed to me that the despicable nature of Israel's enemies (who are also Israel's neighbors) makes Israel's task more, rather than less, complicated. "See? I told you so," spoken in the wake of every suicide bombing, of every new evidence of Arab rejectionism or of Palestinian corruption, is neither an argument nor a policy. The reason it is not is that here comes the bombshell, the shocking news, the genuine breakthrough peace is a good thing, not only good but also urgent. Peace for Israel is urgent because the opposite of peace is not non-peace; the opposite of peace is death and destruction.

Which is to say that the status quo cannot be sustained or, more accurately, that there is no status quo, only a rapidly deteriorating spiral that has accelerated perilously in the wake of September 11. Time is not Israel's friend.

True, no one is against peace. But being for peace requires not merely a prayer; it requires a policy. It is precisely such a policy that Prime Minister Sharon and his government do not have. The consequence? Twenty-five or more years ago I first wrote that "sooner or later, there will be a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. The longer it takes for that to happen, the less control Israel will have over the terms under which that state comes into being." Can anyone doubt that any longer? Is it not plain for all to see that if Israel must be pulled, kicking and screaming, into a resolution of its dispute with the Palestinians, it will have little to say about the terms of that resolution? Is it wise for Israel to wait until that dispute has become an insufferable annoyance to the international community, until it has managed along the way to alienate a goodly number of its traditional supporters? That, may heaven help us, is the upbeat scenario, for at least the Jewish state is preserved, however endangered. There are other and far more disturbing scenarios.

This is not, as is often suggested by Israel's defenders, a matter of public relations. Israel's loss of the undoubted moral advantage it once enjoyed is not the consequence of botched public relations; it is the consequence of 34 years of Israel's occupation of the West Bank.

To which it will be said that Prime Minister Barak's offer, the one that Mr. Arafat rejected, would have ended the occupation. "So there!" But "so there" works only so long as all you care about is winning the debate. If it's the peace you want to win, then back to the drawing boards. If you cannot do that, because you've run out of ideas about how to get to peace or because you're Mr. Sharon and you've never had any such ideas then shame on you. If because you're an American Jew you think you're obliged to hold your tongue, at least do not delude yourself that your silence renders you "pro-Israel." If you're among those American Jews who know better but who publicly pretend that the problem is with the State Department and the White House rather than with the Middle East leaders who are either unwilling or incapable of resolving the conflict, now is the time to speak the truth. Then, of course, you must make certain that American pressure does not demand more of Israel than the preservation of the Jewish state in safety requires.

Copyright 2001 The Forward.- All rights reserved.