Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Is there a peace partner for Israel?

Rabbi Dow Marmur was the senior rabbi of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto until about 10 years ago. Since his retirement, he splits his time between Toronto and Jerusalem, and while he's in Jerusalem, he regularly offers short opinion pieces about the situation there. His most recent is one of several regarding the ongoing “bloodless revolution” in Egypt. Because it's not available online, I've asked his permission to present it here, in its entirety:

When Al-Jazeera published the so-called Palestine Papers, reporting on the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, it looked for a moment that the standard mantra of the right-wing in Israel that there’s no partner to negotiate with would be exploded. However, with the resignation of Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, regrettably the old doctrine may have been re-affirmed.

By his own account, because the Al-Jazeera documents were taken from his office, Erekat’s life was now in danger, presumably because it showed how he had become friendly with the Israelis and seemed prepared to make serious concessions for the sake of peace. The reaction to the Al-Jazeera revelations made it obvious that even if the negotiators could come to an agreement, the so-called Arab street wouldn’t buy it.

So far, it seems, most Palestinians, supported by Arabs elsewhere, still hope for getting “everything,” which for the “moderates” may mean a return to the 1967 borders and for others the dismantling of the State of Israel. For example, the Libyan dictator has already urged Palestinians to follow the example of the Egyptians and rise against the Israelis and, we infer, their own “soft” leaders.

It may be the fear of more of the same that has prompted the Palestinian Authority to announce new elections later this year and, in the meantime, reshape its present government. While its prime minister continues to create the foundation of a viable Palestinian state, which of course would only come about after substantial concessions – for Israel isn’t about to disappear or even agree to return to the 1967 borders – the political mood may drive him in the opposite direction.

All this is bad news for the Israeli left and music in the ears of their opponents. The latter have based their approach to the Palestinians on the belief that there is no partner and therefore Israel should create as many “facts on the ground” as possible to secure the status quo. Expansion of settlements and Jewish inroads into Arab East Jerusalem are part of the process.

The government of Israel will continue to express its commitment to a negotiated two-state solution, perhaps confident that it won’t come about in the foreseeable future because of the intransigence of the Palestinians. It seems that even the American administration has reconciled itself to this fact, because despite the loss than cordial relations between Obama and Netanyahu, there isn’t much sign of pressure from Uncle Sam but much praise from his generals who seem to work very well with their Israeli counterparts.

Those of us who bewail the demise of the Israeli left must remind ourselves periodically that it’s not only the ineptitude of the once Socialist and Liberal politicians that is the cause, but also the sad fact that the right-wing mantra about there being no partner may be true and, therefore, the charges that the policies of the current government of Israel are bad has become hollow and futile.  Ehud Barak may have been less of a gentleman in bolting the Labor Party but he’s probably more of a realist than most.

All there’s left for us, therefore, is to hope for better times not only by a regime change in Israel but also by a change of heart in the Arab world in general and among the Palestinians in particular. Such hope isn’t utopian but neither is it in easy sight.

Rabbi Marmur sums up, precisely, how I feel about the prospects for peace with the Palestinians. I am, in my heart, still a liberal on this issue*. Were I in charge of the world, there would be two states living in peace—Israel and Palestine. I have no desire for a “greater Israel,” or for the ongoing oppression of the Palestinian people. But, I find myself agreeing, less and less, with the left and with the “peace camp” not because I think they're wrong in theory, or in principle, but because I believe that they are wrong in practice. Whether or not we want peace is only part of the question. If there isn't an honest partner with which to negotiate, then what chance is there of peace? If there is an honest partner, but he/she doesn't have the support of the people, then they aren't really a meaningful partner, are they?

*actually, I'm liberal on almost every issue. But, on this issue, and seemingly on this issue alone, my views line up with what most people consider to be right of center.

Like I said, this is the one issue in the world for which my views don't seem to line up, more or less, with the standard liberal point of view. And so, it's probably not a coincidence that this is the one issue on which I sincerely hope I am proven wrong in my views.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

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