Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Hope

I posted this on Facebook, but I wanted to take a moment and expand on what I was thinking.

A few days ago, 106 retired generals, Mossad directors and national police commissioners signed a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, urging him to engage in a diplomatic process with the Palestinians. They say that it's realistic to pursue what everyone that I know called, until recently, the obvious and almost inevitable framework for peace: a return to a modified version of the '67 borders with negotiated land-swaps, a reasonable resolution to the Palestinian refugee problem and so on. Not only is it realistic, they say, but it can be pursued without putting Israel's security at risk.

It's important to note what they're saying, because many who are against negotiating with the Palestinians will make an argument that is a bit of a red herring here. Many will say that there is no realistic chance for peace because the Palestinian leadership doesn't really want peace. That they engage in a peace process only as a tactical way to engage in the larger battle against Israel. Therefore, we shouldn't negotiate at all.

And, you know what? They might be right. It's a very reasonable reading of recent history to suggest that the Palestinian leaders have no real desire for peace. What they want is nothing less than the total annihilation of Israel. I actually tend to think this way — it seems pretty clear to me that the Palestinian leadership has been an impenetrable barrier to peace for long as I can remember. It doesn't matter what Israel offers or says, because there isn't an honest partner who is listening. As much as I am disgusted with Netanyahu's approach to settlements and such, I don't think he's actually made peace less likely in the near future, because there was no chance of it to begin with. To use an inappropriately lighthearted metaphor, how ardently I pursue Heidi Klum has nothing to do with whether I will ever go on a date with her, because she just isn't interested in me. I can be the sweetest suitor in history, or I can be an obnoxious jerk; either way, we're not having dinner.

But, what if I'm wrong*?  What if there is a chance for peace? What if there's a silently growing groundswell of peace-lovers among Palestinians, which only needs an opportunity to actually show itself? What if, given the right conditions, more moderate leadership might actually find a foothold?

* About the Palestinians. I'm pretty sure I'm right about Heidi Klum.

What if, even if there isn't a chance now, even if there isn't a chance in the near or mid-term future, there's a chance for peace somewhere down the line? What if Israel's actions now will have no bearing on the possibility of peace in my lifetime, but will have a very large impact on whether we can achieve peace in the next generation?

And, this is where I get back to that letter, what if we have nothing to lose by trying? I mean it when I say that I firmly believe that nothing that the Israeli government can offer will bring peace in our day. But, am I sure? Of course not. How could I possibly know that? Even if I had inside information, which no one reading this does, I couldn't be 100% sure. And, if it's true that we can pursue that faint possibility of peace without harming Israel's ability to defend itself, then why, in God's name, wouldn't we do that? What can be lost by seeking peace, even when it's exceedingly unlikely?

And, that brings me to the other point which I vaguely referenced in my FB post--the surety with which most of us talk about this issue. As anyone who knows me knows, I resist any attempt to be sure when uncertainty is called for. To making our world seem simple and understandable when it's actually complicated and inscrutable.

If you say to me that there is no chance for peace, if you say to me that Israel can't even explore peace without putting itself in grievous danger, then I'll just point you to this letter. Because 106 men and women who dedicated and risked their lives in defense of Israel disagree with you. 106 people who, I can only assume, care more deeply for Israel than I can possibly imagine, think that it's possible and advisable. I'm not saying that, based on this one letter, Israel should drop all concerns and enter into negotiations today, without any planning or care. These generals aren't guaranteed to be right, any more than the naysayers are. But, it seems pretty clear to me that anyone who claims that there is no chance for peace and absolutely no way to explore it safely is speaking based on their biases and presumptions, not on an analysis of the facts. Because 106 experts would like to disagree with you.

That feeling, when I read that letter? That's hope. And, to quote a favorite movie, hope is a good thing. Maybe the best thing. At least for today, when I think about Israel, I feel a sense of hope, for the first time in a long time. HaTikvah--the Hope.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

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