‘There is a time for war and a time for peace,” wrote the wise sage known by the pen name Kohelet (Ecclesiastes 3:8).
As I write these words we are in a time of war, but it is important that we think beyond the present moment and plan for “the time for peace,” real and permanent peace – otherwise it may never come. To quote another great sage, Hillel, “If not now, when?” During my first stay in Israel in 1956, my fellow students and I were asked to build fortifications against infiltrators in a kibbutz on the Jordanian border. Shortly thereafter, there was the Suez War. My family’s aliya in August 1973 was quickly followed by the Yom Kippur War.
Since then, there have been too many wars and semi-wars, including this latest one in which my grandsons played a part, together with so many thousands of others. Too much time has been spent in sealed rooms or shelters, and we in Jerusalem have had it easy compared to people in the South or North.
Haven’t there been enough wars? Israel deserves “a time for peace.”
The trouble with peace is that it requires two sides that can agree, two sides that are anxious for peace, anxious enough to do whatever is required to attain it. There were times when there was no partner. In 1948 there was no partner for peace, only those Arab nations that wanted war and who made war. Nor were they ready for peace when the fighting was over, only for an armistice. In 1967 there was no partner for peace, either before or after the Six Day War – only an Arab League, with its famous three “noes.”
But today, that same Arab League has rescinded its refusal and indicated a readiness for peace and recognition of Israel within the pre-1967 borders. The conditions it attaches are not acceptable, but that is how negotiations begin.
For years we have heard there is no partner for peace on the Arab side, and that the leader of the Palestinian Authority is not such a partner. Sometimes I think that those who say that are hoping it is true, because they themselves are not ready for the compromises peace always requires. Sometimes it seems like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the PA, has indicated that he rejects violence, and is ready for peace and recognition of Israel. Reports indicate it is quite likely that a UN resolution will be passed calling for the return of the PA as the ruler of Gaza, the destruction of Hamas weapons and serious negotiations toward a two-state solution. Is this not, then, the time for Israel to be ready for such negotiations? I believe – to use Ahad Ha’am’s famous phrase – that we are now at a parshat hadrachim, a crucial crossroads. As I listen to the speeches made by some of our ministers and MKs, and when I look at the opinion pieces in our newspapers, I am overwhelmed by the number of times I see it said that this Gaza war “has put the nail in the coffin of the ‘socalled two state solution.’” Of course, this is being said by people who were never interested in the concept of two states in the first place, but now they can use it as a good excuse.
The other way of looking at it is that this event proves to us that unless we begin to make a serious effort toward peace and to work with the more moderate Arab leaders, we are doomed to a future of continual warfare. We need to choose carefully and take the correct path, since the future of Israel depends on it.
We have to decide if we are partners for peace. To do that, we have to reject the members of the government who are clearly not partners for peace, those who for whatever reason – religious, nationalist or protectionist – are simply unwilling to give up territory, any territory, but insist on retaining what they call “the whole land of Israel,” no matter what.
Incidentally, it is time we admit they are not talking about “the whole land of Israel,” since there is no one biblical or rabbinic definition of that, and we certainly do not have control of some parts – while, on the contrary, some of the land we do control may not be part of the biblical land.
They simply want to control whatever land we now control, with no thought of the consequences – including the fact that it will lead to a non-Jewish majority, and that it now condemns us to ruling over hundreds of thousands of people who do not have the rights of citizens.
How wonderful it would be to rid ourselves of that burden. How liberating it would be for us to enter a new phase of peace.
Making peace is not easy. It may not even be possible, but we will never know if we do not try. When the Sage Hillel taught that we should “love peace and pursue it,” he used that word “pursue” deliberately – because simply loving peace is not enough. Constant and concerted effort is needed. Even if negotiations for peace do not succeed, we owe it to the thousands who would serve in another war to have made the effort to find a peaceful diplomatic solution in order to avert conflict.
As the Sages taught, “Great is peace, for peace is needed even at a time of war, as it is said, ‘When you approach a town to attack it, you shall offer it terms of peace’” (Deuteronomy 20:10) (Sifre Numbers 42).
This is path we should choose. The writer, former president of the International Rabbinical Assembly, is a two-time winner of the National Book Award. His latest book is The Torah Revolution (Jewish Lights).