Abbas and Peres at the UN 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Evan Schneider/UN Photo/Handout)
We need to stop distracting ourselves.
It has become unfashionable to
talk about what Israelis have referred to euphemistically since the second
intifada as “the situation.”
Israelis are tired of dealing with what
seems to be a hopeless regional situation, and a depressingly endless and
apparently intractable conflict with our Palestinian neighbors.
the previous election was in many ways correctly focused on domestic issues. The
economy, the budget and social services are undoubtedly crucial issues for the
Israeli public. But these domestic issues have begun to serve as a distraction
from the more long-term, slow-burning challenges that confront us. It is time to
begin addressing these.
The key challenge confronting us, of course, is
what none other than Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu himself called “a durable
peace.” There is a pervasive sense, in Israel and around the world, the “there
is no partner for peace.” A sense that peace is an impossible
There may be good reasons to be skeptical about peace. Palestinian
leaders have often let us down. The Arab world’s leaders have brought us
seemingly unending conflict. Iran is developing a nuclear weapon. The
pro-Palestinian and “human rights” community worldwide have, since the Durban
Conference, embarked on a policy of “delegitimizing” Israel (which is code for
destroying the nation-state of the Jewish people.) But there are also hopeful
signs. The Arab Spring has opened up new matrices in regional geopolitics, even
as it has posed new challenges and brought new disappointments. Witness, for
example, the difficult situation in which Hezbollah finds itself, now that its
patron and ally, the Assad regime, is losing its grip on power.
most promisingly, the Arab Peace Initiative has been ratified twice since it was
initially proposed, and Arab foreign ministers recently softened their stance on
borders, accepting the principle of land swaps around the 1967 Green Line. There
is most certainly a strategic interest among Arab states to normalize relations
with Israel, because the greater regional enemy is a potentially nuclear
Given these developments, I am pleased to chair the new Knesset
Caucus on Resolving the Arab-Israeli Conflict which we launched at the Knesset
last week. I envisage that this new caucus will help bring Israel into closer
dialogue with our neighbors, and forge a new path to explore opportunities for,
and hopefully make, peace with them.
At the launch, we were honored to
host the Northern Ireland Assembly’s former Speaker, and current member of the
House of Lords, John Thomas Alderdice. He pointed out that the Northern Ireland
conflict was once regarded, in the same breath as our conflict, as
“intractable.” The two sides there once believed that there was “no partner for
peace.” Hopes for an agreement rose and fell, and cycles of violence ebbed and
flowed, leading to an ongoing crisis of trust.
No doubt there are
significant distinctions between the conflicts. But Lord Alderdice’s recounting
of the history of their peace process, and the lessons he learned from it, are
striking in their applicability here.
It will always be more unpopular to
speak of peace than to trot out nationalist slogans. Our enemies seem to keep
proving, time and time again, that they are not to be trusted.
are truisms. We will always find reasons to distrust our enemies. And we can
always be assured of having no partner for peace if that is what we
“Trust is not a prerequisite of a peace process,” Lord Alderdice
told us in the Knesset last week. “It is an outcome.”
We cannot be
assured of that outcome, but we have an obligation to pursue it, no matter how
violent our enemies may be and no matter how “intractable” the conflict may
seem. As we are told in Pirkei Avot (2:21), “It is not up to you to complete the
work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it.”
You might hear
it argued that there is no partner for peace. This has become the pro forma
response of the Netanyahu government in relation to the
While the Palestinians and the Arabs may not have done much
to earn our trust, we must take responsibility for our own omissions. To wit:
Israel has issued no response to the Arab Peace Initiative, even after the Arab
League relaxed its position on borders. None – we have not said yes, no, maybe,
or “let’s talk about it.”
The Arab Peace Initiative may come to naught,
but we have left it sitting on the table for the better part of a decade,
without even the most formal of responses. I regard this as a significant
failure on our part.
While we pursue our domestic discourse about sharing
the economic burden and the military burden, we can and must also pursue every
opportunity to make peace with our neighbors.
We have many reasons to
doubt – too many. But there are also very real reasons to be hopeful right now.
Let us seize this opportunity.The writer is a member of Knesset, the
deputy speaker of the Knesset, chairman of the Knesset Caucus on Resolving the
Arab- Israeli Conflict, and secretary-general of the Labor Party.