Borderline Views: Israel – Phase II

None of us can begin to understand what a difference an end of conflict will make to our lives – so many other issues which we push aside can be dealt with.

As a new year approaches, we are no nearer to resolving our ongoing conflict with the Palestinians and, by association, with the Arab world.
Last week’s summit in Washington, forced on the two leaders by the one ally that neither can afford to offend, was okay as far as photo opportunities go, but none of us are particularly surprised at the “nothingness” which came out of it.
The brave statement by the US administration that a final agreement was expected within a year was soon watered down to nothing more than a “framework agreement.”
The head-to-head summit between the two leaders is to be continued via fortnightly meetings between the representatives of both sides, which we assume are unlikely to continue for long. Heard it all before? It has been pretty much the same ever since the false euphoria created by the Oslo Agreements.
Apportioning blame is the easy part. “They” are guilty because they continue to perform acts of terror (witness last week’s killings of four West Bank settlers), and because they have allowed Hamas to take over the antipeace agenda. “We” are guilty because our settlement freeze is a fiction. The West Bank Jewish population has grown well beyond 300,000, creating a political and ideological infrastructure which no government is able to evacuate. “They” are guilty because they insist on the “whole” of the West Bank; “we” are guilty because we are not prepared to withdraw from the “whole” West Bank – a small part of Mandatory Palestine.
Are we fooling ourselves when we use the term “peace”? Do we really believe it can be achieved? According to the irresponsible comments of our hawkish Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman a few days ago (as reported in The Jerusalem Post ), peace can never be achieved and it is, in his words, irresponsible to think it can. This implies that our present government is just talking to improve its international image, not because it really believes peace can become a reality.
Have any of us really internalized the phrase which our leaders (first Ariel Sharon, now Binyamin Netanyahu) use – “painful compromises”? Compromise is much more than a simple barter or exchange – a piece of territory for a piece of demilitarization.
Painful compromise means giving up on something that you believe is yours by right. It is not painful to give up something you won’t miss. It is painful, deep deep down, to give up something which you believe is one of the core elements of your statehood. To be prepared to do that, you have to believe that the “other” side is making as painful a compromise as you are, and that the end result will be a better, safer and more secure society.
FOR MANY Israelis, this means giving up the dream of the “entire Land of Israel.” For the Palestinians, it means giving up on the “right of return,” even if they believe that this is the ultimate injustice. Failure by either side to understand that this is the real meaning of compromise guarantees the failure of the present, and any future, peace summit.
It is not easy to translate slogans into concrete reality.
But the loose way in which we use the term “peace” has transformed it into something akin to waiting for the messiah. Our lives as citizens of a militarily and economically strong Israel at the end of another year are not that bad, but we are all aware that something is lacking.
The one thing we still seek is an end to the conflict.
None of us can even begin to understand what a difference a real “end of conflict” will make to our lives – so many critical issues which we push aside as being of only secondary importance will have to be dealt with.
Peace with our neighbors will signify a new beginning.
“End of conflict” will allow Israel to enter Phase II of its existence and finally focus on the positive: what we want Israel to be in terms of its internal values and behavior, rather than continue to prioritize the external threat and the negative – besieged and isolated, Holocaust, anti-semitism, Masada and “Never Again”.
“End of conflict” will allow us to think about Israel in a totally different fashion.
In the Musaf service of Yom Kippur we recite the prayer that the high priest said as he entered the inner sanctum of the Temple. He beseeched God to grant a year of sustenance, a year of economic well-being and, no less significantly, a year of successful “negotiation” (masa umatan), peace and ultimate tranquillity (shalom ushalva).
The words slide easily along our tongue. Each of us chooses to focus on specific aspects of the prayer. For some, the request for peace is just another slogan, for others it is the very essence of what we must strive for, so that by the time next year’s Rosh Hashana comes around, we can point to real achievement.
As I, a proud citizen of this amazing state, reach the beginning of another year, these are some of the thoughts uppermost in my mind. I must ask myself what I will do, in practical terms, to help transform the abstract slogan of peace into a tangible reality, to make this country into an even better place.
What will I, and my friends, be doing to start taking Israel into Phase II of its existence so that it can meet the objectives of its founding fathers and be a haven based on equality and social justice – first and foremost for us, but also for our neighbors.
The writer is professor of Political Geography at Ben-Gurion University and editor of the International Journal of Geopolitics.