The right way to play: Keep our true goals in mind

The game, Red Light, Green Light, 1-2-3, like most kids’ games, has clear rules and an achievable goal, and is relatively easy to play.

Children play in the snow (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Children play in the snow
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The game, Red Light, Green Light, 1-2-3, like most children’s games, has clear rules and an achievable goal, and is relatively easy to play. The goal is to be the first one to touch the wall without one’s progress being detected.
To succeed one must take small, incremental steps, coupled with moments of boldness when the opportunity arises. An interesting feature of this game is that one doesn’t get to determine for oneself whether one has been caught moving.
It is a game of interaction in which someone else reviews one’s actions and calls you on them. Individual protests, such as “I wasn’t moving,” or “You didn’t see me,” are of no avail, unless, of course, one wants to break up the game.
There is often something very childish about the way Middle Eastern politics plays itself out, and it has often been compared to playground squabbles.
The problems with this analogy are two-fold: The deadly consequences of “the game” and what is at stake is one of them.
The second is that on the playground, one’s actions are defined by the goals, which are agreed upon and very clear. One of the great failings of both Palestinian and Israeli actions this past week is that we aren’t functioning adequately even by playground standards.
Both Israeli and Palestinian leadership have professed loyalty to the following aspirations and goals: for Palestinians, to achieve real national independence and prosperity for their people alongside Israel; for Israelis, to attain real peace and viable security within the context of a two-state solution. If this is truly agreed upon, the question is, “How do we touch the wall” together? If Palestinians are really committed to national independence alongside Israel, negotiations with Israel would be the self-evident and recognized path to achieve this end. Unilateral action is never conducive to the cooperation and partnership essential for a viable Palestinian entity alongside Israel.
If Israel’s aim is to achieve peace and security within the context of a two-state solution, at the very least, no policy would be adopted which would sabotage this aspiration. Settlement expansion which undermines the viability of an independent Palestinian state and our ability to one day separate from each other into two distinct entities is simply self-destructive to Israel’s own stated goals.
Instead of playing with each other we seem to be more committed to playing by ourselves, to adopting actions which “play well” with the domestic audiences but get us no closer to our goals.
As a Jew and as an Israeli, I am deeply frustrated by much of the actions of the Palestinian Authority and its leadership, and have serious doubts as to the Palestinian people’s commitment to live alongside me in mutual peace and security. This has caused many of us here in Israel to question whether our goals are achievable in our lifetime. In this context, it is understandable to respond with caution and to avoid potentially self-destructive policies which put Israel at risk. It is another thing altogether to be selfdestructive and to put our own goals at risk.
The government’s dramatic declaration on settlement expansion this week is akin to making a bold dash in Red Light, Green Light, but running in the wrong direction. Settlement expansion within the settlement blocs and in Jerusalem is one thing, and is in accord with a very broad Israeli consensus, commensurate with our and much of the world’s notion of the borders which will ultimately demarcate the two-state solution.
Settlement building in E1 or in any area which will eventually be a part of the future Palestinian state is simply stupid, harmful to Israel, and brings into question what game we are really playing.
When Israel’s actions reflect our legitimate security concerns and we act in a measured and thoughtful manner toward a clear and justifiable goal, as we saw in the recent Operation Pillar of Defense, not only are we not called “out” of the game, but we find ourselves supported by our friends around the world.
We can make a case regarding our significant security concerns in the context of a future Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria alongside Israel. We can also make a case that realities on the ground, such as the settlement blocs and Jerusalem where 80 percent of the settlers live, whether initially justifiable or not, must factor into any future border demarcations. When we make these cases, and only these cases, we clearly align ourselves with the values of peace, human dignity, freedom and democracy on which the State of Israel was founded. When we make these cases, and only these cases, we align ourselves with the best of what our tradition stands for. When we do so, we are also not alone.
When we align ourselves, however, with policies devoid of vision and hope, policies grounded on our own internal narratives of holiness of the land and messianic politics, policies which pander to shallow nationalistic delusions in an election season, we have no case to make.
It should not take us by surprise, therefore, that in light of this week’s government decision we find ourselves aligned with no one and playing alone. Just as in Red Light, Green Light, it is useless to argue “I didn’t move,” it will be futile for Israel to attempt to justify its recent decision.
This is not faulty public relations but faulty policy. It was a power play aimed at responding to a Palestinian power play. It was not merely inappropriate for the playground, but unbefitting to the State of Israel and our values.
Israel was founded on a noble and large dream. Our future will be secured when we stay loyal to our foundations and aspirations. As in Red Light, Green Light, we have to move cautiously. If we want to win, truly win, however, and by that I mean to create a viable, productive, prosperous Jewish, democratic state at peace with our neighbors, we are also going to have to keep our eyes open for opportunities to dare, when a bold move can change the outcome.
Let’s play this game. Let’s play it well. Let’s always remember our true goals. If we do so, we will continually progress is the right direction.
There will be stops and starts, and at times we will be sent back to the beginning. But at the end, we will touch the wall together.

Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman is president of the Shalom Hartman Institute of Jerusalem and director of the Institute’s iEngage Project –