The Rabbi Writes

The Jewish Humanist, May_June 1988, Vol. XXV, Number 10

The state of Israel is 40 years old. 

Normally an anniversary like this would be a time of great rejoicing. But the Palestinian uprising has cast a shadow over the celebration. It is difficult to be euphoric during a Civil War.  

The Palestinian Rebellion is no trivial matter. The future of the state of Israel is at stake. 

At stake are the democratic institutions of Israel. On 40% of your population do not want to be part of your state and are under military occupation, democracy is endangered. 

At stake is the moral image of the Jewish state. Using guns against civilians armed with rocks is not calculated to win word opinion or to reinforce the sense of ethical superiority which has been so much a part of Israeli self-awareness. Suppressing a movement of self-determination seems sadly ironic for an old historic people that demanded its own. 

At stake is the survival of Israel. If no boundary adjustments are made, within a few decades Arabs will constitute a majority of the Israeli population and the Jewishness of the Jewish state will begin to vanish. Time and status quo politics will make Israel another Arab state. 

Israeli Jewish opinion is deeply divided on how to respond to the uprising. Despite the smallness of the Jewish population there is no national consensus. Confrontation politics are as intense as those between the orthodox and secular. 

One segment of the population (maybe a majority) is opposed to any Palestinian State and to giving up any territory. They include both orthodox Jews and secular nationalists. The orthodox maintain that the West Bank and Gaza have been given by God to the Jewish people and that it would be both immoral and sinful to surrender them. The secular nationalists assert that the pre-1967 borders of Israel provide no adequate security for the Jewish state and that the Jordan River boundary is the minimal safety requirement for Israeli survival. 

The other segment of the population is either ambivalently or enthusiastically in favor of giving up land for peace. But they are gravely divided over the issue of how much to give up. Some will return the West Bank to Jordan, but they will not accept a Palestinian state. Some will accept a Palestinian state, provided that is not fully independent and is federated to Jordan. Others will accept an independent demilitarized Palestine so long as there are appropriate boundary adjustments. Still others would be willing to give all the occupied territories to a legitimate Palestinian government for the sake of a guaranteed peace.  

But the arguments of the “peaceniks” do not end there. In the process of negotiating the surrender of territory do you not talk to the PLO? Do you or do you not consent to an International conference to initiate the talks and to guarantee the outcome, especially if that conference includes the Soviet Union?  

The “land of peace” people have not been overwhelmingly successful in recruiting domestic support for their policy.  

Their disagreements hardly inspire confidence. They do not know how to deal with the post-Holocaust mentality that insists that Jews are always victims, never oppressors. They generally avoid the issue of what to do about Jewish settlements in the West Bank or Gaza. 

Above all they receive little help from Palestinian and Arab leaders. The PLO covenant, never repudiated, still calls for the destruction of the Jewish state. No PLO spokesperson has ever publicly recognized the right of the state of Israel to exist. No PLO acceptance of UN Resolution 242 which guarantees safe and secure boundaries to Israel as a basis for negotiations, has been given. No Arab movement, of any kind, has emerged in any of the 22 Arab states, to offer encouragement to the Israeli moderates. Terrorism, directed at unarmed civilians, still continues. Extremist propaganda calling for the expulsion of the Jews still flourishes and receives no denunciation from Palestinian moderates. No conciliatory statement recognizing the almost unanimous Israeli desire to retain a united Jerusalem has been made. 

However, the Jews calling for no territorial concessions are having their troubles too, even though defending the status quo is the easiest position to maintain emotionally.  

The uprising continues and will not go away. Only severe military repression will keep the Palestinians in line, but that repression creates severe emotional strains and economic disruptions. The spirit of rebellion has spread to Israel proper and to the Israeli Arabs who support the Palestinian brothers. So intense is the hatred that is developing between Jews and Arabs that in a few years, any form of negotiations will be impossible 

Moreover, the disturbances are frightening away badly needed tourists and immigrants. They are also souring the relationship between Israel and its chief benefactor America. The American government is losing patience with Israeli intransigence. And the public is losing respect for the morality and wisdom of Israeli leaders. Short of expulsion, which is morally and pragmatically impossible, how does one suppress a native population with military force over an indefinite period of time and in the full view of the world public opinion and still retain some shred of approval from the allies you need? 

As you can see both alternatives prevent their risks. But there is no doubt that the status quo no concessions approach presents the greater risk. 

An enlightened Israeli policy should include the following steps. 

1. An early election should be held. Israeli public needs to replace the present coalition government, with all its paralyzing infighting between Shamir and Perez, with a government that has a consistent policy. Land for peace cannot proceed if it does not receive the support of the  Israeli electorate. If the no concessions people win, then the Israeli public will have voted for its own self-destruction. But if the “compromisers” win, then the road to conciliation and survival may be possible. 

2. The new Israeli government should openly declare its willingness to give land for peace. Even if neither the PLO nor other Arab states respond to that offer the mere declaration of this policy will place the moral onus of rejection on the Palestinian leadership. 

3. The Israelis should postpone the resolution of the recognition issue. The Israelis would be foolish to offer acceptance to a Palestinian state at the outset, without knowing what form this state would take. And the PLO will never offer recognition of the Jewish state until the Israelis, in the spirit of mutuality, extend this recognition to the Palestinians. Mutual acceptance will have to emerge from the negotiations. It cannot precede them. Otherwise they will never start. 

4. It is to the Israelis (sic) advantage to use a moderate state like Jordan as much as possible. Since Israeli public will not endorse direct talks with the PLO without prior recognition (and the PLO is the only credible Palestinian leadership around), the PLO needs to be attached to a Jordanian negotiating team. If enough pressure is applied from moderate Arab states like Egypt, Jordan and Morocco, Arafat might consent to such an arrangement, despite what he presently says. 

5. The Israeli government should work in cooperation with the United States, its chief ally  to formulate a context for negotiations. It should consent to an International conference if this conference is the only way to bring Jordan (and ultimately the PLO) to the conference table. One of the advantages of such a conference is that it may provide an opportunity to secure Soviet guarantees for the outcome of the negotiations. And Russia is the key to securing restraint from Syria.  

6. The fanatic ultra-orthodox need to be restrained. Armed West Bank Jewish settlers seeking provocations to force the expulsion of their Arab neighbors, are responsible for the Beita incident, where an Israeli girl was killed. 

Jewish children have no business wandering through rebellious Palestinian areas on nature hikes, with gun-happy armed escorts.If hiking is the true agenda, countless opportunities exist in safe areas. Ultra – orthodox fanatics who are civilians should not be armed. They will only create the incidents which will make negotiations impossible. They are as dangerous as Arab extremists. 

Of course, the burden of responsibility for peace is shared by both Israelis and Arabs. Even moderate Israelis can do nothing if they receive no encouragement from the Palestinian side. Without the courage of Palestinian moderates who are willing to defy their own extremists and the courage of Hussein of Jordan who is willing to risk his own life, nothing is possible.  

Time is of the essence. If the intransigents (sic) maintain the status quo, the prospects for Israel at the time of the 50th anniversary will be worse than now. A continuing Palestinian rebellion will radicalize resistance forces in modern states in Egypt and Jordan and will lead to the overthrow of modern Arab governments. Without them no peace will be possible. 

The future of Israel is up to the Israeli public. The government they will elect in the next election will determine their future.