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Peace proposals from 1925 onward

 


Brit Shalom (Peace Treaty, 1925) is a landmark in the continuing activity of Jews talking among themselves about what kind of accommodation they should, and can reach then with Arab now with Palestinian neighbors.

What has become characteristic is the prominence in Brit Shalom of Jews from Europe and America, non-Orthodox or not firmly identified as religious.

Since Brit Shalom there have been countless individuals, groups, political movements, and parties seeking to find or claiming to know what it would take to reach an agreement with whoever might represent nearby Arabs, and be able to make commitments for the Arab or (now) the Palestinian community.

Just this week we’re hearing the latest effort, led by Yitzhak Herzog, trying to hang on to his leadership of what is now called the Zionist Camp, i.e., the struggling remnant of what for many years was the Labor Party.

Herzog’s proposal repeats what has been a mantra in recent years, to separate Israel from Palestinians. He would draw lines to include major West Bank settlements within Israel, let the IDF do what would be necessary throughout the West Bank, give up Arab parts of Jerusalem, and provide the Palestinians opportunities to develop portions of the West Bank not currently under their control.

Haim Ramon is playing a similar tune. Years ago he made a name for himself as a Labor Knesset Member, government minister, and head of the Labor Federation, whose prime accomplishment was the reform of Israel’s health providers. He became a has been with a kiss judged as sexual harassment, and now is making an effort to return with a proposal to hive off Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem.

The details of both Herzog’s and Ramon’s proposals are less important than what seems their hopelessness.

While it’s easy to argue the case for giving up Arab towns and neighborhoods that are headaches for the police and nearby residents, Ramon’s pursuit, like Herzog’s, of a unilateral action without concessions from Palestinians is not likely to play well in a population wary of the idea.

There are frequent reminders of what happens after unilateral withdrawal via the missiles from Gaza.

Recent months of violence from the West Bank and Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem hardly seems likely to prepare Israelis for any concessions to Palestinians, without getting something in return. 

It’s possible to argue that the toll against Israelis has not been high, but the sense of frustration, anger, and sadness may be more important than some 30 deaths and numerous injuries. 

Especially discouraging are attacks by children, and the sense that no Palestinians are capable of controlling the animosity that comes from media, school lessons, Internet, religious leaders, family members, and other kids hyped up to kill Jews.

All Israeli opposition parties to the left of Likud make a point of criticizing Bibi for his failure to produce new ideas that might bring Palestinians to the table, willing to negotiate. Yet Herzog, Kahlon, and Lapid have also been sharp in criticizing Palestinians for their incitement and praise of those killing themselves. Meretz remains the norm for Israel’s left, currently with five Members of Knesset. Zionist Camp has 24 MK, compared to Likud’s 30. Recent polls show that Zionist Camp and Kahlon have been slipping, and Bibi remains his own most likely successor, 

What to do?

Not much of anything.

There ain’t a partner, nor any signs of one developing in generations younger than the old men currently claiming to govern Palestine.

The Palestinian narrative is strong among themselves and hangers on in the west (including Jews) inclined to distrust Jews. They reinforce it with school books, the preaching of religious leaders, the writings and lectures of intellectuals, and the lionizing of those who die for the sake of Palestine.

We can mourn the  kids who sacrifice themselves, along with all the others, without lessening our concern for defense. If that means that police and soldiers kill young kids coming at them with knives, that’s a price we pay for our civilization. In the face of madness, we needn’t demand that security personnel risk themselves for the possibility of restraining rather than neutralizing an attacker.

It’s a sad prognosis, but one that fits with the long history of the Jews.

Ancient, medieval, and modern times in the Middle East, Europe, and Israel includes countless waves of anti-Jewish violence, along with the unique catastrophe of the Holocaust. There have also been periods of living alongside those who occasionally go on mad sprees of violence.

Individual Israeli Jews, Arabs, and Palestinians get along as co-workers, clients of one another’s professional skills or commerce, fellow students, neighbors, and friends. There is a small incidence of romance across communal lines. Animosity is prominent on both sides of the divide. Israelis call it racism, but it is more narrowly distrust or hatred across religious and ethnic lines.

There’s a mini-scandal brewing over a respected veteran broadcaster on Army radio, who made a brief comparison between the issue of Israel returning the bodies of dead terrorists, and Gaza returning two bodies of soldiers killed in the 2014 operation.

How dare he compare my son to terrorists? was the point made by the religious father of a dead soldier.

Without going into all the details, the assertion makes clear the emotional wall between Israelis and Arabs. There may be only a few on each side of the divide who can empathize with those on the other side who have lost a family member fighting for a cause. 

With all the shortfalls from the ideal, we’re arguably living better than Americans . 

Our international aspirations are far narrower, with a higher incidence of successes and a lower incidence of costly frustrations. 

Domestically, we’re closer to Western European socialism, modified by recent movements away from severe regimentation. American obsessions with easy access to firearms and other aspects of unfettered individualism are as foreign here as they are in Europe. 

The split that some see growing between overseas Jews and Israelis reflects divisions in perspectives that have marked Jewish communities throughout history. The reception of newcomers to Israel from a variety of backgrounds was not a smooth process. There remain claims of favoritism, as well as a generalized tension, primarily between Jews with backgrounds in Europe and those with backgrounds in the Middle East. Alongside those tensions are high rates of intermarriage between members of different Jewish ethnic groups, especially among secular Israelis.

The American community is the largest outside of Israel, with about the same population as Israeli Jews. Families of American Jews have been in the US for several generations, and are well assimilated. Tensions with Israel exist on the religious front, with Reform and Conservative Jews outsiders in the Israeli population of secular and Orthodox Jews. American Jews range politically from right wingers who can’t understand how Israelis can concede anything to Arabs, to various degrees of leftists who see Israelis as exploiters, or as failing to do what is necessary to find agreement with Palestinians.

Israelis view Americans (Jews and others) as naive, with Barack Obama and his supporters seen as dreaming about a Middle East that doesn’t exist, and isn’t likely to develop for as far into the future as it is possible to see. 

That’s where we are. It’s far from perfect, but not all that bad. And better than Jews have ever had it.

Comments welcome.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus), Department of Political Science, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, rashark@gmail.com

 

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