Light Through A Tunnel? Author: Will in ChicagoDate:2014-08-11 10:50:42
Much of the recent news has been distressing from the Ukraine to Iraq to Israel and Palestine. It is easy to lose hope. However, I think that we can chose to have hope even as we work towards building a better world.
As I write this, a new three day truce has been announced between Hamas in Gaza and the Israeli government. It is my hope that this truce will hold. And there will be some progress towards ending the current conflict.
There are some 1,900 dead Palestinians, many civilians, and some 66 Israelis (64 of the dead being Israeli Defense Force members), two civilians, and a Thai worker have perished in this conflict. There have been many wounded as well. So far, it seems that there is no decisive victory for either Hamas or the IDF.
In Israel, there have been some protests and even some violence directed against protesters. (There was a protest against the war in Tel Aviv this Saturday despite a police order blocking it. As someone who follows events in the Middle East, and reads Haaretz, YNetnews, and Al Jazeera, I see a variety of opinions on the peace process, and a healthy debate in Israeli society.
In the U.S., I have too often heard some people inside and outside the Jewish community presume that the only policies that are worthy of support are those of the current Israeli government. Sometimes, I have heard the “Jewishness” of peace activists questioned by hawkish right wingers. (A few years back, I heard one man approach a group of peace activists and ask why they were stabbing the Jewish people in the back.) This is changing, in part due to peace organizations such as J-Street.
Jeremy Ben-Ami, J Street’s president, wrote late last week on the conflict, urging an end to the war and negotiations towards a lasting peace.
Getting to the roots of this conflict means that we – as friends of Israel – have to put forward some hard truths that have become even clearer over the past month:
• Keeping the Palestinian people locked up under near-total blockade or occupation only strengthens extremists like Hamas, undermines moderate partners like President Abbas, and increases the threat to Israel rather than making it more secure.
• When members of Israel’s sitting government openly oppose the two-state solution, spout racism, and promote ideas that undermine Israel’s democratic fabric, it’s hard to view this government as a credible partner for a real and substantial peace.
• The Israeli government should pay more heed to the advice of its friends in the White House and the State Department and at a minimum should show them the respect that the country’s closest ally deserves.
• Failure to solve this conflict is eating away at support for Israel around the world, damaging the country’s legitimacy and, in some cases, fanning growing flames of anti-Semitism.
The growth and extent of hatred of the other, intolerance and outright racism in our own Jewish community – both in Israel and in the United States – is frightening. It needs to be addressed directly and combated seriously by our community’s leaders here and in Israel. For all these reasons, we need a new course forward for the homeland of the Jewish people - one that guarantees Israel’s security in both the short and long-term. One need not come at the expense of the other.
Haaretz’s Carlo Strenger sees some light at the end of the tunnel, as Israel and the regional governments have some common enemies in groups like ISIS which seem to want a return to the 7th Century of the Common Era.
First, because the support of the Arab world at large would give Palestinian leaders legitimacy to sign a peace agreement with Israel and could contribute to its practical implementation, particularly the refugee issue.
Second, because Israel’s long-term security needs require cooperation with moderate Arab states regionally – despite Israel’s military and technological prowess, Israel cannot deal with the Islamist threat that is emerging throughout the Middle East on its own.
Third, because Israel desperately needs a positive dynamic toward peace: This war in Gaza is bound to further deepen Israel’s international isolation, and only an initiative toward peace can stem the tide of the BDS Movement.
The crucial question is whether Israel’s political leadership will seize this opportunity. There are ministers in this government who are well acquainted with the Arab Peace Initiative, and recognize its importance and value. But they are facing the strident voices of the extreme right, which nowadays includes Likud.
The PLO had a Charter that also called for the destruction of Israel. It was paraded around endlessly in Israeli propaganda. Only after the signing of the Oslo agreement between Israel and the PLO were the relevant clauses of this document formally struck out, in the presence of President Bill Clinton.
Because of religious restrictions, Hamas itself cannot sign a peace agreement. But, like religious people everywhere (especially Jews and Christians), it has found ways around God's commandments. The founder of Hamas, the paralyzed Sheik Ahmad Yassin (who wrote the Charter and was assassinated by Israel) proposed a 30-year Hudna. A Hudna is a truce sanctified by Allah, which can be renewed until the Last Judgment.
Gush Shalom, the Israeli peace organization to which I belong, first demanded eight years ago that our government start talking with Hamas. We ourselves had a series of friendly discussions with several Hamas leaders.
The current official line of Hamas is that if Mahmoud Abbas succeeds in reaching a peace agreement with Israel, Hamas will accept it – provided it is ratified by a referendum.
Avnery who is nearly 91 years old and fought in Israel’s War of Independence, recently was interviewed by Nicole Sandler. F a man of his years has hopes for peace, I think that I can as well.
Similarly, Strenger in What Northern Ireland can teach us about the Hamas problem, points out that many in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland considered negotiations with the Irish Republican Army impossible. However, peace only became possible when the IRA entered the negotiations. Now, the IRA has rejected the “liberation of Ulster” and a conflict stretching back some 400 years and more seems to be settled. We should not forget the possibilities for peace, as no hatred lasts forever.
How can this be accomplished between Israel and the Palestinians? Peace activist Gershon Baskin, who helped secure the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit has some thioughts in his article, “What Israel Must Do Now.”
Hamas will declare victory, regardless of the outcome of the war. It will list its heroism against the mighty Israeli army and will present itself as the only force in the world that defends Palestinian rights. It has already won the battle of words among Palestinians and Arabs by laying down demands that no Palestinian or those who support them can deny as being legitimate. They want their border to be opened for movement of goods and people; they want an airport, a seaport, building materials to rebuild Gaza, to be reconnected to the economy of the West Bank and the world. These are all reasonable demands that could even be acceptable to Israel, if they were on the table while both sides were negotiating comprehensive peace, end of conflict, and end of claims. But Hamas is demanding these achievements for a mere cease-fire, which would leave them with the ability to rearm and plan for the next war.
The obvious longer-term opportunities that have grown out of this conflict are for Israel and its neighbors to embrace the Arab Peace Initiative from 2002, negotiate with the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas on the basis of that and turn over responsibility for Gaza in the short term to a multinational Arab-led force. Hamas would definitely oppose this step, but Hamas’ ability to oppose an all-Arab army with the backing of the Arab League and perhaps even a Security Council resolution would be very small. That, along with an Israeli promise to end the occupation, to allow Palestinians to achieve their national aspirations of a free Palestinian state that includes the West Bank and Gaza, would both answer the Palestinian demands and make Hamas irrelevant in the eyes of the Palestinian people. This would be a plan that would reward the moderates at the expense of the extremists, breaking the pattern of doing exactly the opposite for far too many years.
None of this is impossible, and its chances would be advanced significantly if the initiative came from Riyadh. If King Abdallah of Saudi Arabia would issue an invitation to Netanyahu, Abbas, President El-Sisi of Egypt, and King Abdullah of Jordan to come immediately to Riyadh with Gaza on the table, it could very easily lead to the acceptance of the Arab Peace Initiative. The current war is a dead end; we need a brave initiative and a courageous Arab leader (and Israeli one) to get beyond the current lose-lose scenario in progress. There is more Israel can do to move things in the right direction, without giving an inch to Hamas. Netanyahu’s government should reach out to the Palestinian population in Gaza with messages that move from the current language of threats to the language of promise and hope. Israel needs to articulate to Gazans what a peaceful Gaza could look like with an airport, economic development, and jobs. Gazans desperately want to hear concrete plans for how their basic needs for a normal life could be met, and Israeli officials should be the ones to tell them. What’s more, Israel should encourage the process launched with the formation of the Palestinian reconciliation government in May 2014 to convene new Palestinian elections as soon as possible so that the people will have their say to elect a legitimate leadership to represent them.
Elections held while Gaza is recovering from the pains of war, with a positive message about Gaza’s future coming from Israel, all while serious, genuine negotiations are taking place on ending the Israeli occupation will significantly increase the chances of electing a government in the West Bank and Gaza that would continue to build Palestine and not destroy it.
To reach that end, Israel should now recognize the Palestinian national reconciliation government, which, although supported by Hamas, has no Hamas representatives in it. The main task of that government is to prepare Palestine for new elections—that is its mandate.
Peace will not be easy. Yet it is possible with work and great courage. This is something that Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat understood when they met. It is something that Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin understood.
When I was young, I considered the likeliest fate of our civilization was a nuclear war between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. Instead, we saw perestroika and glasnost spur change that lead to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the U.S.S.R and its domination of Easter Europe. I have seen peace in Northern Ireland. So, perhaps it is not naive to believe in what some deem impossible – as we have seen many impossible things in our own lives.
Nor do peace activists among Israelis and Palestinians and those who care about them think that peace is impossible. Rays of Hope in Gaza: 13 Israeli and Palestinian Groups Building Peace profiles just a handful of organizations seeking peace and justice in the region. I have listened to members of Combatants for Peace, including a Palestinian jailed for protesting the Occupation and and Israeli who lost a sister because of terrorism. I have also listened to and met Rabbi Arik Ascherman of Rabbis for Human RIghts. In the long run, I am optimistic about the possibilities for peace and reconciliation based on meeting people who have the courage of their convictions and see the humanity of those they could easily call enemies.