October 18, 2010
THE WASHINGTON POST
The current impasse over inserting pre-conditions between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas over what it will take to finally jumpstart the Middle East peace process – with Abbas insisting on a freeze in settlements while Netanyahu, holding out for Arab recognition of Israel as a Jewish State – has some biblical precedent.
Rashi, in his monumental commentary on the Torah points out that G-d made the patriarch Abraham two promises, that he would have children, even though he was 100 years old, and that the land of Israel would be his. On having children, Abraham was willing to take G-d’s word for it. But when it came to the Promised Land, he insisted on a pre-condition - that G-d show him a sign of ownership and G-d concurred (Genesis 15, v. 8). For 3,500 years, land ownership in the Middle East has always required pre-conditions.
I understand where President Abbas and the Arab League are coming from – they want to freeze all settlement construction, to send a clear signal to every Israeli, especially the Israeli right, that the overwhelming portion of the land where the settlements are currently being built will, in fact, become the future Palestinian State with minor changes.
Still, I believe Prime Minister Netanyahu is making the more fundamental point of what it would take to open up prospects for real peace in the Middle East. He is saying to the Palestinians and their backers in the Arab world, we have been down this path before with President Clinton at Camp David in 2000 when Prime Minister Barak offered Arafat more than 90% of the West Bank and a capital in Abu Dis (suburb of Jerusalem) and Arafat walked away and launched the Intifada. In 2005, when Prime Minister Sharon unilaterally withdrew from Gaza, hoping to inspire new Arab thinking and was rewarded by Hamas taking over Gaza and firing more than 8,000 rockets into Sderot. We can’t afford another failure. You know that given the current coalition politics, only a Likud Prime Minister can muster a national consensus to deliver the necessary compromises that must be made.
But to do so, you must be a real partner, willing to undo the mistakes of the past as Abba Eban used to say, “Never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” You, the leaders of the Arab world, have to finally tell your brothers and sisters the truth, that just as there are 23 Arab states surrounding Israel, and 56 Muslim countries with a population of 1.3 billion Muslims with vast natural resources.
At the same time, there is another people who have rights to this land. The Jews are not usurpers and strangers, they didn’t just come from Europe and America, and we cannot pretend that one day our Palestinian brethren will outnumber them and they will disappear. They are an ancient people with a 3,500 year ongoing attachment to the land, their prophets and kings lived in Jerusalem before there was a Saudi Arabia, a Syria, and a Jordan and they have the same rights here as we have. We must recognize that in our region, there will be a Jewish democratic State, Israel, that is here to stay and to them belongs a ‘piece of the rock.’
It is that kind of a change of attitude that can catapult us to a new place and finally cut through the umbilical cord of distrust and hate and usher in a new period of reconciliation and opportunity for Israel and her Arab neighbors.
*Rabbi Marvin Hier is the Founder and Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center
and Museum of Tolerance