Sometime over the next week or so, months of arduous work will come to a conclusion, with the presentation of the US framework for talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Both sides will then be called upon to accept or reject its outline of the core issues and guiding principles which are to serve as the framework for the future negotiations on the final settlement.
While it is only a framework for “talks,” and not a framework for a settlement, let alone for peace, there is still much at stake. We are at a critical juncture, in which we need to decide whether our future is in a two-state or one-state model, and whether each side is willing to begin to take the necessary steps to move in a particular direction.
From what we can glean from the glimpses afforded to us by the media, it is clear that Prime Minister Netanyahu and his team, under the leadership of Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, recognize the importance of the moment and of the American document, and are working tirelessly to articulate both a framework and the red lines for a future two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians.
While negotiations are undoubtedly most effective when hidden from the eye of the madding, and on this contentious issue, maddening crowd, I find the nature of the public discourse and the lack of public discourse to be both fascinating and troubling. In a democracy, the sovereign is the people, and one’s progress is precarious if too great a gap is created between oneself and the people whose will one is charged to represent.
As the moment steadily approaches, let’s look at the nature of our public discourse. The most common theme and subject of debate has been US Secretary of State John Kerry himself: Why is he doing this? What are his motivations? Is he “messianic,” naive, arrogant, stubborn, or simply ambitious? We struggle to figure out “what’s in it for him,” as if we are mere bystanders in a process in which we have little at stake. It’s the “Kerry initiative” and not ours, his agenda and not ours. The question is whether he will fail and not us.
Another voice increasingly present in the media is of the opposition to a two-state solution. As the rumors fly, and Netanyahu’s red lines increasingly coalesce around the settlement blocs and security arrangements for the next five to ten years, with the debate being over how many settlers would be relocated or whether some would be allowed to remain as Palestinian Jews in Palestine, the right-wing is reading the writing on the wall and responding vociferously. Netanyahu is constantly being warned by members of his own party and coalition of the consequences of agreeing even to a settlement freeze, let alone an agreement to negotiating with the Palestinians on the implementation in our lifetime of a two-state solution.
That’s it. That is more or less the totality of the Israeli public discourse. From time to time, there is a smattering of mention of the dangers of BDS if the negotiations fail (aside from extensive criticism of Kerry for daring to mention its dangers to Israel), but more or less the center and left, Netanyahu’s power base in the negotiations, are neither talking nor being talked to. The assumption is that they are there and will be there when called upon. They are the dormant majority, lulled into inaction by the drawn-out process, whose passion for peace has been anesthetized by the Second Intifada, the rise of Hamas and radical Islam, and the Palestinian response to Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza. However, they will awaken, the assumption is, when called upon to save Israel from its radicals and support the difficult decisions that will need to be taken and implemented.
I believe, however, that Netanyahu and the supporters of a two-state solution are making a strategic error. While intellectually most Israelis clearly support efforts to bring about such a solution, one is making a profound mistake when one minimizes the extent of the emotional detachment that most Israelis have at the current moment. Whether or not it was born as a defense mechanism from the deep disappointment at what Israelis perceive was fundamentally a Palestinian “no” to Oslo, too many Israelis are nevertheless walking around as if they have no “skin in the game” in the “Kerry initiative.”
While the Center and Left may turn out to vote in a national referendum in favor of the two-state model, at present they lack the ideological and emotional motivation to confront the Right, which does not seem to be suffering from such a lack. Negotiations with the Palestinians do not require merely a sustainable coalition and a majority in the Knesset.
They need to be supported in the marketplace and on the streets. It is there that the debate must be won. It is there that the dream of a Greater Land of Israel must be replaced with the dream of a greater Israel. It is there that the value of a Jewish-Democratic state must prevail over the value of holding on to all of our ancestral land. It is there that the Red Lines of security and national identity must be tested and carved out in the face of the consequences to Israel’s future based on a one-state model.
It’s not about Kerry; it’s about us, and it’s time that we begin to talk again about what we want and why we want it. It’s time to shake off the fatigue brought on by disappointment, to awaken from the hibernation imposed by the perceived coldness on the other side. I don’t know if a two-state solution with secure borders is attainable in our lifetime. I don’t know if the Palestinian leadership and people are ready to take the steps necessary to stop debating 1948 and to choose instead to live in 2014.
What I do know is that I have skin in the game. I, as a Jew and an Israeli, have much at stake and invested: Who I am and who I want to be will be irrevocably shaped by the decisions we make and do not make in the weeks and months to come. It is time that our public discourse reflects this fact and helps to shape it and reinforce it.
Let’s leave to Prime Minister Netanyahu, Justice Minister Livni, and their staffs the critical task of testing Palestinian seriousness and intent. It’s time for us, the sovereign, to reconnect to the core values and ideals which we want to aspire toward, here in Israel, the national homeland of the Jewish people.
If Zion is to be redeemed with justice, what does justice require that we provide to the Palestinian people? If all human beings are created in the image of God, equal regardless of national, religious, ethnic or racial origin, what does that obligate us to do to the Palestinian people? If we belong to a tradition which teaches that what is hateful unto you do not do unto others is the whole Torah, and that we are obligated to love the stranger precisely because we were strangers in the land of Egypt, how ought that to shape our policies toward the Palestinian people?
If as Zionists we are committed to building a Jewish and democratic state here, a state with a clear Jewish majority and which protects the inalienable rights of all, do we see this better fulfilled in the one-state or the two-state model? As a people committed to tikkun olam, to embodying in our character the highest moral standards and by doing so fulfilling our duty as lovers of God to make God’s name beloved of others, how are we to look at the Palestinian people and what are our aspirations for them?
It’s not about Kerry; it’s about us: who we are and who we want to be. We need to reclaim this conversation and reposition it at the center of our national discourse, motivating and guiding our political policies. If in our generation these values do not coexist with the core Jewish values of security and the right and moral responsibility to self-preservation, so be it. In a non-redeemed world, we are not promised that swords will be beaten into ploughshares, or that all of our values can be actualized. Our challenge in a non-redeemed world, however, is to keep those values alive and to do everything in our power to shape our world and not be shaped by it. That is the Jewish way, the Zionist way. It has shaped Judaism and the Jewish people for 2,000 years. It’s time for it to shape our lives again.