It has been a long time since the 1967 Six Day War between Israel and Egypt, Syria and Jordan and a lot has changed in the Middle East. But as the great Boston politician, Tip O’Neill famously said; “All politics is local.” Two leaders look out from their offices warily at each other and a history that is full of death and anger and fear and an overwhelming lack of trust. Some 36 years ago in 1977 Anwar Sadat stood in the Knesset and spoke these words;
There remains another wall. This wall constitutes a psychological barrier between us, a barrier of suspicion, a barrier of rejection; a barrier of fear, or deception, a barrier of hallucination without any action, deed or decision. A barrier of distorted and eroded interpretation of every event and statement.
It is difficult to move forward in a house of mirrors magnified many times by the failed attempts of leaders on both sides and by their American interlocutor and by public cynicism so thick that you can see it in the air and breathe it every day. Politicians have developed careers opposing a peace process that is contraindicated by so very many facts on the ground.
And now John Kerry carries the battle for peace to Jerusalem, Ramallah, Amman and other capitols pursuing a dream that has grabbed the hearts and minds and let’s be honest; the egos of an unending string of political leaders who recognize the call of history and the voice of G-d in the ultimate achievement of the mission of bringing peace to our Holy Land. It is an uphill battle with both sides carefully weighing the direction and velocity of the winds buffeting the Middle East and attacking every nuanced step by either leader toward the panacea of peace.
There are no easy victories here and of course the same Sadat who came to Israel in November 1977 to underline the need for understanding and peace was assassinated in October 1981. The price of peace is high indeed. Yitzhak Rabin stood on the White House lawn, with Yasser Arafat, Bill Clinton and Shimon Peres and signed the Oslo agreement in September 1993 and was killed by an assassins’ bullet in November 1995. In his final moments Rabin summarized his feelings:
“Peace entails difficulties, even pain. Israel knows no path devoid of pain. But the path of peace is preferable to the path of war. I say this to you as someone who was a military man and minister of defense, and who saw the pain of the families of I.D.F. [Israel Defense Forces] soldiers. It is for their sake, and for the sake of our children and grandchildren, that I want this government to exert every effort, exhaust every opportunity, to promote and to reach a comprehensive peace.”
We remember them as soldiers of peace who fought and gave their lives for a cause they did not live to see realized. There are countless others who put on a uniform or not and fought and died for the security and justice of their people. Those of us standing on the sidelines can only count the dead and wounded and failed opportunities to reach beyond the black hole of war and send our prayers to all of those living and dying in Israel and Palestine that this time courage will meet compassion and the two leaders and all their minions will listen to the words of an earnest interlocutor and find a way to rise above the din of pain and cynicism to seek, find and make peace.
With Egypt so overtaken by political and popular unrest it is important to remember a few more words from Anwar Sadat’s speech in the Knesset:
I sincerely tell you also that before us today lies the appropriate chance for peace. If we are really serious in our endeavor for peace, it is a chance that may never come again. It is a chance that if lost or wasted, the resulting slaughter would bear the curse of humanity and of history. What is peace for Israel? It means that Israel lives in the region with her Arab neighbors in security and safety. Is that logical? I say yes. It means that Israel lives within its borders, secure against any aggression. Is that logical? And I say yes. It means that Israel obtains all kinds of guarantees that will ensure these two factors. To this demand, I say yes.
Time is a dangerous commodity to waste.