A Palestinian state — don’t hold your breath

When an individual suffers a personal tragedy or undergoes a traumatic experience, he has just two options: either to allow it to ensnare him, making him a prisoner of his past, or to work through it, come to terms with it and move on.

The survivors of the Holocaust knew that only too well and most were successful in picking themselves up, starting afresh and building new lives. It wasn’t easy for any of them, but they recognized that that was the only way to survive.

My father z”l was a law student in Germany when Hitler came to power. As a Jew, he was forced to leave university. He fled his birthplace and most of his family perished in the gas chambers of Nazi Europe. He arrived in England with virtually nothing, but built a new life for himself and raised a family. What he didn’t do was to go around with the rusting keys of his comfortable Breslau apartment in his hands, waiting for the day when he would be able to return home and reverse history.

And what is true for individuals is also true for peoples. It is true that the Jews have returned to their ancient land. However, I would venture to suggest that, had we not suffered centuries of anti-Semitism and persecution in Christian Europe culminating in the horrors of the Holocaust, the State of Israel would never have come into being.

Not that we Jews have not always prayed for a return to the land of Zion and Jerusalem. However, most assigned that expectation to the Messianic Age and built their lives in the lands of their dispersion.

Unfortunately, unlike the generation of the Holocaust, most Palestinians have yet to come to terms with the Nakbah (the Catastrophe), the day on which the establishment of the State of Israel was proclaimed. They are encouraged to believe that the day will come when those who were displaced in the 1948 war will return to their homes, and that a Palestinian state will emerge encompassing all of the territory between the River Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea.

That expectation and fantasy prevents Palestinian society from moving on and recognizing that the State of Israel is here to stay. A population of over six and a half million Jews is not about to pack its bags or allow itself to become a minority in a bi-national or Palestinian state in which its fate will be determined by others. Palestinians need to recognize and accept that that isn’t on the cards.

Given the political volatility of the Middle East, the threat posed by Iran and the growth of Jihadism, it is unrealistic to expect Israel to relinquish its military control of the western bank of the River Jordan. That is our only way of protecting our exposed Eastern flank.

Therefore, Palestinian leaders who are unprepared to recognize Israel as a Jewish State, insist on the right of return to their former homes for the descendants of those exiled in 1948, and are adamant in their refusal to allow Israeli soldiers to be stationed along the banks of the River Jordan are living in cloud cuckoo land.

The Partition Plan for Palestine adopted by the United Nations in November 1947 was accepted by the Jewish Agency although it was far from ideal. However, when you are desperate, you take what you can get. Unfortunately, it would appear that the Palestinians are not as desperate as we were, because their demands for statehood come with conditions attached.

That having been said, the Palestinians do not hold a monopoly on fantasies. One increasingly hears the voices of those who say that there is no room for an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. Justice Minister, Ayelet Shaked, has called for Israeli civil law to be extended to the settlements in Judea and Samaria while maintaining martial law over the Palestinians living there.

Hirsh Goodman, a senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, who grew up in apartheid ridden South Africa, has warned of the eroding effects of the occupation on Israel’s armed forces and on our society as a whole.
In a recent article he argues that “Israel needs to live with bayonet in hand, but not pointed at itself…. the occupation has to stop before it conquers us all.”

Fifty years after the Six Day War we need to ask ourselves to what degree Israel can remain a democracy when there are large swathes of territory under our control whose occupants don’t want us there, don’t vote in our elections and don’t enjoy full and equal rights.

However, these words of caution will be thrown to the wind by those messianic zealots for whom Eretz Yisrael Ha-sh’lema has become a rallying call. In addition, many Israelis have lost hope of ever being able to make peace with the Palestinians and have chosen to live their lives in the mistaken belief that, if we ignore the problem, it will go away.

All of us are entitled to our fantasies. Indeed, fantasizing is a normal and pleasurable psychological phenomenon. However, when we try to live out our fantasies in real life, they inevitably lead to disappointment, tragedy and ruin.

On the fiftieth anniversary of the Six Day War, Isi Leibler, chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, has argued that Israel should be pro-active. He has called on Prime Minister Netanyahu to ignore the extremists in his own camp, and to “act now and demonstrate his willingness to explore any opportunity for peace.” As parents and grandparents we owe that to our children.

My son Yonatan z”l was killed by the Hezbollah in the so-called security zone in southern Lebanon in defence of the Jewish state. However, the settlers on the West Bank are not defending the State of Israel. In consequence, I can envisage increasingly large numbers of Israelis who will be unwilling to put their lives and those of their children at risk in order to defend a status quo which is unsustainable and which is promulgated by those who have allowed their fantasies to get the better of them.

Would that peace were around the corner, but I fear that most Palestinians and many Israelis, entrapped by their fantasies and their past, are unwilling to pay the price.

About the Author
Made aliyah from the UK in 1985, am a former president of the Israel Council of Reform Rabbis and am currently rabbi of Kehilat Yonatan in Hod Hasharon, Israel.