Yoel Oz
Co-Founder of the Abrahamic Movement

Abrahamic Federation and the Fierce Urgency of Now

“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there “is” such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”

Martin Luther King Jr’s speech at the March on Washington in August 1963 is largely remembered for its most famous “I Have a Dream” section. But earlier on in his speech he also had a very powerful line where he spoke of the “fierce urgency of now”. He spoke of tomorrow being today, of not being apathetic or complacent, and that vigorous and positive action were needed “now”.

I believe we are at a similar juncture in Israeli and Palestinian history. The status quo is about to be broken on the one hand by the Trump administration’s signaling that it will release a peace plan, and on the other hand by ICC Prosecutor Bensouda’s announcement that the ICC would be investigating Israel for war crimes due to settlement activity.

The Trump plan will probably be perceived as a victory for the Israeli Right, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said that the US State Department will no longer view settlements as obstacles to peace. This will in all likelihood be rejected by the Palestinians. Bensouda’s announcement will probably be perceived as a victory for the Left and Palestinians, and will be rejected by Israeli Jews who believe Jews have a right to live safely in the biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria. Ultimately, what this will cause is for both sides to dig in their heels and become even more intransigent. Neither of these moves will result in peaceful reconciliation for a shared future.

There is another issue that we need to deal with, as well, and that is the renewed threat from Hizballah and Iran, due to the assassination of Qasem Suleimani. This is also part of the urgency of now.

Unfortunately, both Israelis and Palestinians have been waiting for outsiders to come and solve our problems. We need to do the hard work of solving our problems ourselves.

We in the Abrahamic Movement and our partners in the Federation Movement believe that we have come up with a solution in a paradigm we call “Abrahamic Federalism”. Though we don’t agree on every last detail, we broadly recognize that Federalism creates a model where we can maintain our unique, independent identities, while at the same time being interdependent and cooperative with each other. This addresses the issue of political structure. What needs to be further addressed is the need for unifying political symbolism.

We believe that Abraham is the solution “hiding in plain sight”. It is nothing less than the “magic word”. In our meetings between Israelis and Palestinians, as soon as Avraham/Ibrahim is mentioned, every one calms down. We are related. We are cousins. Being the children of Abraham, whether through Isaac and Jacob, or through Ishmael, we are bound together. Our destinies in this land are intertwined.

Those who believe the solution is separation do not believe in peace. Divorce is what happens when you can’t have peace in your home. The property dispute should be settled using the model of an inheritance dispute, which can also be a bitter family problem, but it can be solved equitably, and there can be reconciliation despite decades of fighting.

We do not want separation. We want cooperation.

There are numerous federal models we can look at for inspiration. Some lean more towards federation and others lean more towards confederation, the difference being the nature of sovereignty of the constituent parts. There is the model of New York and New Jersey in the United States, England and Scotland in the United Kingdom, France and Germany in the European Union, the Swiss Confederation (which is actually a Federation) and its cantons, and numerous other models as well. Ultimately, we need create something new that is tailored to our unique situation.

There are three terms involved in such arrangements: autonomy, independence and sovereignty. For Palestinians, autonomy is not enough; for Israelis, relinquishing sovereignty is unlikely. Where we have room to maneuver is with the term “independence”.

We are two peoples. We have different languages, cultures and religions, just to mention a few areas where we differ. Under an Abrahamic Federation, we could have an independent Jewish State of Israel and an independent Arab State of Palestine. There would be equal civil rights for all. Our model envisions open borders, freedom of movement, freedom of employment, an open market, and rights to security. Israelis would have Israeli citizenship, Palestinians would have Palestinian citizenship, and both would have joint Abrahamic citizenship.

This is not an unachievable, naive dream. We already live together, just dysfunctionally. Peace is not something that comes at the “end”; rather it is a new beginning.

But we don’t have a lot of time. Martin Luther King also said, “those who love peace must organize as effectively as those who love war”. We should look at the political campaigns going on right now in the US primary elections as models for organizing, developing a movement, and having clear messaging to inspire people to action.

We probably have only a few months while the Israeli electorate is moving into its third election in a year. People are fed up. They know the system is broken and may be more open to listening to new ideas.

We don’t know what the reaction will be to the Trump plan or what will be the result of the ICC investigation. The best way of dealing with the threat from Iran is by making peace with the Palestinians and the Palestinians telling the Iranians to go to hell. They don’t care about the Palestinians. They only care about their own political and ideological interests. If rockets start falling on Israel’s major cities or there is a war with Lebanon, Gaza or Iran, only God knows what will happen.

Abrahamic Federation can solve these problems and save lives. It is as simple as that.

The time for action is now.

About the Author
Yoel Oz is the co-founder of the Abrahamic Movement. He served as an Orthodox rabbi and educator in the Washington, DC metro area for five years. He studied at Cornell and Yeshiva Universities and Yeshivat Hamivtar and Yeshivat Rabbenu Yitzchak Elchanan. He currently resides with his wife and daughter in a suburb of Tel Aviv.