If you listen to the Israeli news headlines on any given day, two months after Palestinians fired over 3,400 rockets into Israel, it appears that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is not just in a cease-fire, but that it has ceased to exist. Israelis living their daily lives conveniently relegate the Palestinian question to an afterthought. Yet we always seem surprised when the situation boils over again leading to another round of rockets on Israeli cities.
There’s an old story of a man whose friend visits during a rainstorm — they sit for coffee and there’s a leak in the roof, with a continuous drip drip dripping right into the living room. “Doesn’t that bother you?” asks the friend. “Yes! It’s terrible! But what can I do about it?” replies the man, with an exasperated gesture. “You could repair your roof,” suggests the friend. “Yes, but it’s raining like crazy, I can’t go out there!” says the man. “What about tomorrow,” asks his friend. “The forecast is a bright and sunny day. You can fix the leak then.” “No need,” replies the man. “Tomorrow, the roof won’t be leaking.”
It is understandable that Israeli leaders will not negotiate with the Palestinians when they are firing rockets. But the same leaders do not feel any need to negotiate with Palestinians when they are not firing rockets — because the roof isn’t leaking. And yet the Israeli-Palestinian hole in the roof is still there.
The situation in Gaza is grim. Recently, USAID reported that 1.6 million of 2 million people in Gaza needed humanitarian assistance, and that was prior to the May conflict — that is 80 percent of the population — and about 1.1 million have severe humanitarian needs. During the recent conflict, 1.3 million people had disruptions in their sanitation services, and 800,000 had limited access to clean water. Even prior to the conflict, unemployment was nearly 50%. These statistics make Gaza seem intolerable — yet Gazans have had to tolerate it for decades.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid recently summarized the Israeli view, saying, “We have a basic approach that [the Palestinians] won’t fire 4,000 missiles on Israeli citizens if they want to receive help. This sounds simple, and it truly is simple.” Lapid is right — it is hard to negotiate about giving aid to those attacking you. But the Palestinians are no longer firing rockets. What else is the Israeli government waiting for?
The Israeli public should not accept this inaction from their leaders. They are collectively lulled by the current quiet. However, if we do not work on fixing the roof when it’s sunny, we will be caught in the next sudden rainstorm, surprised (again!) and bemoaning the leak that is flowing through in our collective living rooms.
The Palestinians need to take responsibility for the situation too. Corrupt Palestinian leaders have siphoned money that should go to building homes for their citizens; their intransigence to renounce violence has prolonged the situation. But as Yitzhak Rabin pointed out, Israelis cannot choose to negotiate with different group of “nicer” people. There are plenty of Palestinians who want peace, just as there are plenty of Israelis to want peace. There are many Palestinian rejectionists to focus on the destruction of Israel and launch devastating attacks. And there are plenty of Israeli rejectionists who deny the existence of Palestinians and unleash devastating attacks on Palestinians.
American Jews need to push the Israeli leaders and our Israeli friends too. We do not live in the house with the leaky roof, so we should see the situation objectively like the man’s friend in the story. If American Jews do not urge Israelis to make a move, we are complicit in their inaction.
The current Israeli government has stated that, in order to maintain their fragile coalition, they do not intend to address controversial issues like the Palestinian conflict. But new Israeli leadership provides at least a chance for new thinking. Israeli leaders, the Israeli public, and the American Jewish community all need to seize this opportunity. The Palestinian conflict has not solved itself over the last 25 (or 54 or 70)+ years and it won’t tomorrow. It will not be easy, but Israel needs to keep trying and trying and trying, until we fix that damned leak.