Jonathan Zausmer

Don’t fight the riptide

Israel would do well to bypass the extremist currents in its midst and work toward the two-state solution favored by so many UN countries
The riptide off the coast of South Africa. (via YouTube)
The riptide off the coast of South Africa. (via YouTube)

The recognition of Palestine recently by Spain, Ireland, and Norway may be a blessing in disguise. 

I was born and raised on the southern tip of Africa. The crystal white beaches are surrounded by a sea where the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic meet. The Atlantic coast on the western side of the Cape peninsula has a sea that is icy cold, not for the faint of heart. The Benguela current  consistently moves up from the South pole northwards. The beaches are luring and magnificent, but beware the riptide – locally known as the backwash.  

When the waves — sometimes enormous — wash onto the beach, a rush of sea gets pulled back into the ocean. You may be surfing, frolicking or swimming and suddenly you lose your footing and you are rushed out to an icy stubborn sea. Many panic and shout, there are those who have drowned, but the secret is not to fight the riptide. Even as you lose your footing it is safer to go a short way out with the tide, swim parallel to the beach and ride in safely with the next waves. 

And what does this have to do with Israel? Most of the countries that recognize Palestine to date (now 145 in total) see the concept of the two-state solution, as working towards peace and resolving the conflict. It is a complicated idea with many potential pitfalls; however, it is the only viable plan that enables each entity, both Israel and Palestine, to enjoy full human rights and national fulfillment. While it neither meets the aims of settler expansion, nor does it find resonance with extremist Palestinian ideology, it has many advantages. It links the West Bank to Gaza, it provides full human rights and national independence for Palestinians. Security would be an Israel — based prerogative. The four pillars for this to work, have been studied, thought out and are based on viability: Borders, Jerusalem, Security and Refugees. 

It is in Israel’s interest to work with this concept, to go beyond the dangerous currents in our society, and to securely navigate the way to a solution. If not, the pressure from beyond Israel will, in my opinion, bring about unforeseen mounting dissatisfaction by the nations of the world, and not only those that are unfriendly. Israel, with its manic settler expansion, engineered by extremists and messianists, is fast becoming an embarrassment and a millstone around the neck of friendly and powerful nations. Rather, we need to work with the current than try to fight it.

What are now merely murmurs of dissatisfaction, will later be a storm of impatience and disgust as awareness of the march towards the “greater Israel” finds prominence and anger pulling us dangerously to clashes not only with an agenda against the Jewish state, but by those who have supported Israel for decades. The irony and pain of how protesters around the world in both hemispheres are demanding clarity, often condemning the victim of the 7th of October, namely Israel itself rather than the savages of the October the 7th pogrom, is the warning sign that something is terribly wrong. The victim becomes the target in this bizarre scenario, and like the Benguela current, there is little that can stop it except a complete rethinking and re-strategizing our position amongst nations of the world. There are now 145 of the 193 member states of the United Nations that recognize Palestine as a sovereign state. 

Having lived through the later days of apartheid South Africa — and let us be clear, there is zero similarity between South Africa’s policy of apartheid at the time and Israel’s current policies — I believe that the problem of moving into the zone of the “backwash,” the diplomatic danger zone, whether justified or not, is a very bad place to be. Action has to be taken. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert saw this clearly, and painfully moved in the direction of peace and dialogue, despite criticism from supporters and challengers, however his trial, conviction and subsequent prison sentence (not at all connected with his policies) literally snuffed out the diplomatic road to a two-state solution. As on the Monopoly board, it was a “Go to Jail” square. And in this case, no headway from then onwards. 

The government of Israel needs to run with the option of the two-state solution and open channels that are literally waiting for the call. The reachout by Saudi Arabia, which some estimate prompted Hamas to attack Israel, nevertheless remains on the table. This is literally a gateway to bypassing extremism, ending the war in Gaza and finally bringing about some solution in our neighborhood of nations. Yet rather than swim to shore safely, the Netanyahu government, backed by fanatics, leads the people of Israel into the bizarre reality of a greater Israel, obstinately closes its ears and pursues a hard line of rejection.  

While Palestinian politics is rife with internal disagreements, rejection and dogma (note Hamas’s 2007 mini-war that threw Fatah out of Gaza), there are common denominators that can be harnessed. In the case of South Africa, the governing party — indeed those who conceptualized apartheid and practiced it — reached out to its worst enemy and engaged in dialogue. That dialogue brought about change. It is far from perfect, but better than the bloodbath that was predicted. 

Israel needs to work the riptide to its advantage. That means that the Netanyahu government, now with its hands tied behind its back by ultra extremists, must go. The sooner the better. Hopefully we can use the riptide to our advantage and get back to land safely.

About the Author
Originally from South Africa, Jonathan made aliya in the seventies, and lived and worked on a kibbutz for several years. He has a graduate degree in business from Boston University and is a managing partner of an Israeli based business. He was a co-founder of the Forum Tzora peace action group and participates in the Geneva Initiative workshops. He is the author of the book “Valley of Heaven and Earth”.
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