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Nathaniel Helfgot
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For Israel to accept a Palestinian state, Israelis must first feel safe

Given the historically hollow international guarantees of Israel's security, building trust is the first step - once the war is over and the hostages are home
Israeli soldiers return from southern Lebanon on August 14, 2006, after a UN-imposed ceasefire went into effect bringing an end to the Second Lebanon War. (Pierre Terdjman/Flash90)
Israeli soldiers return from southern Lebanon on August 14, 2006, after a UN-imposed ceasefire went into effect bringing an end to the Second Lebanon War. (Pierre Terdjman/Flash90)

For close to three decades, I have been a public supporter of territorial compromise, land for peace, as the best way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the years following the signing of the Oslo Accords, I supported the efforts of my revered teacher, the late Rabbi Yehuda Amital, who founded a religious-Zionist party in Israel that sat in Shimon Peres government and supported the implementation of the Oslo accords. I also participated at the time in creating a parallel organization of Modern Orthodox rabbis, here in the United States to support those efforts. In the last decade and half, I have further come to believe that the creation of a demilitarized Palestinian state giving expression to the national hopes of the Palestinian people is the best avenue to bring peace and security to Israel and the Jewish people.

Yet the recent suggestions by pundits and the reports of the US and Arab countries to quickly move for the establishment of a Palestinian state coupled with recognition of Israel by the rest of the Arab world and the Arab League, without initial consultations with Israel’s government may not be a positive step for achieving the goals of peace and security. To achieve these goals the major group that must buy into the two-state solution is the mainstream Israeli public, the 75-80% of the Israeli electorate that is not part of the hard right nor the hard left. In the past when those Israelis, center, center-left, and center-right, felt that the potential for peace was real and compromises might be necessary they supported candidates and policies that reflect that approach. Today, not only the Netanyahu cabinet and the hard right reject the two-state solution, rather the mainstream Israeli is also far from that mindset, and important steps will need to be taken to restore that hope and trust in a potential for any sort of compromise. (This essay does not address what Israel needs to do, which has been addressed by many other writers)

Why?

Many have noted that the outrageous and heinous massacres of October 7th committed by Hamas and the subsequent holding of the hostages in inhuman conditions, have traumatized Israelis in a deeply profound manner that has caused the vast majority to focus exclusively on eliminating the threat posed by Hamas and its ideology and actions. Moreover, many Israelis noticed that on October 7th, 8th  and 9th, when Israel was reeling from this horrific attack and still scrambling to root out the last vestiges of Hamas terrorists on its soil, long before any ground operation was in the air, the Palestinian Authority nor almost none of the major Arab powers offered words of condolences, support, empathy nor explicit condemnation of Hamas. Furthermore, in a depressingly hurtful manner, some Arab countries such as Qatar and Iraq explicitly blamed Israel for being solely responsible for any violence that had been committed against its own citizens due to its policies in the West Bank and Gaza. (Jordan, a country that Israel has a formal peace treaty with, did not formally condemn the attacks until February 15, when the Jordanian king visited the White House.)

However, there is another element that is lurking in the thinking of many mainstream Israelis.

The proposed plan and the leaks surrounding it speak of security guarantees that would be offered by Saudi Arabia, the Arab League, the UN, the European Union and the United States. Israelis look back to recent history and see the hollowness of international guarantees in relation to its security. In 2006, in the aftermath of the Second Lebanon War, Israel signed a cease fire agreement agreed to by the Lebanese government and Hezbollah and codified in United Nations resolution 1701 that ended the fighting, explicitly stated that only Lebanese government troops would be deployed in Southern Lebanon and that all militias including Hezbollah would be disarmed and no longer threaten the northern residents of Israel. None of this came to pass and today, 80,000 residents of northern Israel are internally displaced refugees in their own country. Thus, most Israelis are perforce very reluctant and hesitant to accept vague promises of international security umbrellas and normalization with Arab countries and demilitarization of the Palestinian state in the reality they have experienced.

For such a process to have any chance of working, real confidence building steps need to happen after the cessation of hostilities and the return of the hostages.

  1. The political and religious leaders of Qatar and Saudi Arabia should come to Jerusalem, ala Anwar Sadat’s courageous move, and express their sympathy with the Israeli people, express their condemnation of Hamas and its actions, including its being un-Islamic in its behavior and actions, alongside their support for a Palestinian state.
  2. The full implementation of Resolution 1701 allowing all residents of the north of Israel to return to their homes is an absolute desideratum.
  3. The Arab countries should immediately classify Hamas as a terrorist entity and impose sanctions on it and vow to cut off funding and support to it in any way possible.
  4. On the ground and thick cooperation between any police military force and the IDF must be built into any framework that is established to establish law and order in Gaza and patrol its borders in the next few years.
About the Author
Nathaniel Helfgot is rabbi of Congregation Netivot Shalom in Teaneck, NJ and a faculty member at the SAR High School in NYC.
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