I find it encouraging that peace in the Middle East is still a subject of interest. Although the Palestinians continue to threaten, accuse and promote the BDS against Israel, the government of Israel continues to talk about peace and even a two state solution. Nikki Haley, U.S Ambassador to the United Nations has long accused Mahmoud Abbas as lacking the moral courage and strength of character like Sadat of Egypt and Hussein of Jordan. “President Sadat acknowledged that some Arab leaders did not agree with him. But he told them it was his responsibility to, “exhaust all and every means in a bid to save my Egyptian Arab People and the entire Arab Nation, the horrors of new, shocking, and destructive wars” ( December 28, 2017 Security Council). His language of hope and possibility was born from the ashes of the Holocaust and serves as a path many of us are on today.
At the end of World War 2 and the murder of six millions Jews and the displacement of most European Jewry, the creation of a Jewish homeland became a necessity. Tragically the Arab world proclaimed after the creation of the Jewish State that they would finish what Hitler started rather than strengthen the region towards cooperation. Once Israel successfully repelled the Arab threat, a process of ameliorating the situation with its neighbors became a strategic goal. But a young nation needs to establish and develop itself before it can become a real player at the negotiating table. After several wars and Israel proving its military capability, Egypt under the leadership of Anwar El Sadat worked to establish a more comprehensive process to improve the situation in the region which led to the Camp David Agreement signed in 1978. It was the first time an Arab country recognized Israel’s right to exist based on justice and formerly ushered a new era of potential peace agreements between Israel and its neighbors and hope for other conflicts around the world.
This established a trend of communication conflict from war conflict and slowly leaders gave possibility to a new set of parameters. There is a scene in in the movie Thirteen Days where Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara explains to the Admiral in charge of the blockade during the Cuban Missile Crisis, “This is not a blockade. This is language. A new vocabulary, the likes of which the world has never seen! This is President Kennedy communicating with Secretary Khrushchev!”
Countries embroiled in similar conflicts saw this process of dialogue between Israel and Egypt as an opportunity to develop cooperation with others that seemed improbable. Mediation and third party negotiations brought people together to listen which eventually resolved the Cold War, Apartheid in South Africa and an end to the Catholic and Protestant bloodbath between Irish and English.
The hallmark of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s tenure has been to make the State of Israel relevant. He has worked tirelessly to promote our success in high tech, agriculture, military advances, academia, health care to mention a few. Netanyahu has made it clear that although far from perfect, Israel is committed to human rights, a strong judicial system that protects all rights and security. Today Israel has working agreements with many African and Asian countries and many leaders around the world are helping to ameliorate tensions with our neighbors and Arab league.
It was Netta Barzilai, a smiling 25-year-old looping artist who shouted after being named the winner of the Eurovision contest who said, “I’m so happy! Thank you for accepting differences between us. Thank you for celebrating diversity! I love my country. Next time in Jerusalem!” It is this language on the international stage that will change the hearts and minds of individuals and nations.
Professor William Ury tells the story of his participation as a the third-party negotiator between the The Free Aceh Movement (GAM) which was part of northern Sumatra and Indonesia which were fighting a twenty five year war for secession. The conflict led to thousands of killed on both sides and at a certain point the Indonesian government requested help to resolve the ongoing conflict. When professor Ury met with the secessionist group he asked them what their interests would be if negotiations were to take place. He realized that the secessionist were seeking independence from Indonesia but never thought through what they hoped to achieve when independence was gained. Without a political group at the table they remain but a guerrilla group in the jungle.
As the Jewish new year comes upon us I hope that this year a new language will be used at the negotiating table; honest and sincere words that encourage possibility of a way forward. People like Assad, Jeremy Corbyn, the Iranian regime and supporters of the BDS will have to follow the path of Sadat of Egypt or join the many others in the dustbin of history.
Happy New Year