This month, my wife Amy and I will have completed forty years of living in Israel. We made aliyah (“went up” to the land of Israel) in late June 1979, only a few months after establishment of the historic Peace Agreement between Israel and Egypt, which was signed on March 26th of that year. With the end of the war with Israel’s largest and most dangerous Arab enemy, this was a hopeful time in Israel’s history.
I remember vividly that my first six years was a time of relative “quiet”, despite the fact that the Lebanon War broke out north of Israel in June 1982 (and lasted for 18 years!). Nevertheless, this war did not affect daily life in Israel all that much, certainly not in contrast to wars in the past and other wars or military “operations” which followed, especially the three military operations in Gaza in recent years. During that time, we roamed around the West Bank – -for work and for sightseeing — with no fears of security problems and with complete freedom of movement..
This all came to a crashing halt in December 1987, with the outbreak of the First Intifada (Arabic for “uprising”), which took the Israeli population — and the world– by surprise, as it were, and brought the issue of Palestinian peoplehood to the fore, as well as the dangers of the ongoing Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. This was a “David vs. Goliath” uprising–with the Palestinians using stones and slingshots, and the Israelis using live weapons–which went on for a few very difficult years, with lots of violence and counter-violence, in cities, towns and villages all over Israel and Palestine. It brought the Palestinian-Israeli conflict into everyone’s homes in Israel and Palestine and internationally, thus raising consciousness that this was a conflict that needed to be resolved.
It took several more years until the big breakthrough in trying to resolve the conflict came with the historic Oslo Accords, which were negotiated secretly for 10 months in 1992-93 in and around Oslo, in Norway, and later signed, by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, and Chairman Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn on September 13, 1993 in the presence of President Bill Clinton and dignitaries from all over the world.. For the first time in our history, there was some hope that our conflict could and would end! It was a moment of great euphoria and I remember it well.
Twenty-five years have passed–with the last 10 of them under the disastrous reign of Benjamin Netanyahu as Prime Minster–and the Peace Process has been completely frozen, colder than ice (and unlike Greenland, this ice does not seem to be melting!). Bibi and his colleagues have completely abrogated it, with the help of the ignorant fool who calls himself President in Washington DC. This has led many people here in Israel and Palestine and the region to despair of the possibility of peace.
I have spent much of my professional and personal time during the past 25 years resisting this despair and continuing to believe that peace is possible, and I still believe this, despite all the obstacles and despite the right-wing trends in Israeli political and social life. If long and difficult conflicts, such as the ones in Northern Ireland, South Africa and the Balkans, could be resolved, our conflict can be resolved as well. As Theodore Herzl, the father of modern Zionism, said: “If you will it, it is no dream!” But there is very little “will” at the moment on the part of the so-called “leaders” of both Israel and Palestine, who are both burnt out and need to be retired (or in the case of Bibi, brought to trial for corruption) as soon as possible.
Nevertheless, I still believe—after 40 years in Israel and after seeing the incredible stability of the peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan—that we still need to keep the vision of peace alive, i.e. we still need to believe that it is possible, and then new leadership will emerge which is more sensible and pragmatic than the current ones, so that we can return to the path of solving the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians by dialogue and negotiations, rather than by violence and wars (which generally solve nothing and often just make things worse!)
I have often been asked in my lectures to groups visiting Israel –and in my talks abroad—whether or not I think that there will be peace with the Palestinians in my life time, and I always answer yes. Once when I said “yes” to a skeptical audience, someone asked me: ” So how long do you plan to live?!?”
I don’t know how much longer it will take. But one thing that I do know is this: peace between Israel and the Palestinians is in our long-term interest, and theirs! It will free us up to live normal collective and personal lives, to channel more resources away from military needs to education, health and social issues, which are all too often neglected. Therefore, achieving another historic breakthrough with the Palestinians ought to still be our highest priority, since it will influence everything else.
Forty years in Israel has been a unique privilege for me. It has been a time of great challenges as well as some major progress. But the goal of achieving peace with the Palestinians still remains to be achieved. It should not be neglected or postponed forever, since we all stand to benefit from it. This is still my hope and my dream. For myself and my family—especially for my grandchildren—and for the Jewish People and the Palestinian People who need to find a way to share this land productively and cooperatively in the years ahead.