Solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Yossi Klein Halevi vs. Mordechai Kedar

A few weeks ago, Yossi Klein Halevi wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal, entitled, “Israelis, Palestinians and the Necessary Injustice of Partition.”  In this article, he argued that both Israelis and Palestinians have a rightful claim to all of historic Israel.  Israelis have a rightful claim to the entire land of Israel – just look at the Torah.  We were given the land from Dan until Beersheba.  Hebron and Shechem are integral cities that are part of our history.  What the world calls the “West Bank” is in reality the Biblical, Jewish-inhabited regions of Judea and Samaria.  But he also argues that Palestinians had villages throughout the entire land of Israel that were destroyed in 1948, and they also want to return to these lands.  Emotionally he sides with those living in Judea and Samaria and he wants to keep the entirety of the land of Israel for the State of Israel.  However, pragmatically he is willing trade these lands for peace with a willing partner, one which he admits does not currently exist.

He asks, “[h]ow, then, to move from our mutually conflicting geographies and begin to accommodate each other’s maps?”  And he answers, “Perhaps by granting that both sides love this land in its wholeness and that both sides must do violence to that love. A peace agreement should frankly accept the legitimacy of each side’s maximalist claims, even as it proceeds to contract them. Partition is an act of injustice against both Palestinians and Israelis. It is the recognition of the borders to our dreams: An agreement would partition not just the land but justice itself between two rightful claimants.”

His hopes lie with the deepening Israeli-Sunni partnership to defeat Iran.  Potentially Sunni states can help foster compromise between the Palestinians and the Israelis, but only once each side accepts that both sides have legitimate claims to the entire land in dispute and each must make painful concessions that are unjust but necessary.

This past Shabbat, our Oceanside community was treated to a fascinating scholar-in-residence, Professor Mordechai Kedar.  Professor Kedar is an Israeli scholar of Arabic culture and a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University and he is an academic expert on the Israeli Arab population.  He shared with us an entirely different framework to achieve peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

He argued that all we can realistically hope for between Palestinians and Israelis is not real peace, but a long-term ceasefire.  A ceasefire means that no real relationship exists between the two sides but each side agrees not to harm the other side.  This type of “peace” will continue as long as the Israelis are viewed by the Palestinians as invincible, but once the Palestinians believe that the Israelis are vulnerable, then the former will attack the latter.  He argued that the precedent for this type of “peace” is what the Muslim founder Muhammad did in 628.  Six years beforehand, Muhammad was chased from Mecca to Medina.  He then built a small army in Medina and proceeded to Mecca.  Muhammad’s army met the Meccan army in a village known as Hudaybiyyah.  When Muhammad saw the Meccan army, he realized that he could not defeat the Meccans, so he entered into a peace treaty with them.  According to the terms of the peace treaty, it was to last for more than nine years.  However, after two years, the Meccans let down their guard and dismantled their army, at which point Muhammad attacked Mecca, killed the men and took the women.  The precedent of Hudabiyyah is that a peace treaty with a Muslim state or entity is only a long-term ceasefire as long as the Muslims from that state or entity believe that the other side is stronger than them.  Once the Muslims believe that they are stronger, they are free to unilaterally render the peace treaty null and void and attack the other party to the peace treaty.

Indeed, when Anwar Sadat negotiated a peace treaty on behalf of Egypt with Israel, he asked religious leaders from Al-Azhar University, the supreme Sunni authority, if he could make peace with Israel.  The response was that he was allowed to make peace with Israel just like Muhammad made peace with the Meccans in Hudabiyyah.  Arafat also used Hudabiyyah as a justification to sign the Oslo agreements.

Yossi Klein Halevi and Professor Kedar approach the Palestinian-Israeli conflict with very different assumptions.  Yossi Klein Halevi believes that, perhaps, with some pushing from Sunni states, the Palestinians can actually get to a point where they understand that pragmatically, for their own best interests, to create a future for their people, the only path forward is to make painful concessions in a spirit of peace and cooperation with the Israelis.  However, Professor Kedar wants us to wake up to the cold reality that the Muslim religion does not allow its adherents to think this way.  Rather, the stronger Israel is and the stronger its international support is, the more likely that the Palestinians will realize that they simply cannot defeat Israel and they will sue for a long-term ceasefire.  Time will only tell who is correct.

About the Author
Jonathan Muskat is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Oceanside.