John L. Rosove
John L. Rosove

The clash of narratives and rights: Thoughts before the Israeli election

“The US administration is looking to ‘reset’ relations with the Palestinians with a plan that includes $15 million in Covid-19 assistance and a rollback of several Trump administration positions that favoured Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank and did not prioritise the two-state solution, an internal memo reveals.” (The National, March 18, 2021) – https://www.thenationalnews.com/world/the-americas/the-national-obtains-us-official-document-for-palestinian-reset-1.1186342

This good news of an American reset of our relationship with the Palestinians ought also to challenge Israelis and Palestinians to rethink their relationship, attitudes, and future towards and with one another. To do that effectively, however, requires each side to understand the other’s narrative and to step away from baked-in presumptions about the other.

Israelis and Palestinians each recount passionate histories of the multiple wars, terrorism, violence, and failed peace efforts they’ve imposed on each other and endured. Though the events chronicled are the same, each side has its own narrative featuring its own perspective of the conflict, its own explanation of who is right and wrong, why peace is elusive, which side is ready for peace and compromise, which is recalcitrant and maximalist in its thinking, and which is to blame for the failure to make peace on multiple occasions.

This past week, a poll published by the Geneva Institute, however, indicated that still a majority of Israelis support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (representing 65 or 66 Knesset mandates) but many of these Israeli voters have chosen parties against a two-state solution because they want so badly to defeat PM Netanyahu. They’ve decided to take a pragmatic position in support of candidates in the right-wing bloc that refuse to sit with Bibi in a government coalition rather than support those parties that align with their own positions against settlement expansion and for a two-state solution (see – https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/elections/.premium.HIGHLIGHT-poll-israeli-leftists-backing-right-wing-parties-to-oust-netanyahu-1.9622279).

Though no one expects realistically that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be resolved in the near future due to right-wing Israeli government policies and resistance, the chaotic Palestinian leadership and uncertainty about who will lead the PA in the scheduled upcoming Palestinian elections, and other foreign policy preoccupations of the Biden Administration, the conflict’s irresolution remains an existential threat to Israel as a democratic and Jewish State and a threat too to Palestinians who deserve a state of their own alongside Israel.

A large part of the problem facing Israel and the Palestinians is that many Israelis and most Diaspora Jews don’t know or understand the Palestinian narrative, their fears and craving for justice, just as many Palestinians don’t know or understand the Israeli narrative, their fears and need for security. Many good-hearted people have adopted uncritically a view that casts Israel as the oppressor of Palestinians and a denier of their right to a state of their own and ascribe no responsibility to the Palestinians for perpetuating the conflict, or that the Palestinians are maximalist in their demands, deniers of the Jewish people’s right to a Jewish state, rejectionists at heart, and have consistently passed up every opportunity over the decades to end the conflict with the State of Israel that has consistently sought to make peace.

At the center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that each side claims the same land as its national home and regards the other as an adversary and themselves as victims. Understanding the Israeli and Palestinian narratives, our respective fears, security and justice needs are essential in advancing a peace agreement built upon compromise, aversion to maximalist thinking, forward visioning, and pragmatic planning.

In the past week I read (thanks to my friend Rabbi Uri Regev of Jerusalem) a well-researched Master’s thesis by a young Swedish Middle East scholar, Ingrid Baukhol, entitled “Security and Fear in Israeli and Palestinian Conflict Narratives” (University of Gothenburg, Sweden – April 2015). Ms. Baukhol’s work is worth reading, especially chapters 4, 5, and 6. For her full thesis, see https://gupea.ub.gu.se/bitstream/2077/39985/4/gupea_2077_39985_4.pdf

About the Author
John L. Rosove is Senior Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Israel of Hollywood in Los Angeles. He is a national co-Chair of the Rabbinic and Cantorial Cabinet of J Street and immediate past National Chairman of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA). He serves as a member of the newly created Union for Reform Judaism's Israel and Reform Zionism Committee (IRZC). John was the 2002 Recipient of the World Union for Progressive Judaism International Humanitarian Award and has received special commendation from the State of Israel Bonds. In 2013 he was honored by J Street at its Fifth Anniversary Celebration in Los Angeles. John is the author of two books - “Why Judaism Matters – Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to his Children and the Millennial Generation with an Afterword by Daniel and David Rosove” (Nashville: Jewish Lights Publishing, a division of Turner Publishing Company, 2017) and "Why Israel [and its Future] Matters - Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to his Children and the Millennial Generation with an Afterword by Daniel and David Rosove" (New Jersey: Ben Yehuda Press, 2019). Both are available at Amazon.com. John is married to Barbara. They are the parents of two sons - Daniel (married to Marina) and David. He has one granddaughter.
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