Donniel Hartman
Featured Post

The day after the negotiations fail

Then it will be time for a unilateral implementation of policies that serve our moral and political interests

It’s clear that we need to begin to prepare for the day after. None of us really knows which side will be primarily responsible for the failure of the current peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. It is evident, however, that such a failure is at the very least, likely, if not probable, whether over the next week or over the next number of months.

For some, this preparation involves preparing the public relations case for why “they” are to blame and shoring up our arguments and defense against a partial or broad BDS campaign. It might also involve the circling of wagons around the “loyalists” and a legislative and communal campaign against the “outliers.” Who can march, when and where, who can speak, when and where, whose support is acceptable, and who is included under our “Big Tent,” are all going to be the subjects of ever-increasing and acrimonious debate once the negotiations fail, and some around the world might not take it as self-evident that it is “their” fault.

What does the “day after” look like, the day after we accept that for possibly the next decade, an agreement will elude us? What happens when our aspirational horizons are contracted, and the status quo is all we can look forward to? Do we commence with punitive steps, such as annexing Judea and Samaria, expanding our hold on the land through settlement building and expansion, and a cessation of financial cooperation and support with the Palestinian Authority? Do these actions contribute to a stronger and greater Israel, to Israel’s vision of itself and relationship with world Jewry and the international community?

Like US Secretary of State Kerry, I too fear the consequences of an energized BDS movement. But more than that, I fear the ghetto mentality and victimhood psychology to which it would give birth. As a people, we are well-schooled in living in the midst of animosity, and defensive responses are imprinted on our DNA. Instead of leading the Jewish people away from a Holocaust-centered narrative, Israel would be its new locus of operations.

All criticism will immediately be subsumed under the banner of anti-Semitism, and the world will be divided between the stark categories of friend or foe, with the former an ever-shrinking category. Friends will be confined to those who do not merely support us but who agree with us and reaffirm our narrative. Our world will become smaller, and our walls higher as we create with our own hands the greatest ghetto in Jewish history.

This is not the Jewish world into which I want to raise my grandchildren. This is not a Jewish world which has any chance of attracting Jews who are searching for the location of their primary identity. This is not an Israel which can lay claim to a leadership position in Jewish life and attract the loyalty of future generations. This is not an Israel which can build new bridges, whether spiritual, moral, economic, or political, with the larger world and our Christian and Muslim friends.

The making of peace requires two sides. Whether we did everything in our power, and whether the Palestinians did everything in theirs is a factual question, and as such, paradoxically, unresolvable, for we rarely shape our opinions on the basis of facts, and instead shape our perception of the facts on the basis of our opinions.

I am concerned with that over which we do have control – our values, principles, and identity as a nation and as a people. We need to prepare for the day after, to ensure that the cessation of the current peace negotiations does not at the same time unleash an uncontrollable process and narrative which will create a broader reality alien to who we are and detrimental to who we want to be.

On the day after, we awaken to a world where policy is not the barter of negotiations nor the payment offered for compromises from the other side. On the day after, we awaken to a world where we have to negotiate with ourselves and discover what we really want and what we need to do to get there. On the day after, settlement expansion ceases to be a Palestinian problem and becomes an Israeli one. On the day after, educating youth towards violence ceases to be an Israeli concern and becomes a Palestinian one.

On the day after, the demands of the other cease to serve as the wall behind which we hide ourselves from our own values and interests. On the day after, we discover that all the punitive threats of harm which we levied at each other during the negotiations, if in fact implemented, harm “us” at least to the same degree.

Together with the mobilization of our forces for the sake of public relations, on the day after, we need a mobilization of our best talent and leadership to determine and implement our national policies. We need to lead and not be led. While a unilateral withdrawal along the lines of Gaza is not prudent, a unilateral implementation of policies which serve our moral and political interests, is not only prudent but critical.

Such unilateral policies, I believe, must first fortify our Jewish commitment to the equality of all humankind, to the treatment of others as we would want to be treated ourselves, and to the disdain we feel in the role of occupying another people. As an expression of these commitments, we must first clarify the borders we believe are defensible and which at the same time will allow for a viable Palestinian state.

This must be followed by a cessation of all settlement expansion, let alone building beyond these lines. At the same time, this cessation must be accompanied by a gradual dismantling of those settlements which are outside our self-proclaimed borders, first, through stopping economic incentives; second, through the provision of economic incentives to move, and third, through the construction of viable housing alternatives to accommodate the inhabitants of these settlements. All this will undoubtedly take time, but on the day after what we will have in abundance is time.

As the role of occupier is prolonged, we must be ever more conscious of the effects that it has both on those who are occupied and on those who are occupying. We must engage in an ever more rigorous analysis of our military footprint in Judea and Samaria and minimize our interference in the everyday lives of the Palestinian people to pressing security concerns alone. Just as we built a massive infrastructure to support the safety of the Israeli citizens who live there, we must now invest heavily in roads, bridges, and tunnels which will allow unencumbered and free passage, to the best of our ability, for the Palestinian inhabitants.

As the occupier, we must realize that the cancer is not merely affecting a small group of radical settlers but us all. We must double and triple our educational programs geared toward increasing commitment and sensitivity to the equality of human beings and to their inalienable rights. We must fight any and all exhibitions of discrimination and national racism. If we are not at the present time capable of applying our values to the Palestinian people in Judea and Samaria, we can double and triple our efforts in implementing them toward our fellow Israeli Arab Palestinian citizens.

Finally, on the day after, we must relearn the old Diaspora art of living with unfulfilled dreams. The success of Israel has lured us into believing that if we will it, it will become a reality. As a result, we articulate our aspirations but have difficulty holding onto them in the midst of our imperfect reality. If aspirations for peace, justice, and compassion are going to continue to define Jewish identity, we must learn to talk about them, write and sing about them, dream about them, despite the pain and disappointment which accompany our inability to as yet fulfill them.

This is part of the Torah of Israel for the day after, a Torah which challenges us to implement our ideals to the best of our ability and which obligates us to hold onto them, regardless of the reality within which we find ourselves. This is a Torah which empowers us as a free people, to shape the world in which we live, instead of merely being its victims. This is a Torah which can both prepare us for the day after and for its day after.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman is the president of the Shalom Hartman Institute and the author of 'Putting God Second: How to Save Religion' from Itself. Together with Yossi Klein Halevi and Elana Stein Hain, he co-hosts the 'For Heaven’s Sake' podcast. Donniel is the founder of some of the most extensive education, training and enrichment programs for scholars, educators, rabbis, and religious and lay leaders in Israel and North America. He is a prominent essayist, blogger and lecturer on issues of Israeli politics, policy, Judaism, and the Jewish community. He has a PhD in Jewish philosophy from Hebrew University, an MA in political philosophy from New York University, an MA in religion from Temple University, and rabbinic ordination from the Shalom Hartman Institute.