The Multi-Layered Attributes of a Sustainable Peace
Since moving to Israel in 2019, it has become clear to me that the majority of Jewish Israelis at this time believe that a peace process with the Palestinians is pointless, that there is no ‘partner for peace’, that Palestinians do not want peace, and that the Palestinian leadership cannot deliver peace. These beliefs are likely to have been reinforced by the tragic events in Jerusalem last Shabbat, may the families of the victims be comforted.
Nonetheless, the apparent success of the Abraham Accords between Israel and various Arab nations, the tenacity with which they are being pursued on both the right as well as the left of the Israeli political spectrum, and the huge appetite of Israelis to visit the Abraham Accord partner countries, which I witnessed last week on my first post-Accords trip to Dubai, show that for the vast majority of Israelis, and not only those on the left, there is no general anti-Arab or Anti-Islamic animus – the underlying desire for peace is strong.
This aligns with traditional Jewish thinking which encourages relentless emulation of the biblical Aaron ‘to love peace and pursue peace’ (Ethics of the Fathers 1:12). In the same vein, the inspirational Rabbinic leader of the pre-war generation, the Chofetz Chaim, famously associates ‘the man who desires life’ with good speech, but the Psalm from which he drew this connection further associates that same ‘man’ with ‘seeking peace and pursuing it’ (Psalms 34:13-15).
What does it mean to pursue peace, rather than merely loving it or seeking it?
Perhaps it is this: a lover of peace is one who, when offered peace, accepts it (Camp David 1978; Oslo Accords 1993, 1995); a seeker of peace is one who, when not offered peace, offers it (Camp David 2000; Taba 2001), a pursuer of peace is one who, even when that offer is rebuffed, continues to offer it – to not despair or give up, even as peace seems further and further away, even when peace is not easy or obvious, even when peace is morally and emotionally excruciating.
With this in mind, and despite the rising tensions, intensifying hostility, and underlying indifference, it behooves us to look again at the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
While always having a firm commitment to Jewish security and rights in the Land of Israel, I felt sure as a youth, from my position in the diaspora, that the ‘Classic Two State Solution’ enshrined in the Oslo Accords was the correct and unavoidable path that would lead eventually to peace.
Then I came to Israel. Firstly, my gap year, a year between finishing high school and going to university, from September 1995 to August 1996. Those were dramatic times – the signature by Israel and the PLO of Oslo II, the Israeli withdrawals from Palestinian cities, the sickening wave of suicide bombings targeting Israeli civilians, Hezbollah rocket attacks from Lebanon, Israel’s ‘Operation Grapes of Wrath’ action in response, the great protests against the Oslo Accords, the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the subsequent election of Benjamin Netanyahu, for the first time, as prime minister.
In simple terms, for a peace outcome to be sustainable, it requires the principal parties to the conflict to be happy with the terms of the peace.
However, from that gap year experience, and, more intensely, from my experience since moving to Israel in 2019, it is obvious the prospect of permanently dividing this small, beautiful, blessed Land deeply pains many of the principal parties – those Jews and those Palestinians who sincerely dream of a return to all of their ancestral Homeland not just a part of it. For some, the motivation is religious; for others, nationalistic; and for yet others, justice. In practice, all three motivations are often inter-linked.
Therefore, the Classic Two State Solution, even if it could be negotiated, could never be implemented. As we have seen, those parties that are pained by the prospect of dividing the Land – without implying any moral equivalence between them, and without endorsing every or any particular action undertaken by them – will constantly agitate, mobilize and strike against it until such time it is derailed. Moreover, it is clear, rightly or wrongly, these parties have the power of numbers, influence, conscience and perseverance to achieve that aim, again as we have seen.
To make the principal parties happy with the terms of peace, to address and harmonize their multi-layered motivations, a multi-layered solution is required, not a reductionist approach framed around two truncated states and the profound sense of loss this entails.
So what would a multi-layered solution involve? I propose it comprises a combination of three essential attributes:
A one-state ‘body’: I believe most Jews and most Palestinians, in their hearts, based on the interplay of motivations identified above, seek the right to dwell freely and peaceably across their entire ancestral homeland without artificial divisions, all the while recognizing – notwithstanding these artificial divisions and the decades of conflict they have caused – that all humanity, ‘b’tzelem Elokim’ (in G-d’s ‘image’), have equal moral worth bestowing equal rights to freedom, dignity and livelihood, and that the fraternal relationship among Abrahamic religions that serve the same One G-d can and should be healed.
A two-state ‘shell’: At the same time, before we go too far along the one-state path, it also seems clear that most Jews and most Palestinians, springing from entrenched national self-identity, and the respective trauma of recent historical experience, highly value the right to national self-determination and the physical and psychological security that it brings.
A ‘transcendent soul’: Beyond this, on both sides of the conflict, it is clear there are parties seeking something extra – for religious Jews, the singular sovereignty of a Torah-sanctioned leadership body or person that provides humble guidance for those who choose to heed it on how the individual Jew and the Jewish people as a whole (‘clal Yisrael’) can best fulfil Torah-based holiness (‘kedusha’) imperatives within the Land and serve as a ‘light unto the nations’ throughout the world; and for Arabs, and i speak cautiously and with deference here, the winds of pan-Arabism, while they blow at times more strongly and at times more weakly, remain an energising component of contemporary Arab identity.
The imperative we therefore face, to pursue an achievable and sustainable peace, is to use imaginatively the building blocks of constitutional order that are available to us – principles, laws, institutions, systems – to make this happen.