I was struck by the good sense of Rabbi Eric Yoffie’s blog in Sunday’s Jerusalem Post headlined “The Palestinians are at fault, but so what?”
Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, argues that although the Palestinians are “responsible for the absence of peace,” ultimately what matters is whether Israel has a plan for dealing with that reality – a plan beyond simply clinging to the current status quo and saying it’s the other side’s fault.
With admirable clarity he describes Israel’s current predicament: “A UN resolution will pass at the General Assembly in September, recognizing a Palestinian state. Israel’s international position is deteriorating. Economic sanctions might follow. And worse yet, elements of Palestinian leadership are already proposing a one-state solution—a single Jewish/Arab state in Palestine, with equal rights for all. If the proposal is accepted, Jews will become a minority in the new state; if it is rejected, Israel will be portrayed to the world as an apartheid state.
“So, I ask, what is the plan? Even if we are completely right and the Palestinians are completely wrong, what do we do now to head off these very real dangers?”
Yoffie wrote that when he asks that question, he always gets “the same answer—which is no answer at all.”
I don’t believe that most Israelis want to use Palestinian recalcitrance or worse as an excuse to maintain the current untenable status quo, although there are some segments of the Israeli polity – including many in the government – who seem to be thinking just that.
Mostly, I think Israelis are angry about the way they have been treated in the skewed court of world opinion, worried about their growing isolation, filled with a dread bred of previous dashed hopes for peace and understandably fearful about what happens if they commit to a peace agreement with neighbors whose intentions are not clear and it all turns out to be a terrible mistake.
But that doesn’t change the fact that Israelis are responsible for their own future; they have to make hard choices and take big risks no matter which way they turn. He didn’t say this, but I suspect Yoffie would agree: clinging to the current status quo and watching its international legitimacy evaporate may be as big a risk for Israel – or bigger – than aggressively seeking new routes to a negotiated agreement with a reluctant, unreliable partner.
Casting blame isn’t a plan, even when that blame is well deserved.
Over at Foreign Policy, longtime U.S. peace processor Aaron David Miller is on a parallel track when he writes that it may be time for the Obama administration to “fold” when it comes to Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
Miller write: “Thirty months in, a self-styled transformative president with big ideas and ambitions as a peacemaker finds himself with no negotiations, no peace process, no relationship with an Israeli prime minister, no traction with Palestinians, and no strategy to achieve a breakthrough.
“Indeed, in the wake of the publicly orchestrated extravaganza also known as the Benjamin Netanyahu visit last week, we seem to have speechified ourselves farther away than ever from serious peacemaking. Israelis and Palestinians are running in the opposite direction: Mahmoud Abbas to virtual statehood at the United Nations in September; Netanyahu to the belief that Israel doesn’t need a credible strategy to cope with what’s coming.”
The takeaway from Miller’s piece: until both Israeli and Palestinian leaders change direction, even a well-thought-out U.S. plan is unlikely to solve the conflict, and anything less could make things worse.
His plaintive conclusion:
“In the end, probably the best thing Obama can do now is not beat himself up and try to keep the game alive. There are things in life that America just can’t fix; for now, this may be one of them. That he doesn’t have a plan or strategy that can work is no reason to embrace ones that won’t and that could make matters even worse. And something may turn up.”