Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Israel, and Israel-loving Jews, need to grow up

In an op-ed published today in The New York Times, Stephen Robert argues that its time for Israel-loving Jews to change their thinking, and to accept that Israel is no longer the weak kid on the Middle-Eastern block.

As he puts it, we need to "segue from deeply ingrained victimhood to the moral and practical dictates of being a major power."

And I couldn't agree more.

See the full article after the jump.

A Reset in Jewish Thinking

As an American Jew born in 1940, I’ve made or repeated many of the following arguments for over 60 years:

“Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” “Other Arab nations should absorb the Palestinians.” “Israel withdrew from Gaza and look what happened.” “The Palestinian people don’t exist.” “Israel needs the West Bank for security.” “Critics of Israel are usually anti-Semites or self-hating Jews.” “Biblically, the eastern border of Israel should be the Jordan River.” “Blame the Arabs for not accepting the U.N. partition plan of 1947.”

Of course, the Arabs have retorts to all the above, and a plethora of their own grievances.

Raised in a deeply pro-Israel home, I understand the roots of these comments. My father was a refugee from Ukrainian pogroms. He witnessed hundreds of people beheaded by Cossacks marauding through his town. Seconds from his own execution, he was spared because he was a kid. Fortunately, his family fled to the United States in 1922. During World War II, all the Jews in his Ukrainian village were rounded up and shot by the invading Nazis.

For millions of Jewish families, devastated by the Holocaust, a Jewish state seemed the ultimate refuge from centuries of persecution. Miraculously, Israel rose from the bowels of a nightmare, strong, prosperous and democratic. Criticism was unthinkable while our embryonic state hung by a thread.

More recently, however, I’ve become uncomfortable with our conventional wisdom. Making the same arguments for over 60 years, while the problem only gets worse, demands a reset in our thinking. That reset must acknowledge a transformational change in the facts since 1948, and especially since 1967.

What’s changed? Israel has gone from a vulnerable little state, surrounded by tens of millions of hostile Arab neighbors, to the most powerful military force in the Middle East. Dangers will always exist, but the balance of military power has inexorably shifted.

Peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan render unlikely any hostile coalition of neighboring countries. Syria has overwhelming internal problems. Iraq isn’t looking for another war. A nuclear-armed Iran could cause trouble in the whole region, certainly for Iraq and Saudi Arabia. My expectation is the major powers will not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons. And if military intervention is necessary, it is better led by the major powers. Of course, Israel itself is a nuclear power. It has brought the Jewish people from centuries of victimization to military power not imaginable half a century ago.

But can the Jewish people segue from deeply ingrained victimhood to the moral and practical dictates of being a major power?

A problematic and unsustainable development threatens the existence of the Jewish State: a land of about 7 million people has occupied the territory of 4 million Palestinians for over 40 years. Virtually imprisoned, the Palestinians lack freedom of movement and civil or political rights. They are subject to imprisonment without charges. They often lack water and jobs and are citizens of nowhere. God help an infant born in Palestine today.

For 60 years, the Israelis and the Palestinians have blamed the imbroglio on each other. Instead of blame, it is important that they start seeking realistic solutions to today’s problems.

Both sides must recognize that a two-state solution is in both their interests and failure to reach an accord could be catastrophic for both. Israelis must understand that in liberating the Palestinians they will also liberate themselves.

The creation of a Palestinian state would leave Israel with 78 percent of pre-partition land. It would reverse a worrisome anti-democratic tendency in Israel, which stems largely from keeping 4 million neighbors under occupation. War and human rights are implacable foes; Israel is losing the moral high ground through much of the world.

How can a people persecuted for so long act so brutally when finally attaining power? Will we continuously see the world as 1938, or can we use the strength of our new power to forgive, while never forgetting the lessons of our past?

With peace, the dangers of an Arab Spring in Palestine will recede, and the horrific loss of life for each side will end. Leaders stuck in the past will not accomplish this goal. What’s needed is the vision and courage of Gandhi, King, Mandela and De Klerk. Each side will need to concede issues of burning importance to large portions of their populations.

Palestinians will have to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, essentially abandoning the right of return. A compromise must be reached allowing part of East Jerusalem to be the Palestinian capital. Both sides should agree to the pre-1967 borders with land swaps to accommodate certain Israeli settlements, though many of the settlements must be dismantled. Ideally, Fatah and Hamas will form a unity government and Hamas will rewrite its untenable charter. An international security force may be needed along the border with Jordan.

Many will say much of this is unobtainable. But the two parties have come close before and can eventually succeed.

Yes, there are risks for Israel in allowing a Palestinian state. But as Jews, we cannot tolerate a Jewish state that ignores its own Declaration of Independence and the teachings of our sages over thousands of years. A state that persecutes, deprives and denies its neighbors in a manner so similar to what our tormentors did to us cannot be acceptable.

It is time for Jews to realize their changed position, to eschew the time-worn arguments of the past, to raise the plane of the debate and to move vigorously toward an achievable two state-solution. Peace with the Palestinians would, on balance, diminish risks; being an international pariah erodes Israel’s security, allowing its enemies to claim the high ground. In the words of Marcel Proust: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands, but seeing with new eyes.”

Stephen Robert, formerly a principal owner of the investment bank Oppenheimer & Co. and chancellor of Brown University, is chairman and cofounder of the Source of Hope Foundation.

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