I really try to avoid the endless left vs. right discussions on how Israel should proceed in dealing with the Palestinians these days. It’s not that I have nothing to say on this vital debate, but rather that I have much to say — on both sides of the issue.
Truth is, I find it upsetting when people insist they have “the answer” to the Israeli-Palestinian problem. If it were all so simple, wouldn’t we have arrived at a solution decades ago?
If you are a dove, insisting that Israel needs to bolster Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority and agree to a settlement freeze to get the peace talks resuscitated, I’ll take the other side.
After all, I’ll say, Abbas refused an extravagantly generous offer from Ehud Olmert in 2005 and did not respond positively when Benjamin Netanyahu halted settlement activity for 10 months three years ago. Abbas may look good compared to his predecessor, Yasir Arafat, or to Hamas, which makes clear its intention to destroy Israel. But he’s shown no indication of significant compromise, a requirement for real peace. He’s more of a passive terrorist, allowing others to do the dirty work — the rockets and the suicide bombings — that he later praises or condemns, but doesn’t act to stop.
Still, if you tell me that since Israel has no serious partner on the Palestinian side, it should go ahead and either annex parts of the West Bank or keep building in the disputed territories, I’d argue that such moves preclude any chance of avoiding a one-state solution, which means the end of a Jewish democratic state. Israel’s choices would be a Jewish apartheid state or a democratic state that, in time, would have Arabs outnumbering Jews and running the government in Jerusalem without firing a shot.
You might conclude that I’m just a contrarian, ready to oppose whatever solution is proposed. But I’d prefer to think of myself as someone humbled by reality, insisting that those with a simple answer — be it hawkish or dovish — to the Mideast conflict are being stubborn, refusing to acknowledge the limits of their argument.
The hawks have no answer beyond the perhaps emotionally satisfying but highly impractical “pound them into submission” point of view. One of the reasons Israel didn’t send ground troops into Gaza a few weeks ago is because even if they rooted out all of the militants fighting them — which would require killing large numbers of civilians as well — the government in Jerusalem would then be faced with the choice of running Gaza again, controlling the lives of hundreds of thousands more Arabs who hate them, or leaving the area in chaos, allowing new terror groups to take over.
But the doves, in calling for ever more concessions from Israel in the hopes of ending the decades-long war, refuse to acknowledge that the Palestinian leadership consistently has opposed a Jewish state in the region, and continues to demonize Israelis and Jews as inhuman usurpers of the land. Abbas, the “moderate,” speaking at the UN prior to the recent vote enhancing the PA’s status, spoke not of the hope of two states for two peoples but of Israel as a state of ethnic cleansing and genocide run by war criminals.
I don’t want to win any arguments on the Mideast. I just want whoever I’m debating to acknowledge how deeply complicated the situation is and to admit that not all problems have solutions.
And that complexity and confusion applies not only to dealing with the Palestinians. Look, for example, at Egypt and Syria.
In Cairo, Mubarak the tyrant was a partner with Israel in controlling radical elements, and the democratically elected Morsi represents the Muslim Brotherhood, founded for and dedicated to eradicating Jews from the region. You can see now why Israelis were so upset with the U.S. for allowing Mubarak to fall so hard so fast.
And in Damascus, though it is clear that President Assad is more murderous even than his father, responsible for tens of thousands of deaths of his own people, would it be better if terrorist factions of the opposition took control of the country, or if it became a failed state, with Iran waiting to step in and take over?
There are no easy answers in the Mideast, and there are few in life.
“Wisdom begets humility,” said Abraham ibn Ezra, the 12th century Spanish sage. The same is true today. Being Jewish is about having doubt, and even our greatest biblical heroes are flawed. As the late Rabbi Emanuel Rackman, the prominent scholar and Jewish Week founder, wrote: “A Jew dare not live with absolute certainty, because certainty is the hallmark of the fanatic, and Judaism abhors fanaticism.”
Keep that in mind the next time someone tells you he or she knows just what to do to end the Mideast conflict. Find the truths in their position while recognizing there is no one truth.