With all of the dizzying, fundamental changes in the Middle East, where the Arab Spring has given way to radicalism in Egypt and complete chaos in Syria, a key transformation in the Israel-Palestinian relationship has taken place that has largely gone unnoticed.
f Israel indeed desires a two-state solution to the diplomatic impasse, “it can only happen” if Jerusalem recognizes Palestine — formerly the Palestinian Authority — as a legitimate state, according to Gidi Grinstein, the founder and president of the Reut Institute, a Tel Aviv-based think tank.
In a rapid-fire presentation at Limmud NY, where more than 800 people took part in the annual four-day, grass-roots smorgasbord of Jewish learning, prayer, music, culture and conversation that took place last weekend in East Brunswick, N.J., Grinstein focused on Israel’s many external challenges, and some opportunities.
He asserted that “the key transformation in the [Israel-Palestinian] relationship is that it’s now up to Israel” to decide whether or not to achieve two states since the Palestinian Authority, still without a parliament and deadlocked with Hamas, “does not have the capacity to make an agreement,” even if it wanted to do so.
The former Middle East negotiator said Israel’s choice is either to continue controlling the Palestinians or to make unilateral moves, such as “an act of recognition,” because if left up to the Palestinians, “there may not be a [Palestinian] state.”
The premise of Grinstein’s presentation, which he called “Small Nation In Stormy Waters,” is that the world is undergoing such dramatic, breakneck change that governments cannot keep up in what he calls “the age of permanent revolution” characterized by “fogginess,” with no reliable paradigms from which to learn, and hesitation to act on the part of national leaders.
The Syrian civil war is a case in point, where events have moved so fast and with such complexity that Washington has been unable to respond effectively.
Israel used to focus on Arab governments with rational leaders, Grinstein noted, but they have been replaced by fundamentalists, fostering a sense of crisis, fatigue and surprise.
He said the current climate calls for versatility, not just being able to respond to one crisis at a time, adding: “Israel needs to be in more places, in a deep way,” building new alliances in the Middle East, particularly with young people in the Arab world who are more open to engagement.
He spoke of Reut’s major involvement now with an audacious “Repair The World” program that seeks to capitalize on Israel’s strength in areas like technology, prenatal health care, water irrigation and energy. The plan is to make a major humanitarian effort throughout the world.
“We have unique value to contribute,” Grinstein said. “The trick is to get credit for it,” to improve Israel’s image while fulfilling the Jewish mandate to benefit mankind.
Grinstein’s talk was one of hundreds of workshops, lectures, discussions and performances at Limmud NY, part of the international, British-based effort to bring together Jews of all ages, backgrounds, political beliefs and religious practices to study and learn together.
There was a palpable energy in the halls on Sunday afternoon as people schmoozed and pored over their 132-page programs, deciding what session to attend next. There were often more than a dozen offerings at a time.
Part of what makes Limmud unique is its emphasis on volunteerism, which includes presenters. “Every participant is both a teacher and a learner,” noted conference chairs Katy Schwalbe and Helaina Skop.