Over the years we’ve struggled with trying to find a balance when it comes to the issue of coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians. We’ve called out the Palestinians for incitement in textbooks, we’ve decried any number of senseless and deadly terrorist attacks against innocent Israelis, and we’ve criticized Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for placing one roadblock after another in the way when it comes to getting to the negotiating table.
But we’ve also hailed the work of the Abraham Fund in promoting Arab-Jewish programs, we’ve cheered efforts to help the plight of the Bedouins in the Negev, and we’ve chided Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his Election Day comments urging a response to “droves” of Arabs going to the polls, and for his sometimes narrow, parochial politics.
We’ve bent this way and that, trying to give voice to a common-sense view — however elusive — that both sides bear a responsibility for making coexistence work, that the burden can’t be borne by Israel alone.
But it seems common sense has been thrown out the window in recent days. During a visit to New York last week, Ayman Odeh, the leader of the Arab-Israeli coalition in the Knesset, came to the office of The Jewish Week for an interview and stressed that “Jews and Arabs must struggle together against racism and discrimination” and emphasized the need for “openness and inclusion.” He spoke of taking part in more than 40 meetings with the finance ministry to create legislation that would alleviate economic problems for Arab citizens.
But the next day Odeh refused to enter a Midtown building for a meeting with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations because it houses offices of Zionist groups, including the Jewish Agency for Israel, whose work “displaces Arab citizens,” he said.
Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive director of the conference, questioned how Odeh can go to work each day at the Knesset.
In the end there was a standoff; Odeh left.
On Sunday, Saeb Erekat of the PLO requested that an Israeli flag be removed from the podium before he addressed a New York conference sponsored by Haaretz and the New Israel Fund. (The flag had been placed there for an address by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.) The conference organizers acquiesced to Erekat’s request and removed the flag.
That decision strikes us as servile and lacking in national pride. One wonders how far Israel and the Jewish community must go to satisfy the demands of Erekat and Odeh, who represent the more moderate voices of Arab leaders.
We’re coming to the end of a brutal year — from Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Casher in January to the Bataclan in Paris in November to San Bernardino earlier this month. While the slights by Odeh and Erekat of course don’t add up to the mounting fear of terrorism here and abroad, they seem unhelpful, at best, profoundly sad, and indicative of the widening gap between the possible and the yearned-for in the Arab-Israeli dispute.
George Mitchell said about his agonizing negotiations during The Troubles in Northern Ireland, which led to the Good Friday Accords: “We had 700 days of failure, and one day of success.” Erekat’s and Oded’s actions add yet another day of failure to the Israeli-Palestinian ledger. Maybe the way out is a few days of common sense strung together. We’re not holding our breath.