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November 24, 2013


It is always a “critical moment” in Israel. Over the years, we have grown inured to urgency. So why are so many Israelis feeling that this critical moment is the eleventh hour, the last plateau before the precipice? The West Bank settlers see Netanyahu flirting with John Kerry and Barack Obama. They know that he does not believe in a peace agreement that will mean relinquishing most of the West Bank, and yet they also see that he cannot ignore or dance around the American initiative. We on the left are clear that the moment for which we have longed has now arrived: Forever, the left’s litany has been: “When will a U.S. president finally condition American support for Israel on the willingness of Israel’s government to move toward a brave peace?” That president is here, and he has sent his Secretary of State way out on a limb to bring in the fruit. While Netanyahu ostensibly keeps his cool, his shenanigans have inspired angry grumbling from Washington. While the American thrust has not quite coalesced, it is clear to us all that the cards are on the table: John Kerry has dealt us a hand that only a true Israeli leader will be able to turn to the advantage of us all. Success in the presently limping peace talks is crucial and will open the way to a difficult, painful, yet hopeful future. Failure of the Obama/Kerry initiative will send Israel and Palestine into a new round of killing and terror whose end will elude us for a long time to come.

 While we Israelis agree that Iran’s nuclear armament must be blocked, American-led diplomacy is alive and may solve the problem. Yet Netanyahu’s obsession with Iran’s missiles, which he sees soaring someday soon into our skies, is blinding him to the Palestinian challenge right here, right now, in Jerusalem and Ramallah. Or perhaps it is not blindness, but rather a cynical and deliberate exploitation of the Iranian threat to divert what he seems to see as the disaster of progress with the Palestinians. The grimmest among us fear that Netanyahu is actually praying for the bedlam that will erupt when the Kerry initiative falls apart. Strong and fearless, our prime minister will then have been “right,” and will spin the new intifada as “proof” that the Palestinians never intended to make peace with Israel. How frightening a missed opportunity.

In the course of fawning over President Hollande, Netanyahu recently proclaimed his well-known chorus, “It is impossible to demand we recognize a national home for the Palestinians without demanding of the Palestinians that they recognize the national home of the Jewish people.” This piece of Netanyahu’s rhetoric represents a false reciprocity designed to present Mahmoud Abbas as the “non-partner for peace.” Yes, Palestine is indeed to be the national home of the Palestinian people. The State of Israel, in existence for 66 years, is already internationally recognized and does not require recognition of its legitimacy “as a Jewish State.” Israel is not the exclusive national home of the Jewish people. Some twenty percent of our citizens are not Jewish, they are Palestinians many of whom lived here before there was an Israel. The day Mahmoud Abbas accepts Netanyahu’s demand will be the last day of his life, or at least of his life as President of the Palestinian Authority.

 Can we force the Palestinians to embrace our narrative while denying theirs? In 2011 our government voted into law the denial of the Palestinians’ national disaster, their “nakba,” the catastrophe of the founding of Israel. According to the Nakba Law, funding can be denied to any government-funded institution (Israeli Arab schools, for example) that marks Israel’s independence day as a day of mourning. We Israelis go crazy when we detect holocaust denial, but Nakba-denial is now the law here.

 Beyond legality and rhetoric, we are faced with an existential choice between the rocky road toward peace on the one hand, and no future on the other. Whenever I encounter people from the right, I ask them for their vision of the future. Invariably, they have no future picture other than endless warfare, a strong army, and circumstance offering repeated confirmations that the world hates the Jews.

 My people is losing its empathy. An Israeli aged 45 has never known his/her country not to be occupying another people’s land. Occupation has become the sea in which  we swim, army service in the territories is the university where hundreds of thousands of young Israelis learn who we are. During reserve duty, I have looked into the eyes of a 20 year old officer who was ordered to fire into a crowd of stone-throwing children, killing a 12 year old. He told me that he disagreed with the order, did not think the crowd threatened his men, but he fired anyway. He was a broken young man.

We must end this occupation, through careful negotiation. We must turn enemies into friends, swords into plowshares. This is the time, there is no other. The present opportunity will not soon return. And yes, it is indeed a critical moment.

  Yoav Peck, a Jerusalem organizational psychologist, is on the Board of the Sulha Peace  Project                                                                                   




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