Thursday, October 14, 2010

Settlements, Peace Processes and Loyalty Oaths

I have been reading with keen interest the reports on the current round of peace talks or better, the peace process or better still, the lack thereof.  The United States appears the most engaged of all the parties.  This of course presents the greatest problem.  Although history records that the US added a decisive push to conclude a peace agreement between Israel and Egypt, the current peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians are no where near the final stage.  Instead the US is attempting to coax both parties to the table, most especially the Palestinians who are insisting that Israel renew its ten month freeze on settlement construction in order for them to reenter talks.  If the Palestinian leadership truly wants peace then come to the table and negotiate, about the settlements, about refugees, about Jerusalem.  Both parties should agree to talk no matter what.  There should be no agreements beforehand.  I remain suspect that Abbas, and Netanyahu as well, truly want to make peace.  Both leaders must truly desire peace.  Both leaders must recognize the legitimacy of the others claims, and aspirations.  Well at least some of those claims, if not all, can be a starting point to make peace.

Recently I read in The New York Times that settlements, refugees and Jerusalem remain stumbling blocks to advancing the peace process.  But what about the Palestinian's refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the State of Israel?  This is a legitimacy granted by virtue of Jewish history and the United Nations 1948 vote.  The Arab world's decades long rejection of the State of Israel is a major part of the story.  The Arab states' expulsion of their Jewish residents is also not to be forgotten.  The Palestinians must come to terms with a Jewish state in the Arab Middle East.  They must recognize that this state is bound to thousands of years of Jewish connection to the land and legitimized by the international community.  The stumbling blocks to peace are not only what Israel must overcome but also what the Palestinians must hurdle.  Peace can only be made by both sides acknowledging the others claims.

I have also been reading about Israel's loyalty oath, demanding that non-Jews, in particular Arabs, who wish to become citizens of the state must affirm Israel's Jewish and democratic pillars.  Leaving aside the political motivations for the promotion of this law, I do understand its philosophical motivations.  Israel struggles to balance its dual commitments to being Jewish and democratic.  Nearly 20% of its citizens question its Jewish authenticity, namely its Arab citizens.  Nearly 20% of its citizens question its democratic principles, namely the ultra-Orthodox Jews (although they may also question the form of its Jewish character).  These two principles, enshrined in Israel's Declaration of Independence, are what make Israel so wonderful.  The tension between the two is also what makes it at times so frustrating.  These two principles are also under attack.  Being both Jewish and democratic is what I love so much about the place.  If it were only democratic I would not love it so much.  If it were only Jewish it would not tug on my soul as much as it does.  Nonetheless coercing love and devotion is never a good idea.  Israel must work and work and work to make its Arab citizens to feel at home.  That is the only solution.  A new law will not change this landscape.

Years ago I tutored Arab students in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Safafa.  One day I asked my students if they would move to a Palestinian State when it was created.  (25 years ago I falsely believed such a state was in the near future.)  They answered, "Of course not.  We will stay with our families, in Jerusalem, in Israel."  They did not of course feel entirely at home in Israel.  They had a litany of complaints about their adopted state.  But with all its imperfections, it was still their home.  They recognized the beauty of its democratic principles, even if they were uncomfortable with its Jewish commitments.  I wonder how far we have strayed from that moment.

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