Last week marked the 15th yahrtzeit of Rabin's assassination. According to the Hebrew calendar it was during the bereft and already bitter month of Cheshvan. I have been thinking about Rabin and his leadership during the course of this week. Rabin was the last of Israel's courageous soldier-statesmen. He was in my estimation brave because he pushed through the Oslo peace accords. He believed that this agreement was the best way to guarantee peace--and security.
Although I admire his courage and even more, his sacrifice, the assumptions that underlie Oslo proved false. The main assumption was that with the promise of a Palestinian State and through the apparatus of an emerging government, the Palestinian leadership would have no choice but to cease their violent struggle and come to terms with the Jewish state on its Western border. Unfortunately Rabin's darkest fears about Arafat proved true. He preferred violence and suffering (as well as corruption and power) over what he viewed to be a partial state and a half way victory. Nonetheless I admire Rabin's courage and resolve. Sharon as well surprised me when he set in motion the painful disengagement from Gaza. I am saddened to say that I do not see these character traits in Netanyahu. He appears more intent on maintaining his prime minister position than forcing the people he leads to make painful, and unfortunately, necessary sacrifices.
Since Rabin's death the number of settlers has doubled, from approximately 150,000 in 1995 to nearly 300,000 living in the West Bank today. (To my knowledge these figures do not include those living within Jerusalem's neighborhoods situated beyond the green line.) Although I do not believe that a settlement freeze will advance peace I wish that Netanyahu courageously addressed the citizens he leads with the words, "My fellow citizens, I am skeptical that freezing settlements will advance peace, but our good friend the United States and its president, Barak Obama, has asked this of us and sometimes we do things for no other reason than a friend requests it. I believe that many of our Palestinian neighbors want peace. Let us see if we can sit down together and talk about the painful sacrifices that each of us will be required to make. Both of us will be required to sacrifice in order to achieve peace--and security. We are of course influenced by history, both recent and ancient, most especially that of World War II and the Holocaust, but we must also be influenced by the tradition we so love. In that peace is the greatest goal and its highest aspiration. It is even more important than the land we hold so dear. Let us meet with the Palestinians and their leaders. Let us talk. If building must be curtailed to make it easier for us to speak, then that is the choice this nation, the country I lead, must indeed make."
I understand how difficult and painful this settlement freeze is to contemplate. The crux of the issue for Israelis, and many Jews including myself, is that the West Bank and Jerusalem represent our return to the biblical land more than the shining metropolis of Tel Aviv. The continued failure of the Palestinians, and much of the world, to affirm that Israel is not just about the Jewish people achieving national sovereignty in the Middle East, but instead about reclaiming sovereignty in the land of our ancestors, is a daily reminder of the failure of the world to appreciate the central truth of Zionism (and perhaps as well our failure to communicate this truth). That is part of why the West Bank matters. It is not Gaza. And it is certainly not Kansas. For Jews, Jerusalem and Hebron, Tekoa and Shiloh, are not like any other places in the world. These places reverberate with the pulse of the Bible and the resonance of thousands of years of Jewish prayers. If the Palestinians would affirm this religious and historical connection then they would do much to advance a peace agreement and make it far easier for Israelis to sacrifice great pieces of their biblical homeland.
Moreover, the recent uprooting of 7,000 settlers from their homes in Gaza was terribly traumatic. Even if Israel retained large swaths of West Bank territory, the large settlement blocs of Maaale Adumim, Gush Etzion and Ariel, they would still have to uproot some 70,000 settlers! Imagine this trauma and pain. This would only be compounded if Palestinians continue to say that Jews have no right to live in this land. Each of us must affirm the others right to live in the land of Israel. Given that Arabs are citizens of the Jewish state, Jews must also be allowed to become citizens of any Palestinians state. Why the world thinks it is ok for the Arab world to be Judenrein escapes my understanding. (For more about a partition plan for today read Gadi Taub's recent article in The New Republic.)
In addition, 40% of the IDF's officers come from the religious Zionist camp and as Yossi Klein HaLevi points out two of Israel's recent military heroes who fell in battles with Hamas in the south and Hezbollah in the north built homes in an isolated settlement in the West Bank. Majors Roi Klein and Eliraz Perets lived in Givat HaYovel. Given their sacrifices most Israelis are sympathetic to their families' situation and support expanding their homes. It would not be so simple to leave our homes in the West Bank, no matter how isolated. These places may very well be isolated in the world's imagination, but they are less and less isolated from the Israeli mainstream, in large part because of their residents' continued sacrifice in behalf of the security of the state.
Here is where we stand. 80% of Israelis still support the creation of a Palestinian State so long as their safety and security are guaranteed. The vast majority of Israelis are prepared to sacrifice much for peace. In a recent study 49% of Palestinians would agree to recognize Israel as a Jewish state as part of a peace agreement. Whereas 48% would object to affirming this all important point. Prior to this round of "peace negotiations" 58% of Palestinians said they would make this affirmation.
It saddens me to think that we are moving backward rather than forward. Shalom chaver!