One sure sign that the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are approaching a decisive moment is that the level of invective and hysteria among opponents of a two-state solution has risen sharply in recent weeks.
One particularly embarrassing example was the Feb. 25 meeting between the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, and 16 members of the Knesset’s “Land of Israel” caucus, which opposes any Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank.
Member of Knesset Tzipi Hotovely of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party, the deputy minister of transportation, told Shapiro that she and her political allies would oppose any plan that included giving up Israeli sovereignty over “Judea and Samaria” and would bring down the government if necessary.
MK Zvulun Kalfa of the Jewish Home Party accused the ambassador of not having understood the basics of the situation. MK David Rotem of the Yisrael Beitenu faction asked Shapiro: “When can we depend on you? When did you stand at our side?” which is a strange way to speak to the representative of Israel’s only dependable ally in the entire world. His party colleague, MK Shuli Moalem, accused the Obama administration of adopting the Palestinian narrative.
Shapiro’s response to these remarks was balanced and very gracious under the circumstances. He took justifiable pride in the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security, maintained over the course of many presidencies, both Republican and Democrat. And he said that he and the administration understood the deep historical bond that linked the Jewish people to the Land of Israel.
But Shapiro did not shirk from stating the obvious. “There is another people here as well,” he said. Israelis and Palestinians both deserve the chance to exercise sovereignty and determine their own national destinies in their own national homelands. And therefore, it is necessary to divide the land.
We’ve also seen a rash of highly personal attacks on US Secretary of State John Kerry recently, especially in response to his warning that Israel would face mounting isolation and boycotts if his peace initiative failed and the occupation continued. Economic Minister Naftali Bennett, the leader of Jewish Home, led the charge, accusing Kerry of encouraging the boycott campaign.
His party colleague, MK Moti Yogev, said that the Israeli government had to deal with “the obsessive and unprofessional pressures that might also bear an undertone of anti-Semitism on Kerry’s part.” Under pressure, Yogev later partially retracted his statement, saying he regarded Kerry as biased against Israel and not an honest broker – but not anti-Semitic.
“Obsessive” was also the word used by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon to describe Kerry in January – but he went one further by describing the Secretary of State as both “obsessive and messianic.”
It’s interesting that these attacks have relied on personal slurs and innuendo rather than attacking Kerry on the basic facts. But one participant in the meeting with Ambassador Shapiro did manage to distil the essential issue in her comment. MK Orit Strock of the Jewish Home Party told the ambassador that she was not interested in the security arrangements proposed by the United States. “We are here because of our right to the land,” she said.
For opponents of a two-state solution, control of land – of every millimeter of the West Bank – trumps the prospects of peace with the Palestinians and the formal end of the long conflict between Arabs and Israelis.
Never mind that Israel will never win full international legitimacy as long as it continues to rule over 2.5 million Palestinians while depriving them of basic civil rights. Never mind that international pressure on Israel will only grow and that generation after generation of young Israelis will be forced to do military service
enforcing the occupation.
Israel’s former ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, injected a note of sanity into the debate, warning that international sanctions against Israel, should peace talks fail, would pose a greater danger to the country’s future than the possibility of missiles falling on Tel Aviv.
“We won’t have missiles coming down on our head, we will have sanctions coming down with great ramifications for the Israeli economy and society,” he said.
Those who value land over people, who revere soil more than peace, whose fetish about dirt exceeds their concern for life, are unlikely to pay attention. But the rest of us – the majority of Israelis as well as of American Jews who want peace – should listen well.
Thanks to Kerry, we have a new opportunity. We should grasp it – and we should support this Secretary for his hard work, his determination and his commitment to the issue.
Above all, we should choose life – if necessary over land – for the sake of the next generation and all generations of Israelis to come.
Alan Elsner is vice president of communications for J Street.