The time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is a time for self refection and repentance, as individuals, as communities and even as people of a nation. In this particular year, I believe the two societies of Israelis and Palestinians will have to perform deep self-examinations in their commitment to the two-state solution which they both claim to support.
The Palestinian leadership looks determined to achieve its goal of statehood recognized by the international community. Despite strong diplomatic opposition from the United States and Israel, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, continued with his unilateral bid at the United Nations, asking the UN to accept Palestine as a full member state. In his speech to the UN assembly, he detailed the historic Palestinian narrative toward national aspirations and directed his criticism exclusively and directly at the settlement enterprise and Israel’s military presence in the West Bank. Though he recognized Israel’s right to exist and its legality, he agreed to negotiate with Israel only on pre-conditions that Benjamin Netanyahu and his government have already refused.
The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who delivered his speech to the UN assembly shortly afterwards, presented the Israeli narrative; asserting the Jewish people’s right to a state in the Land of Israel and questioned the refusal of the Palestinians to recognize it. He pointed out how Israel has been attacked by extremist Islamic groups using territory Israel had withdrawn from (Gaza and Lebanon) and asked what will prevent it from happening if Israel were to pull out from the West Bank to the pre-1967 lines and make its most populated area particularly vulnerable. His bottom line was that Israel wants peace to be achieved through negotiations despite the Palestinians’ refusal to negotiate.
Now that the bid has been submitted, we shall wait and see how it will play out when it comes to a vote, first in the UN Security Council and then in the General Assembly. One thing is for sure – the bid refocused the attention of the world on the status of the Israeli-Palestinian issue and returned it to the global agenda. In a statement released recently by the Quartet – the grouping of the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations that guides Middle East peacemaking – the parties were called on “to overcome the current obstacles and resume direct bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations without delay or preconditions.” Israel has already welcomed this statement. The Palestinians, for now, are more reluctant. Even if the Palestinians accept the outline, it’s the general approach of the two sides that needs to change.
Even though Netanyahu and Abbas have both expressed their desire for lasting peace, the tone of their speeches was full of mutual accusations, which indicates there is no partner for dialogue and this will again lead to a dead end. It’s hard to see how to move forward from these two narratives of demands and complaints without understanding the other side’s story, but it is up to the people, not just the leadership to do so. The Palestinians have to agree to end the conflict, to recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, to fight terror and hatred both in their streets and in their textbooks and to once and for all relinquish their aspirations to return to Israel’s pre-1967 borders. The Israelis will have to admit and unequivocally declare that the fulfillment of Israel’s biblical right to all the land of Israel cannot be fully expressed, and then to acknowledge that an independent Palestinian state requires significant compromises and even dangers when it comes to the notion of defensible borders. It is these insights of the people that will determine what the coming year, and those to follow, will look like.
Rega Shel Ivrit
Milkhemet Ha’atzmaut – מלחמת העצמאות (War of Independence)
History teaches us that war and national independence is quite a common combination. In Hebrew those words usually refer to the 1948 Arab-Israeli War that was fought between the soon-to-be state of Israel and several surrounding Arab countries, concluding with the de-facto reality of an independent Jewish state. The route toward Palestinian independence has already caused many casualties over the years of conflict, but in order for it to be a reality, its final note must be the opposite of war. It must be peace!
May we have a good, peaceful year.
Roey Shiff is the NFTY Shaliach. Roey grew up in Ein Vered, Israel and has experience working with teens and leadership development. He also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Business Management from Ben Gurion University. In September 2010, Roey moved to NYC to act as the NFTY and Israel Programs Shaliach as part of the URJ Youth Division.