I actually had a different lecture prepared, but when I heard that Yasser Abed Rabbo was here, there was no reason for me to talk about the Palestinian side, and that is one of the main messages that I have to transmit this evening.
I want to suggest that we are at an incredibly difficult moment with one glimmer of light. There may be opportunities opening now that we haven?t had for the past four years since the beginning of the second Intifada.
What I would like to do, very systematically, is to examine the difficulties, see where the openings are, what our challenges are, and give you some suggestions on how to address them.
I want to say, very frankly, in case you haven?t noticed, the problem is not getting moderate Israelis and moderate Palestinians to agree, not only on the substance of an agreement, but the details of an agreement. It is possible. The problem, today, is getting to the negotiating table. And therefore ninety percent of the work of peacemakers on both sides is within our own communities. The peace forces in Israel have to work in Israel. They have to deal with Israeli issues and with Israel?s debate and with the Israel?s politics. And when I heard from Yasser Abed Rabbo, he is aware also that a big portion of the struggle of the moderate Palestinians is within Palestinian society.
I am working on the assumption that we are united on four basic premises. Number one, substantively ? that a two-state solution — a viable Palestinian state along side Israel is in Israel?s uppermost interest, and that it is the only way to achieve justice and security for both Palestinians and Israelis. A two-state solution is an imperative, and by the way, to put it in Jewish terms, a two state solution today is the only way to fulfill the Zionist dream.
Second premise and it is as important as the first. That there will not be one moment?s quiet in our area unless there is a negotiated settlement between Israeli and Palestinians
Strategically, what we are searching for is getting to the negotiating table.
The third premise is that timing is crucial. It is urgent now. We are on the verge of losing the two state solution. And if we do miss the opportunity, we are on the verge of losing Israel as a democratic state with a Jewish majority. That means that the entire value system underlying what we have been doing can be lost unless we act quickly.
And the forth premise is that, right now, we can not do it alone. We need international involvement; we need international action; we need international assurances and that probably means, we need an alteration in US policy.
The current situation is the worst situation on the ground that we have known since 1967 and possibly since 1948. Do not kid yourself: it is awful and it is getting worse daily. The violence is unspeakable. The terrorism is out of hand, and things are being done in our name, which are equally unspeakable, including the invasion of Gaza in the last two weeks: The killing of over a hundred Palestinians, many of whom were women and children, the daily humiliation of check-points are things that we have to search our consciences about very carefully.
The situation on the ground is awful and it is not getting better. The political incapacitation of the Palestinian Authority has been discussed already. If you look at Israeli politics, it is not exactly a paragon of stability and civility, to put it in mild terms.
And that is a crucial element of part of the problem today. And I don?t need to tell you what you are seeing here at this conference is unusual, because, in most cases, there is a total breakdown in trust between Israelis and Palestinians, except for nice peace pockets. I call them peace pitot ? and they are magnificent and the falafel and the humus and the tahina inside are unbelievable
But all around us is a lack of confidence and growing animosity. It is so deep it is going to take generations to overcome – emotion-driven policy, extremism running rampant on both sides. We are not in a good place.
So, having said that, why am I actually smiling? I am smiling because something is moving, something will move. The disengagement plan of Sharon has created movement in the system and lest there be any misunderstanding about my position on the disengagement plan ? which is as you know is a Gaza withdrawal, West Bank partial annexation, Palestinian state prevention scheme — it is aimed at conflict management and not at the resolution of the conflict. It is extremely problematic but it contains two elements which are very important because they have opened things up.
They are number one, evacuation of settlements and, number two, ending part of the occupation — partial withdrawal. Thus, there is movement. And therefore, the critical question that we have to ask ourselves, is how do we enter the debate that is taking place in Israel today and how do we prevail this time? I have no problem as some of my colleagues do — and your President definitely does– saying we made a mistake. We made mistakes. So the important thing for us is to analyze what is taking place now that things are opening up and how do we succeed?
I want to approach this question on four levels, because I think we are going to have to operate on four levels very quickly.
The first level is the most fundamental level: it is the level of public opinion in Israel and in the Jewish community. Most of the debate is taking place in Israel today between the right and the extreme right. Not only is most of the debate taking place between the right and the extreme right, but most moderates, let alone peaceniks, are totally out of the debate. I suggest the time has come to engage this debate because that is where you start to make a dent in public opinion.
The debate that is going on today in Israel, relates to three components.
The first component is that, with no problem whatsoever, the far right has introduced religion into the equation. Why can you not withdraw from territory, even Gaza? Because it is sacred. Kadosh. And if, in any way, you question the biblical roots, then essentially what you are doing is sinning: it is a sin. That has to be answered. And, by the way, you will hear this on every single campus on the United States. I encounter it everywhere I go. It?s rock bottom and nobody has an answer to my analysis that I am probably just a bad Jew. You know what I am talking about right?
So I suggest that knowing the Biblical sources is imperative to dealing with this issue and the answer is profound; but I?ll put it in simple terms: If the land is really sacred, then it is a sin to try and possess it, because you cannot possess sanctity. Therefore, those who claim that, because the land was given to us by God, and therefore we must possess it, are profaning God and profaning our heritage.
The second element is identity. If you do not support the settlement movement you are not only not a nationalist, but you are potentially an anti Zionist, an Oslo criminal, Geneva lover, and, God forbid, a post-Zionist. This is serious. Literally, the accuse you of betraying your identity. Let me suggest to you that you are not betraying your identity at all. In fact, the most anti-Zionist element in Israel today are the hard-core ideologues on the right. And therefore, turning the tables in this way is useful today.
The third element of the argument is absolutely the most important. The debate is over jurisdiction and sovereignty. It?s over the survival of the state. And essentially what the right and the extreme right are saying is: Are we going to have an Israel that includes Gaza or are we going to have an Israel that excludes Gaza and covers the entire West Bank? They are claiming that that is Israel.
That approach is eventually going to doom a two-state solution, and if it dooms a two- state solution, the only solution left on the table is a one-state solution. The argument over jurisdiction is important, because there is a distinction between the state and the land. It is high time that the right and the extreme right understand that the land is one thing and the state is another and that jurisdiction is over the state and not over the land.
That is where you get all the argument about refusal to relocate or to refuse all orders to evacuate settlements. You are in an ideological debate. Instead of ducking it, the time has come to repossess the symbols of universal humanism and Jewish humanity and to look people in the eye and say: ?You know what, don?t call me a bad Jew because what you are doing is even worse than indescribable.?
The second level is civil society. The extreme right in Israel and the extreme right in the Jewish community in the United States have tremendously good organization, a lot of resources and not insignificant power, in case you haven?t noticed. What we are doing here this evening — creating a progressive Zionist alliance — is ten years overdue. But it gives an organizational answer to the level of organization that we find on the other side within our community. Now, it?s up to you to get some money for this, because we want the resources as well. The important thing is to be present in every Jewish setting, because presence helps gains power and wrests power away from those that have taken it because nobody has contested their power.
The third level is the political level. I will say it very clearly: the disengagement plan will pass the Knesset at the end of the month with the support of the opposition – not the coalition. It can?t pass with the coalition, but the first reading of the plan, at least, will pass with the support of the opposition, including Labor and, likely, my colleagues in Yahad,. Because Sharon does not have a majority in the Knesset, he will do everything possible to create a national unity government. If he does I will be very surprised with the Labor party but I will not enter that discussion at the moment.
In all likelihood, he will hobble along from crisis to crisis. Why am I describing this: because 2005 is an election year in Israel. It will be an election year in Israel, and elections for democrats are good thing. Elections are very important because this is the time, not only for the refuseniks on the right, and those supporting disengagement, to compete against each other, but it is the first time since the unveiling of the Geneva Initiative that the peace forces in Israel have the option to put negotiation on the public agenda and advocate for negotiations as against disengagement.
For the fourth level, I only need one sentence. The fourth level is the international level, and Israel and the Palestinians need the US as an honest broker. In the last nine month I cannot, unfortunately, say that the US has been an honest broker.
A stalemate has taken place– has been in place, for the past four years– with horrific consequences. The publication of the Geneva Initiative put the system into movement. The direction it is going is extraordinarily problematic. Our challenge is to take disengagement and divert it to the negotiating table, to reach a comprehensive two-state solution by agreement. We can do it. But we have to work in our communities and I am sure that we can.