Is There A ‘There’ ‘There’?

Jewish Light Editorial

The first “there” in the headline above refers to a potential agreement between Israel and Palestinian negotiating blocs. The second “there” refers to the negotiating table that United States Secretary of State John Kerry has worked tirelessly, some say naively, to construct during six trips to the Middle East over the past several months.

We think the answer to the question is yes, mainly because we can’t stomach the prospects posed by a related question, namely: What are the implications of no agreement being reached?

A lot of people have drifted away from the notion of a successful settlement, and that trend is understandable. Palestinian factions and supporters are split among various points of view, ranging all the way from a stated desire for lasting peace and economic prosperity to insistence on the destruction of the Jewish State. Though when surveyed, Israelis cling by a precarious majority to a two-state construct, they are dubious of the prospects of an enforceable peace and have elected a ruling coalition that is only grudgingly willing to come to Kerry’s table.

The splintering of opinion, combined with retreat into remote and extreme corners, is creating an environment of noise in which the likelihood of success appears slim. So we think it’s most important that everyone remain continuously and emphatically reminded of the perils of failure.

Many on the Israeli side are quite willing to roll the dice on the status quo. Some think the current strife can be managed indefinitely. Others are unwilling to cede points that they know will be part of a compromise, such as the integrity of Judea/Samaria and Jerusalem as Jewish land. Still others don’t accept that any deal will be consistently honored by the other side, and that even if the Palestinian Authority could be trusted to stand behind a deal, the terrorist zealots of Hamas and their axis allies, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran, will not.

Anat Cohen at The Sheldon

Each of these points has validity, but none of them can be taken at face value without considering the context of a negotiation failure:

• It is entirely possible that the Arab and Palestinian populations of Israel will continue to grow disproportionately to the Jewish population, ultimately leaving Jews in a minority position within the overall boundaries of the nation if no two-state solution is reached. While cries of apartheid to date have been grossly inaccurate and in many cases racially and ethnically motivated, what happens down the road if there truly are fewer Jews than others and the demography begins to resemble that of South Africa during its era of governmentally enforced segregation? We shudder at the notion.

• The fastest growing populations on the Jewish side are the most religiously and, to a great extent, culturally intransigent. Even if a Jewish majority is maintained, what is the nature of the evolving Jewish population, how does it deal with Palestinians and Arabs, and how does Israel’s support and protection from the Diaspora change if the demographics and resultant politics of the Jewish population trend more to the ultra-religious?

• A two-state solution has at least the potential for building international support for peaceful coexistence, equal treatment among nations, and undoing the faux dichotomy that today depicts Israel as the “colonial oppressor” and Palestinians as the “freedom fighting persecuted.” In the absence of such a settlement, the distorted myth will continue to be perpetuated, allowing nations of the Middle East to continue avoiding their own perilous domestic problems by tagging Israel as the common enemy. With a settlement, the community of nations will be far less able to hold a Palestinian state to a lower standard of responsibility than it does Israel to a higher one today.

Any agreement that is worth its salt must satisfy the needs of each party to such a degree that having an agreement, even if flawed, outweighs not having one. Those who ridicule the current effort for U.S.-brokered talks obviously believe the substance of any agreement would be too much of a giveaway, or cannot be enforced in a way to ensure a safe and secure Israel.

We cede those risks and don’t in any way purport to brush them aside. But when we look at a future without an agreement, the prospects look significantly worse than most deals that have even a grain of potential to come to fruition. And that is why, first and foremost, we support Israel returning to the negotiating table and ensuring every last iota of potential diplomacy is used up before calling it quits. Again.