Global, Israel, Justice, Politics

A Complex Relationship with Peace

You know, you’re right out there in TV land. I’ve not heard much of a hopeful word out of the many folks who I know are down with peace (almost damn near everyone, despite varying caveats of right-wing or left-wing severity). And it’s rightful to be a cynic and skeptical of the outcomes of the Annapolis conference.
I am prepared to be disappointed too.
But the urgency is phenomenal not to be defeated by it. The urgency to jump to support Annapolis, despite its purported dubious chances of success, is imperative for all of us in the Jewish community. It is still right and just to work hard, even if failure is a hair’s breadth away.
I spend the bulk of my volunteer hours on progressive Jewish activism — on encouraging in others a scary existence along a fuzzy middle line between answers otherwise too convenient, building an endurance for a truly complicated and complex relationship with the Jewish state.
But to be honest, this requires a complex relationship to peace as well. An acknowledgment that fighting tooth and nail uphill towards a final status agreement between Israel and Palestine-to-be will not be the end of the issue. Final status might not mean hanging out in Hebron or vacationing in Beirut now or even by the time I’m 50. Humans are pathetic long-term thinkers and if Israel is to really survive, we cannot depend upon a temporary military superiority. The scary Pyrrhic victory of the Second Lebanon War was a warning shot across the bow — next time it may be worse. The issues won’t go away if ignored.
It is quite possible that Annapolis may lead to final status negotiations, that a peace agreement will come, everyone will clap, and we’ll settle in behind our sandbags and watch each other through rifle sights still. But a positive arrangement now sends powerful repercussions down the halls of the future. The agreements with Egypt and Jordan didn’t bear sweet fruit immediately, but today they are Israel’s most important regional diplomatic partners. A cold peace behind secure borders is at least a step forward, beyond the existential quagmire and demographic fear of the occupation.
And what will us pro-peace activists do in such an empty-meaning peace? Likely keep working for better relations between Israel and her neighbors, still building a progressive movement stronger.
It is also possible that the Bush-Olmert-Abbas gathering will be a convention for lame duck heads of state. Failing to bring home anything for their constituents, negotiations may be tabled for years. The pundits may cheerfully wink “I told ya so” but meanwhile, more revolt and repression will steal away the state’s youth and youths. The inevitable showdown between predominantly-religious Greater Israel believers and secular pragmatists will simmer on. It may indeed take another generation of violence before the successors of today’s politicians decide inaction and excuses are poor foreign policy. When that day comes, I’ll be happy to greet negotiations again.
But I won’t be sitting on my arse in the meantime.
Regardless of either outcome – either outcome! – it’s imperative that progressive Jewish voices get loud, very loud, right now as the microphone is turned our way – what is said and done in this month will be taken as cues by the Presidential candidates, by Congress, and by the negotiators in Israel and Palestine. When was the last time you found yourself in history-making moments? The chance, however small, for success must not be lost on those who stand to rule sooner or later after Olmert, Abbas, and Bush.
Because presently the right wing is busy denouncing movement on any of the issues which define truly final status negotiations, such as Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees. If these are the only advocates being heard from the Jewish community, then the politicians will act accordingly. Right now, a few Representatives are trying again to move Israel’s capital to Jerusalem prior to negotiations, a move deliberately intended to inflate Arab tensions and scuttle diplomatic talks. If we don’t speak up, then they’ll potentially shoot Israel and regional stability in the foot (or face, if Cheney is involved).
So what progress should we demand in Annapolis? At minimum, we want a commitment by Israel and Palestine at least (and by the US and the Arab league at best) to ongoing negotiations which lead to the resolution of final status issues and a schedule to do so.
I’m prepared to be disappointed, but I’ll never allow a sense of regret mingle with it. A diversity of Jewish voices are learning to flex their muscles and building them into a formidable force may take 20 years indeed. Life ain’t simple, politics ain’t simple, and sure as hell those things worth fighting for ain’t the easiest to fight for.
I am prepared to be disappointed. But that’s not stopping me from seeing the incredible potential of Annapolis gone right — and the importance of every hour of advocacy you give it now:
The Ackerman-Boustany “dear colleague” letter in the House asks Condoleeza Rice to commit aid to the Palestinian Authority to keep the Palestinian government running and the Palestinian people fed throughout negotiations. Sounds like a good idea, and it’s coming from arch-pro-Israel Representative Ackerman. Tell your Rep to sign it.
This rabbi’s letter “Kindle the Lights of Peace” already has 275 387 signers and counting, which will run in major newspapers and be sent to all the Presidential candidates. It says that negotiations are important to American Jews and explicitly asks Presidential candidates to make it priority sooner than year seven of their intending White House tenure. Sign it or tell your rabbi, cantor, or rabbinical/cantorial student friends to sign it.
Rock the boat and admit to a complex relationship with an Israeli state that’s not perfect yet, if you’ve not done so already. Admit to a complex relationship with peace which acknowledges the potential of failure while promising to triumph if not today then a day well-earned through tough labor. Tell a friend. Join any organization doing that work, like Brit Tzedek or UPZ or APN or Israel Policy Forum or New Israel Fund or PJA or New Voices or Ameinu. Give it tzedakah.
If there was ever a time when fighting for peace required furious engagement, for the sake of all the dreams of love-sick hearts for a better day for Israelis and others, this might very well be it.

5 thoughts on “A Complex Relationship with Peace

  1. There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical, but as you say, there are also plenty of reasons not to give in to that skepticism.
    At the Middle East Bulletin we’ve been following the not always confidence-inspiring ups and downs of the preparations and also highlighting the voices of those who think that this is an opportunity that cannot be missed – including Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas, Former U.S. Ambassador to both Egypt and Israel, Dan Kurtzer, and the President of the American Task Force on Palestine, Ziad Asali – in addition to Congressmen Ackerman and Boustany and their colleagues and all the important groups you mention. Sometimes it’s just hard to hear those voices over the din of the skeptics.

  2. It’s hard to tell what a “complex relationship” to “peace” is supposed to mean at this point. Most Israelis’ relationship to “peace” seems fairly simple: they would like it.
    They would also like to be safe and alive should it arrive, which is presumably why 70% of Israelis are apparently opposed to any release of Palestinian prisoners and 65% are against handing over more land to the PLO.
    The idea of an “opportunity that cannot be missed” is frankly absurd at this point. These kinds of “opportunities” are self-generated at moments of convenience by whatever American politician wants to use them. This time the enigmatic “opportunity” was eagerly whipped up by Sec. Rice…who now seems desperate to avert the unceremonious collapse of her new pet project into a total embarrassment–the usual outcome for US politicians who have tried their hand at this kind of thing.
    The heady talk of “unique moments” and “urgent windows” serves only to generate a mist of media hysteria and public excitability that is exploitable by the sponsors as a tool of pressure, but also unrelated to reality on the ground. It’s really almost humorous that people keep falling for this routine every time it’s carted out.
    If the magic Annapolis “window” of “opportunity” closes, fear not: there will be many new prefab windows lining up to take its place.

  3. Eric, I agree that that American whimsy determines when negotiations do and don’t happen, but it’s not a reason to not push all sides to make something come of it. Really, especially because all three politicians want so desperately to improve their own standings, we can believe they want to produce results. Ha ha, this is a great time! Because when else do politicians perform well than under pressure to not fall out of power?
    And if this window is missed, there will be another one, perhaps in a year, perhaps in 5 years, perhaps in 50. But wouldn’t that suck?
    And kudos to Middle East Bulletin for providing sustained answers to all the AIPAC yakkery out there.

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