In marmur

By Rabbi Dow Marmur.

The day after the swearing in of Israel’s new government and the day before the arrival of President Obama, a symposium was held in Jerusalem under the title, “Israeli-Palestinian Conflict  –  Where to?” on the occasion of the publication of The Routledge Handbook on the Israeli Palestinian Conflict, edited by Joel Peers and David Newman.

The four panelists were on the centre-left of the political spectrum, i.e., in favour of the two-state solution. Nevertheless, there were differences, particularly between the realism of Shlomo Avineri’s analysis and the idealism of Naomi Chazan’s vision.

I was both heartened and depressed by Avineri’s presentation. Heartened, because what he said as an expert I’ve been saying as an amateur: though the Arab Awakening is likely to lead to the balkanization of the region and complicate life for Israel, the two-state solution is still the only viable response to the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

Depressed because much of what I’ve written from Israel has been along Avineri’s line. It depresses me and, alas, my readers. He maintains that neither the Palestinian Authority nor the new Israeli government – the most right-wing in its history, he said – will do much about solving the problem. All that we can hope for is that the situation can be managed better in anticipation of good times, whenever these may come.

Naomi Chazan differed sharply. She argued vehemently against the notion that nothing could be done about peace at present and, therefore, containment is all that’s possible. I understood her to say that in the same way as Avineri’s skepticism is self-fulfilling prophecy, so can the belief that peace can happen now. It’s essential for Israel’s survival and, therefore, requires the same kind of idealism that brought it into existence.

Chazan maintained that this fight for survival demands that those in power don’t wait for “the right time” for peace negotiations but create them now. For example, much could have been achieved towards it, she argued, if Israel had been the first to support the Palestinians’ bid for statehood at the United Nations. Similarly, instead of joining in the chorus that tells everybody not to expect much from Obama’s visit, his being here can and must greatly stimulate the process by pushing the two sides to negotiate.

I left the meeting wishing that Chazan were right but believing that Avineri got it right. Instead of hoping for the ideal we should settle for the real and make it less difficult than it is now and much less difficult than it’ll become if we do nothing at all. That’s why prudent management is the best possible interim measure to be taken now.

I understand this also to be behind Dennis Ross’s idea about what each side could do independently of the other to create confidence building measures that would ease the tension and prepare for the future. (Thus my latest column in The Toronto Star.)

The third speaker, Professor Arie Arnon of Ben Gurion University, pointed to the vital importance of the many Track Two encounters between experts who’re preparing the ground for peace whenever it comes by dealing with specific aspects of it. I understood him to say that these encounters blend realism with idealism.

The last speaker was Professor David Newman, also of Ben Gurion and co- editor of The Handbook. He reminded us that little of the left’s message, whether realistic or idealistic, is now touching the Israelis. The new government of the right reflects it. The citizens, indeed the world at large, have to learn to grin and bear it. Advantage: Avineri.

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