By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
Israeli politicians are preparing the public for the report that US Secretary of State John Kerry is about to present. Whether they already know what’s in it or are guessing or are working on authorized leaks isn’t clear. Here’re some of the signs:
*It started when Prime Minister Netanyahu was “thinking aloud” about allowing Jews to remain in their West Bank settlements in a future Palestinian state. This could be read as a hint that, in a peace deal, settlements close to the Green Line would stay in Israel and be traded for other land, but the settlements further away would have to be given up. As moving settlers is hazardous with the potential of civil war – the experience of the Gaza evacuation hasn’t been forgotten – trying to leave them intact on the other side of the border may be a more realistic solution.
*Economics Minister Naftali Bennett, whose party Habayit Hayehudi is the settlers’ political wing, originally reacted vehemently against the prime minister’s “reflection” but has now sort-of apologized, presumably because he wants to stay in the government and Netanyahu threatened to fire him unless he retreated.
*President Shimon Peres has just also “thought aloud” in the presence of former British PM Tony Blair (who plays some kind of role in all this) about the imperative of making peace.
*Finance Minister Yair Lapid told an Israeli audience that not making peace would hurt Israel’s economy badly by creating unemployment, whereas a peace agreement would greatly stimulate the economy. His reference point was the growing threat of a European boycott of Israeli goods and services with settler connections.
*A survey just published is reported to have concluded that about half of Israel’s population wants to make peace with the Palestinians, 25 percent are opposed to any deal that might lead to a two-state solution, and the rest are undecided. Peace thus wins 2:1, which is important because any final peace deal would be subject to a referendum in Israel before being approved by the government.
*Opponents seem to sense how things are going. A campaign has already started with a rally at the Western Wall arguing that every peace deal will be untenable because Hamas and groups to the right of it will seize power in Palestine and further endanger the Jewish state. A fresh report about missiles ready to be fired on Israel may be seen as further evidence against a Palestinians state from where such missiles could be launched.
Therefore, peaceniks shouldn’t start celebrating just yet. Even if both the Israeli and the Palestinian governments endorse the Kerry proposals, each will also try very hard to show that it’s the other that doesn’t want to make it work.
And then there’s the sticking point about recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. The prime minister of Israel insists that this is a pre-condition; the chairman of the Palestinian Authority is adamant that Israel will not receive such an endorsement.
Though every sober analysis points to the need for an agreement about two states for two peoples – and that’s, by all accounts, behind Kerry’s efforts – virtually every realistic assessment of the situation on the ground ends up doubting that the need will be met. But, as Israel’s national anthem reminds us, we haven’t yet lost hope. Skepticism doesn’t mean defeat but it does prepare for disappointment.