By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
Sari Nusseibeh, the Palestinian public intellectual, activist and president of Al Quds University, paraphrases in his memoir, Once Upon a Country (p. 446), what he wrote in 2001:
The average Israeli sought security and a Jewish state, and the average Palestinian sought freedom from occupation. There was an astoundingly simple formula for both sides to secure their basic interests: two states more or less divided along the 1967 borders,
A dozen or so years later, the simple formula is still only a dream. By all accounts that’s what Secretary of State Kerry is trying to turn into reality through his persistent efforts to bring about a solution to the Israel-Palestine problem.
One of the many complications is that the Government of Israel seems to view the settlements and settlement expansion as part of it quest for security. The Palestinians, on the other hand, seem to see it as a way of depriving them of freedom from occupation.
That’s the context in which I understood the speech that Tzipi Livni, Israel’s minister of justice and chief negotiator with the Palestinians, made to the United States Conference of Major Jewish Organizations as it assembled this week in Jerusalem for its annual meeting with Israeli politicians and public figures.
Livni criticized linking the settlements to Israel’s security. She spoke about how wrong it is to expect civilians, including children – i.e., the settlers – to be responsible for the defense of the State of Israel. That’s the job of the armed forces, she insisted. A peace agreement with the Palestinians must make sure that the military, not the civilians, can defend Israel. The settlement issue should be dealt with separately.
Was Livni critical of her cabinet colleagues who by linking the two want to make sure that there will be no agreement and that the expansion of the settlements will continue?
Along similar lines, we may also ask whether the insistence that the Palestinians acknowledge Israel as a Jewish state – which, in view of their mythology makes it well nigh impossible for them – isn’t also a way to make sure that the negotiations will come to nothing. There’re discussions in many Israeli circles whether it’s prudent to demand such a statement from the Palestinians instead of working on the assumption that that’s what Israel is and will remain, whether or not Palestinians endorse it as such.
On the other hand, the Palestinians’ refusal to do so may be their way to make sure that noting will come of Kerry’s efforts. They may prefer to be total victims, as they’ve presented themselves hitherto, to being partial victors by accepting a compromise that gives Israel security and them freedom from occupation.
Nusseibeh is regarded with grave suspicion by many Israelis because of his contacts with Peace Now and other peace activists. He’s viewed by Palestinians with at least as much suspicion for speaking to Israelis of any persuasion. Yet his approach, seemingly echoed by Tzipi Livni, remains the most viable formula for peace. Will Kerry succeed to persuade the powers that be on both sides to go for it?