President Shimon Peres' remarks at the opening of the Knesset's winter session this week outlined the credo of the Israeli Left: peace at any cost.
Yes, it is difficult and there are obstacles, but it is a "supreme moral directive," and as president, he has a duty to support the peace talks. Throughout the world (including in Israel), his remarks were interpreted as opposing those of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The tunes that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his representatives sang this week about the "breakdown" of talks and a "dead end" are being backed up by both U.S. President Obama's policy and Peres' encouraging words.
Netanyahu's governments have set clear conditions over the years: recognition of Israel as the national state of the Jewish people, the Jordan Valley under Israeli control, a demilitarized state, cessation of the anti-Israel incitement and recognition of the territorial compromise agreement as the end of the conflict and the end of all demands. All these conditions have to do with Israel's security and the Jews' right to their homeland. All this, of course, apart from abandoning the Palestinian demand for a right of return.
As far as security requirements go, we have learned from recent history. Before the 2005 disengagement -- the expulsion from Gaza and the destruction the Jewish communities there -- then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was asked to guard the Philadelphi Corridor to stop the flow of terrorist arms and ammunition into the Gaza Strip. The Left was opposed.
"Don't try to frighten us," they said. "No rockets will be fired at southern Israel." The people who warned against the Oslo Accords, the disengagement and other inventions from the same well-known source were depicted as fear-mongers. The Left was portrayed as a camp of hope and peace and it marketed its wares on every possible media platform, most of which were reserved solely for the Left.
Did we learn from our experience? Have we not been blinded by the bright lights of long-term propaganda urging peace at any cost because "we don't have a choice" and because "time is not on our side"? For Netanyahu, the Jordan Valley is the Philadelphi Corridor of the east. Of course we cannot rely on foreign forces to protect us. We also learned that from personal experience. That is the source of the demand for demilitarization. Nobody wants to wake up to see an Iranian outpost on the mountaintop, a stone's throw from major population centers and our international airport. Another thing we need to realize is that without the Israeli army's help, Hamas would take over what is left of the Palestinian Authority too.
As far as our rights go: Finance Minister Yair Lapid also came out against the demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Those opposed to it say that "we do not need Palestinian recognition of our identity." That is true. But the demand is not for us. It is for them. It is inconceivable that Israel recognize Palestinian sovereignty over part of the Land of Israel while the Palestinians, and through them the entire Arab world, refuse to recognize Jewish sovereignty over part of the land.
This means that even after the final status agreement, the Palestinians will continue to demand sovereignty over all the land of Israel west of the Jordan River. But that is not all. Once that is accomplished, there will be a worldwide propaganda effort to win recognition of Israeli Arabs' national rights, which is another way of phrasing the idea of Israel as a state of all its citizens as advocated by the New Israel Fund and its collaborators -- removing the Jewish component from Israel's identity.
For roughly a hundred years, every time the idea of partitioning the country came up for negotiation, only one side -- the Jews -- accepted it. Incidentally, the partition proposal that was accepted in the United Nations on Nov. 29, 1947, spoke of a "Jewish state" and an "Arab state" (!). The refusal to recognize the State of Israel's Jewishness is part and parcel of the Palestinians' unrealistic demand for the "right" of return.
We could say that such recognition serves as a litmus test for the other side's sincerity. The past hundred years have taught us that the conflict between us and the nations of the region is not over territory or "the occupation." It is over the very fact of our living here as a sovereign nation rather than as dhimmis -- protected but subordinate and heavily taxed -- under Islam, as we did for 1,400 years. Hence the Arab denial of the Jews' connection to their land and, of course, the effort to wipe out all traces of Jewish existence on the Temple Mount. Hence, also, our own demand that all incitement against us cease -- in other words, that recognition of the Jews' national rights here become part of internal Palestinian discourse. We cannot play around with this issue. If we do, we will once more be in a hopeless situation, without peace and in a war of ever-increasing intensity.
Yitzhak Rabin and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef
The anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin coincided this week with the end of the shiva, the week-long mourning period, for Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. Here is a sensational story about Yosef from a book written by journalist Shaul Meislish, published more than a decade ago. When I spoke with Meislish this week, he recounted the story.
The daring operation to rescue the hostages at Entebbe in July 1976 held many dangers. Then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was not nervous. There was terrible fear of a national disaster -- that the airplanes might be shot down with the rescuers and the hostages aboard. Rabin decided to consult with Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who was then the chief Sephardi rabbi.
It turns out that the two shared a secret channel of communication. The rabbi asked to "sleep on it for a night," and the following day sent a message to Rabin indicating that the operation would "end peacefully."
Once the operation was successfully completed, Rabin called Yosef to thank him for the peace of mind the latter had given him.
What is the connection between Rabin and Yosef? I asked. "It was a terrible decision and Rabin was looking for someone to lean on -- psychologically, spiritually, something of that sort," Meislish replied. When I thought about the deeper meaning of the story and its unavoidable symbolism, I felt encouraged. There is hope.
This week I was invited to a debate at the impressive Seligsberg High School in Jerusalem. It was the anniversary of the Rabin assassination, and the 12-graders heard two positions about the conflict and how long it might last. The representative of the Left was the talented Avner Inbar, the executive director of the Molad research institute. The argument that he kept repeating during the debate was that while he had proposed a solution to the conflict, I had not.
In his book, Moshe (Bogie) Ya'alon referred to this kind of thinking as "the disease of solutionism," a sort of delusion that if we repeated the word "solution" without ceasing, we would come to believe it -- even though history has shown us that every time we put the Left's amazing ideas into practice, the situation inevitably worsens.
We are facing an abyss, and the solutionists want us to fall into it for the thousandth time, only to find yet again that there is no solution. The idea that every problem exists for a defined reason and can therefore be solved is a Western idea that has existed for many years. If the reason for the conflict had been territorial, we would have solved it. But we live in an ancient region that acts and thinks differently: Not every problem has a solution; the ancient myths are present in the contemporary discourse, and religion plays a major role as well.
So what is the solution? It is just like the one implemented in the second return to Zion: building and developing with one hand while holding a sword in the other. We've done fairly well with it so far. Think of where we were a hundred years ago and where we are now. Patience is required. Our hope is not yet lost.