This article was originally published in the Times of Israel the day before negotiations failed and the editing takes this into account. It is reprinted with permission.
As the current peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have failed, we need to prepare for what comes next.
For some, this preparation involves preparing the public relations case for why “they” are to blame and shoring up our arguments and defence against a partial or broad boycott, divestment and sanction (BDS) campaign. It might also involve the circling of wagons around the “loyalists” and a legislative and communal campaign against the “outliers.” Who can march, when and where, who can speak, when and where, whose support is acceptable, and who is included under our “big tent,” are all going to be the subjects of ever-increasing and acrimonious debate, and some around the world might not take it as self-evident that it is “their” fault.
What happens after we accept that, for possibly the next decade, an agreement will elude us? What happens when our aspirational horizons are contracted and the status quo is all we can look forward to? Do we commence with punitive steps, such as annexing Judea and Samaria, expanding our hold on the land through settlement building and expansion, and a cessation of financial cooperation and support with the Palestinian Authority? Do these actions contribute to a stronger and greater Israel, to Israel’s vision of itself and relationship with world Jewry and the international community?
Like U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, I, too, fear the consequences of an energized BDS movement. But, more than that, I fear the ghetto mentality and victimhood psychology to which it would give birth. As a people, we are well schooled in living in the midst of animosity and defensive responses are imprinted on our DNA. Instead of leading the Jewish people away from a Holocaust-centred narrative, Israel would be its new locus of operations.
All criticism will immediately be subsumed under the banner of antisemitism and the world will be divided between the stark categories of friend or foe, with the former an ever-shrinking category. Friends will be confined to those who do not merely support us but who agree with us and reaffirm our narrative. Our world will become smaller and our walls higher as we create with our own hands the greatest ghetto in Jewish history.
This is not the Jewish world into which I want to raise my grandchildren. This is not a Jewish world that has any chance of attracting Jews who are searching for the location of their primary identity. This is not an Israel that can lay claim to a leadership position in Jewish life and attract the loyalty of future generations. This is not an Israel that can build new bridges, whether spiritual, moral, economic or political, with the larger world and our Christian and Muslim friends.
The making of peace requires two sides. Whether we did everything in our power and whether the Palestinians did everything in theirs is a factual question and, as such, paradoxically, unresolvable, for we rarely shape our opinions on the basis of facts, and instead shape our perception of the facts on the basis of our opinions.
We need to ensure that the cessation of the current peace negotiations does not at the same time unleash an uncontrollable process and narrative that will create a broader reality alien to who we are and detrimental to who we want to be.
I am concerned with that over which we do have control – our values, principles and identity as a nation and as a people. We need to ensure that the cessation of the current peace negotiations does not at the same time unleash an uncontrollable process and narrative that will create a broader reality alien to who we are and detrimental to who we want to be.
We now awaken to a world where policy is not the barter of negotiations nor the payment offered for compromises from the other side. We awaken to a world where we have to negotiate once more with ourselves and discover what we really want and what we need to do to get there. Settlement expansion is no longer a Palestinian problem but an Israeli one; educating youth towards violence is no longer an Israeli concern but a Palestinian one.
The demands of the other have ceased to serve as the wall behind which we hide ourselves from our own values and interests. We discover that all the punitive threats of harm that we levied at each other during the negotiations, if in fact implemented, harm “us” at least to the same degree.
Together with the mobilization of our forces for the sake of public relations, we need a mobilization of our best talent and leadership to determine and implement our national policies. We need to lead and not be led.
While a unilateral withdrawal along the lines of Gaza is not prudent, a unilateral implementation of policies that serve our moral and political interests is not only prudent but critical.
Such unilateral policies, I believe, must first fortify our Jewish commitment to the equality of all humankind, to the treatment of others as we would want to be treated ourselves and to the disdain we feel in the role of occupying another people. As an expression of these commitments, we must first clarify the borders we believe are defensible and which at the same time will allow for a viable Palestinian state.
This must be followed by a cessation of all settlement expansion, let alone building beyond these lines. At the same time, this cessation must be accompanied by a gradual dismantling of those settlements that are outside our self-proclaimed borders: first, through stopping economic incentives; second, through the provision of economic incentives to move; and third, through the construction of viable housing alternatives to accommodate the inhabitants of these settlements. All this will undoubtedly take time, but now, in the days after, what we have in abundance is time.
Just as we built a massive infrastructure to support the safety of the Israeli citizens who live there, we must now invest heavily in roads, bridges and tunnels that will allow unencumbered and free passage, to the best of our ability, for Palestinian inhabitants.
As the role of occupier is prolonged, we must be ever more conscious of the effects that it has both on those who are occupied and on those who are occupying. We must engage in an ever more rigorous analysis of our military footprint in Judea and Samaria and minimize our interference in the everyday lives of the Palestinian people to pressing security concerns alone. Just as we built a massive infrastructure to support the safety of the Israeli citizens who live there, we must now invest heavily in roads, bridges and tunnels that will allow unencumbered and free passage, to the best of our ability, for Palestinian inhabitants.
As the occupier, we must realize that the cancer is not merely affecting a small group of radical settlers but us all. We must double and triple our educational programs geared toward increasing commitment and sensitivity to the equality of human beings and to their inalienable rights. We must fight any and all exhibitions of discrimination and national racism. If we are not at the present time capable of applying our values to the Palestinian people in Judea and Samaria, we can double and triple our efforts in implementing them toward our fellow Israeli Arab Palestinian citizens.
Finally, we must relearn the old Diaspora art of living with unfulfilled dreams. The success of Israel has lured us into believing that if we will it, it will become a reality. As a result, we articulate our aspirations but have difficulty holding on to them in the midst of our imperfect reality. If aspirations for peace, justice and compassion are going to continue to define Jewish identity, we must learn to talk about them, write and sing about them, dream about them, despite the pain and disappointment that accompany our inability to as yet fulfil them.
This is part of the Torah of Israel for what happens in the days after negotiations fail, a Torah that challenges us to implement our ideals to the best of our ability and which obligates us to hold on to them, regardless of the reality within which we find ourselves. This is a Torah that empowers us as a free people to shape the world in which we live, instead of merely being its victims. This is a Torah that can prepare us for all the days after.
Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman is president of the Shalom Hartman Institute (hartman.org.il) in Jerusalem and director of the Engaging Israel Project. He is the author of The Boundaries of Judaism.