Former MK Einat Wilf: Peace Predictions and Internal Politics (INTERVIEW)
Einat Wilf is a former member of the Israeli Knesset and now spends most of her time serving as a “Roving Ambassador for Israel” — traveling the world and telling her story, and the story of Zionism and Israel. Wilf was born and raised in Jerusalem and came from a classic Labor Zionist family.
She herself was always a member of the Israeli Left and continues to consider herself a left-winger, but her views on the sources of the Mideast conflict and the vision of peace have been transformed as a result of encounters she had with “moderate” Palestinians who had many not-so moderate views. She realized that peace would be possible only once all parties mutually recognized their mutual rights to the land and their rights to be a sovereign people in it.
At an intimate meeting at her home office in Tel Aviv, Dr. Wilf shared some fascinating beliefs as well as unique recommendations on how to advance peace and increase freedom within Israel’s borders.
Question: Considering that most Palestinians are not accepting the idea of Jewish age-old connection to Israel, what steps can be taken over the long term to close the gap between Palestinian/Muslim and Jewish/Israeli thinking, world view, and narratives?
Answer: When asked what would finally bring peace, I answer “two words: mutual exhaustion.” It is only once both parties have exhausted themselves of the possibility that the other can somehow be made to disappear that progress towards peace can be made.
People do not resolve deep conflicts through rational debate. They do so only once they have exhausted all other alternatives. We are still locked in a struggle right now. This is a deep conflict that touches, for both peoples, upon the most basic questions of “who are we,” “what is justice” and “what is history”? With such identity-driven questions, there is unlikely to be a solution until each side internalizes that the other is here to stay.
I think that over the span of the past century we can actually see the process of mutual exhaustion taking place. In a sense one can argue that the current spasm of violence, spearheaded mostly by youngsters and women, demonstrates the extent to which many parts of Arab and Palestinian society have become exhausted with fighting Israel — leaving only youngsters and women in east Jerusalem to keep trying. Within Israel there are also many segments that have become exhausted and have accepted that at one point they will have to accept Arab Palestinian sovereignty in part of the land, but since there are still some segments that seem intent on continuing the battle for the entirety of the land, we are still a way off from the point of mutual exhaustion.
Q: What is the most helpful activity diaspora Jews could do regarding Israel?
A: To the world, we need to take back our story. Our story has been hijacked, disfigured, and trampled upon to the point that many in the world believe that we forcefully took a land to which we have no connection or that it was “given” to us as some kind of Holocaust “consolation gift” — a phenomenon I term “Zionism Denial,” as it denies the entire history of Zionism pre WWII, denies the Jews people their agency in shaping their history, and is blind to the fact that Israel was a state in all but name and independence before WWII.
We need to remind the world that we are home and we are here by right, and not just by might — it is neither a superior nor an exclusive right, but it is very much a right. This is our home just as much as it is Arab Palestinians’ home. This is also critical for the ultimate cause of peace — if the Palestinians are somehow deluded by the world to believe that they can triumph through boycotts, then the moment of mutual exhaustion gets pushed back. Neither side in this conflict should be supported in the idea that their right to the land is superior or exclusive to that of the other.
Q: If you were prime minister, what would you do?
A: I would always attempt to negotiate a full agreement for peace, but understanding that the chances for that are slim, I would take some actions that would improve our position. First, I would draw a clear border that represents the final limit to our territorial ambitions. It would be the minimum necessary to include the main settlement blocs. Within this border, I would annex the territory — perhaps 2-4% of the West Bank. I would make it clear that we have a historical, legal, and emotion claim to the rest of the land as well, but would need to draw a border that limits our rights to the entirety of the land, just as there is a limit to theirs. Then I would dry up the public funds for settlements beyond the border.
Delineating a border and drying up all funds and support for settlement building would not bring peace, but it would make clear that we are genuinely acknowledging that our right to the land is neither superior nor exclusive. I don’t think we can make a strong case for building settlements and being genuine about seeking peace. Regarding the military presence in the West Bank and the Jordan River — that would remain. As long as the Palestinians continue to collectively deny our equal and legitimate claim to the land, we cannot withdraw to the border. I think the key is to separate the settlements from the military presence.
For more from Dr. Wilf, read her new book, Winning the War of Words: Essays on Zionism and Israel, which can be downloaded on her website.
Eliana Rudee is a fellow with the Haym Salomon Center and the author of the “Aliyah Annotated” column for JNS.org. She is a graduate of Scripps College, where she studied international relations and Jewish studies. Her bylines have been featured in USA Today, Forbes, and The Hill. Follow her column on JNS.org.