6 Questions About Peacemaking in 2017 and Beyond
On December 23, 2016, we watched as nations convened to promote and permit the passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334.
That the resolution was ratified by a group within whose ranks sit several perpetrators of occupation, wars of highly questionable legality and military campaigns that have ravaged countries and populations far beyond their sovereign borders is an irony worthy of comment and exploration.
Moreover, the fact that the very governments who have demonstrated nothing more than boundless ineptitude and indecisiveness regarding the broader Middle East now arrogantly exhibit total and utter certainty as to how, when and why Israel must enact policy – for Israel’s own sake no less – reflects a dynamic that ought to beggar belief. Sadly, such hypocrisy is standard procedure at the United Nations.
Of far greater concern to me, however, was the speech made less than a week later by US Secretary of State John Kerry, in which he demonstrated a stubborn, absolutist adherence to the two-state solution, the essential tenets of which include further land concessions by Israel and the division of our capital, in the hope of a peace that has, thus far, eluded us.
The secretary’s perception is best evinced by his opening declaration: “The two-state solution is the only way to achieve a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”
Responses to the speech came thick and fast, both from within and beyond the state of Israel. Some were congratulatory, others condemnatory. Regrettably, far too many focused upon the secretary himself, a futile endeavor.
On an issue such as this, Israel ought to undertake two matters, above all.
Firstly, we ought to present responses demonstrative of strategic thought, deliberation and direction.
Secondly, Israel should assign the best of our talent and attention to the “message,” not the “messenger.” Specifically, we must vigorously challenge the manner in which peacemaking for Israelis is prescribed by others. If current events in the Middle East prove anything at all, it is that nothing is certain, much less singularly so. Messengers come and go, but policies unchallenged endure.
We ought to be deeply disturbed by the willingness of many to trumpet the two-state solution, with all of its pitfalls, as the only possible solution.
To our friends oversees and your politicians, I propose a series of questions for you to ask yourselves, and your answers should engender a deeper understanding and internalization of the dilemmas facing the people of Israel, as well as the potential ramifications of specific actions upon which many of us rightly focus.
These questions are informed by simple realities that are too often forgotten, dismissed or overlooked by many throughout the international community. We in Israel do not have the luxury of averting our gaze from such considerations. We should not be expected to do so.
Question 1: Is the two-state solution geographically practicable and implementable? Can you stand over an open map of the land that lays between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean sea and demonstrate how a fully contiguous state for the Palestinian Arabs – incorporating Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip – can be established without breaching the contiguity of northern and southern Israel?
Question 2: Is there proof, evidence and precedent suggestive of the idea that further concessions of land to the Palestinian Arabs will result in a peaceful, secure reality for the state and people of Israel? Having withdrawn from the Gaza strip in 2005, in the pursuit of peace, Israelis have fallen prey to thousands of rockets launched upon our towns and cities from the very territory vacated. Today, at least two-thirds of the state of Israel is rendered within range of rocket attacks emanating from Gaza. Terror tunnels dug by Hamas into Israel have morphed from a tactical threat into a strategic asset. Does this reality inspire confidence in the continuation of the land for peace policy? This question calls for answers predicated upon proof and evidence. It does not call for hopes, dreams and conjecture.
Question 3: Are you certain that the majority of Israelis are ready, willing and prepared to divide our capital city, Jerusalem? For millennia, the people of Israel yearned to return to Jerusalem. Unlike the national anthems of many other countries, a full-throated reference to our capital city marks the crescendo of the Israeli anthem. For millions of Israelis, Jerusalem constitutes the magnet, the pulse and the very heart of our national, cultural and religious existence. As just one citizen, I reject as absurd any suggestion proclaiming that only by carving up that very heart is the survival of the broader organism assured. Capital cities signify state sovereignty. A sacked capital signifies a defeated state. Whether a capital is sacked by gunfire or by diplomatic pressure, the result is the same.
Israel’s citizenry has known generations of war and so we are uniquely willing to travel the road that leads to peace. Yet even at the outset of that journey we can clearly discern certain features that are more than worthy of being defended, both now and in the future. For me, and for many like me, Jerusalem, is one such feature. I am willing to defend it jealously, proudly and unabashedly. You may well suggest that it ought to be partitioned. I simply ask that you refrain from doing so as though your suggestion is reasonable. To me, it is not. In insisting upon the preservation of my capital, I am neither unique here in Israel, nor markedly different from citizens of other sovereign countries who would respond with equal possessiveness regarding their nation’s capital.
Question 4: If the two-state solution is implemented, unsuccessfully, would you be prepared to live with the consequences of that failure as is expected of the Israeli people? Since Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, three defensive operations have been launched by the IDF in response to acts of terror from the Strip. Such operations required the repeated, mass mobilization of reservists. These citizen-soldiers are our fathers and our mothers. They are our doctors, professors, lawyers and innovators. They are our business owners and our civil servants. They are just like you. For more than a decade now, they have been caught in the cause of putting right that which legislators made so very wrong. Even as such legislators enjoy their retirement from public life, having vacated the international stage, the citizens of Israel are called upon to preserve our safety and security. Our ability to do stems from a direct and personal obligation to defend our homes and our families. Such citizen-soldiers move forward on pain of death. Would you be willing to risk a reality such as that?
Question 5: If the two-state solution is implemented, unsuccessfully, would you be prepared to have your own children face the consequences of that failure as is expected of Israeli children? Israel’s sons and daughters constitute the first line of defense against attacks upon our cities and civilians. Oftentimes, due to Israel’s lack of strategic depth, our defenders can literally see the towns they defend from the forward lines of the battlefield. Israel’s sons and daughters face a clear cut choice, therefore. If they stand fast, the people behind them will live. If they fail to do so, some of those people will die. It really is that straightforward. The past four major, cross-border operations have come as a direct consequence of the land for peace formula. With that in mind, would you bet the safety of your children upon the policy whims of foreign governments? Or is the courage required to engage in such a wager something you uniquely expect from the parents of Israeli teens?
Question 6: In Israel, parents and children alike report to the field of combat. They do so with a very heart. Is it truly reasonable to believe that Israelis require international pressure in order to sedulously pursue a peaceful existence for ourselves and for our loved ones? Within Israel, the debate as to how we ensure a life of peace, safety and security is alive, well and intense. It is Israel’s to have. We will continue to exercise our democratic right to demand of our legislators that they do all that is possible and practical to bring about an end to this conflict, without paying a pyrrhic price. No pressure from overseas is needed when it comes to appreciating the urgency of peace making. What accounts for your belief that it is?
Friends, these are my questions to you. They are posed with my insistence that anyone unable to return a resounding ‘yes’ to all 6 must move away from the land for peace policy and instead consider new, imaginative and viable alternatives. A stubborn unwillingness to do so would demonstrate an alarming readiness to demand of the people of Israel that we accept upon ourselves a standard that no other people would be so much as asked to consider.
It will not be the legislators of distant lands who immediately bear the consequences of the policies they espouse. Rather, it will be the citizens of Israel to whom the task is uniquely assigned.
Do not impose upon Israel a future that you would never accept upon yourselves.
Allow us instead to chart our own course, both this year, and in the years to come, as we move toward the realization of our most sincere prayer, that of knowing shalom al yisrael — peace for Israel.
Note: The views expressed above do not represent the views of the IDF, the Foreign Ministry or the organization Our Soldiers Speak. They are reflective solely of the views of the author.
Benjamin Anthony is the founder, CEO and lead lecturer of the organization Our Soldiers Speak.