The Rebbe and Trump on Achieving Peace
Perhaps no one had more public conversations about the development of the Trump peace plan with its chief architect, Jason Greenblatt, than I did. We held approximately seven public events in New York, one in Los Angeles, and even one in Warsaw, Poland. Still, I knew next-to-nothing of what was actually in the plan. That’s how closely guarded it was by Jason and all those who worked on it.
I knew the people writing it were all fully committed to Israel’s security. From Jason, to Jared Kushner, to David Friedman, to Avi Berkowitz, these were all individuals deeply devoted to the safety of the Jewish people. Many, like Jared, were from families devastated by the Holocaust who understood the genocidal threats confronting Israel.
Still, I was a little bit worried about the plan. Every preceding peace proposal had put all the pressure on Israel to make concessions. Then, there was the fact that the President Trump — while undeniably the best friend Israel has ever had in the White House — so badly wanted the “deal of the century” that there was the possibility the burden would be placed on the reasonable party — Israel — to compromise. Pressure would be brought to bear on Israel to give up land.
All previous land-for-peace deals have ended in catastrophe, like Oslo, that led to thousands of Jews blown to smithereens, and the evacuation from Gaza which led to a Hamas terror state, three wars, and thousands of rockets. But most of all, my concerns for what would be contained in the plan were based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who staunchly opposed territorial concessions on Israel’s part.
Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, in his biography The Rebbe, summed it up well: “The Rebbe argued again and again that Israel’s conceding land would not only not bring peace, but would instead actually endanger Israel’s survival and put the lives of innocent civilians at risk. … Israel’s succumbing to pressure would subject her to ever greater and continuing demands for the return of yet more land. Not only would doing so not ensure Israel’s security, it could earn her contempt from those, including the United States, who could come to believe that Israel could be pressured into acting against her own interest. … How sad, the Rebbe argued, that some Jews were now willing, ‘for the sake of peace or for the illusion of peace,’ to surrender portions of the land “in the ill-conceived belief that our enemies would thereby be appeased.’”
Rabbi Chaim Miller, in Turning Judaism Outward, writes, “From 1967 until as late as 1991, some of the most emotionally charged sermons delivered by the Rebbe on a consistent basis were devoted to what he referred to as Sheleimut ha-Aretz (the integrity of the land), a sustained polemic against any territorial concessions on the part of Israel. Over one hundred and twenty-five sermons were devoted to the topic, and the central argument remained consistent throughout.”
Could I support any plan that demanded territorial compromise on Israel’s part when the Rebbe’s predictions about how land-for-peace would lead to thousands of murdered Jews turned into heart-breaking prophecy?
For a long time the Trump peace plan was delayed as Israel went through successive elections with no result. One wasn’t sure it if would ever be published, especially after Jason left the administration.
Then, last week, I was at Auschwitz, Poland, attending the 75th anniversary of the Liberation of the extermination camp — a solemn occasion that I was not going to miss — when I received an email inviting me to the White House ceremony announcing the plan next day. Logistically, there was no way I could attend, and for a while I felt like I had to choose between the Jewish past and the Jewish future, between remembering the six million martyrs of the holocaust and being present at the White House where the contours of the Jewish state was being determined by the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Israel.
The next day the details of the plan were published and the original reports said it was a two-state solution and that a Palestinian state would be created on 70% of the ancient Biblical lands of Judea and Samaria. A four-year ban on settlement expansion made me even more uneasy.
Then I read the plan in its entirety. As Jason had promised, it was a radical break from previous administration’s peace plans which had put the onus of compromise on Israel. The Trump plan was first and foremost about Israel’s security. There would be no Palestinian state unless the Palestinians met non-negotiable criteria that included the end to all incitement against Israel — especially in Palestinian schools and media — and the end of the Hamas terror organization. Even then, any Palestinian state would be completely demilitarized and Israel would retain army surveillance posts and the right to enter any time it felt its security compromised. Israel would be responsible for all external security for a Palestinian entity but would also bear all costs.
As for the settlement expansion ban, it would apply in the areas that would be marked for a Palestinian state but would not effect existing Israeli settlements, which Israel would annex.
And why would the Palestinians agree to all this — a state-minus? The plan rests on the belief that the Palestinians, like people everywhere, seek economic improvement and a better way of life. A massive economic investment of $50 billion would promise to transform the Palestinian economy and create unlimited opportunity and one million jobs.
It’s a compelling and bold plan that dismisses so many of the previous obstacles like the perpetuation of permanent Palestinian refugee status. The Trump plan does not infantilize the Palestinians like so many previous plans and is not guilty of Europe or the UN’s “soft bigotry of low expectations” that always exonerates Palestinian aggression. And then there is the hope that even if the Palestinians reject the deal — and thus far they have — other Arab governments might embrace it leading to the possibility of Israel establishing diplomatic relations and peace treaties with the Gulf states.
All of this is a best case scenario and Jason and the president deserve immense credit for a bold new plan that strongly advocates for Israel’s interests and peace.
But, as the Rebbe warned, much can also go wrong. The Palestinians might agree to a limited state while in actuality aspiring to much more. Will they not ultimately agitate, or even start a new intifada, to rid themselves of any hint of Israeli military control? Would an amoral world’s sympathies not lie with the Palestinians if they launched a terror wave against Israel with the argument that their state has no dignity without full autonomy? And from Gaza we learned that even an area that is supposed to be demilitarized can acquire a vast arsenal through illegal smuggling and tunnels. And what of the fundamental Torah argument that the Land of Israel — in its entirety — is gifted to the Jewish people not by world leaders but by God Himself, an argument embraced by the President’s Evangelical Christian and Orthodox Jewish base?
And hovering over the plan is the sad truth that for 70 years Israel’s genocidal enemies have been largely immune to economic incentives, as their hatred for Israel eclipses even a love for their economic future.
All these are questions that no doubt even the Trump administration would concede are valid.
What can certainly be said for now is that the Trump peace plan continues to demonstrate the president’s passionate and unprecedented commitment to Israel’s security while also presenting — as the Rebbe would no doubt argue — significant and unacceptable risks.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the international best-selling author of 33 books, including the upcoming Holocaust Holiday: One Family’s Descent into Genocide Memory Hell. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @RabbiShmuley.