Bush Offers Nothing Real to the Palestinians

but Plenty for the Terrorists


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George Bush might be a nice guy, but he sure knows how to miss an opportunity. For the first time since 1948, Arab states have offered to give Israel full recognition and peace if Israel withdraws to its pre-1967 borders. The leadership of the Palestinian Authority has just announced that it would accept the terms of an agreement as defined by President Clinton in 2000 in the months after Camp David.

But there are two substantial obstacles to all this: First, the Israeli political right, which currently runs the government, has no interest in withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza. Many religious Zionists believe that giving up West Bank settlements would be a violation of God's will.

Second, Islamic fundamentalists have no interest in the creation of a secular Palestinian state living in peace with Israel. They would much prefer to see an Israeli occupation that will be worn down over the course of the next 30 to 40 years of guerilla struggle against Islamic forces than to see a secular state that would restore hope for Palestinians and lessen the appeal of the fundamentalists.

So both have entered into a de facto alliance to prevent any such development. Ariel Sharon says that he will not reward terror by allowing any substantial steps toward withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza as long as Israelis face terror. Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad understand the covert invitation, and respond with acts of terror against Israel, particularly at moments when the Palestinian Authority seems to be moving toward accommodation with whatever is the lastest American or Israeli demand. Instead of responding by attacking Hamas, Hezbollah, or Islamic Jihad, Sharon responds by repressive measures against the Palestinian Authority and the entire Palestinian people. Those measures increase despair, generate new recruits for the terrorists, and demonstrate the ineffectiveness of the Palestinian Authority. A perfect reward for the terrorists, exactly what they are seeking.

Now George Bush has joined Sharon in endorsing the notion that any small bunch of fundamentalist extremists can veto a peace process. Of course, had the U.S. insisted as a precondition for withdrawal that the Vietnamese end acts of violence against Vietnamese civilians who supported the U.S., we'd still be fighting that war. Or if the South African whites had demanded an end to all acts of anti-white violence as a precondition for majority rule, there would still be apartheid in South Africa. And since the Palestinian terrorists do not seek peace with Israel, but the destruction of Israel, George Bush has given them massive incentive to continue their acts of terror.

Bush's call for democratic reform of Palestine might have more credibility if it had come from a president who had won the popular vote in the U.S., but it frames a direction that almost everyone can embrace. The Palestinian people would certainly benefit by replacing Arafat and other criminal elements who have supported terror against Israeli civilians. But as long as Israeli tanks roll into Palestinian cities every week, few Palestinians will believe that it is possible to have a democratic process that is anything more than a ratification of whatever Israel seeks to impose on them, and if they vote at all, it will be for those who express the most extreme anger at Israel (just who we don't need in power if we want to negotiate for peace).

If the U.S. wants peace, George Bush is going to have to summon the courage that allowed his father to stand up to the American friends of Israel's right wing. In 1991 that meant demanding a settlement freeze, but in 2002 that will mean support for an international intervention to separate and protect the two sides from each other and to impose a settlement which minimally requires an end to the occupation and the settlements, reparations for the Palestinian refugees (and to Israelis who fled Arab lands), as well as an end to the terror. One way to reassure legitimate Israeli fears: offer Israel membership in NATO or a mutual defense pact with the U.S. to guarantee protection from assault by neighboring states.

But there is only one path to mobilize Palestinians to join in a serious effort to crush Hamas and other fundamentalist terrorists, and that is for the Palestinian people to feel Israel has had a fundamental change of heart and is now ready to treat the Palestinian people with the same respect and sensitivity to their needs and their fears that we Jews rightly demand for ourselves. And that will never happen as long as we punish an entire people for the outrageous acts of a few. In my view, both sides need to do real teshuva-repentance for the terrible cruelty and pain each has unnecessarily inflicted on the other. But in the actual reality of Israel's far superior military power, it must be the more powerful force that starts this process without demanding that it be reassured from the start that the other side will reciprocate. If the Jewish people were to not only end the occupation and provide reparations, but also do it in a way that demonstrated real repentance, and we kept up an attitude of generosity and open-heartedness for many years, the justifiable Palestinian rage would eventually melt enough so that most Palestinians would be willing to stop, villify, and imprison those (and there are certain to be some) who will want to keep up violence no matter what Israel does. This is the only way to isolate the fundamentalists-every other approach guarantees their survival and future acts of terror.

Bush's vague promises of a state without territory, and without protection from further Israeli incursions, and one conditional on overthrowing Arafat and stopping all violence, is a non-starter-except perhaps as a temporary respite of pressure from the Saudis, who may use the Bush speech as a pretext to claim that the U.S. has demonstrated good intentions, and therefore deserves the go-ahead for U.S.'s desired war against Iraq. But for those of us who want peace and reconciliation in the Middle East, George Bush never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

All the more reason why we need to build a social movement capable of pushing U.S. policy in a different direction. We call it The Tikkun Community-and our goal is to be both pro-Israel and pro-Palestine, a movement that calls for both a new social policy and a new spirit of compassion and generosity.

Here is a first step: Visit our Web site http://www.tikkun.org/ and download the resolution (it's in the middle of the page) there and get it endorsed by the local chapter of whatever political party you are part of (Democrats, Greens-and don't be so sure that you won't find some responsive voices even among Republicans), by local unions and churches and synagogues and mosques and ashrams, by social change groups involved in peace, justice, civil liberties, and human rights work, by civic organizations and neighborhood associations, by prominent and respected local personalities and educators, and by people seeking elected office (let them know if they want your vote in November that you want them to sign on to this or some version that raises these points that you yourself construct in accord with what you think will work in your locale). Finally, try to get locally elected officials to pass it as a resolution in your city council or county government or state legislature (or, if they won't, try to collect signatures to put this on the local ballot for a direct vote). It will be a wonderful way to create a local conversation that is really needed.Rabbi Michael Lerner is the editor of Tikkun magazine and the author of Jewish Renewal: A Path to Health and Transformation (HarperCollins). He is the rabbi at Beyt Tikkun synagogue in San Francisco. He also invites readers of this article to consider joining The Tikkun Community--for non-Jews as well as Jews, and co-chaired by Lerner and by Cornel West (African American Studies at Princeton) and Susannah Heschel (chair of Jewish Studies Dartmouth). The Tikkun Community is a progressive pro-Israel alternative to the pro-Ariel-Sharon crowd, but also an alternative to those whose correct criticisms of Israel sometimes slips into anti-Semitism or demeaning of Israel. More info: www.tikkun.org or contact community@tikkun.org