Bush Offers Nothing Real to the Palestinians

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

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