Peace in Israel Today

Roger Cohen:

LONDON — Let’s say a few unsayable things. It’s worth doing because no Middle East peace is going to be built on coy evasions, competitive victimhood or wishful thinking.The first unsayable thing is that there is no “right of return” in history. Life moves on; it does not double back.

Turks are not returning to Greece. Greeks are not going back to Turkey. Germans are not going back to Wroclaw and Gdansk. Jews are not returning to Baghdad, Cairo, Damascus and all the other Arab cities from which hundreds of thousands of them had to flee after 1948. And millions of Palestinian refugees are not going back to Haifa, Jaffa and the many destroyed villages from which their forbears were driven in Israel’s war of independence….

The land that stretches from the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River has to be divided between a Jewish and a Palestinian state if the two peoples are to live in peace.

That is what the United Nations resolution of November 29, 1947, called for — the partition of Mandate Palestine into two states, one Jewish, one Palestinian, with international oversight of the holy places in Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Some 55 percent of the territory was to go to Israel and 42 percent to Palestine, with the balance under U.N. trusteeship….

Palestinians are not going away any more than the state of Israel. Endless dominion over a fast-growing Palestinian population will corrode and sap Israel over time. The state will cease to be Jewish or it will cease to be democratic; already the damage of a 45-year occupation shows in a surge of nationalistic intolerance. An Israel that condemns another people to permanent oppression is not the one its founders imagined.

Solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict begins with acceptance that there is no just outcome, none. Enough Jews and Arabs have died trying to prove the rightness of their cause. Jewish and Arab narratives will never coincide. The Holocaust and the Nakba will always be dueling tragedies. But peoples with different views of history can decide to put the future first. Europeans have learned since 1945 that imperfect compromise was the only way out of the destructive spiral….

Here is another unsayable thing: the one-state idea, aired with ever-greater frequency, is a nonstarter. The notion of a single multi-ethnic Holy Land, a kind of United States on the Med, may sound comforting, ethical and logical. But it would mean the end of the Jewish state of Israel; the Jews are not going to allow that to happen. Trust your neighbor? Been there, tried that, didn’t work….

Israel’s Founding Charter of 1948 bears repetition and deep reflection. The new state, it said, will be “founded on the principles of freedom, justice and peace in the spirit of the visions of the Prophets of Israel; will implement equality of complete social and national rights for all her citizens without distinction between religion, race and gender; will promise freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.”

These words reflect a phrase repeated in the Mosaic books: “You were exiled in order to know what it feels like to be an exile.” Jews, having been strangers in a strange land, having been dispersed over millennia, were required to identify with those on the outside, with those who are different. Or as Rabbi Hillel put it: “What is hateful to yourself, do not do to your fellow man. That is the whole Torah; the rest is just commentary.”

What Israel is doing to Palestinians under occupation is incompatible with the essence of Jewish teaching and experience. What Palestinian leaders are doing by perpetuating the myth of “the right of return” amounts to a betrayal of their children.

It is not easy to say the unsayable, but what the Middle East needs is true leaders capable of doing just that for the paramount cause of peace.

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