A lot of people have been asking me, since the Palestinians all but declared themselves a state, with support of the vast majority of the United Nations, "What should we make of this, Rabbi?"
Here's what I say:
1. Good for them. I like a people that thinks of itself like a state or nation. It speaks well of their aspirations. They say "No man is an island" but a whole bunch of 'em sure as hell can be a state! Why not?
2. In 1947, when mid-century Zionist leaders celebrated the United Nations partition plan of 29 November as the first real international legitimization of Jewish and Palestinian peoplehood, the Jewish people accepted this partition right away. 29 November is practically a holy day in Jewish history; streets in Israel bear its name. Did Palestinian leaders find humor in this date for the vote? Strategic annoyance of their mortal enemy? Who knows and who cares. I think the media generally could have done a better job of pointing out to all observers and interested parties that 65 years ago on the 29th of November the Jewish nation took the deal and the Arab nation united in revolt against the idea that Jews had an historic claim to an ancient homeland. Just another missed opportunity, I suppose. History is increasingly irrelevant when "truth" is just a click or tweet away. At least there's the Iron Dome.
3. Here's who voted with the United States *against* the Palestinian statehood initiative: Canada, Czech Republic, Israel (so far so good!) and then Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Federated States of Nauru, Panama, Palau. Not exactly the "Coalition of the Willing."
4. What is it, really? Abbas, too weak to defeat Hamas in Gaza and ineffectual in getting to the negotiating table with Bibi. Pre-conditions and demands really an excuse for not sitting down to negotiate no matter what. So the U.N. vote is a negotiating tactic without negotiating. And, worst case scenario, a chance to "try Israel" in Geneva, further attempting to isolate and develop a strategy depicting Israel as a "pariah state." Bibi, never really committed to a two-state solution either. His claims of a "ten month moratorium" on settlement expansion as much a facetious position as Abbas' proclamations for sharing the land.
5. Both men are one-staters and Hamas is one stater, two. Lucky for Israel, Abbas and Hamas are not united in their one state solution, so Israel can advantage itself of that dysfunctional alliance.
6. Here's the really cynical part. Egypt is clearly unstable. Syria is a disaster unfolding. Lebanon remains a mystery. Jordan is now just beginning to experience its own Arab Spring. Who knows where this all really ends. Let's say, for the sake of argument, Bibi is not Prime Minister of Israel but a good, peace-loving Left Winger is Prime Minister (me, for instance!) Do you trust the future borders of Israel? Are you going to have great faith in the treaties that border you while also watching and protecting yourself from the vast instability and potentially disastrous violence that lurks at your door to the North, South and East? Let's say things do continue to unfold. Let's say Jordan and the Hashemite Kingdom are actually toppled by another iteration of the Arab Spring. Can the Left even say out loud a possibility that might be true: Jordan is Palestine? Israel and a Palestinian Jordan would still be the most enlightened nations in the region. Turkey would take advantage right away. I think Bibi knows this. I wish he'd just say it out loud.
7. Oslo being met with suicide bombs killed the Israeli Left and emboldened the Israeli Right--including the Religious Right, both of which fostered elements which were complicit in the murder of Yitzhak Rabin. But the Middle dug in. Hunkered down. A kind of "they hate us and they'll always hate us and there really isn't any solution" stance. And it's not like political leadership has really risen to the occasion. The Tel Aviv corridor settled in to making life and making money, figuring that strength, creativity and innovation would carry Israel through the next hundred years until the Arab states settled their fights, re-configured their borders, and re-made the states that were artificially created as the result of the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War.
Illusions are dead. A grim reality takes hold.
I end on two notes.
First, It's important to remember that Zionism was fundamentally for two reasons: one, the right of Jews, like any nation. to live in its land, in its language, in its history. And two, that this right would effectuate the Jewish people's continuity, which is biologically axiomatic. Humans are, generally, and by definition, regenerative. Zionism was an exertion of the right to survive. A large segment of the world was not particularly sympathetic to our cause or existence. We were, in effect, alone. And the early Zionists knew that a state and an army could ensure survival. But beyond mere survival, one must never lose track of this remarkably mind-boggling fact of history: in 1909, when Tel Aviv was founded, a few dozen families spoke a modern Hebrew--a language that today is spoken by more than 7 million people, including more than a million Arabs. Regardless of what a seductive cadre of left-coast literary critics and academicians might say in their incessantly useless attempts to deconstruct the language of occupation, that's a damn miracle.
Second, the power structures of American Jewish life are totally ill-equipped to deal with this reality. Today I was invited to a "live briefing" by AIPAC of the man behind the Iron Dome. While I'm a big fan of the Iron Dome and its inspiring ability to save lives, I hardly think this is the deep thinking our community needs to be doing. High-fiving over self-defense when certain fundamental assumptions of the last 65 years are being re-thought in real time seems more the order of the day. AIPAC, the AJC, the ADL--to name of few--are essentially delivering the same message. It's not like the Federation system weighs in on this stuff. So all we're really left with, from the money and the power, is to stay the course.
I truly do wish for Palestinians a state of their own. I wish that Hamas would stop calling for Israel's destruction and allying itself with genocidal maniacs like Ahmadinejad in Iran. I wish that Rabin were alive, that Sharon wasn't on life support, that a strongman could make peace. I wish Bibi weren't Prime Minister; I wish so many religious soldiers weren't officers.
But that world isn't the world we live in. It's really tragic and sad.
On the other hand, in tragic times, good people do find one another. And when people meet for the first time, strange things can happen. Like peace.