By DONNIEL HARTMAN
It’s beginning to feel the same. Instead of enabling newfound normalcy as Herzl had hoped, the reality of Israel seems to fit the same old pattern to which we have become so accustomed throughout our exile – us and them, alienation, aloneness, and danger. True, the players have changed, and some of those who were our greatest enemies are now our friends. But a new generation has arisen that is more than willing to take their place – Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic terrorists, and now even the Turkish government and some of the popular voices emanating out of Turkey and Egypt are fitting into a pattern which we know so well.
In some of our circles sadness is coupled with the relief of at least returning to familiar turf, accompanied at times by, “I told you so.” We know this world and this reality and at least we can stop pretending that it is different, stop pretending that we can do anything to change this reality, which seems to be a major part of our peoples’ destiny.
It is through these same lenses that many of us are viewing the unilateral Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN. From the birthplace of Jewish sovereignty and the international authority that recognized the rights and legitimacy of a homeland for the Jewish people, the UN now provides a permanent consensus united against Israel’s interests, and even legitimacy.
The fundamental challenge we face today as a people is how to respond, how to live within this existential reality which we know so well. Because it is so akin to our exilic past do we respond as a people in exile or as a people with sovereignty? And if it is the latter, how do we give expression to our sovereignty and power?
For some, it being a reaffirmation of the hatred over which we have no control, the experience of helplessness breeds an anger which legitimizes passivity. Since we are not responsible for our predicament, no actions are called for other than reinforcing our lines of defense, be it with the help of the Israeli military or the US Congress. If our sovereign power is to be used then it is punitively, through unilateral sanctions against the Palestinian Authority if they see their unilateral move through to the end.
The preponderance of hatred and imminence of danger gives this position not only legitimacy but a presence in the hearts of so many of us Jews. We make, however, a profound error when we stop here. Whether a reality was avoidable or not is one question. What you do about it is a second one, and herein lays the great difference. While we can view the reality of Israel through the familiar lenses of the exilic narrative, we are no long a people in exile, and the gift of sovereignty and power provides new opportunities and resources to which we can avail ourselves. The question is whether we not only see our reality as part of the exilic narrative, but whether we still see ourselves as part of this same narrative.
It would have been wonderful if all of our conflicts were resolved at the negotiating table and unilateralism viewed as the affront that it is to friendship and true partnership. But alas that has not been our destiny. So now what do we do? A sovereign people begins to lead. A sovereign people fights for its destiny. A sovereign people never gives up hope, while at the same time, never allowing itself the naivete bred by those who either deny reality or forget our past.
Let’s take the Palestinian resolution as a case in point. It might be voted upon and passed with an overwhelming majority. Or it might be set aside as a result of last-minute efforts by our ally the United States and our friends in Europe. It doesn’t really matter anymore. It is time for this fact to penetrate into the consciousness of Israel and its supporters. Whether tabled or postponed, the Palestinian move at the UN has placed the reality of Palestinian statehood versus Israel’s occupation on center stage, and refocused the attention of the world on the status of our negotiations for the foreseeable future. In many ways, if the Palestinians are convinced to postpone their move, it will be at the cost of even greater pressure on Israel to prevent unilateralism through actions at the negotiating table.
“They” may truly hate us. But we have not lost the means to navigate nimbly in dangerous waters. We seem to have lost our will. We seem content with expending our efforts to ignore the inevitability of Palestinian statehood and to the convening of Jewish assemblies in which we talk to ourselves and bemoan the injustice. It is time to reawaken the consciousness of sovereignty and lead. It is time to declare that Palestinian statehood is also an Israeli interest as long as it can be accompanied by peace and security. It is time to recognize that this Palestinian state will require significant compromises and even dangers when it comes to our aspired notion of defensible borders. It is time for us to once and for all admit and unequivocally declare that the fulfillment of our rights to all the land of Israel cannot be fully expressed if we are to allow the Palestinian peoples’ rights to be respected as well. Not only must we have no desire to expand settlements but we must recognize and declare that many of those settlements - in particular those not connected to Jerusalem or located in one of the three settlement blocs - have no future and that Israel’s political, moral and Jewish interests lie in dismantling them.
The truth be told, none of us know if such declarations or policies will be helpful. The Palestinians have to agree to end the conflict, to recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, to fight terror and hatred both in their streets and in their textbooks and to once and for all relinquish their aspirations to return to Israel’s pre-1967 borders.
Uncertainty, however, is no excuse for passivity, but the impetus for action. To recognize this is to recognize that while many things are the same, many are not. While our enemies may not have changed, we have. It is time to stop counting all the injustices, enumerating all that which is unfair, telling over and again to anyone who can hear that it is not our fault. It is time for us to take responsibility for our destiny, a destiny not necessarily defined by that which is forced upon us but which will reflect who we want to be. It is time to bring to an end the defeatist mourning for and incessant talking about what should have and could have been. It is time to stop the self-defeating and paralyzing fear and reconnect to the reality of Israel and the gift of sovereignty and to claim our rightful place at the negotiating table – the place of the leader.