We Gave Peace a Chance

Give4“What was the hardest thing about making aliya?” people still ask me.

They expect, I imagine, that I’ll say something about our kids going to the army. Or about living in less than half the space we had when we lived in the States. Or, if they knew, they might imagine that I’d mention having one car for four drivers, rather than two cars for two drivers.

For me, though, it’s not that. What’s been hardest has been watching the worldview on which I was raised crash and break like a ship washed violently against a forbidding shore. I was raised in one of those (then-) classic American Jewish suburban families. Democratic voting, opposed to the Vietnam War, passionate advocates for civil rights, my parents taught their kids that most people were reasonable and that all conflicts were solvable. When it came to the Middle East, the prescription for resolution of the conflict was clear – we would give land, and we would get peace. The only question was when.

We were not the only ones who believed that, of course. A significant portion of Israeli society believed the same thing – until the Palestinian Terror War (mistakenly called the second intifada) – that is. Those four years destroyed the Israeli political Left because they washed away any illusions Israelis might have had that the Palestinian leadership was interested in a deal. And, to be fair, why should the Palestinians be interested in a deal? Their position gets stronger with each passing year. No longer pariahs, they are now the darlings of the international community. They have seen the world shift from denying the existence of a Palestinian people to giving them observer status at the UN. If you were the leader of the Palestinian Authority, would you make a deal now? Of course not. With the terms bound to get sweeter in years to come, only a fool would sign now.

Our enemies are not fools. But they are consistent. Hamas’s Mahmoud al- Zahar, in a much-quoted statement, said last year that the Jews have no place among the nations of the world and are headed for annihilation. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared to Egyptian TV that he would never, in a thousand years, recognize a Jewish state. Bibi gave the Bar-Ilan speech, but Abbas refused to return to the table; he still insists on the refugees’ right of return, which he knows would spell death for the idea of a Jewish state. Egypt’s Mohamed Morsi makes no bones about the fact that he would like to annul the treaty between Israel and Egypt. In videos recently posted by MEMRI (which were recorded in 2010, before he was worried about being closely watched), he openly described Jews as descendants of pigs, called Zionists “bloodsuckers” and said that Jews “must not stand on any Arab or Islamic land.They must be driven out of our countries.”

When Bashar Assad falls, will the Syrian victors be more likely to accept Israel’s existence? When Jordan follows, will the quiet on the Jordanian border persist?

ISRAELIS LIVE in a world of utter cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, our region is becoming ever more dangerous and our foes ever more honest about their desire to destroy the Jewish state. And on the other hand, much of the world insists that “land for peace” simply must work; some American Jewish leaders actually urged Israel, even in the midst of the Gaza conflict, to return to the negotiating table. It would be funny were it not so sad and so dangerous.

That is why the upcoming election, sobering though it is, may actually prove important. Israelis across the spectrum are acknowledging what they used to only whisper: the old paradigm is dying.

Naftali Bennett of the Bayit Yehudi party explicitly states that “land for peace” is dead and advocates annexing the portion of the West Bank known as Area C. Yair Shamir of Yisrael Beytenu says that regardless of Netanyahu’s Bar- Ilan speech, the Likud never endorsed a Palestinian state. Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party’s website makes no mention of going back to the negotiating table.

Neither does the Labor Party platform.

Even Meretz recently acknowledged that Oslo is dead.

To give up hope for peace is not to choose war. Egypt’s present and Jordan’s future indicate how little is guaranteed by a treaty; the Palestinian present shows that we can have quiet even in the face of stalemate. What Israelis now want is quiet, and a future. Nothing more, nothing less. And most importantly, no more illusions.

The demise of the peace addiction is no cause for celebration; it is merely cause for relief. There is something exhausting about living a life of pretense; with the death of illusion comes the possibility of shaping a future. After a new government is formed, a genuine leader could actually lead Israelis into a “what next” conversation. Deciding what comes next, now that we sadly know that the idea of “land for peace” is dead, will not be easy. Israel could make wise decisions or terrible mistakes.

But if, as a result of this election, we begin to have a conversation about a future that we can actually have, the Jewish state will be much better off.

Israel, though, is likely to make much better choices if it is joined in its hardearned realism by forces outside the country too. Now that Israelis are getting honest, the question is whether the international community – and then American Jews – will follow suit. On the former front, there are occasional causes for optimism. The Washington Post, for example, recently acknowledged that the international community’s rhetoric has become an obstacle rather than a help. “Mr. Netanyahu’s zoning approval is hardly the ‘almost fatal blow’ to a twostate solution that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described… If Security Council members are really interested in progress toward Palestinian statehood, they will press Mr. Abbas to stop using settlements as an excuse for intransigence – and cool their own overheated rhetoric.”

Amen to that. But what about American Jewish leaders? They will likely find admitting that “land for peace” is dying no less difficult than anyone else. Will they listen carefully to what the Israeli electorate, across the spectrum, is saying? I hope so. Because loving someone means helping them to fashion a future that is possible, not harboring an exhausted illusion that can only yield pain and disappointment. The same is true with loving Israel.

In the midst of the cacophony and sobriety of this Israeli election, a new, mature and infinitely more realistic resignation seems to be emerging. Those who care about Israel might see it as failure, as moral weakness or as sad exhaustion. Alternatively, we could see it for what it is – the enduring Israeli desire to live, to thrive and to work not for a future that others pretend is still possible, but rather for one that we can actually build and then bequeath to our children.

About Daniel Gordis

Dr. Daniel Gordis is Senior Vice President and the Koret Distinguished Fellow at Shalem College in Jerusalem. The author of numerous books on Jewish thought and currents in Israel, and a recent winner of the National Jewish Book Award, Dr. Gordis was the founding dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism.

20 Comments on "We Gave Peace a Chance"

  • Sue Liberman says

    I have found that expectations always disappoint, even if they are haughty and noble dreams of peace and co-existence. It’s too bad. Just before the Yom Kippur War, I was walking with my son Avi, then 2, in the Netanya bus station when we spied a package placed by a pillar – a colorful package looking like it housed a toy “autobus”…I freaked out. Avi wanted to get it…but I distracted him and we told the local “shoter”…It turned out to be a toy someone had left behind by mistake, but the scene, the fears,and the frights remain with me so freshly as if it were yesterday. Is this a life?…On the other hand, it was a Jewish scene, Jewish fears, and we overcame it….My guess is that Israel needs to attempt peace always, but remain realistic that there may be no one to talk to, and demand justice from the international community, which is not always available. “Chazak, chazak v’nitzchazek…”Build security walls, since they seem to work, but continue to give to humanity, commit tikkun olam, hope that instant global communication can develop free and democratic thinking, …and hope somewhere in the Arab world lurks a Jesus….

  • VLH says

    I hope you will explain your vision for what ought to fill the void left by the loss of the dream of peace. What will the borders look like? The streets? The army? Is it status quo forever? Or just until Israel’s neighbors attack again? “To give up hope for peace is not to choose war.” I want to hear the case for what it IS choosing.

  • Steve Kalin says

    I am a big fan of yours. I have read your column for a few years. I read Home to Stay and Saving Israel . I saw you at the Reform convention last year in Washington DC. I am very sympathetic to your argument. But, why did Shimon Peres in an interview with Ronen Bergman in the New York Times this week say ” Abu Mazen is an excellent partner” for negotiations?

  • Peter says

    Nicely said. Yes, in favor of living in peace as well as possible under the circumstances.

  • Cees says

    I just want to encourage you, because I love the Jewes people, for they are the chosen ones or you believe this or not.
    The God of Israel promised Israel a future and when He promised something it will happen.
    He promised that the Jews will go back to their country and what we see from 1948 on, they are come from the east, the wwest, the north and the south. HE brought them on eagles wings, as HE promised.
    Read the Word and you will see the Jews have the future because HE said it.
    Although they will go to more pain and rejecten from all the world, but than in the mids of this awfull time, the MESSIAH will come and reign this world.
    Watch the WORD and you will find these things.
    SHALOM ISRAEL we will pray for you and stand behind you.
    Be blessed fromNetherlands

  • Evan says

    You make an important point that I have been making to people for years but which is not widely appreciated – that the Palestinians have no interest in making a deal with Israel as their position gets stronger ever year. Note that I said a “deal” with Israel, not “peace.” They already have peace; Israelis do not unilaterally attack them. Other than what pride may come with having a state, there is little for them to gain and almost nothing to lose in continuing the conflict. Unless there is real suffering on there side or a risk of losing something, they will continue to avoid making a conflict ending deal with Israel. and the Palestinians will continue its war against Israel.

  • Charles says

    Thanks, Dan, for your very clearly written and perceptive article. I agree fully. To my mind an ideal solution (but one that could be immensely difficult to implement) would be to transport the Moslem Arabs in Judea and Samaria to Arab Palestine, i.e., Jordan. In any event, you are right, the time for illusion is past — the land-for-peace “emperor” has no clothes! My best, Charles from Mayfield Heights

  • To be realistic, we must understand the mindset of our Muslim neighbors.

    All people need to do is read the Koran, the Hadith and the Sira to fully grasp the situation in the ME. If you do not have the time or patience to go through the exercise, I suggest you read: The Legacy of Islamic AntiSemitism by Prof’ Andrew Bostom and the Icon of Evil by David G. Dalin. It will give you a very clear idea what the Jewish Nation is facing with. If this is too much, then at least read the following article about the way Muslims think and act: Arafat and the Treaty of Hudaybiya:


    A trace to the initial everlasting conflict in the ME started when the victorious Allies created the absurd Sykes Picot Agreement. The Zionist Jews, relying on the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate for Palestine, started mobilizing Jews to immigrate from Europe and Russia to Palestine. The League of Nations and then Superpowers, treated these agreements as scraps of paper, double crossed the Jews, and issued a new treaty in 1947, UNGA Resolution 181, that further partitioned Palestine and created an economic and political madhouse of the ME.

    Divide & Rule!

  • Brynn Sugarman says

    Brilliant and to the point! When a scientist tries a formula and it consistently yields poor results, that scientist tries something else, because he knows the formula for what it is: a failure. The same should be true when it comes to politics, and the land for peace paradigm simply does not seem to work, given the mentality of the Palestinian leadership. To be attached to an ideology in the face of a severe reality check is foolhardy. Furthermore, a Palestinian state devoid of any sort of concern for Palestinian refugees, nay, one which actually denies them succor (witness Palestinian refugees from Syria having the door slammed in their faces by both Abbas and Hamastan,) is not a “Palestinian State” but rather a farce of the worst proportion.

  • Mike Bailey says

    I am afraid there is nothing “mature and infinitely more realistic” about the grim and unsustainable vision of the future you are offering. As you very rightfully admitted time is not working in our favor – and to that you can add demography, the 40% of Israelis who are considering immigration (all of them from the most productive and educated end of society) and our allies waning patience.
    Don’t take my word for it, or even President Peres’s word – but the word of five (not one, not two, not three – five) of the former heads of the Security Service (Shabak), all of whom stressed the need for immediate dialogue and compromise with the Palestinians (in the Oscar nominated documentary The Gatekeepers).
    The situation is complex, and was made even more complicated by the events that led to the Second Intifada (you say “Terror War”, they say “Freedom War”, let’s call the whole thing off?) and the ongoing march of folly of building settlements and suppressing the hopes of 2 million human beings – enemies or not. Let’s not make them more complicated by assuming that if we stick our heads in the sand deep enough it will simply go away. That is not mature or realistic – If anything it is messianic.

  • TomSolomon says

    And “What about American Jewish leaders?” For the most part, they are still stuck in the mindset you described at the beginning of your essay. They haven’t moved beyond the hope that Israel just has to give a little more, understand the Arab’s frustration, because we are all human and have the same hopes. As it turns out, it may not be true after all.

  • The truth hurts–but as one Jewish teacher put it a long time ago, “the truth shall make you free.” The Western mind sees things in black and white–war or peace, right or left, and so on. The Middle Eastern mind is infinitely more subtle. Can Israelis and Palestinians live together in a limbo of no war/no peace? Actually, they already have been doing it for years, and the obvious answer to this whole dilemma–as you point out–is that rhetoric aside, they will continue to do so for many years to come.

  • Scott Gordon says

    Well written as always–and ties in very well with your masterful presentation at the AIPAC event in Sarasota last night. It’s always a pleasure to see you and hear you speak in person.

    Shabbat shalom.

  • However, the best Israeli writers still do not get it either:

    It’s time for Israel to talk to Hamas says A.B. Yehoshua

  • Sheila Novitz says

    Thank you, Daniel Gordis, for a beautiful, deeply honest essay.

    I too am a great fan of yours and have read most of your books. Am two-thirds of the way through “The Promise of Israel”, and it is preoccupying my thoughts as I live through each day. You have put into one volume everything, and more, that has passed through my mind when I write in response to anti-Israel/anti-Jewish letters in, for example, the Catholic “Tablet.” It all passes through my brain, but is simply too much and too deep for me to put down on paper. And there you are; you have done it, and so beautifully.

    Thank you for all your hard work, for all the love and effort you and your researchers put into it, and for sharing it with the world.

  • An article from Dore Gold:

    “Mahmoud Abbas delivered a speech on Jan. 4, on the anniversary of the founding of Fatah, that may have marked a turning point in the relations between the Palestinian Authority president and the State of Israel. Using extremist rhetoric that he has not adopted before, Abbas spoke about the need of the Palestinians “to renew an oath to the heroic martyrs and to walk in their path.”


  • BoB Ehrlich says

    I believe your article is spot on. My concern is that the US does not and other countries or newspapers ignore what Abbas and Hamas are constantly saying about destroying Israel killing jews and having only one Palestine. Why does Obama not respond like Ban K Moon and then perhaps we can make some progress

  • bobby says

    What makes you think the Palestinians will just settle in for the status quo so that Israel can have some quiet time? If, as you say, their position grows stronger every year. Like VLU, I’d like you to spell out the solution for the future, you never do because the status quo is untenable and you don’t really have a way of keeping Israel a democratic and Jewish state other than a 2 state solution. It’s your description that is both pessimistic and unrealistic. By the way, expanding settlements and building in E1 are a slap in the face. If fortress Israel surrounded by walls is acceptable to you don’t be surprised if lots of Israelis start moving out. Ask yourself, do the Palestinians have any more of a partner for peace than the Israelis?

  • trump says

    “Ask yourself, do the Palestinians have any more of a partner for peace than the Israelis?”

    A” piece partner” is not a peace partner !

  • Neal says

    Kol haKavod. Not only is this piece up to your usual high standards of good sense (and clear writing), it dares to speak a truth too often suppressed by self-delusion: The Arabs have no intention of making peace. They’ve turned down every opportunity since Britain’s Peel Commission in 1937, when Jews would have lived in two tiny enclaves with Arabs given the rest.

    I long ago lost sympathy for people whose suffering is mostly of their own corrupt leaders’ ineptness, delusion and fear of assassination. I refuse to feel sorry for people who — across 76 years — refuse to take “yes” for an answer.

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