Rays of New Hope: Israel & Palestine

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, 12/9/2003

In the last month, bright new hope has arisen for peace between Israel and Palestine.

The most important ray of hope comes from the publication of the "Geneva Initiative" in which crucial Palestinian and Israeli leaders are proposing a detailed full and final agreement creating a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel

Copies of the Geneva Initiative in all its detail are now available world-wide, and have been sent to EVERY Palestinian and Israeli household.

For the entire text, as published by Haaretz, with maps, click here

For a summary, see below.

A recent poll claims that about 52% of Israelis support it, and about the same number of Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories.

On December 1, "Geneva" was formally presented in Geneva to the world community. UN Secretary-General Kofi Anan, Nelson mandela, Jimmy Carter, and dozens of other former presidents and prime ministers and foreign ministers of an astounding range of countries have supported it andpraised its authors for their work. A number of members of Congress have introduced a resolution urging the Bush Administration to support it.

So far President Bush has pooh-poohed it as contradictory to the "road map" (which P.M. Sharon has violated; which Bush has refused to stand behind; and which itself pointed to no destination). Yet Secretary of State Colin Powell has praised the work that produced Geneva.

Further to the Left in Israel, Uri Avnery's Gush Shalom and Bat Shalom's Gila Swirsky have also praised it as "an important step in the right direction."

If "Geneva" can be placed sharply on the US political map, it can not only build far stronger US opposition to the Israeli government's occupation of Palestinian territories, but also put the Bush Administration in a deep political quandary: Either abandon Sharon and alienate their Christian Right constituency, or alienate sensible mainsteream Ameericans who oppose the occupation but have not before this seen a viable way of ending it.

What happens in the US can make an enormous difference to whether this hope flowers into a new dawning, or dies in the dark.

We urge you to speak out in its favor - to the Congress and the Administration, to your local newspaper, to your synagogue and church and mosque.

The Shalom Center, The Tikkun Community, and several other groups are presenting to the antiwar coalition United for Peace & Justice a resolution supporting the plan as an important step forward, and urging that the US government insist that the Israeli and Palestinian governments treat it as a starting point for governmental negotiations.

Contrary to a recent report in The Forward, UfPJ did not reject the proposal. A subcommittee of UfPJ did vote down an earlier version of the present resolution, but the present proposal has not been voted on yet by any UfPJ group.

We urge all of you to urge that UfPJ support the resolution we have presented.

We will keep you accurately informed as this resolution is discussed and decisions made by UfPJ.

Meanwhile, The Tikkun Community took the initiative to sponsor a full-page ad in the NY Times supporting Geneva. The Shalom Center and I as an individual signed the ad.

We will present below a summary of the main provisions of Geneva.

For Israelis, the importance of "Geneva" is that it proves that the Sharon government's peace-destroying mantra — "There is no one to talk with and nothing to talk about" - is false.

For Palestinians, it rekindles the possibility of belief that there is a vigorous Israeli peace movement prepared to take the risks of meeting with Palestinians and coming to an agreement.

The despair that has been enraging and crushing both societies can now begin to lift.

Geneva is the most important, but by no means the only, signal of the rebirth, based on practical realities, of a serious mainstream Israeli critique of Prime Minister Sharon policy.

Two weeks ago, four former heads of the Shin Bet, the Israeli security agency, publicly said that the Sharon policy was ethically wrong and politically a dead end, that it increased rather than preventing terrorism. (See the interview with them at )

(The Sharon government called them "nave." They are probably the toughest, least naive people in Israel, and probably therefore in the world.)

And before that, the Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Force, Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon, Israel's top-ranking soldier, said three weeks ago that current hard-line policies against the Palestinians were working against Israel's "strategic interest" and had contributed to the downfall of the previous Palestinian prime minister.

He said that imposing Draconian travel restrictions and curfews on Palestinians was actually harming Israel's overall security: "It increases hatred for Israel and strengthens the terror organizations."

And before this demarche by the Chief of Staff came the recent prophetic critique of the direction of Israeli society by former Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg. (To read that profound and troubling speech, go to www.theshalomcenter.org and Search for "Avraham Burg" or look under Peace/ Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.)

And we are also given new hope not only by Palestinian signers of "Geneva" - but by the renewed efforts of some Palestinian leaders to put an end to attacks upon Israeli civilians.

For three years Sharon and his supporters, and his paler carbon copies in parts of the Labor Party, have argued that there were no Palestinians to talk with and nothing to talk about.

Now it is clear there are both.

The Geneva Initiative is an extraordinarily detailed draft of a full and final peace treaty between Israel and Palestine, defined as permanent and irrevocable.

  • It recognizes and makes peace between Israel and a demilitarized and economically viable Palestinian state,
  • explicitly affirms that Israel is the state of the Jewish people, forbids terrorism, defines the right of return of Palestinian refugees as limited to the new Palestinian state, while encouraging Israel and third-party states to make their own decisions as to how many Palestinian refugees they would accept into their borders,
  • accepts the existence of some Israeli settlements near the green line and transfers sovereignty over them to Israel,
  • transfers to Palestinian sovereignty equal acreage from the edge of Gaza and other Israeli territory,
  • removes many other settlers whose continued vulnerable presence in Palestine has weakened Israeli security, crushed Palestinian society, and cost Israeli and Palestinian lives,
  • divides sovereignty over the holy sites in Jerusalem in a sensible way,
  • provides for Palestinian sovereignty and a Palestinian capital in the Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, while fully recognizing the Jewish neighborhoods of the entire city as part of Israel, and recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and - above all - and unlike Oslo -
  • provides practical measures and mechanisms for enforcing the agreement.

The signers of "Geneva" among the Palestinians include both major leaders of the Palestinian Authority and younger leaders of Tanzim and of the Gaza camps. They can "deliver" the support of the great majority of Palestinians.

They have put their own lives on the line to achieve a decent peace that meets the actual needs of real live Palestinians, rather than an abstract version of pure justice.

On the Israeli side, the signers include major political leaders of Labor and Meretz, many former generals, and major figures in Israeli culture like Amos Oz. (Remembering the past of Israeli politics, maybe they too are putting their lives on the line.)

Dismissing Geneva means condemning the next generation of Israel and the Jewish people to what will become permanent war, and a permanent mangling of the Zionist vision into, as Avraham Burg warned, a state that will become cruel and ugly.

The Israeli rejectionists evidently prefer to pursue Sharon's policy of bloodshed that has weakened Israel, pushed a quarter of Israeli families below the poverty line, shattered the State's financial ability to provide for the poor, the orphan, and the widow (where have we heard that phrase? maybe in Torah?), midwifed - not caused but midwifed — the rebirth of virulent anti-Semitism around the world, killed hundreds of Israelis and three times as many Palestinians, and utterly shattered Palestinian society, reducing its children to malnutrition and its towns to walled-in ghettos.

There are also Palestinian rejectionists, with support among some "Left-wing" activists in the United States. Those who object are especially those who oppose a two-state solution for the conflict, and those who insist that only the right of return of Palestinian refugees within Israeli borders can meet the demands of justice.

We believe this rejectionism seeks abstract and theoretical justice at the expense of real live people. Surveys of refugees, for example, show that very few of them in fact want to return to Israel, rather than to a new Palestine. Insisting on what is both unachievable and undesired stands in the way of really meeting the refugees' needs and fulfilling ther actual desires.

In our experience, these rejectionist views are often colored by an intense hostility to Israel - as a state and society, root and branch, not just because of the occupation.

Rejection of the Geneva Initiative is a policy of permanent blood, self-destruction, and decline. On the Israeli and Jewish side, it poisons the bloodstream of Torah and the future of the Jewish people.

Ramadan, when Muslims celebrate the transformative message of One God, Merciful and Compassionate, to the Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, has just ended.

Hanukkah is soon upon us, when we Jews light lights in the midst of darkness, affirm hope in the midst of despair, remember the victory of the weak in the face of the mighty, and celebrate the Prophetic teaching - "Not by might and not by power, but by My Spirit, says Yah, the Breath of Life Who is Infinite."

Christmas, when Christians celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace, is yet ahead.

We - all of us — still have a chance to take the path of the Spirit - of affirming the Unity of God, the infinite value of human life, the joy of peace, and the hopes of the world.

There will be no renewal of the Jewish people or the Palestinian and other Arab peoples, no renewal of Judaism or of Islam or of Christianity, unless we walk the path where the Geneva Initiative and the other efforts like it light the way.

The families of Abraham could still become a blessing, not a curse, to all the families of earth.

Shalom, Arthur