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Commentary | PERSPECTIVES ON PEACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST

Let Jewish Optimism and Faith Prevail

We've given up our children for the land and now are giving up the land our children gave their lives for.

October 26, 1998|SHLOMO RISKIN | Shlomo Riskin, chief rabbi of Efrat, is chancellor and dean of Ohr Torah Stone colleges and graduate programs

Conventional wisdom maintains that only a right-wing political party can make peace and only a left-wing political party can wage war; whenever a different scenario was attempted, the opposition paralyzed the enterprise. The results of the summit at the Wye Plantation once again confirms the accuracy of this truism.

Nevertheless, how can we digest the fact that not only did a Likud government--heir to the revisionist slogan of "two sides to the Jordan"--give up 13% of the Judea-Samarian heartlands of Israel, and that it was none other than Ariel Sharon--militant architect of the Lebanon war--who was one of the major participants in the final argument? Even more difficult to fathom is that, despite a call for activist demonstrations by the Judea-Samaria Council, very few Israelis--settlers or otherwise--took to the streets in protest, even if many felt that we were giving too much for too little.

The simplest way to explain this phenomenon harks back to the conventional wisdom. After all, what can the right-wing demonstrate for? Most of them understood that another government would most certainly give up far more land for far less security. But in addition to this, there are two more reasons for the almost total lack of opposition and even for the trembling hope in the hearts of the overwhelming majority of Israeli citizenry.

Three years have passed since the tragic assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. From a certain perspective, the last 50 years of the miraculous history of modern Israel may be measured in terms of before and after the assassination. From 1948 until 1995, Israel behaved very much like a precocious adolescent, divided almost equally between right and left, each vying for the political power which would enable it to give a total knock-out punch to the opposition; no major political figure even sought to arrive at a consensual center. Indeed, the left was so intent upon pursuing the Oslo peace process that it acted as though there were no settlements, and the right was so committed to the settlements that they acted as if there was no Oslo. Post-assassination, the picture changed violently and dramatically. Both left and right understood that uniting the majority of the Israeli citizenry was a condicione sine qua non, not only for the political victory of a particular candidate but also for the very future survival of the Israeli state.

It was this realization that caused both Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu to run for election on platforms of peace and security, Oslo together with settlements; it was this realization which caused Prime Minister Netanyahu to bring a right-wing Likud government into the Oslo process, thereby painfully giving up fully 95% of Judea-Samaria land on which Palestinians live, including Hebron (city of our Patriarchs) and Bethlehem (city of Rachel's Tomb); and it is this realization which led the present government to arrive at the difficult agreement.

This present agreement, however, took almost two years in coming. The reason is frighteningly simple: Since the Hebron agreements, the Palestinians have not lived up to any of their commitments. Their charter, which calls for Israel's destruction, was not nullified; the terrorist infrastructure was not extirpated; Palestinian terrorists were neither extradited to Israel nor punished within the boundaries of the Palestinian Authority; and incitement to violence against Israel continued to be expressed unabated on Palestinian television screens and in the speeches of Chairman Yasser Arafat.

So why are we hopeful? Because this agreement does provide for security measures on the part of the Palestinians--and only as they begin to confiscate illegal arms and arrest terrorists will we begin to evacuate parts of our homeland; because this argument does call for a public renunciation of their charter calling for our destruction, albeit not in the fully legal manner we would have preferred; because, as a proud settler, I have come to know, befriend and respect the village Arabs who live close to Efrat and although I have been bitterly disappointed in the Palestinian Authority's leadership, I do believe that the majority of Palestinian parents want to raise their children just as we do. And most of all because the overriding value of our Jewish tradition is peace, because G-d's name is peace, because our every-day greeting is shalom--peace, because all the paths of our Torah must lead to peace, and because our ultimate message to and hope for the world is a humanity united in peace.

Certainly I understand the possibility that my position is one of naive optimism. Nevertheless, the same Jewish optimism that enabled us to return to our homeland after 2,000 years of persecution and pogrom in exile, and the faith in the G-d of Israel who raised us phoenix-like from the ashes of Auschwitz, must enable us to believe that we will succeed not only in reclaiming our land but also in making it a beacon of peace for the entire world.

It is only this optimistic faith that gave us the courage not only to give up our children in order to win back our homeland, but also to give up sacred parts of the land for which they died in order to demonstrate our belief in a time when "nation will not lift up sword against nation and humanity will not learn war anymore".

In the final analysis, we've already taken risks for war; we must now take risks for peace.

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