This latest round of so-called “peace negotiations” has been one giant farce. Every one of the actors is just going through the motions. As though anyone thought Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was going to give up more than former prime minister Ehud Olmert was willing to. As though Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was going to recognize a Jewish state. As though US Secretary of State John Kerry was going to come up with a maverick idea to end the conflict. The whole thing was hopeless and stank from the onset.
So why enter into this pointless cycle yet again? Maybe the festival of Passover can shed some light on the conundrum.
Passover is the holiday of national liberation from Egyptian bondage. Yet slavery back then was not only physical, it was also psychological. After hundreds of years of servitude and oppression, the Jews had a hard time accepting the grand idea of liberty when the opportunity presented itself. According to lore, many Jews chose to stay behind in Egypt precisely because they weren’t ready to leave.
Indeed, being locked into any paradigm, even when it is harmful, is a very human trait.
Therefore, the exodus was not only the physical emergence of the Children of Israel from under the hand of Pharaoh – that part was easy.
Rather, it was also a long process of weaning the Jews off of a slave mentality which was drilled into them over time.
Every generation has its Pharaoh. In our time, we have been told over and over again that there is only one way to move past the Arab-Israeli conflict. That is, of course, the two-state solution.
Like a mantra, it has been repeated relentlessly by world leaders, professors and in the press. The two-state mantra has now become our mental bondage, our Pharaoh, and we keep returning to our two-state Pharaoh when our slavish minds refuse to come up with an alternative formula to the one to which we have been conditioned.
By following the suggestions of the stubborn two-state Pharaoh, we have felt the brunt of the Ten Plagues on our own flesh: the plague of the second intifada; the plague of Hamas in Gaza due to the disengagement; the plague of neo-Nazi education of Palestinian children; and the Plague of the creation of a Palestinian narrative in which Israel, the most bona fide of states in the region, is actually the only country challenged as to its very legitimacy.
These plagues are the direct offspring of the stubborn two-state Pharaoh who refused to reverse course even as evidence poured in that the Oslo Accords had created a Palestinian Authority which was a repressive regime to its own people and certainly hostile to Israel.
But the shackles of our bondage are beginning to loosen.
While Kerry blames the inevitable failure of the negotiations on Israel because we keep building in Jerusalem (it’s our capital, buddy), and for not releasing terrorists (was that ever a good idea?), people on the ground, Jews and Arabs, are starting to identify the real culprit. Here is a recent example: Last week, I was jogging from Teddy Stadium to the Ein Lavan natural spring on the old road from Jerusalem to Gush Etzion, that passes next to the Arab village of Walaja. As I came up to the spring, there were many Jewish Israelis splashing about on this warm early spring day, as well as two Arabs laying in the grass not far away.
I needed directions, but the Jewish parents seemed busy with their kids, and the Arabs were just relaxing, so I went over to them. One was around 40, while the other was much older, and I correctly guessed that he was the younger man’s father.
So I began asking them about the area, and the younger man, Nasser, who spoke Hebrew very well, appeared to know the area like the back of his hand. Then I asked where they were from, and they told me they were from the nearby village of Walaja, and that they come down to this spot often.
I learned that Mustafa had worked as a jackhammer operator in Israeli construction all his life, while Nasser had a successful cleaning business in Jerusalem. It also came out that I live in Ras el-Amud on the Mount of Olives, making it clear, though unspoken, that I am a Jewish settler. We also talked about the weather, and my remark that this was the first day of summer elicited nods and noises of agreement from the two men, who seemed to be at one with nature.
Suddenly, Nasser took the conversation in a different direction: “Do you think there will ever be peace between our two peoples?” he asked.
By now, it had become clear to me that I was not dealing with an Israel-hater or an unreasonable person, so I said: “You want to know the truth, Nasser? The truth is that there will never be peace as long as the two-state solution is on the table, because as long as two states is an option, the jihad against Israel will never subside.”
“Absolutely correct,” came back the surprising answer. “Only when Arabs accept the idea of living in Israel will there be peace.” Then he added, with disdain in his voice: “Do you know that I have not been in Bethlehem [a neighboring PA-controlled city to his Israeli-Arab village] in five years? Why? Because Abbas and the PA will kill me because I have Israeli citizenship….I hate them.”
“Nasser, now I have a question for you. Is there any place better for Arabs in the Arab world than Israel?” “No. We were born here, we have rights here, we have jobs and social security here. We must learn to live in Israel.”
Indeed, a new idea is beginning to dawn: not two states, but one strong Jewish state which can rule, govern and give rights to minorities without fear.
A state which, on the one hand, attacks its haters mercilessly, but on the other hand assists those minorities which wish to live at peace, with their identity intact, in a thriving Jewish state.
However, every time this new idea is about to break through the surface, the Pharaohs of our time knock it down and bring us back to the old discourse and back to the fruitless negotiation table. These Pharaohs are people who have made their careers on the two-state formula and who are still in key positions in our society.
They get to travel the world, stay in fancy hotels, receive fat checks for speaking engagements, rub shoulders with the powerful and beautiful – all that because being proponents of two-states pays. Important newspapers and TV stations are never bored with the chanters of the two-state mantra, and the European Union can always be counted on to be generous to the NGOs that pay their wages.
In simple words: the two-state solution was a smart and lucrative career choice for this crowd, and they are not about to change their tune.
Who are they? They are State Department hacks (like the indefatigable Martin Indyk, who always seems to surface when another opportunity for empty words comes around); or tenured professors (like Dr. Ahron Bregman of King’s College, who calls for a third intifada); or veteran journalists (like Thomas Friedman, who recently wrote that Israel looks like “the most active colonial power on the planet today”); or NGO directors (like Naomi Chazan, president of the New Israel Fund, who recently opined that “global support for Israel’s legitimacy is inextricably tied to the realization of the two-state solution”); and of course, seasoned politicians (like Tzipi Livni) who could never publicly admit their role in the recurring failure of the two-state model. These people cannot let go of the old mantra because it would mean the end of their careers. It is they who enslave us for their own benefit.
So what now? The first great challenge of this generation is to throw off the yoke of the two-state Pharaohs who keep our country from moving toward a sensible path. Then, we must begin by rebuilding the physical body of the State of Israel by applying Israeli law in Judea and Samaria and reasserting the dominance of the state over parts of the country, like the Negev, which have become lawless and unruly.
Simultaneously, we need to foster a serious discussion on how to shape the future role of Arabs in the Jewish state, how to crack down on the jihadis, and how to (re)educate the next generation.
This may seem like a tall order, yet change is never easy. After two millennia of exile, we have finally merited to be, in the words of “Hatikva,” a “free nation in our land,” and with that freedom also comes the heavy burden of sovereign responsibility. But we can do it! Passover, which is all about hope and new beginnings, empowers us to rise up against the slavery of bad ideas and their Pharaoh-purveyors.
This Passover, after the failure of yet another round of negotiations, and before the onset of yet another one, let us proclaim loudly: “Let my people go!” Go forward, that is.