This past winter break, I was able to see with my own eyes the various components of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I was able to get a firsthand account of many of the things that both sides must strive for in order to achieve peace. As I drove through the West Bank, encountering settlements deep in the territory and speaking with Palestinians in the heart of Ramallah, I fully realized the necessity of a two-state solution to attain the resolution to this century-old animosity. Two states for two peoples – maintaining the Zionist dream of a Jewish and democratic state while the Palestinians simultaneously declare their sovereignty – is really the only conclusion where the conflict will fully come to its end. But with this wholesome vision for peace, I was able to see more clearly and with more conviction what the first step toward this achievement must be – an understanding solidified just two Fridays ago in Jerusalem.
Everyone involved in the conversation about how to get to this final status obviously has very good intentions. We are all human beings, and the innate human instinct is that when we see suffering we want to do anything we can to stop it. That’s why on both sides of the political spectrum in Israel and within the pro-Israel community, our end goal is a peaceful resolution of two states for two peoples where both have the same exact Natural Rights that John Locke laid out hundreds of years ago and that the United Nations (Zichronam Livracha) declared in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Optimism has decreased as the situation on the ground has deteriorated; still most Israelis would agree – peace will come when both sides ultimately have their own state. To achieve this peace-through-statehood, there are two overarching narratives, with the difference between them simple but glaring.
One of the general narratives believes that the order should go: remove the settlements, leave the West Bank, end the terrorism, then achieve peace. The second general narrative believes that the order should go: remove the terror, remove the settlements, leave the West Bank, then achieve peace. The blatant difference between the two is that they are exactly opposite and contradictory to each other. The problem found with the first general narrative, that the settlement removal comes first and therefore intrinsically represent the main obstacle to peace, is that it retroactively inverts history. There was not one single settlement and not one single Israeli soldier in any part of the West Bank (or in other captured lands but we will keep it to this territory for the sake of the contemporary international conversation) prior to 1967. Despite there being zero Israeli presence in this territory, violence and terrorism still rained down on the Jewish state from there. Only after the 1967 War did Israel enter the West Bank, as a direct result of the terror and war against Israel. So with this backdrop, how is it possible that the removal of this presence, an effect of the Palestinian terror and violence, be the kick starter to the end of the same terror? An effect of something cannot also be its cause.
Some claim that we must hold on to our original Zionist ambitions by democratizing and Jewishize-ing Israel first (through the removal of Israeli presence from the West Bank) and then if an attack happens against Israel we will have every right to enter the West Bank and reclaim it. This is a very tempting narrative to pursue because it guides us to quick Palestinian control and holds the prospect and the expectation that if the Palestinians stop all of their terror activities, peace for Israelis is fast in it tracks. Think about what that actually means: this suggests that the entire peace is predicated on the loss of Israeli life, with absolutely no evidence from the words in the Palestinian textbooks or the squares named after glorified Palestinian martyrs that this expectation will actually be realized. It is saying that we are willing to lose Israeli life for the potential for peace. It suggests that the human rights of Palestinians are more valuable than the human rights of Israelis. But even further, this puts at risk the lives of Palestinians too, and arguably even more so than the risk put to the lives of the Israelis. Look no further than the HD photograph of this dangerous scenario unfolding in Gaza, where just two year ago countless innocent lives of Palestinians were lost as a result of this concept. But who knows what the Palestinian attack will be THAT time. What if, during the waiting period to see if Palestinian independence of Israeli settlements will lead to true peace, it’s not a Friday truck-ramming that kills “just” 4 Israelis? What if it’s a massive bomb set off in the Tel Aviv Azrieli Towers that kills 400 Israelis? This suggests that it is okay to gamble with the lives of Israelis. That it is okay to say their lives just aren’t as important, whether that is the explicit or implicit statement.
Israelis have seen what happens when you withdraw from a land with people who have always been committed to terrorism against you without ending the terrorism first: Hezbollah filled the vacuum in southern Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. But at the same time, Israelis have witnessed what can happen when a nation first ends its anti-Israel violence and then extends a peaceful hand: when Egyptian President Anwar Sadat called for an end to the bloody war against Israel and came for peace negotiations in Israel, Israelis lined the streets to Jerusalem waving Egyptian flags. Israelis know very well from their history that long-lasting peace starts with the extinguishing of the terrorism against them. Now it is time for the world to understand this as well. But until then, no Israeli is going to risk our lives anymore. Benjamin Netanyahu won’t do it, nor will Yair Lapid or Tzipi Livni or Isaac Herzog, and neither will Michal in Tel Aviv or Baruch in Beer Sheba. For thousands of years, the lives of the Jewish people have been used as gambling chips – inquisitions, expulsions, massacres, blood libels, pogroms, the Holocaust. Israelis want peace just as much as anyone else does, but they will never do so at the expense of Jewish life again.
The end of the terror must come first. The peace will soon follow it.