Efraim Halevy in August 2014
Source: Eli Itkin/Wikimedia
A recent and interesting after dinner chat with a sabra, gave me a different perspective – always welcome – on the forthcoming Israeli elections, and the goal of the electorate.
He asked me what the central problem Israeli society faced was. I told him social inequality. He disagreed, saying the problem was the lack of peace. I told him I had discounted that, because I don’t think there’s a solution, and assuredly not one that can be, or will be, promoted as part of a party manifesto.
He told me that he remembers the situation being the same before Israel attained peace with Egypt: it was thought to be impossible, but it happened. At that point, the discussion ground down a bit as we covered the comparison of Sadat with Abbas (and, indeed Arafat).
Broadly speaking, there was agreement that many Israelis do not see peace as a possibility because of the Palestinian situation. For example, how does Israel avoid any neighboring Palestinian state being or becoming a souped up Gaza rocket factory? For example, an agreement with Fatah has as much chance of being binding on Hamas and Gaza, as Bibi has of becoming politician of the year in Ramallah.
The response was that we should ignore Hamas and Gaza because they really are beyond the pale. However, in my opinion that is unrealistic, mainly because no Palestinian leader will do a deal that is not universally backed. It may be that an Arab League initiative would be enough, but even that is not in sight. But overall, the suggestion was that we take the issues and the problems, and we negotiate.
With all of that in mind, this Times of Israel interview with Efraim Halevy, the former head of the Mossad intelligence agency, is interesting.
[He] accused the outgoing government, especially Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, of having violated the fragile status quo in Jerusalem. The elections of March 2015 are not merely a referendum on Israel’s leadership, he said, but constitute an unprecedented opportunity to determine Israel’s policy vis-à-vis the peace process.
There is no word in Hebrew for dignity, he quoted a friend observing once. The Arab world has long felt deeply inferior, and Israelis are basically telling Arabs that they don’t suffer from an inferiority complex but are indeed inferior, Halevy said. “The problem we have had over the years has been that they have sought dignity and the last thing we ever thought of was addressing them in a manner that gave them a feeling of some dignity.”
His criticisms of Bibi are ones I would endorse, in the main. But the stuff about dignity is misleading, as it absolves the Palestinians and their leadership from all blame. Their lying, their incitement, their previous intransigence when deals were on the table, cannot be explained away by dignity. It can be explained away by other, more negative, characteristics. For example, there are many who say the Palestinians do not want a single square centimeter of a Jewish state. So, discussion about the borders of a Palestinian state are, at best, a temporary situation, and a cover for a future war of obliteration. It is difficult to see the peace loving bridge building aspects of Palestinian society. I am almost sure they exist. I am almost sure they are insignificant.
It’s important to stress that while I don’t agree with Halevy’s rationalizations, or his perspective, I don’t exclude the possibility that his approach may be worth trying. As I previously posted, we have a duty to our children – and their children – to do the best we can to make peace.