This short essay contains no particularly original ideas or deep insights, but in the simplicity and clarity of its logic and language, (and the credentials of its author), it is exceptionally helpful. It is the stark truth that must be confronted, understood and accepted by every Jew — especially those who are also loyal Americans.
Independent Journalism from a Jewish Perspective
A Republican’s Case for Peace
By Marshall J. Breger
Note: Marshall J. Breger is a professor of law at the Catholic University of America. He was Special Assistant to President Reagan in the White House and served in senior positions in the George H.W. Bush administration.
There is a partisan edge in the air. The commissars of political orthodoxy in the Jewish community are out and about. For them, you cannot be a Republican and be a rodef shalom—a pursuer of peace. You certainly can’t love Israel and support a two-state solution. In fact, if you support the peace process you must be a left winger and you certainly are a wimp. They view themselves as hard-headed realists and others as naïve ideologues.
Some of these “realists” are quite candid in admitting that there is no place for Arabs in the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. Others hide their views (or fool themselves, engaging in mauvoise foi) claiming that they would love to create a Palestinian state but that there is no partner for peace, that territorial compromise of any kind means “Auschwitz borders” and, most recently, that it is not sufficient for the Palestinians to recognize the legitimacy of the state of Israel, they must further accept the legitimacy of Israel as a “Jewish” state before one can talk with them. Others propose a Palestinian entity in the areas Jewish settlers don’t really care about, seeking a fractionated Palestinian entity reminiscent of South African “Bantustans.”
These “hard-headed” thinkers ignore what to me, at least, are some significant home truths:
• Israel cannot be a “warrior state” forever: While there were some followers of Jabotinsky who proposed Sparta as the model for the Jewish state, most Jews, and I suspect most Israelis, would prefer the image of Athens as a metaphor for the Jewish homeland.
You don’t have to be an Orientalist to appreciate that an Israel isolated in the region will lead to Israel’s continued isolation in Europe and yes, even America. A warrior state will almost ineluctably become a “pariah state.” And against whom will the warrior defend himself? The Palestinians or the entire Muslim world? A round of the conflict of civilizations is one we Jews must avoid no matter how many neo-cons thirst for the final showdown.
• Peace requires territorial compromise: I know that territorial maximalists like to throw around the mantra, “not land for peace, but peace for peace.” But that, of course, is meaningless rhetoric. For the Palestinians, peace without any resolution of their national ambitions is submission. Why does anyone imagine that the Palestinians will be satisfied with non-voting resident alien status in Greater Israel? Would we?
• An Israel at peace will not give up its vigilance: One of the biggest errors made by Israeli hawks and their American supporters is the belief that, by entering into a peace agreement with the Palestinians, Israel would lose its ability to defend itself. Those who argue this and actually mean it are mired in 1960s military technology. Others are simply trying on scare tactics.
The fact is that any conceivable Palestinian state would be demilitarized, and Israel’s communications surveillance and military expenditure would be increased, not decreased. Israel’s present peace with Egypt is correct but “cold.” But I doubt that Israel has given up its vigilance on the Sinai front, nor should it in any arrangement with the Palestinians.
• You will never get to peace without some kind of compromise on Jerusalem: Jerusalem is both a nationalist issue for Israelis and Palestinians and a religious issue for Jews and Muslims. If we refuse to work out a way to allow Muslims a place in Al Quds, we expand the conflict beyond the Palestinians to all Muslims and we ensure religious conflict with Islam for generations. And don’t be so sure that the Christian world will remain quiet on this subject.
The Orthodox Union may argue that Jerusalem can never be divided because the entire city is infused with holiness. But I do not understand the kedusha (holiness) of areas annexed to Jerusalem after 1967 that were never part of Jewish Jerusalem in the past. Nor I do see members of the Orthodox Union shopping or dining in Shuafat or other Palestinian areas in East Jerusalem. The truth is that Jerusalem may be “our eternal and united capital,” but it is already a divided city.
• Even if you believe that the Palestinians are not “ready” for peace, why make matters worse? Some scholars, like the Hudson Institute’s Max Singer, argue that there is no point in thinking about a peace treaty until the Palestinians settle their own internal debate over whether their goal is eliminating Israel or securing a Palestinian state. Let us say he is correct. Then you would stop negotiating. But why continue building settlements—and provocative settlements in the middle of Arab Jerusalem to boot? Even if you accept Singer’s position, all continued settlement does is make the challenge of negotiating peace more difficult when the time to negotiate arrives. By the time the Palestinians are, in the eyes of Singer, “ready,” there may not be much of a viable Palestinian state left to talk about.
The “hard-headed” realists will argue—ain brerah, there is no choice. And, of course, they may be correct. But one thing we know—their “realism” is a sure prescription for a never-ending cycle of conflict until the “end of days” (and the pessimistic among them would applaud such violence as “hastening the end.”)
So there it is: Some basic truths about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that are true whether you believe that the children of Jacob and of Ishmael are consigned to eternal enmity or not.
The hard-headed “realists” in the Jewish community don’t wish to address these truths. They prefer to envision the West Bank as an empty “land without a people” just waiting for Jewish settlement. Which raises the question for lovers of Israel like me: Who is the ideologue, and who is the realist?