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Forfeiting Israel’s Reason To Exist

Forfeiting Israel’s Reason To Exist

by Dr. Alon Ben-Meir
April 23, 2014

It is a given that every Jew in and outside Israel wants to see Israel as a vibrant country: an economic powerhouse with a thriving democracy, self-confident and secure, capable of defending itself and deterring any enemy far and near from challenging its right to exist, at peace with its neighbors, respected by the international community, excelling in its humanity and caring about others, a beacon and a light unto other nations.

Yes, Israel can be all that and some, I am sure. All Israeli leaders, regardless of political leaning, believe in their heart of hearts that the country that has risen from the ashes of extinction to a glorious nation offers a refuge and a haven to every Jew, so that never again will any live at the whims and mercy of others. This is why Israel exists and what it is meant to be, and this is the only way Israel will realize its destiny.

Today Israel faces a fateful crossroads: either end the occupation, or continue the subjugation of the Palestinians and forfeit the one historic chance to become a truly free nation that can live up to the promise of its divine creation.

The imminent collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations raises the critical question: will the Israeli-Palestinian conflict ever be resolved? More than six decades of debilitating violent discord did little to usher in an agreement. The shifting reality on the ground made the prospect for a solution increasingly dimmer, more distant, and laden with ominous danger.

Continued occupation of Palestinian land slowly consumes Israel’s moral standing and physical well-being, inching it ever closer to self-destruction. Though the Palestinians are not innocent bystanders, Israel and Israel alone must now bear the burden because it is the undisputed power that can change the course of events and prevent the looming disaster.

No one knows the history of the Jews better than the Jews themselves. Persecution, segregation, expulsion and death unmatched in human history were their lot nearly everywhere. But such unspeakable historic misfortune offers no license to inflict pain, suffering and indignity onto others.

Knowing the true meaning of dehumanization, degradation and derision must give rise to the Jews’ moral values and humanity by treating the Palestinians with compassion and sensitivity. With the inevitability of coexistence and fate intertwined, what hope will be in the offing fortomorrow if not harmony and peace?

A new disaster will be waiting in the wings, obliterating the Jews’ dream to build a lasting free nation like many others, rather than live in isolation as a garrison state surrounded by fences and foes, caging itself in and drowning in an ocean of hostility and contempt.

Occupation must end not only because of its inherent injustice, as it demeans, debases and degrades the Palestinians, but because of what the occupation does to the Israelis – it discredits and disgraces Jewish heritage and changes the once-oppressed Jews into merciless, heartless oppressors. No, this is not why Israel was created.

The Jews’ historic victimhood proffers no license to victimize others. Israelis who take freedom for granted should never sleep knowing that millions of Palestinians retire at night deprived of pleasant dreams, wondering what tomorrow will bring, only to wake up still shackled and fused with anger and malice.

They want what you Israelis cherish. They want dignity, they want freedom, and they want the human rights that you so relish, but you wantonly deny them the very values you uphold so high.

To the settlers and their supporters: as you build and expand settlements, usurping Palestinian land inch by inch, you deny them their aspiration for nationhood, as they witness daily the creeping annexation, dreading what will await them tomorrow – nothing but the fear of more land to be seized.

You feed the Palestinians with a daily dosage of hatred and fury, but then you blame them for hating you. As the settlements strike deeper roots, you strengthen their resolve to uproot you. This is how this tragic story goes; instead of building bridges of peace, you are erecting monuments of revulsion and hate.

The onus falls squarely on the Israeli government. Netanyahu, who genuinely seeks a strong, thriving and prosperous Israel, pursues contrarian policies that deprive Israel of its potentially brilliant future. He is living in denial, never accepting, acceding or assenting to a Palestinian state.

He is an ideological zealot, driven by biblical precepts that have long since lost any relevance to today’s reality. He believes that he was divinely chosen to lead, but fails to understand that divinity placed the Palestinians inescapably and permanently side-by-side Israel.

He falsely links the country’s national security to his insatiable thirst for more Palestinian land. He remains marred in illusions and grandiose dreams, blindly crawling through dark alleys, dragging Israel ever steadily to the abyss, foolishly misleading a county and a people he is entrusted to lead.

It is understandable that Jews anywhere have a unique affinity to the state of Israel; for the world’s Jewry, Israel represents the last refuge, the sanctuary that offers a safe haven, independently determining its own fate. Hence, Israel must remain strong and powerful because they see their fate and fortune intertwined with Israel’s strength, perseverance and longevity.

But Diaspora Jewry must also understand that the occupation of Palestinian land destroys the very premise on which the state was created. Continued occupation in any form chips away the moral tenet of the country on which its very survival rests.

Yes, stand beside Israel they must, but supporting misguided policies like the blind leading the blind not only denies the Palestinians their human rights but imperils the very existence of the third commonwealth the Jews yearned for millennia, which they must never forget.

It is time for you, the Israelis, to wake up to the bitter reality you choose to ignore. The relative non-violent atmosphere and the prosperity you enjoy today is nothing but a mirage. You buy into the rhetoric of misguided leaders who are unwittingly leading you astray.

Your complacency is your worst enemy; it is not that the Palestinians are innocent, it is that you have the power to force a change in direction, if you only will it. The alternative to the continuing debilitating conflict is not simply continuing much of the same. It will spell disaster for Israel as the world is tuned to the Palestinian plight and condemns Israel for its intransigence and gross human rights violations.

Israelis must remember that the entire global community vehemently opposes the occupation. Israel’s national security concerns, though legitimate, have been excessively used like a smoke screen to obscure its expansionist policy which any blind person can see through.

America remains the last beacon of hope to save Israel from traveling this suicidal path. As the US deliberates its future plans about the peace process, this may well be Secretary Kerry’s last ditch effort.

Israeli leaders will be wise to remember that once the US decides that the prospect for a peace agreement remains elusive at best, it may well leave the Israelis and Palestinians to their own devices.

The Palestinians will play for time and grow stronger by sheer numbers and iron resolve, and Israel’s self-consuming policies will make it steadily weaker. Its mighty military strength will pale in comparison to the Palestinians’ inexhaustible human endurance, knowing full well that time is on their side.

History has shown that time and again.

Next, what initiative can the Israelis take to change direction in the pursuit of peace?

*************

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies. www.alonben-meir.com

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