Why there is an economic argument for peace

6/21/13 Pieria 

Sometimes articles are written that are perverse enough to allow even a non-economically minded analyst such as myself to question them. A few weeks ago, at Stanley Fisher’s final Knesset hearing, he made a pitch for peace with the Palestinians. He did this from his position of central bank wizard who kept the Israeli economy growing through war and global recession.

Remarking on his remarks David Rosenberg decided to publish a piece on Ha’aretz claiming there was no economic argument for peace. There were of course legal and political reasons, but the economic peace dividend that Secretary Kerry and others have spoken of is a myth.

Now David Rosenberg is not anti-peace – the end of his piece is clear that peace is imperative. But his economic reasoning is flawed.

Starting from the top, Rosenberg claims that none of the four major economic threats have to do with the political situation or a bloated defense spending:

“The four big problems the economy faces today, as acknowledged by Fischer in his finance committee remarks, are income inequality and poverty, a poor education system, business concentration and low productivity. None of them can be directly blamed on Israel’s high defense burden or political uncertainty.”

Income inequality and poverty has direct connections to the current political situation as does education to a lesser extent. There is a race to the bottom of the economic tree by both the ultra-orthodox community and the Arab sector in Israel. The ultra-orthodox community by 2023 will make up 33% of all Israeli Jewish kindergarteners (around 26% of the total Israeli population). The Arab community makes up roughly 20% of the total population.

There are issues of systemic discrimination in development or the Arab sector from both the amount of State funds the community receives as well as from institutional discrimination from much of the private sector. There are of course programs that have been set up to try and monitor and improve the situation but to pretend that Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians has no effect on the economic wellbeing of the Palestinian citizens of Israel is insane. The inability for 20% of the population to feel part of their society has big economic effects.

Within education, Israel has three different state school tracts; Arab, Religious and Secular. Within this system the conflict of course is less of a direct cause for underdevelopment (outside of the general discrimination that the Arab sector faces) but the ongoing conflict makes it doing anything within education an absolute minefield.

The current Israeli government is fixed on the ultra-orthodox, getting them into the work place and trying to sort out their schools. The Arab sector however is, sadly, for more of a hot topic to deal with. So to pretend that resolving the conflict will have no effect within these two domestic areas is ignoring the political facts of the matter.

Moving on the article continues to belittle the economic fruits a peace deal could bring:

“Little if any of this is ever likely to happen given the growing Islamization and chaos in the region. But even if some of the elements came into place, Israel would have little leeway to trim its defense spending and it is doubtful that for the foreseeable future the risk premium on our debt would change much either. Even Fischer acknowledges that we live in “unsafe and uncertain surroundings.”

The advantages of trade and economic cooperation that Peres used to market as the “new Middle East” have diminished over the years. We no longer need their capital or their energy because there is no shortage of investment funds and we are drowning in natural gas. The Arab world never needed our high tech because their economies are too low-tech, or our human capital because the countries that are wealthy enough to need it can source it from Europe and Asia. Israel’s natural economic partners are in North America, Europe and the Far East, not in the Gulf or North Africa.

Israel’s tourism industry would benefit from a peaceful Middle East, but is that what we really want? For every manager and marketing executive the industry needs, it employs far more waiters and chambermaids — low-paid, unskilled jobs that will inevitably be filled by foreign labor. Policymakers would do better to focus on creating jobs in high tech and financial services.”

Let’s go point by point.

Is there no need currently for Arab investment within Israel? Within the Israeli Jewish sector I am sure that some firms would love Gulf money and there is plenty of infrastructures where PPP relationships would definitely benefit from the Gulf.  Israel’s 20% Arab population would definitely welcome the ability to attract fellow Arab investments and could act as a bridge from the Arab world  the West.

The natural gas finds in Israel are definitely something to celebrate. Israel yesterday declared that it would export 40% of the gas. The economics of the situation however would be far more favorable if Israel were able to extract the gas and Pipe it directly to Turkey. The inability to progress on the political tract has greatly harmed the chances of Israel piping the gas through Turkey and into the market.

Apparently the Arab world will never need Israeli high tech as their economies are too low tech. The world is changing and will continue to change. To assume that having access to a market of hundreds of millions of people that are on your doorstep is irrelevant makes much of this piece irrelevant.

While I agree that much of human capital that Israel could offer the region would not be taken up immediately but huge sweeping statements that declare that there will be no market opportunity show the poverty of ambition that might live with David Rosenberg, but not with the Israeli business community I know.

Lastly David decides that while there will be a tourist boom, it is not something that Israel should want. It will just provide more low-paid jobs for foreign labor rather the high skilled jobs in high tech and financial services. Firstly an increase in Arab tourism can lead to an increase in the amount of jobs for the Arab community in Israel, that is in desperate need. Secondly the way you get people to open their markets to you, is to allow them to visit you. The two previous issues that David identified above could be greatly helped by having Arab entrepreneurs and investors visit Israel as tourists first.

It is important to state again that David is not anti-peace – he just believes there is not economic value to it. Having looked through his logic I don’t understand his argument. Why should Israel be different to every other country that has resolved its conflict and enjoy a peace dividend, why should it be exempt?

Fischer maintained throughout his tenure that peace would lead to a 5%-6% GDP bump. Nothing that David Rosenberg has written challenges this premise. Israel needs to make peace for many reasons – taking away the economic carrot is not smart, it’s just perverse.


Kerry vs Bennett for the hearts and minds of the Diaspora

Ha’aretz 6/6/13 

Earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made an impassioned plea to the American Jewish community to rededicate itself to the two-state solution. Kerry has moved his ticking clocks from years to days, declaring if we don’t get the talks moving now, we never will. Yet, while Kerry is making his pitch to get the American Jewish community involved, Israel’s minister for Diaspora affairs is less keen.

Let me explain. During the coalition talks, Naftali Bennett asked for the roles of public diplomacy and Diaspora affairs and religious services to be included with his industry, trade and labor portfolio.

The public diplomacy and Diaspora affairs and the religious services portfolios have the greatest potential to shape the relationship between Israel and her Diaspora. Both of these jobs were demanded by Bennett, head of the Habayit Hayehudi party, home of the national religious the settlers.

Before trying to understand why Bennett wanted these jobs, it is important to clarify what these portfolios actually do. In the case of public diplomacy and Diaspora affairs, the minister is effectively the government’s foreign minister to Jewish communities abroad. Of all the formal and informal links between Israel and communities of the Jewish DiasporaTaglit-Birthright sits as the jewel in the crown, coordinating the visits of thousands of young Jews to Israel every year.

The Religious Services Ministry controls all issues of religion within Israel in addition to cultivating religious ties to the Diaspora. Alongside getting involved in the messy business of setting budgets for the yeshivot and state employed rabbis, it is the central battleground between the progressive streams of Judaism and the Orthodox establishment.

By taking both of these portfolios, Bennett, the Modern-Orthodox former chief of the Yesha Council of settlers, has put himself at the center of the two points of friction between Israel and the Diaspora, namely the growth of settlements and the status of progressive Jewish rights within Israel.

Two weeks ago, we found out that the Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Ministry had been handed over to Bennett, but not before it was stripped of everything that made it a ministry. Even Taglit-Birthright, the flagship program, was moved back into the Prime Minister’s Office along with the Masa Israel Journey program.

Yet Bennett has managed to turn his empty ministry into a tool that he can use to sell himself and his party to the Diaspora. Having grown up as a child of olim (immigrants), Bennett understands the Jewish-American community well. He knows that they want to see more religious pluralism within Israel and those they are not particularly fond of settlements.

Through the Religious Services Ministry, Bennett has made somesurprising moves that have enabled, for the first time, non-Orthodox rabbis to receive state money. In changing the model of how rabbinical figures receive their salaries, he has opened up the system to the non-Orthodox without having to deal with the issue head on. This policy, coupled with his move to allow Israelis to get married with any rabbinical council within Israel, is changing the landscape for progressive Jews within Israel.

By ingratiating himself with the progressive community, no easy feat as the head of a religious Zionist party, Bennett is demonstrating his value to the Diaspora on the issues that matter to them. Through his empty title of public diplomacy and Diaspora affairs minister, he has the right to be able to talk directly to Jewish communities about these achievements.

He hopes, one expects, that through his fight for equality for all Jews he will become a champion for Diaspora Jewry. In doing so, he will have succeeded in his quest to become a politician for all the Jewish people, not just those who live in the West Bank.

Through normalizing himself as a change maker, he will be able to bring himself and his party into the Diaspora’s mainstream. His policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians should not stop him being accepted if he is breaking the stranglehold of the ultra-Orthodox on issues that directly affect Reform and Conservative Jews.

So, while John Kerry hopes to motivate Jews in America to put pressure on the Israelis to reach a two-state solution with the Palestinians, Bennett is giving that same community legislative wins within the Knesset. It will be fascinating to see how dividing American Jews between two issues so keen to their heart will play out. The real question, however, remains: How much time is there before the clock runs out and there is no real choice to make? Time is certainly in Bennett’s favor, but whether he becomes a welcome figure in the established Jewish community of America waits to be seen.

Nine Steps that will Kill the Two-State Solution

Daily Beast 3/21/13 also Ottomans and Zionists

With Obama visiting Israel, many groups are trying to get his attention so they can let the President know what they think he should do. Included within the pleas from the peace camp and the ‘Free Pollard’ camp is a document prepared by the Yesha council titled, “Judea and Samaria – It’s Jewish, It’s Vital, It’s Realistic.”

Questions answered within this Kafkaesque document include: why the demographics are on the Settlers’ side, why are the Palestinians stealing water from Israel, and what is the legal history of Israel’s settlement enterprise. Most interesting, however, is the nine-step plan that the Yesha council has created at the end of the document to fulfill their vision.

The main tool that the Yesha council has to achieve its vision are its political advocates in the Knesset and in the government. Their building in the West Bank happens through the good graces of the state authorities. Of course the main party for the Yesha council is HaBayit Hayehudi, but they also have representation through the Likud and Yisrael Beytanu and a scattering of MK’s in some of the center parties. Members of their communities operate across the center and right of the Israeli political spectrum.

Looking at the nine steps we can see the underlying HaBayit Hayehdui strategy during the coalition talks. Additionally we can start to make sense of some of the other Knesset and moves and statements by members of the settler community on the national stage.

Step 1: Renewing the strong belief in the supremacy of the Jewish claim to the Jewish Homeland and the justness of taking measures to maintain control of it

In the coalition agreement between Likud and HaBayit Hayehudi was a bill to make the Jewishness of the State supreme. This is a redo of the Avi Dichter bill from the last Knesset. No one is quite sure of which version will hit the Knesset, if it gets through Livni, but it is part of a big move to decouple the concepts of Jewish and Democratic state as equal and promote the former at the expense of the latter. The motivations behind this become clear in a strategy that is tied into biblical land claims and preparing for a situation where the civil rights of millions of Palestinians are going to have to be restricted.

Step 2: Uniting the nation and its leadership

Throughout the coalition talks, Bennett was the peacemaker between Lapid and Netanyahu and has pledged to be a leader for all of Israel, not just the settlers. His party has also taken over key ministries that can affect the cost of living across Israel. Bennett has been very keen to be seen as responding to the J14 protests and be a transformative politician that can transcend the tribal politics of the moment and be one of the new leaders of Israel alongside Lapid. By also slipping in the raising of the electoral threshold into the coalition agreement, he can ride the wave of HaBayait Hayehdui current popularity and force others from his camp to work with him if they want any representation at all. By forcing people into a broad tent he gives himself a broader appeal and solidifies himself and by extension the Yesha council firmly into the mainstream.

Step 3: Military strength and control of the territory by the security establishment

Though many ex-military and security men veer to the left after they retire from service (just see The Gatekeepers), the new Defense Minister, Moshe Yaalon, most definitely veers to the right and was the first choice of the settler community. Though the security establishment is pretty much entrenched in the West Bank already, Barak had been the thorn in the side of the Yesha council. With him removed the security establishment can work in concert with the Yesha council in helping it expand both from the Knesset and on the ground itself.

Step 4: The elimination of terror and cessation of incitement in Palestinian schools

While all Israelis want to see an end to terror and incitement, the previous governments’ flat-out rejection of the State Department’s school textbook report demonstrates a complete unwillingness to examine the issue of incitement on both sides of the border. It is essential to demonize the Palestinian national narrative while maintaining that individual Palestinians are ok and stating that the Settlements actually have had great relationships with the communities pre the first intifada.

Step 5: Creating a situation where it becomes clear to the international community that another state west of the Jordan River is not viable

The serious policy community is split about whether the two-state solution has already been killed by the settlements and the Yesha Council or if it is merely on life support. Needless to say, the Yesha Council is well on its way to pulling the plug. The new Deputy Foreign Minister, Ze’ev Elkin, already ascribes to this point of view. Though many advocates of one-state agree that the settlements have killed the two-state solution they do not share the Yesha councils vision of what a one-state solution would look like. The power and establishment will be with the Yesha council and in doing so they will have a tremendous momentum on the ground when two-states is officially abandoned to fulfill their vision before anyone else gets a look in. Yes Israel will lose friends and allies and there might be a brain drain that could seriously affect the economy. But I sadly have less faith that pressure will force Israel to give up its reason d’état of providing the Jewish People with self-defense and power by giving those they have been occupying full civic rights. The death of the two-state solution will mean the Yesha council has won, read the rest of their document to see how they view Palestinians.

Step 6: The further immigration of one million Jews to Israel to secure a permanent Jewish majority in Israel

In the coalition talks, Bennett managed to carve the Diaspora portfolio out of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and into his own portfolio. The reason for this now becomes crystal clear, he is desperate to get more Jews to immigrate. Bennett demanding this portfolio always seemed odd. The Settlements are often the largest bone of contention between Israel and her Diaspora (amongst Jews who are engaged at least). Passing on this responsibility to the former general secretary of the Yesha council looks on the surface to be a recipe for disaster. This step helps us understand the real consequence of why this demand was made. What will be interesting to see is how Bennett attempts to bring the Diaspora to Israel and how their aliyah will be tied to step 7. Is the aim just to lock in the demographics regardless of where the Jews live or to get them to move to the West Bank and lock in the settlements?  We will have to wait and see but watch to see where new job incentives will be made for new immigrants, Bennett has the ability through Trade and Industry to create incentives where he chooses.

Step 7: One million Jews in Judea and Samaria, tripling its Jewish population

With the housing and trade ministries, Habayit Hayehudi can now start working on this. The proof will be in where the new low-income housing is built. Even if just restricted into the settlement blocs, if this plan is being followed the aim will be a massive increase in settlers. As with step 6, we will have to see if alyiah and settlement are linked. President Bush (1st one) conditioned the aid to help resettle the Russian Jews on them not being housed in the West Bank understanding the threat there. One other important step to remember, Bennett received the public diplomacy portfolio as well. Through this he can push the settlements into the official Israeli government narrative both at home and abroad.

Step 8: The creation of large residential areas surrounding the current communities of Judea and Samaria

Housing, Trade, Knesset Finance chair – between these three portfolios and a willing defense minister the sky is the limit on step 8. I predict the concept of settlement bloc will expand and large scale projects begin to be planned as expansions in key areas. Even more so then Yaalon, Danny Danon is a particular fan of the Yesha council and he is deputy Defense Minister.

Step 9: The execution of a construction, development and economic plan for the million residents of Judea and Samaria

Habayit Hayehudi has already indicated that they would rather release prisoners and transfer taxes to the PA than freeze settlement construction. Looking at this nine-step plan, it is easy to see why he would rather give any other ‘confidence building measure’ than allow the slowing of the settler population.  The one thing that they cannot allow is a settlement freeze as it destroys the plan above.

This should be seen as nothing less than a strategic effort to kill the two-state solution. Keep in mind that Prime Minister Netanyahu just committed his new government to two states for two peoples in his joint press conference with the President on Wednesday. Looking at how this is planned out it is clear that the only thing that could stop this from happening is freezing settlement construction. The sad fact is that a settlement freeze has already been tossed by the US administration as a failed attempt.

The Yesha Council is very open about their aims, objectives and methods. If people want to do more than pay lip service to the idea of two-states, they must not only oppose the Yesha council at every turn of this plan but offer their own step by step approach to how to create a two-state reality today. Though it is the establishment opinion that two-states will happen, those opposing it literally are executing on a plan to kill it. Those of us who wish to see it come about must equally set out a plan and start building today facts on the ground to make it so.

Israeli apathy and Diaspora panic will bring about a decay of the Jewish people

Ha’aretz 12/7/12

Around this time last year, I wrote a piece for Haaretz about howHanukkah teaches us that we can move from passive acceptance to creative action concerning our fate. The point of the Jewish people having a state of our own is to have the ability to control our own destiny, so that things no longer just happen to us; we can affect the world.

This year for Sukkot I wrote another piece about how our desire for complete self-reliance is just as bad as our former state of victimhood; both demonstrate a ghetto mentality not fitting for a Jewish state.

I was at the United Nations on November 29, when the vote passed to upgrade Palestine’s status to non-member observer state. Having been there, seen the Israeli reactions and read hundreds of the opinion columns that followed, I’ve come to two conclusions:

First, we Jews in the Diaspora are most poetic when we describe our powerlessness, our enemies and our self-loathing. Clearly we have not internalized the lessons of Hanukkah.

Second, the Israeli public’s immediate reaction to adversity is flippancy. They have obviously ignored the lessons of Sukkot.

Following the November 29 vote, Jews in the Diaspora splashed articles throughout the media, providing marvelous analogies and crippling analyses. The range of emotions from rage, despair and anger to complete acceptance provided for a political spectrum that resembled a shiva, or seven-day Jewish mourning period.

Among Israelis, however, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone that was even slightly worried. “Who cares,” an Israeli journalist quipped to me, moments after the November 29 vote, “Nothing will change, life will go on, and we will never be able to change our situation.”

The famous Israeli apathy – generated from a toxic mixture of conscription, terrorism and living in a small, hot country – has resulted in a culture of solitude and cynicism. That doesn’t mean Israelis are depressed. Quite the contrary – they are rather happy as a nation. The14th happiest nation in the world, to be exact.

This flippancy is evident not only among the Israeli population, but also among their leaders, especially when they attempt to cope with situations that seem beyond their control. Whether using humor to conveydiplomatic messages or turning every crisis into a catchphrase, Israel’s leadersip has built a rhetorical repertoire that makes even the harshest of diplomatic entanglements seem to the population like water off a duck’s back.

As Jews around the world panic and feel victimized, the Israelis are insulated inside a self-reliant island -everything is a crisis to a Diaspora Jew; nothing is worth worrying about to an Israeli. Even on the most serious of issues – the Iranian nuclear threat – Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu draws cartoons and references ducks.

While panicked hand-wringing and resorting to morbid humor may seem like different reactions to the same problem, they are actually both signs that we, as a people, do not believe we can truly be masters of our own fate.

Furthermore, if panic and flippancy are the only reactions we can muster now, not only will the Jewish people suffer moral decay, we will perpetuate this disregard for our tradition, which urges us to strive and thrive. If we are ever to progress as a people, we must move beyond expecting disaster and failure in all circumstances.

Of course, one could just ignore and make fun of me. I am just another panicked Diaspora Jew after all.

The disappearing debate between pro-Israelis and pro-Palestinians

Ha’aretz 5/10/12

At the recent debate between Daniel Gordis and Peter Beinart at Columbia University we saw two thinkers engage in a deep and informed debate. In substance there is very little between them, and the debate focused on the small but significant differences in their approach. One area where the division was stark however was on whether to engage with anti-Zionists. While Beinart thought it was vital that they be engaged with, Gordis believed that bringing them into the dialogue unjustifiably legitimizes their cause.

Ever since the report by the Reut Institute on deligitimization back in 2010, the Jewish People have been engaged in a debate on what the red lines are of being included or excluded from the “Big Tent for Israel.” While the debate has been raging inside the community, the fact is that many pro-Palestinians have been having their own internal discussions about the utility of appearing alongside supporters of Israel.

A woman hold a Palestinian flag during a protest to show solidarity with Palestinians. A woman hold a Palestinian flag during a protest to show solidarity with Palestinians.
Photo by: Reuters / Haaretz Archive

Ideologically linked to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, the Anti-Normalization campaign seeks to police interactions between Israelis and Palestinians. Seeing as dialogue groups have done little to end the occupation, they have called for an end to all joint programs and interactions between Israelis and Palestinians that do not subscribe to the three tenets of the BDS movement, namely; end of occupation, equal rights and a full right of return for refugees.

The anti-normalization movement, boosted by inaction in the peace process, has seen successes in the region at breaking up meetings that do not follow these principles. What is most interesting however is their mirrored success abroad. In both Europe and the U.S., you can rarely, if ever, find a panel with an Israeli and a Palestinian speaking together or against each other. The exception to this rule is when the topic of discussion is the one-state solution.

Having been a student in both the U.K. and the U.S., I can vouch for the fact that this state of affairs is new. When I was an undergrad student, there were many panels and debates between Israelis and Palestinians, or their surrogates. But today you can count on one hand the number of events where Israelis and Palestinians have joint public events.

As we in the Jewish community started the internal conversation on who we would speak to and who we would not, the pro-Palestinian community made its mind up to refuse to support any event that in their mind legitimated the occupiers and created an image of equivalence between the two societies.

While Jewish or Israeli students on campus might enjoy good private discussions and friendships with Palestinians or their supporters, it is almost impossible to put on a public event.

As the one-state solution paradigm becomes increasingly dominant in activist circles, so to will the barrier to dialogue and debate. As we in the Jewish community finally come out of our own internal Jewish conversation, we will face a Palestinian community that is only willing to speak to us about a one-state solution.

The Jewish tradition is based in debate and discussion, yet we face a dilemma if our interlocutors insist on speaking in a frame of reference that is an anathema to the vast majority of the community. Perhaps of all the points raised by the Gordis vs. Beinart debate was that this will be one of the most dominant challenges for Diaspora Jewry moving forward.

Has the Third Intifada Already Started?

Huffington Post UK 28/2/12

“Time is running out for the two-state solution” is perhaps one of the most over-used phrases in the diplomatic sphere today. For the past few years the chorus of voices chanting this mantra have increased and have warned of dire consequences if this hourglass run out of sand. One of the threats they foresee on the horizon is a third Intifada (uprising) in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Not withstanding whether the two-state compromise has a sell by date, one could argue that the third intifada is already underway. Unlike its violent predecessor, the third intifada is mirroring its original as a non-hierarchal mostly non-violent protest against the occupation and its by-products.

Signs of this uprising can be seen across the events of the past few weeks. Khadar Adan’s 67 day hunger strike put a spotlight on administrative detention orders and created parallels to Bobby Sands. Adan’s protest went global, trending worldwide on Twitter and gathering media attention. His success at getting a release date has lead Hana Shalabi – another detainee – to strike, which has now been going for two weeks.

Rock throwing and protests on Temple Mount are also on the rise. These can be traced back to a forged leaflet. The Electronic Intifada picked up this leaflet and created a Twitter rumor of imminent take over. Though the rumours were quashed, last Friday there were riots at Al-Aqsa as a group of religious Jews ascended Temple Mount. Jews and tourists ascending is nothing new, but in the current climate it was seen as a fulfillment of the rumor. Thinking that they were trying to take over the site, stones were thrown and the police got involved.

This past Friday also marked the anniversary of the massacre in the tomb of the patriarchs in Hebron. Baruch Goldstein killed 29 Palestinian worshippers and lead to the closing of Shuhada Street. During a demonstration to re-open it on Friday Fadi Quaran, a Palestinian-American who is a leader in the non-violent protest movement was detained. His case, like Adan’s has also gone global.

People visiting the West Bank have noted the tension in the air and the protests that are happening week in and week out, increases in rock throwing and spontaneous protests. The Israeli’s are also not deaf to this noting that the status quo is leading to violence. This awareness however has not stopped some parts of the government fanning the flames with plans for a rail network across the West Bank surfacing.

Like many of the protests around the region a big kick off event was not required. Tunisia had a single spark that grew into a conflagration and the West Bank is simmering. More important then noting its start, the real question is what will end this new intifada?

Diplomats like saying that the Middle East Peace process is like a bicycle, you must keep cycling or you fall over. To people on the ground the bicycle fell over in 2000 and despite various diplomatic efforts, has not recovered since. The first Intifada awakened Israel to the Palestinian national desires in a real way. The second Intifada killed trust between the peoples, what will the third bring?

The vacuum of vision and action at an elite level has led Palestinians to looking for new options. A leaderless, non-hierarchal movement can certainly motivate a frustrated people to protest and rise up, but the real challenge is to where.

Many in the non-violent movement focus on a rights based discourse and are ambivalent on the final political settlement. Protester’s experience will determinate their support for various positions rather then a vein hope of the establishment of a particular political goal.

Returning to the two-state compromise, this third Intifada could be the final part in the trilogy; all be it with two alternative endings. The first closes the circle that the first intifada started and manages to motivate the pieces on the map to move into the mutually acceptable two-state compromise that has the full backing of the international community and is enshrined in various UN resolutions and peace treaties.

In the other ending the third intifada implodes the two-state compromise, kicked off 20 odd years ago, with Palestinians moving away from self-determination and into uncharted territory.

The two-state compromise has not run out of time, the status quo of conflict management has. As true urgency and pressure returns alongside this new uprising, we should not see the removal of options, but the death of the status quo.

A lesson from Kennedy to the Jews: Fight fear, not the Palestinians

Ha’aretz 16/01/12

The late U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address has been a source of inspiration for people across the globe. At a time when the world’s great powers were squaring off against each other, his speech empowered Americans to look toward a brighter future. One of the ideas encapsulated in the speech holds a special meaning for the Jewish people today:

“Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”

Intra-Jewish dialogue often breaks down when people wish to discuss the security situation within Israel. Whether internally within a Diaspora community or between those who are living in Israel and those who are not, the topic fractures the Jewish family.

It is very easy to see why; the stakes are as high as they can possibly be. To those living in Israel, all security decisions carry serious costs that they have to live with – it is their children who serve, their homes that are in range of the rockets, their economic future.

For those of us abroad, it is almost impossible to stay silent when we disagree with the decisions of the Israeli government. Due to the nature of Israel’s role in our Jewish identity, whether we are to the right or the left of the political spectrum, we feel an essential need to speak about their opinions. The concept of muzzling oneself is anathema to what it means to be a Jew.

Going back to Kennedy’s careful words I feel that there is a lesson for us as a people as we move forward. Kennedy was speaking at a time when many people feared for their future. His basic message was clear: fear can never be a motivator for negotiations, but neither can it be a barrier.

I have lost count of the number of times that we as a people have appealed to fear in order to justify our political position. Whether fear of demography, fear of changing tides within the Middle East, fear of isolationism or fear of a second holocaust, these fears are used as rhetorical engines to try and move people to support one political position or another.

As a people who have lived in exile for millennia it makes sense that fear is a motivator. We have been, for so much of our history, subject to the whims of others. Always a minority relaying on the protection of others, our fate was never truly of our own making. Fear was a major contributor of our decision-making.

Yet part of making the transition between an exiled people and a nation state is the realization of control. We no longer are passive in the face of events; we have the ability to change the world around us on a national scale, not just a personal one.

As a people with a rich history, a deep respect for learning and a religious moral code that either instructs or guides us (depending on where you fall on the religious spectrum), we have many tools to help us make important choices. As we make decisions that can affect our fate, we cannot allow fear to be the guiding factor.

As well as stiff-necked and argumentative, we have always been a learned people. As we examine from within Israel or from abroad, we need to stop trying to convince each other by appealing to fear of success or failure. Our achievement of national sovereignty should make Jewish fear as rationale for all actions a thing of the past.

With the abandonment of fear as the prime motivator for our discussions, we will create the necessary space to have a true dialogue based on values. Our rich tradition contains many lessons and principles that can help us make the hard decisions about our future in a way that is quintessentially Jewish.

Kennedy’s call was to a world at war with itself. Our interests and values matter more than the uncertainty of the future. His call was as true of the Cold War of the 1960’s as it is of the Middle East conflict of today.