It's very easy to get sucked in to the play-by-play score-keeping in Israeli-Palestinian talks, negotiations and competing unilateral measures. It even has a certain appeal, the appearance of knowing the unknowable or enjoying some sort of control over a process which is essentially beyond our control. All this also distracts us -- conveniently? -- from the premise and essence of the whole exercise. The goal is an independent Palestinian state alongside a secure, democratic and Jewish state -- Israel. Has that changed?
Over the past few weeks, drama has revolved not around the forest -- the willingness of Israelis or Palestinians to agree on refugees, security presence, borders, Jerusalem -- but on the trees:
- Israel hesitating to release more prisoners under the last interim agreement;
- Washington's readiness to release convicted spy Jonathan Pollard as an inducement;
- Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas' rush to sign onto international treaties and conventions as if Palestine were already a sovereign state;
- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's ban on high-level contact with the Palestinians;
- Israel's announcement of new settlement housing (U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's "poof" moment);
- Abbas' threat to dissolve the Palestinian Authority (whatever that would mean);
- Abbas' rapprochement with Hamas, and his announcement of a "consensus government" to be supported by all factions (whatever that would mean);
- Israeli and U.S. condemnation of the proposed Hamas deal, matched by European acceptance (though Israeli officials have roundly criticized the U.S. response as too soft);
- Israel's decision to suspend all talks with the Palestinians, with a full range of possible exceptions, qualifications and clarifications;
- U.S. President Barack Obama's suggestion that a "pause" in talks may now be warranted.
That sure seems like a lot of trees. And it doesn't even include the blaming and counter-claims on all sides.
While it would be helpful if leadership on either side restated the overall goals of this process, without using them to assert moral superiority, there really is no excuse for outsiders to fuel and amplify the acrimony. We should be reminding ourselves and others of the underlying stakes and ultimate destination, on which there truly is clear precedent and broad consensus.
Whether or not Secretary Kerry or President Obama issues a set of principles, or a "summary for the record," the terms, parameters and procedures for a final deal are already well known and understood. The domestic politics on every side, including in the United States, will not be going away, and figuring out how to surmount these real and often legitimate concerns could be a valuable project. But it's hard to do so without becoming part of the problem. We can all try, though, beginning with focusing on the real work to be done, and not piling on against the Netanyahu government and/or the Palestinians. There is enough anger and suspicion on both sides, without outsiders stirring it up at each turn.
Anticipating Israel's 66th anniversary, American Jews who care should recommit to Israel's security and to its Jewish and democratic character. It's important for Diaspora Jews to demonstrate solidarity with Israel's struggles and aspirations, across the political and ideological spectrum, especially now -- with eyes wide open and fixed on the horizon, toward the peace that most Israelis and Palestinians want and need. If we can't do it from a comfortable distance, how can we expect the parties themselves to step up?
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