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Steve Sheffey

Steve Sheffey

Posted: September 6, 2010 08:37 AM

Israel Cares About Peace

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In its September 13, 2010 issue, Time magazine asks the wrong question. The question isn't why Israel doesn't care about peace. The question is why the Arab world refuses to make peace with Israel.

Israel's entire history is an unending willingness to trade land for the hope of peace that has been repeatedly dashed by Arab intransigence.

When the United Nations recognized Israel's independence, all of the West Bank and Jerusalem were outside Israel's borders. Despite the historic, legal, and moral claims of the Jewish people to Jerusalem and to Judea and Samaria, Israel was willing to forgo the land in exchange for independence and peace. But the Arab world could not countenance a Jewish state in its midst, and several Arab armies attacked Israel. When the fighting stopped in 1949, Israel controlled half of Jerusalem (the half without the holy places) and none of the West Bank. Jordan proceeded to raze dozens of synagogues in the half of Jerusalem it controlled, with no international protests.

In 1964, the Palestine Liberation Organization was formed--three years before Israel controlled any of the West Bank. It's not hard to imagine what the "Palestine" was that the "organization" wanted to "liberate." There were no settlements and no "occupation" in 1964.

In 1967, Israel launched preemptive strikes against Egypt and Syria after they committed acts of war against Israel (Syria attacked kibbutzim from the Golan Heights while Egypt closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, ordered UN peacekeepers to leave the Sinai, and massed troops on Israel's border). But Israel did not attack Jordan, and Israel controls Jerusalem and the West Bank today only because Jordan attacked Israel during the Six Day War.

Yet despite achieving the 2,000 year-old dream of Jewish sovereignty over its historic homeland, albeit in response to Arab aggression, Israel immediately indicated its willingness to trade land for peace, only to be rebuffed by the three no's of Khartoum: no peace with Israel, no negotiations with Israel, no recognition of Israel.

So it went until 1973, when on the holiest day of the Jewish year, Yom Kippur, Egypt and Syria attacked Israel. Yet when Egyptian President Sadat indicated a genuine desire to make peace with Israel, Israel traded the entire Sinai peninsula to Egypt in exchange for a promise of peace from a man who, if not a Nazi, was at least a Nazi sympathizer during World War II, and from a country that had waged unceasing war against Israel since its rebirth.

In 2000, Israel offered Palestinian leadership 94-98% of the West Bank in exchange for peace, but Yasir Arafat--who could have gone down in history as another Sadat--rejected the offer. Had he accepted, there would today be an Arab Palestinian state.

In 2000, Israel unilaterally withdrew from all of Lebanon in exchange for nothing, and that's exactly what it got: nothing. Nothing except terrorism and rockets from its northern border.

In 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from all of Gaza in exchange for nothing, and that's exactly what it got: nothing. Nothing except terrorism and rockets from Gaza. There is no "occupation" of Gaza; the only Israeli in Gaza is Gilad Shalit, the soldier held captive in violation of international law.

Israel gave up land in Lebanon and Gaza and was rewarded not with peace, but with violence. But Israel did not give up hope. In 2008, Israel offered Palestinian Abbas a state consisting of nearly all of the West Bank. But again the Arabs said no.

Yet Israel continues to strive for peace. Why? Not because the Arab Palestinians have a better legal, historic, or moral claim to the land--after all, there has never been an Arab nation of Palestine and the concept of a unique Arab Palestinian people was unknown before the 20th century--but because trading land for peace is in Israel's best interests, and Israel knows it.

Most Israelis believe that Israel cannot indefinitely remain Jewish and democratic while retaining the West Bank. Israel again and again has chosen peace over land, even land it has dreamt of regaining for centuries. Israel's dream of peace in exchange for land will become reality as soon as the Arab world gives up its dream of destroying the world's only Jewish state.

After months of pressure, President Abbas finally agreed to sit down face to face with Prime Minister Netanyahu and talk peace. Despite being rebuffed and attacked by the Arab world time and time again, Israel has still not given up its hope for peace. Peace can be achieved tomorrow if the Arab world accepts the permanent reality of a Jewish state of Israel today. The Palestinians could have had a state comprising nearly all of the West Bank if their leadership had accepted Israel's offers in 2000 or 2008. Israel accepted several partitions of its national homeland before achieving independence in 1948, and Israel remains willing to cede parts of its national homeland because it values peace over land and an independent state over a state perpetually at war. It is time for Palestinian leadership to accept the same paradigm.

Peace is still within our grasp. All it takes is for Arab Palestinian leadership to place a higher priority on achieving a state of their own than on destroying Israel. Or as Golda Meir said, "we will have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us."