After the War: The Need to Pursue Peace -- If Not Now, When?

After more than 50 days, the war between Hamas and the state of Israel is finally over. At least we really hope so! After so many cease-fires were violated by Hamas, it is hard to believe it.

It has been a nerve-wracking and emotionally tense summer in Israel. Thousands of rockets were launched by Hamas and other Islamic groups in Gaza against civilian sites all over the southern and central parts of Israel, causing millions of Israeli citizens to live in constant fear and with high anxiety. And, thousands of Israeli reservists were called up to serve their country, causing fear and trepidation about their safety in harsh battles against the Hamas militias, who waited for them in ambushes during the ground offensive.

Leaders on both sides are declaring preposterous "victory" when in fact both sides lost this unnecessary war. It could have been resolved a month ago, if everyone had accepted the Egyptian initiative, which is more or less what we wound up with in the end, anyway. And, it would have been prevented if the diplomatic talks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had succeeded back in April, after almost a year of intensive American efforts to help us make peace with our neighbors.

Now, everyone in Israel, in Gaza, in the West Bank, and in the international community are asking: What next? In other words, can dialogue and negotiations -- through wise and sustained diplomacy -- replace rockets and bombs?

This is the major question at hand, and no one here really knows the answer. Indeed, there is great skepticism on all sides, and for good reasons.

Yet, only a carefully crafted diplomatic solution can bring the peace agreement that we all need to avoid the next war. This is well known, but there is no easy formula to achieve this.

The last formal agreement between Israel and the Palestinians was the Wye River agreement in 1998, sixteen years ago. Since then, all the attempts to restart the peace process -- that the international community seems to want more than the parties themselves -- have failed. Why?

They have failed because neither side has been serious yet about making "painful compromises for peace." Instead, we have been witness to years of posturing and petty politics. This has to end in order for a meaningful peace agreement to be achieved to prevent the next wars.

Is peace possible? This is the big question. And my answer remains: Yes! But it will only happen if our so-called "leaders" come down from their high ideological trees and their refusal to enter into genuine negotiations that might actually get the job done.

Last night, my organization, the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel , which is also the Israel branch of Religions for Peace , took a group of about 20 activists to see an amazing art exhibit entitled And the Trees Went Forth to Seek A King, at the beautiful Museum on the Seam in Jerusalem, in a beautiful stone house, on the old border between east and west Jerusalem. It was a superb exhibit, extremely clever and severely critical of political leadership in many countries around the world, including our own.

I left the exhibit wondering: Why do so many people in so many places elect so many irresponsible self-serving leaders? And, why do the religious establishments all too often simply go along with the meaningless -- if not demeaning -- policies of their governments?

We need real leadership now in both Israel and Palestine, leaders who will not just stammer and blabber, but who will put forth courageous and realistic plans for peace, rather than simply blame the other side and go on preparing for the next war.

Will leaders emerge who will take the bold steps for peace that are necessary to avoid more wars? And will the grass roots -- on both sides -- say to their leaders loudly and clearly: "No more war! It is time to make peace!"

And, will religious and cultural leaders -- and their followers in Israel, Palestine and abroad -- abandon their silence and apathy of the past several years, and join forces in a clarion call for peace between Israel and Palestine?

As Rabbi Hillel said a long time ago, "If not now, when?"