When I returned to Israel in the summer of 2000, following a four-year stay in the West Coast, I had two job offers. Ha’aretz offered me the Israeli-Arab beat, covering Jewish-Arab relations in Israel. And Yediot Ahronot offered me a unique beat, which would be created especially for me: the positive beat. All the time we only report bad stuff, the editor explained to me. We need good news and we need someone to proactively pursue good news, to make it his beat, the editor said.
I chose Ha’aretz’ Israeli-Arab beat. My first day on the job was Oct. 1, 2000, the day Israel’s Arab minority joined the “second Intifada,” took to the streets, and launched the fiercest riots in Israel’s history.
There were times when I regretted having chosen a “bad news” beat over the proposed uplifting beat, but overall I was glad to pursue my passion.
I was recently reminded of this when a fellow dovish Israeli asked me for some good news on Mideast peace efforts. Everything seems so stuck, so hopeless, he said. Where is hope?
So, as we close a decade that started with the second Intifada and was one of the bloodiest in the history of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, it is important to remind ourselves how far we have come in pursuit of peace and how solid are at least some of the necessary conditions for successful peace efforts.
Consider the two-state solution. Not long ago, the mere suggestion of creating a Palestinian state was tantamount to political suicide. Today, even Benjamin Netanyahu, who for years was the most prominent and outspoken opponent of this idea, is embracing — at least rhetorically — the two-state solution as well as a freeze on settlement construction.
Throughout the past decade’s hostilities, disappointments, and distress, most Israelis and Palestinians — as well as Americans — have remained solidly supportive of a historic separation agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, which would allow two nation states to live side by side, in peace and security. Naysayers on the extreme Left, who wish to do away with Israel as a Jewish state through binationalism, and obstructionists on the Right, who insist on following a path leading to the destruction of Israel’s democracy, are in the minority.
Leadership has always been an Achilles heel of peace efforts, but even on this front there is new hope. For the first time in years, there is a president in the White House who is determined to achieve comprehensive Middle East peace in his first term in office. He has framed this objective as a key U.S. national security interest, and has harnessed a strong team of committed diplomats to achieving this goal.
Arab partners? You bet. In the West Bank, President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad are reforming the Palestinian Authority, building transparent government institutions, and forming a disciplined, professional security force that is cooperating with Israel on security. Abbas and Fayyad are worthy interlocutors. They are understandably reluctant to come to the table under the current circumstances, but will do so if they are convinced that Israel and America are serious about peace. In Damascus, President Assad is challenging Netanyahu to negotiate peace. In the Arab world, 22 Arab governments are reiterating their collective plan for comprehensive peace with Israel.
Sure, it’s easy to cast a skeptical shadow over these points of light. But dismissing them is both wrong and wrongheaded. Promoting Middle East peace is more than a morally noble goal. It is a worthwhile and promising endeavor. Indeed, it is an existential imperative. Israeli-Palestinian peace is the only way to ensure Israel’s long-term existence as a Jewish and democratic state.
As we usher in 2010, I — along with tens of thousands of pro-Israel peace activists in the United States — resolve to do my best to encourage President Obama, as well as Israeli and Arab leaders, to seize the moment and lead the region toward the viable, lasting peace that both Israelis and their neighbors deserve.