Peace, like mushrooms, grows best in the dark, so it is good that Secretary of State John Kerry has kept the Israeli-Palestinian peace process under wraps and better that the parties seem to respect this objective. Unfortunately, less savory things also grow in the dark, things like rumors, unfounded speculations, and fear. So let us avoid the temptation to pretend we know what goes on behind closed doors.
What goes on in the open, however, is fair game, and some of that is disturbing. A recent poll shows that while Israelis support the two-state solution, as they always have, they are not so supportive of the difficult things that will have to be done to reach that goal, evacuating settlements, for example. At the same time, Prime Minister Netanyahu sends mixed signals by releasing Palestinian prisoners, on the one hand, and taking steps in furtherance of settlement expansion, on the other.
Poll results are notoriously inconsistent when different questions are asked, but this one does raise the question as to how committed the Israeli public is to the peace process. The main conclusion I reach is that the Israeli public is confused and needs leadership. But is Prime Minister Netanyahu the person to provide it? Which Netanyahu is he? Is he the pro-settlement Netanyahu who only pretends to seek peace as a play for time, or the pro-peace Netanyahu who is throwing a bone to his settlement-loving Cabinet members until he holds a peace settlement in his hand and is ready to break his coalition?
No one but Mr. Netanyahu knows on which side he will land. His recent statements arguing the importance of a two-state solution for the preservation of a Jewish, democratic Israel may lend support to the pro-peace theory. On the other hand, he has certainly gone out of his way not to make serious concessions on settlements. Even if this is just appeasement to his right flank, it is a dangerous tactic that threatens to blow up the talks, and all to preserve a political alliance that will undoubtedly have to be broken up anyway if the talks proceed far enough. Netanyahu has some serious choices to make with the future of Israel in the balance. If he chooses to lead his people toward peace, he certainly has the conservative credentials to give his support credibility with the Israeli public.
What it comes down to, in the end, is whether both parties have the will to make peace. If they have it, given the right conditions at least, peace will come. If they don’t, it won’t.
Of course getting to a peace agreement is difficult, but let’s be clear about the nature of the difficulties. They are political, not practical. Everyone knows essentially what such an agreement looks like. Of course there are many details to work out, but these will be worked out if the parties want to do so.
Palestinian President Abbas may want a full right of return for all Palestinians to their ancestral homes, but he knows that no Israeli government could ever agree to it, so if he wants a peace deal, he will give it up. Similarly, Netanyahu knows that although he and the Israeli public may balk at giving up settlements and sharing Jerusalem in some fashion, no Palestinian government will make a deal without them, so he will have to agree to those concessions if peace is his goal.
The real problem, assuming both leaders really want a peace deal, is for each leader to be able to carry out the negotiations without losing face with his own people or driving the other party from the table, and ultimately to sell the deal to his own constituents. That’s where our will as Americans, and American Jews, comes into play. The American administration is the only party capable of creating the conditions for these things to happen. But why does it matter what we think or say? Secretary Kerry and President Obama have made it clear that they are dedicated to the process, but by their own words, they will need the tailwind of public, and Jewish, opinion at their backs to counter the political headwinds that will certainly come at them when the going gets tough.
So let us continue to make our support heard. To paraphrase an old saying, let us pray that the leaders have the will to make peace as if everything depended on our prayers, but let us also work to show our support for the process as if everything depended on our efforts, because it very well might.