If there are extraterrestrials somewhere deep in the cosmos quietly monitoring our planet, they must be especially amused at how many lives have been lost and how much blood has been spilled over an unprepossessing strip of land that sits along the Mediterranean.
Down here on Earth, the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is less a subject for farce as it is a deep and tangled tragedy that seems to offer no satisfactory resolution. Prospects for peace and reconciliation appeared to be within reach at various points over the last couple of decades, only to disappear like some desert mirage, as hard-liners on both sides dig in their heels, brook no compromise and keep the conflict going and going.
An uneasy detente ruptured last week as Israel launched air assaults in Gaza in response to rocket attacks from the militant Palestinian faction Hamas. As of this writing, there were concerns Israel would launch a ground invasion into Palestinian territory that could lead to many lives, both Israeli and Palestinian, being lost. The burst of violence was sparked by the killing of three Israeli teenagers by suspected members of Hamas, and the murder of a Palestinian teen in retaliation by Israeli extremists.
So far, both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have been ineffective in lowering the temperature among their constituents. The prospect of any meaningful resumption in peace talks seems exceedingly unlikely.
But it is vital those efforts resume. The United States should play a more assertive role in bringing this current crisis to an end and bringing both sides back to the table so a meaningful truce can be negotiated. And, in the long term, both sides must recognize a two-state solution is the only viable way for peace to be reached.
Under such a plan, Palestinians would recognize Israel’s right to exist and abandon any hope of getting back land that was taken at Israel’s creation under a 1948 United Nations mandate – the so-called “right of return.” At the same time, Israel would stop building settlements in the West Bank, would return to the borders it had before its 1967 war with its Arab neighbors and allow Palestinians to have their own state.
Despite the rhetoric of some zealots within America who believe Israel should be given a blank check to do as it pleases and expand as it likes, there is a strong preference within the Israeli population for a two-state solution, with 60 percent backing the idea, according to a June poll conducted under the supervision of Tel Aviv University. A two-state solution is, ultimately, the only way to ensure Israel’s survival both as a Jewish state and that it remain a democracy. If the Palestinian territories are annexed into a Greater Israel, and Palestinians are given full voting rights, a Jewish state would cease to exist. On the other hand, if those territories are brought into the Israeli fold, but Palestinians are denied the rights accorded to Jewish citizens, the country would, in effect, become an “apartheid state,” as Secretary of State John Kerry recently put it.
Key players on both sides, and particularly within Israel, would do well to heed the words of Avraham Shalom, a former head of the country’s General Security Service who died last month. In the 2012 documentary “The Gatekeepers,” which features surprisingly frank and candid interviews with Shalom and five other leaders of that agency, Shalom admits “there is no alternative” but to negotiate.
“Talk to everyone, even if they answer rudely … I’m always for it. In the State of Israel, it’s too great a luxury not to speak with our enemies … Even if (the) response is insolent, I’m in favor of continuing … It’s in the nature of the professional intelligence man to talk to everyone. That’s how you get to the bottom of things. I find out that he doesn’t eat glass and he sees that I don’t drink oil.”