[EDITOR’S NOTE: Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner of Temple Emanu-El of Closter was among the few rabbis in the White House on Tuesday when the Trump administration’s long-awaited peace plan was presented to the public. These are his reflections, written on the train during his ride home. For more about the plan and reactions to it, see more stories.]
Today’s world has become a Rorschach test. We are more concerned with who said something as opposed to what actually was said.
Today’s announcement about a bold plan for Middle East peace easily could fall into that dangerous trap. I caution you to fight the urge, and to unpack the details that we know, and how we can appreciate this moment in history.
I was fortunate to be in the East Room of the White House when the plan was unveiled this this afternoon.
Here are some of my observations and considerations.
For 73 years, ever since Israel announced its statehood, the new county was welcomed with bullets and bombs instead of with partnership and possibility. That Heisman-style embrace has been one-sided. It is high time for a new strategy and a refreshed approach to the Middle East.
I believe that the Trump administration has presented the seedlings of such a plan. Remarkably, this plan is endorsed and championed by both the Blue and White party’s Benny Gantz and by the Likud and its leader, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Together, those parties represent more than two thirds of the Israeli Knesset. That alone is newsworthy.
This is also the first time that Israel has agreed on paper to the establishment of boundaries and borders of the Jewish state and the Palestinian state. This historic moment should not be diminished.
This plan seems fundamentally different from Oslo, Camp David, Wye, and Annapolis primarily because Israel is given detailed security measures that would ensure its safety, and would not uproot Israeli life. Those factors include:
1. Palestinian leadership recognizing Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.
2. Israeli autonomy and military control over the Jordan Valley.
3. Continued access to Jewish and Christian holy sites, including Shilo, Bet El, and Hebron.
These can be achieved with some first-time opportunities for the Palestinian people, who will be able to claim a state within four years, and have East Jerusalem as its capital. The United States will establish an embassy in East Jerusalem. Additionally, $50 billion of aid, in the form of grants, loans, and investments, will be offered to the Palestinian people for infrastructure and growth. I cannot imagine a mother in Ramallah who would not well up with tears considering the opportunities such an investment would offer her children.
Salaam Fayyad, the former prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, was a passionate proponent of infusing the economy so that purpose and opportunity will abound for the Palestinian people. Sadly, he was removed from his role before his plan could take form.
Some things have to happen before this plan can be realized.
First, Palestinians need to take a serious and contemplative look at the offer and negotiate.
Time has proven that Israel will not sit idly by and wait for its neighbors to engage in talks to consider growing infrastructure, developing relationships with Arab neighbors, or strengthening its army and resolve. While the Palestinians have pouted for the past 53 years, Israel has been watering the dessert and watching it bloom.
Secondly, the Palestinian people must choose between a future statehood or continued victimhood.
The former entails denouncing and dismantling all terror and terror infrastructure. It means defanging Hamas and Islamic Jihad. It means changing textbooks that call for incitement against Israel and the Jewish people and censuring imams and political leaders who preach hate. It requires Palestinians to establish human rights for its citizens. Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, it demands that the Palestinian state recognize the right for Israel to exist, and to do so in peace and safety.
If these simple steps occur, the Palestinians will double their footprint within Area C, solidify their place within Areas A and B, and work in concert with the IDF to maintain calm and peace in the region, which is mutually beneficial. The plan maps out a rail line connecting Gaza and the West Bank, making the families within these places connected and contagious. Most importantly, it gives Palestinian and Israeli children the opportunity to dream of a better tomorrow.
For Palestinians, the poverty line has climbed so high that one out of every four Palestinians is below it. This plan supplants stone throwing with crop planting; it puts building in place of bombing. It is a tangible opportunity for the Palestinians to shape their destiny.
Equally, Israelis are exhausted from decades of fighting and hatred that has yielded nothing positive on either side. Tomorrow can and should be a brighter day for the young Itamar and Mohammad, Shirin and Yael — the children of these two countries.
The plan thoughtfully and carefully details a path where no current home of any Palestinian or Israeli will be uprooted. There will be a four-year settlement freeze to demonstrate the possibilities of growth for the Palestinian people. The goal-posts will not be moved mid-game. Further, it solves the Palestinian refugee problem outside the borders of Israel.
Israel has been adamant about maintaining control over the region, based on the historical realities on the ground. When Israel pulled out of Lebanon, Hezbollah amassed 150,000 rockets and aimed them southward. When Israel unilaterally left Gaza, Hamas rose to power and launched more than 10,000 rockets. Greenhouses and synagogues were pillaged, when they could have been transformed for something better. The vacuum left from pulling out of territory always has been fertile for bad people to infiltrate. Maintaining a security presence closes off that opportunity.
The Palestinians have pronounced this plan dead on arrival, without ever seeing the document, accepting the call of U.S. leadership, or triaging the proposal. They have refused to come to the discussion table for the last 18 months. If they were there, they would have been surrounded by brethren. Bahrain, Oman, and the UAE all were in the East Room next to me this afternoon, when the plan was unveiled. They applauded and rose to their feet many times. They are committed to working with Israel and the United States toward making this dream a reality. It was the dawn of a new day.
I predict that Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan will join them around the table soon and model leadership for the Palestinians to follow. I can only hope the Palestinians will follow the lead.
Golda Meir said that the Palestinians rarely miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. I hope this time is different.
These words on paper, the countless editorials and pundits chiming in, or the dotted graph on the map will all aim to simplify an old problem. It cannot be boiled down to a tweet or an elevator pitch. It is complicated, just like the plan itself. The region is complicated, and so is the history of the people who live there. This initiative needs attention, patience, energy, and elbow grease. Let us focus on the message more than the messenger. History will demand that of us.
What this moment does have, beyond the support of both leading parties in Israel, is enthusiasm from many in the Jewish and pro-Israel world. This is not new. We are a people fashioned by hope. That is why Hatikvah is our anthem. We were bright eyed in Oslo, Wye, Madrid, and Annapolis, and we are today, too. We remember the prayer of “Next year in Jerusalem” that turned into a reality before our eyes.
Our prayer today is that our neighbors will realize the potential of turning prayers and dreams into realties, and that together we craft a new and better world for the generations to come to inherit.
May the history of this day be appreciated by all parties, and may the opportunities be seized. May it bring an end to bloodshed and shine peace on the state of Israel, the future state of Palestine, and all humanity.