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It is time to embrace truth

By Michael Felsen, The Jewish Advocate , 18.01.08

President Bush has returned from Jerusalem and Ramallah, and we, members of the American Jewish community, have some choices to make. We can actively oppose the peace process that began in Annapolis two months ago, because it threatens to divide Jerusalem, to dismantle settlements, and to divest Israel of most of the West Bank. We can remain skeptically on the sidelines, pointing out the many obstacles, as we wait for negotiations “inevitably” to unravel. Or we can acknowledge that walking the path to a just and lasting peace, rocky as it will surely be, is in the best interests of the Israeli people – and of Jews everywhere – and must wholeheartedly be encouraged.
Supporting the peace process is a multi-faceted enterprise. We must urge both sides to undertake confidence-building measures, and improvements on the ground, immediately: on the Israeli side, a halt to all settlement expansion and removal of illegal outposts, as well as a reduction of internal West Bank checkpoints; on the Palestinian side, intensified efforts at quelling violence and enhancing security. We must also press for focused negotiations to resolve the thorny “final status” issues. In this regard, Taba and Geneva present difficult compromises, but ultimately promising frameworks for the flourishing of two viable states, a Jewish and a Palestinian homeland, side by side, in friendship and security.
Additionally, peace will require a healthy dose of honesty on both sides. Already, some remarkable statements have been made, and American Jews should take notice. In his Annapolis speech on Nov. 27, Prime Minister Olmert acknowledged that the alienation, bitterness, and deprivation suffered by so many Palestinians are significant causes of the “ethos of hatred” toward Israel. A few days later, Olmert told journalists that, four years ago, he had said “if we don’t do something, we will lose the possibility of the existence of two states” and “[w]e will be an apartheid state.” This is Ehud Olmert speaking, not Jimmy Carter or Desmond Tutu.
A month earlier, Orthodox Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky observed that Israel must not “come to the negotiating table telling a dishonest story – a story in which our side has made no mistakes and no miscalculations, a story in which there is no moral ambiguity in the way we have chosen to rule the people we conquered, a story in which we don’t owe anything to anyone.” Rabbi Kanefsky declared that reconciliation is only possible through the telling of truth. The Palestinians must own up, but so must Israel. By so stating, he effectively legitimized what has been viewed by many American Jews as a taboo: the open acknowledgement that Israel, too, comes to the table with hands that need washing.
So before we can expect peace, we need an honest reckoning from both sides. Olmert has begun that process. American Jews should encourage him to continue to speak truth, even – and especially – when difficult. By recognizing wounds inflicted and pain endured, both sides can provide the oxygen needed to nourish a healing process that leads to reconciliation. We, the American Jewish community, should embrace that process, as we support both Israel and the Palestinian people in their common quest for peace. Is there a better choice?
Michael Felsen is president of Boston Workmen’s Circle.