The distress of the religious right
This may be President Shimon Peres' historic moment. His support for a two-state solution is known, but he must refrain from the political process. His job will be to address the Israelis who live in the world of the Bible.
We can hope Israel finally is heading toward ending the occupation that has destroyed our society's ethical backbone and has turned us into a pariah among the cultured nations.
However, if the new plan for an agreement with the Palestinians really does lead to some kind of solution, Israeli society will be left facing tremendous problems. One example is the "good wishes" Prof. Hillel Weiss sent to the Hebron Division commander - he told him he hoped the officer's children would be orphaned. Although these are unforgivable, inhuman statements, we have to ask ourselves how a person who clearly is neither a fool nor an ignoramus could say such things.
When it comes to ideology, in the most profound sense of the word, Israeli citizens can be roughly divided into two groups. The first follows the liberal-modern tradition. Its worldview is guided by concepts including universal human rights and the rule of law. It considers human life, not the state or the land, a universal value. For this group, Zionism is the existence of a state that serves as a national home for the Jews, not the realization of a divine promise. When it comes to rights and suffering, Palestinians are no less important than Jews.
The second group's world is dominated by sacred values from ancient texts. For them, sanctity is determined by divine command, not human suffering. Prof. Weiss is part of this latter group, as is MK Zevulun Orlev (National Religious Party), who said the new books being taught in the Arab school system, which use the term nakba ("catastrophe," the Arabs' term for the 1948 War of Independence) are "the nakba of the Israeli school system." Orlev is a decent, cultured person with a social conscience. And nevertheless, he considers mentioning the suffering the Jews caused the Palestinians to be a catastrophe. The humanity of those outside the tribe is irrelevant when it does not suit the tribe's religious beliefs.
Although I believe that taking a religious outlook has inhumane and disastrous consequences, we must not forget that a great many Israelis live by these precepts. Those of us who live among members of the center or the left, with their liberal world view, may be tempted by the convenient idea that the religious right is made up of fundamentalists who lack human emotions. However, we cannot ignore them. Let us not forget that Yitzhak Rabin's assassin grew up among the religious right. No good will come of viewing them all as diabolic, or treating them as a security problem.
The lesson from Rabin's assassination is that without dialogue with the religious right, hatred and despair may bring terrible results. We must understand that many Israelis feel that the foundation of their existence is in danger. We must empathize with them as fellow human beings.
The renewed attempt to end the darkest chapter in Israel's history - the occupation - is liable to end in tragedy once again. Therefore we must initiate a humane, compassionate dialogue with the religious right, although it must be unequivocally clear that this cannot end in compromise. There is no compromise between the belief that the country must be run under international law with respect for universal human rights, and the religious and tribal concept of the state and land.
This may be President Shimon Peres' historic moment. His support for a two-state solution is known, but he must refrain from the political process. His job will be to address the Israelis who live in the world of the Bible. He must express understanding for their pain, anger and helplessness while backing the secular concept of the Jewish state and the universal concept of human rights.
If Peres finds the appropriate words and emotions to touch their hearts, he will make himself a president of tremendous historical importance.
The writer is a professor in the department of psychology at Tel Aviv University.