Of Course Israelis Want Peace, but Now's Not a Good Time. Can You Come Back Later?

The Middle East is boiling, Israelis are otherwise engaged and the recent Arab League formula proves that time is on our side anyway.

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

Jerusalem’s ho-hum reaction to the Arab League’s adoption of the “1967 + land swaps” equation for a settlement with the Palestinians has led some foreign observers to mistakenly assume that Israelis are not particularly excited about the prospects of achieving peace.

That’s preposterous, of course. It wasn’t true in September 2010, when Time Magazine was roundly condemned for daring to suggest on its cover that Israelis “Don’t Care About Peace” because their life is just dandy - and it isn’t any truer today. Israelis are pre-programmed to want peace. It’s in their nature.

But you must admit that there have been better opportunities to make peace in the past - and if those were missed, why try now, when the prospects are even dimmer? After all, as we learned from painful experience after Oslo and Camp David, sometimes it’s actually worse to try and fail than to not try at all. And now is not a good time, anyway. Why? Let us count the ways:

Because the region is boiling; chemical weapons are spreading; Syria is imploding; Iran is enriching; Lebanon is simmering; Egypt is collapsing: Jordan is teetering. Isn’t it prudent to wait, at least until the dust settles?

Because the Palestinians are divided, Hamas is rising, Fayyad has resigned, Abbas has despaired. Because the Palestinians in Ramallah and other West Bank towns are finally getting a taste of the good life that can be had even under occupation.

Because we all know that the Palestinians will never pass our new and improved “Israel as a Jewish State” litmus test (just as we will never acknowledge their Nakba). And imagine what a “Palestinian Spring” would have looked like, if it had been allowed to take place.

Because time is so obviously on our side. Just look at the evolution of the Arab position on Israel, from Khartoum’s post-Six Day War “no to recognition, no to negotiations no to peace” - all the way to an agreement with Egypt, peace with Jordan, PLO recognition, the Arab Peace Initiative, 1967 borders and now 1967 + land swaps.

So, if we wait a few years longer, perhaps the “minor” land swaps will become “major”? And as we approach the 50th anniversary of the 1967 borders, won’t they start to seem anachronistic anyway?

Israelis have learned to ignore the dire predictions about Israel being boycotted and isolated or turning into a bi-national state. We’ve been hearing this refrain for almost 50 years. But the world is waking up to the greater danger of radical Islam.

And it’s only been a month since the President of the world’s only superpower came to Jerusalem to deliver unprecedented declarations of love and unparalleled pledges of allegiance. And it’s only fair that Secretary of State John Kerry also be given ample time to try, fail and learn from the error of his ways.

As for the “demographic demon” as it is often called, trust those enterprising, start-up nation Israelis to develop their own, independent set of statistics – which you may derisively call “voodoo demographics” – that prove that the Palestinians are actually decreasing rather than increasing, that instead of a majority they will soon become an even smaller minority.

And don’t forget that the new Israeli government is based on an implicit understanding that the peace process will have to wait while Israel takes care of enormously critical issues such as the army service of the very Orthodox and the tax burden on the middle class. Israel finally has a chance to address pressing domestic problems that have been plaguing it for decades instead of pursuing pie in the sky dreams of peace with the Palestinians that invariably end in heartache.

That’s what Israelis voted for, that’s where they are going, and that’s where their courageous leaders are going to lead them. We don’t need far-sighted visionaries but rather cold-hearted managers who can “manage the conflict” for the foreseeable future.

So don’t ever say that Israelis don’t want peace. Of course they want peace. Most of them, anyway. What’s not to want?

Israelis speak of peace. They dream of peace. They yearn for peace. Every day, religious Jews pray, "He who makes peace in the heavens, may He make peace for us and all Israel, and let us say, Amen."

But let’s not be impatient. Everything comes to he who waits. For almost 2000 years, Jews prayed “Next Year in Jerusalem” and in the end - God delivered. (Only after the worst catastrophe in the history of the Jewish people, perhaps, but still.)

Follow me on Twitter @ChemiShalev

Israeli Peace Now activists protesting in Jerusalem on May 15, 2010.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

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