Beware the 'Peacemakers'

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Palestinians hurl stones at an Israeli tank during clashes in front the demolished Jewish settlement of Neve Dekalim in the southern Gaza Strip, September 6, 2005. Credit: Reuters

The smell of cordite and the stench of blood is still in the air, yet my friend Rabbi Eric Yoffie of the Reform Movement has come in with yet a new plea for peace.

There are those of us who are still waiting for the “accounting of the soul” he called for half a generation ago. That was in summer 2001, when he made a speech in Cleveland; I wrote about it at the time for the Wall Street Journal. Yoffie had, after all, admitted that recent events had led him to reexamine his most fundamental assumptions. He said he’d gone through all his speeches in the last five years. Then he said something one rarely hears, to wit:

“I share with you my feeling that we have been wrong about some very important things. We have been wrong not so much in what we have said, but rather in what we have not said ... First and foremost, we have been wrong about Palestinian intentions. We believed, along with our allies in the peace camp, that if an Israeli prime minister would be brave enough to say that Israel must choose peace over territories, the Palestinian Authority would also choose peace. It would do so resentfully, reluctantly and out of grudging self-interest rather than love, but nonetheless, it would choose peace.”

Yoffie then noted that over the previous summer Prime Minister Ehud Barak had “bravely,” as the rabbi put it, “offered a Palestinian state on 96 percent of the West Bank, with its capital in East Jerusalem.”

Said Yoffie: “Had that offer been accepted, the Palestinians would live today in their own independent state, free of Israeli occupation, masters of their own fate. But the offer was not accepted. The voices of reason and moderation on which we had counted did not appear. And the PLO showed itself, once again, to be one of the most stupid, murderous, and bloodthirsty national liberation movements in all of human history.”

Call me naïve, but I’d expected the remorseful rabbi to fetch up in the uniform of the Betar or to hit the hustings on behalf of Likud. No such luck. Unless something has been lost in the ether (always possible at my age), the next time I wrote about him was in July 2009, after a new American president, Barack Obama, had his first meeting in the White House with the American-Jewish leadership. That was the meeting at which Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents suggested, as Jeremy Ben Ami of J-Street paraphrased him to Jeffrey Goldberg, that “history shows that progress is made on the peace front when Israel and the U.S. are in lockstep and there’s no daylight between them on their position publicly.”

The President responded with an outrageous claim. “For eight years under the prior administration,” he said (again quoting Ben Ami’s report to Goldberg), “there was no daylight between the two sides and there was no progress on the peace front, and no hard decisions were confronted, no progress was made.” In other words, I wrote at the time, it was all George W. Bush’s fault.

The real news, I suggested, is that not a single Jewish leader – neither Yoffie nor Ben Ami nor anyone else – called the president on the libel about “no hard decisions.” The years to which Obama was referring had been the years during which Israel had uprooted its settlements and forcibly removed Jews from Gaza.

The peace camp kvelled about that for months, but it brought nothing but rockets and tunnels and terror. I asked Yoffie about the meeting he and the others had with Obama. Then he told me that it was one thing to be skeptical about the prospects for peace – as he was after Cleveland and still was in 2009 – and another to accept settlement-building and other actions that, as he saw it, preclude peace.

So here we are, five years later, and Gaza is in ruins. The rabbi wants to deal with it by making a new bid for peace with the Palestinian Authority. I look forward to hearing about it over lunch, but it seems he wants an accounting of the soul from Netanayhu before he’ll give us the one he promised of his own.

Seth Lipsky is editor of The New York Sun He was a foreign editor and a member of the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, founding editor of The Forward and editor from 1990 to 2000.

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