What’s Next

by Rabbi Lee Friedlander

Dear Friends,

In an article titled “Does Peace Have a Chance?” published in the most recent edition of Foreign Affairs, Martin Indyk, former U.S. ambassador to Israel in the Clinton Administration, and past Middle East advisor to the Obama Administration, lists the few alternatives to a two-state solution at the end of Israel’s war against Hamas:  (1) Hamas’s solution, namely, the destruction of the State of Israel and the annihilation of its Jewish citizens; (2) Israel’s ultra-right solution – Israel’s annexation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the dismantling of the Palestinian Authority, and the deportation of the Palestinian residents therein; (3) the current “conflict management” approach of the Netanyahu Administrations in which the pre-October 7 status quo is restored and maintained indefinitely; or (4) the establishment of a binational state in which Jews would become a minority.  Last week, Prime Minister Netanyahu issued a position paper that would perpetuate the indefinite pre-war occupation of the West Bank and extend it to Gaza allowing for the re-establishment of Israel settlements within the Gaza Strip.  His post-war plan is in stark contrast to the one being engineered by the United States and the Arab states that Netanyahu reached out to before Hamas’s brutal and unforgivable massacre, which calls for international efforts to reconstruct the Gaza Strip, the formation of a Hamas-free government in the West Bank and Gaza, the normalization of diplomatic relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and a road map toward a demilitarized state for Palestinians.

One of the many takeaways from the aftershocks of the October 7 massacres, the unrest in the West Bank, and the attacks from Hezbollah in Lebanon that followed is that any seeming status quo in the Middle East is built on sand–quicksand.  After almost three decades of periodic incursions into Gaza in response to missiles fired into Israel proper by Hamas, Hamas’s invasion was a shock but hardly a surprise.  Why, then, would Israel’s prime minister champion a plan for more of the same?  Pundits give two reasons: (1) The least cynical is to credit him with a lack of imagination.  After so many years in office, he can only see one way.  (2) Unfortunately, circumstances suggest that renewing his past plan on steroids will preserve his radical right-wing coalition thereby keeping him in office and out of jail.

Recognizing that Bibi must go in order to save the State of Israel from becoming a complete pariah among nations and risking the support – military and political – of the United States, former ambassador Indyk suggests that President Biden give up on Netanyahu and address Israel’s citizens directly with the choice of working toward a two-state solution sponsored by its greatest ally, America, and its ally-to-be, Saudi Arabia, or opting for endless war, which will spawn new militants into the foreseeable future.  As reviewed at our last Sunday morning Zoom with Julian Resnick, there are two problems with Indyk’s suggestion.  (1) Practically, just how would President Biden make his case to the Israelis?  (2) Diplomatically, by bypassing Israel’s prime minister, would Biden not repeat the insult directed at Obama when Netanyahu spoke before Congress?

According to recent polls in Israel, eighty percent of its citizens want Netanyahu out of office, yet some have argued that ousting him now might complicate the present war effort and compromise whatever security remains in the State.  But as Don Buford noted at our Sunday Zoom briefing a month ago, and as iterated by Jules Kaufman last week, the United Kingdom did exchange Neville Chamberlain for Winston Churchill during World War II, and that seemed to work out just fine.

The question still remains, is there a new path forward?  I found hope in an article in (the print edition of) Thursday’s New York Times, which featured IDF soldiers returning from the Gaza front experiencing a country that was no longer united by the Hamas attack but was just as politically and culturally divided as before.  In response, some reservists have founded Tikun 2024, a non-partisan organization intent on preserving the spirit of solidarity and cooperation that was brought on by the war.  As reported, “Members of the small but rapidly growing movement cited contentious government moves that have divided the country, including a proposed overhaul of the judiciary,  talk of resettling Gaza, criticism of the families of hostages who have called for a ceasefire, and a proposed budget that benefits the far-right and ultra-Orthodox fringes at the expense of the national economy.”  They argue that only a unity government can tackle the fate of the occupied territories, where Palestinians and so much of the world imagine a future Palestinian state.  The group whose reservist members put their lives on the line for the State of Israel at its most critical time since 1948 is calling for new elections and national unity.  “We don’t want to go back to the polarizing discourse of trampling on one another,” said Eyal Naveh, one of Tikun’s leaders.  “It’s time to act in consensus.”

May this be a pathway forward from within Israel, from those who see themselves as servants of the State and not of any political party, which will bring Israel’s citizens and the Palestinians to a more promising future.

With hope,