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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

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Two-state solution: nightmare or reality?

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I  have a recurring nightmare, but first let me tell you the seeds that I believe originally spawned it.

It was June 1967, the Six Day War had just erupted. I was 15 years old, standing beside my father at Congregation Beth Shalom in Ottawa. It was the largest synagogue in the city, and it seemed that all of Ottawa’s 5,000 Jews had crowded, shoulder to shoulder, into the sanctuary to hear Israel’s ambassador to Canada, Gershon Avner.

Tall and elegant, Avner spoke with the grace of an academic. That night, his message was clear. Israel, he told us, was in a fight for its very existence. If it were to lose this war, the Jewish People’s hopes and dreams for a Jewish homeland would be over. It was a night I will never forget. It was the first time I ever remember seeing my father, a Holocaust survivor, cry.

Israel was victorious in a war that lasted only six days, but would result in decades of consequences.

Israel tripled its size, acquiring the Sinai from Egypt as well as the West Bank and Gaza from Jordan and the Golan Heights from Syria. Eventually, following another almost catastrophic confrontation with Egypt in 1973, Israel – thanks to the courage of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, who made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to seek reconciliation – traded land for peace. And though it is a cold peace, it has held to this day.

Syria remains intransigent, while Jordan simply walked away from any further responsibility for the West Bank. And that has left Israel and world Jewry in a continuing conundrum.

Since 1967, Israel has had to struggle with the injustice of being an occupier. Indeed, many of us who grew up with Israel in the postwar period always believed that a just solution would be found. Once the dust settled, surely we would find a way to regain the high road and get out of the business of occupation.

This proved to be much more difficult than ever believed. Days turned to weeks, weeks and months to years. Occupation became more entrenched. Jewish settlements began springing up, which solidified Israel’s grasp on the occupied territories. The dream of a peaceful, two-state solution began to grow ever dimmer.

The Oslo accords brought some glimmers of hope, but that, too, seemed to be more a hope than a reality and proved in the end to be, as my father would have said, a bubbe mayse (a fairy tale).

We came close on few more occasions. Even a very generous offer of Gaza and 97 per cent of the West Bank by then-Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak was turned down by a myopic Yasser Arafat. Sadly, this led to a second intifadah and mistrust on both sides.

Clearly, in order for Israel to survive as a nation that values justice and equality, a solution that gives a measure of fairness to both sides must be found. It’s here that my nightmare begins: what if a solution is never found?

For Israel to continue to rule over four million people is untenable. Israel’s own census experts, demographer Sergio Della Pergola of Hebrew University and Arnon Soffer, a geographer at the University of Haifa, have warned, “Without a partition deal, Jews will eventually become a minority, because of higher Arab population growth.”

Recently, even Israel’s finance minister, Yair Lapid lamented, “Every moment we don’t separate from the Palestinians is a clear threat to the existence of Israel as a Jewish state.”

And so the recurring nightmare: no final status deal is reached, and according to Israel’s own census bureau, in about a generation, “the higher Arab and lower Jewish growth rates will converge.” Sadly, therefore, the unthinkable becomes thinkable. As Israel’s justice minister and chief peace negotiator, Tzipi Livni, as well as former prime ministers and even Shin Bet directors have warned, failure to reach a just two-state solution may mean Israel could become an apartheid state. There is only one answer, and again Soffer and Pergola state the obvious, noting that “if Israel gives up most of the West Bank, it can assure a Jewish majority at home for eternity, [but] keeping the West Bank means you must give up on a Jewish state.”

We must be brave. It’s time we all support Israel in taking the bold steps necessary to ensure its survival as a democratic, equality-loving Jewish state. It’s time to end the nightmare.

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