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Thursday, July 2, 2015

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Preparing for the unlikely

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As a new Jewish year begins, renewed U.S.-led peace talks continue between Israel and the Palestinians.

Much has been written about the low expectations surrounding these negotiations on both sides.

Certainly, Israelis and Jews have good reason to be skeptical. The resumption of Palestinian violence at the beginning of this century, as well as rocket fire and terrorist incursions following Israel’s 2005 pullout from Gaza, are testament to this.

But as Jews, we must always be prepared for the possibility of peace, for the prospect that our enemies may surprise us.

And Israel should always be seen as being open to peace, even as it remains ready to defend itself.

In this vein, it’s worth recalling the words of former Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who said that Israel would pursue the peace process as if there was no terrorism and pursue terrorism as if there was no peace process.

Since Rabin’s death, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has largely been fought to a draw.

The Palestinians and their leaders surely must recognize that despite two bloody uprisings, Israel’s resolve is strong and its economy robust. Furthermore, the ongoing campaign to delegitimize the Jewish state in various international forums and in the court of public opinion has been successfully countered by pro-Israel forces who have exposed the apartheid slur for what it is.

The bottom line: this startup nation isn’t some Crusader state destined to fade into the mists of time.

Meanwhile, the outlines of a future peace deal have been in place for at least 20 years. They’re well known to both sides and all interested observers.

But negotiations are the only way to end a conflict between two peoples who both see themselves as holding indigenous claims to one small slice of land.

Only Israel and the Palestinians can reach an agreement. A solution can’t be forced upon them by outsiders.

It won’t be what both sides truly want, but we hope it will be what each can live with – an accommodation that doesn’t compromise too much of each side’s distinct national narrative.

Like it or not, the Palestinians hold the key to Israel being fully accepted among the family of nations. A deal won’t solve all the problems in the Middle East – not by a long shot – but it might help marginalize and isolate regional extremists such as Hezbollah, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

It could also fortify Israel for other challenges, such as the aftermath of Syria’s civil war, continuing turmoil in Egypt and the Iranian nuclear threat.

The obstacles are many, not the least of which is the continued refusal of many Palestinians to accept that Jews have a strong historical claim to, and bond with, the Land of Israel. Another major roadblock has been the increased intrusion of Islamist ideology into a conflict that started out mostly as a dispute over a piece of real estate.

So while expectations are low, we should be ready for the possibility, however remote, of a breakthrough.

Consider, however, that if you had told a Jew in North Africa or Poland in the mid-19th century that there would be a Jewish state within 100 years, they likely would have laughed.

So could Mahmoud Abbas become the next Anwar Sadat?

Stranger things have happened.

We can only pray.

Daniel Wolgelerenter

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