A Bitter Awakening From Dreams of Peace

Disappointed, yes; surprised, no. Grieving, yes; angry, yes. Defeated, no. We who believed that peace in the Middle East was not a chimera, not a girlish, sentimental dream but a real possibility, appear undone, routed, as hawk after hawk takes to print to say it could never have been, should never have been considered: Look at the uprising, listen to the chants in the streets, watch the little boys throw their rocks and the men wave their rifles. Oslo was doomed. See, see, they say, it’s come to this, what we knew all along: Arabs know nothing but strife-they are vessels of undying hatred-and we will have to take all of the land and occupy it, strong-arm the enemy, transfer him to unknown parts, imprison him until time and history award us the prize.

But we in the peace camp were never so naïve as to think that the Palestinians would be happy to settle for less than they wanted. We thought-and still think-that one day they must. Despite the fears stirred up by those happy to see peace die, the Arabs will not storm the streets of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa-not because some don’t want to, but because they can’t. This fact is based not on goodwill and soft handshakes but rather on Israel’s military strength, which will not be undone by a throng of rock-throwers no matter how angry their shouts and bitter their words, how they call upon Allah or rally their supporters in neighboring countries.

We always knew that as peace came closer, she would be in more danger than ever. The extremists on both sides will try and try again to sabotage the efforts. And while it appears for now as if they have won, peace will not be so easily deterred. It will rise, phoenix-like, from the ashes, because compromise is the only realistic and humane way to preserve Israel, to provide a balm for our opponents’ deep wounds, to make prosperity, progress and calm spread across the villages. Look at our partner, the hawks say: He failed, he stirred up his crowds, he backed away from a reasonable offer-one we don’t think should have been made in the first place. But before we place a stone on peace’s heart, let’s consider.

An historical eye-blink ago, the hawks passed a law stating that any Israeli who talked to Arafat would be jailed. This one-time law, which turned a political position into treason, has now been exposed for what it was: avoidance of the necessary conversation. The peace camp, along with many Israeli generals, opposed the settlements because they knew that they would be hard to defend. They would pull Israeli soldiers into Arab towns where rocks could be thrown at their heads. We were right. Our worst fears have come to pass. The settlers are willing to accept endless strife rather than yield an inch of Biblical turf. But in the end, they won’t get the entire land, because in this media-humming world, one group cannot take another’s orchards and call them its own, whatever the group’s historical and religious justifications may be or its passions dictate.

Other human beings live and die just as we do, and they will teach their children to hate. If we continue to wound the pride of those who are not as strong as we are, those who have been defeated and forced to share what they did not want to share, forced to submit to our searches, our laws, our curfews, our rule … sooner or later, history tells us, revolution and bloodshed will come, again and again.

The rock-throwing Palestinians, urged on by their radical leaders, would indeed like to kill every Jew in the Middle East. As frightening as that is, it is not new, not a surprise, not a reason to avoid negotiation, compromise or hope. The settlers shot and killed Arab olive pickers in their orchards, they made Baruch Goldstein into a martyr. They take up their guns and shout angry slogans, marching with signs that say “Death to the Arabs.” We’ve always known that talk of compromise evokes fury within certain Jewish factions, and that if we-on both sides-were not steadfast, we could topple the hopes of the majority of Israelis and American Jews. Rabin’s assassination proved that. We’ve also always known that fanatics, Hezbollah and Hamas would not be easy to tame or bring to the table of peace. They have broken some of our hearts. But Arabs are not monolithic masked men, they are students and scholars and businessmen, religious and nonreligious. Yes, they are easily led into the streets and are now emotionally at the boiling point, but they are still people with futures to consider, normal human hopes and sadnesses just like ours. As hard as it is to believe, their humanity and ours will not be put off forever. Once, too, South Africa, Belfast and Selma, Ala., seemed mired in bloody, permanent discord.

It does feel terrible to have come so close and to be pushed back almost to the starting point. It is so hard to discover that the final mountain was too high to climb-at least for now. I am bitter about Ariel Sharon’s stroll and bitter that Hamas thinks it’s all right for 12-year-olds to die in the street and bitter that Ehud Barak was not a more forceful leader, having failed to make stronger political alliances. But all this rue and regret is no more than the ashy taste of history stinging, cutting, moving on.

Today it seems as if there will be another thousand years of terrorism, death and ugly martial law in the Promised Land. Many of us are discouraged and saddened by the hate in the eyes of Arabs-even Israeli Arabs-and the hate in the eyes of the settlers, as well as by the bully-like swagger of Ariel Sharon, but we are not finished. We have just begun. There is simply no viable alternative. East Jerusalem will have to go to the Arabs. The Temple Mount must be administered in a fair, respectful way for all religions, and the Palestinians must have their state. That said, we recognize the emotional rage on both sides and the impossibility of any clear victory, any permanent defeat, one over the other.

We know the flames have been lit and many are feeding the fires. But we also know that there are Arabs who wish to study, do business, raise families, pick their olives without fear. We know that there are Israelis who want nothing more than to get on a bus without a bomb beneath their seat, to pay attention to the mundane matters of earning a living, shopping for dinner, planning a vacation, surfing the Web. Sooner or later-the next generation or the one after that-these people will put out the fires together, go back to the table, continue the peace process. And the hawks and the rock-throwers who are now crowing like roosters will find a new dawn has arrived.