Abbas talks peace on Israeli TV

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By Rabbi Dow Marmur

JERUSALEM– The weekly Israeli TV program, “Meet the Press” was devoted today to an extended interview with the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority in which Abu Mazen spoke persuasively about making peace with Israel. Recently, Prime Minister Netanyahu has repeatedly expressed similar sentiments. So why is the peace process deadlocked?

To start with, despite the rhetoric, neither side trusts the other. The Palestinians suspect that Israel is bent on retaining the status quo while continuing to expand the Jewish population in the settlements on Palestinian territory. The Israelis fear that the current Palestinian administration will soon be replaced by Hamas which vows to do away with Israel. The barrage of rockets that hit Israel’s south today would then be extended to the rest of the country. Iran would become the de facto ruler not only of Gaza, as it already is, but also of the West Bank. Abu Mazen rejected this assessment.

The Head of the Prime Minister’s office restated most emphatically in the course of the animated discussion after the interview (what may be only a convenient myth) that the withdrawal from Gaza should have taught Israel a lesson that, without Israeli presence in the territories, its security everywhere is going to be severely compromised.

 Others challenged that view. They asserted that, in recent years, the Palestinian Authority under the leadership of Abu Mazen and his Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has brought law and order into the realm and created stability and calm from which Israel has greatly benefited. The Palestinian Authority is thus both a legitimate and credible partner.

A commentator reminded viewers that the Palestinian Authority is gaining support in the world. It’s being encouraged to proclaim a Palestinian state before the end of the year based on the pre-1967 borders; some countries have already recognized it and others will follow. This will further increase Israel’s diplomatic isolation with untold harmful consequences. The government is accused of ignoring this – at our peril.

The same commentator also reiterated the view that Netanyahu is the prisoner of extremist settlers. Therefore, instead of pursuing peace, he’s appeasing them and thus endangering the future of Israel in the guise of claiming to be committed to its security. He’s, therefore, not the leader Israel needs at this time.

Needless to say, watching the interview and the discussion left me more confused than ever. Though fragments of the arguments are clear and make sense – the danger of Hamas at the one end and the danger of Jewish extremists at the other – an overall picture is only obvious to those who’re prisoners of preconceived ideas.

Mine include the belief that the composition of the present Government of Israel belies the words of the Prime Minister’s mouthpiece. But, according to a poll also made public in the course of the TV program, more than a third of Jewish Israelis believe that Netanyahu is doing an excellent job, another quarter-or-so think he’s doing OK; only just over 20% insist that he’s failing badly. Democracy is on his side.

Perhaps the situation is so complicated that, sadly, no Prime Minister in sight – including Tzipi Livni or, more unlikely, Ehud Barak – could do better.

It was an important program, but, like so often in Israel, it left me more confused than ever, albeit on a higher level. It inspired me to share it with you as a way to suggest that whoever offers definite opinions on what’s happening here is probably wrong.

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Rabbi Marmur is spiritual leader emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto.  He now divides his year between Canada and Israel.  He may be contacted at [email protected]

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