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Repeating Mantras Won’t Bring Peace

It’s not a coincidence that peaceniks have been repeating those same dreamy mantras for thirty years while the peace process slipped into a coma.
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November 30, 2023

Nobody likes to admit that they’ve changed their views on an important subject, even if something contradicts those views. It’s more satisfying to look radically consistent no matter what. 

After the massacre of October 7, I’ve been wondering how traditional Israeli peaceniks would react, given the unprecedented assault on the very idea of peaceful co-existence with a Jewish state. Would this gross violation of civilized norms bring sobriety to the civilized dreamers of peace?

I got one answer from Israeli peace activist Ziv Stahl.

On October 7, she was visiting relatives in her childhood home of Kibbutz Kfar Aza when the Hamas terrorists launched their attack. She miraculously survived, but her sister-in-law and some childhood acquaintances weren’t so lucky. Like 1200 other Israelis, they were slaughtered by rabid Jew-haters. 

Did that horrific experience influence her views on how to achieve peace? Not really.

About a week after the massacre, Stahl, in an interview with JTA, stuck to her guns and even doubled down.

“One thing I feel more strongly than ever: we must stop this cycle of death,” she said. “We must invest all of our power and energy in the end game, how to build a peaceful and secure future for all who live in this place.”

Had the tragedy on October 7 been an attack with five Israeli casualties instead of 1200, one presumes Stahl would have said the same thing. In fact, no matter what happens in the region, good or bad, on any day, in any place, Stahl’s talking point is perfectly applicable, because it is an extraordinarily unproductive, mind-numbing cliché.

“We must stop this cycle of death” and we must “build a peaceful and secure future for all” are the kind of safe utterings that will never get you in trouble but will also never get you anywhere. It’s not a coincidence that peaceniks have been repeating those same dreamy mantras for thirty years while the peace process slipped into a coma.

When your focus is always on the utopian “end game,” there is little patience for the immediate game or the messy reality game. All you can see are the nebulous platitudes of wishful thinking.

When your focus is always on the utopian “end game,” there is little patience for the immediate game or the messy reality game. All you can see are the nebulous platitudes of wishful thinking.

I get that impulse. Some truths are too inconvenient to admit. Admitting, for example, that the Hamas charter calls for the elimination of Israel and the murder of all Jews, or that the more “moderate” Palestinian Authority marinates its society in Jew-hatred, glorifies and rewards terrorism and has walked away from every Israeli peace offer, would be demoralizing for any idealistic dreamer of peace.

But when the stakes are so high, chronic wishful thinking that ignores or downplays a brutal reality sets back any glimmer of hope for peace.

This hardly means, of course, that Israel has been blameless in this epic failure; especially under Netanyahu’s leadership, it has shown little interest of its own in resolving its intractable conflict with the Palestinians. 

The net effect is the further distancing of two peoples who are fated to be neighbors for eternity.

The extreme nature of October 7 has the potential to shake things up in unpredictable ways. Given that uncertainty, the last thing we need at this point is more wishful thinking. Peace activists like Ziv Stahl would be wise to recognize the fundamental obstacle of Palestinian rejectionism. The hard reality is that as long as Palestinian leadership rejects the presence of a Jewish state under any borders, it hardly matters how much pressure is put on Israel.

Yes, it would be good for Israel’s image if a more centrist, post-Netanyahu government would make serious moves towards peace, but practically speaking, what good will that do if Palestinians continue to say no?

The shocking and savage invasion of Israel on October 7 served as the most dramatic example yet of the Palestinian refusal to accept a sovereign Jewish presence in the region. Instead of sticking to an October 6 mentality, peace lovers can use October 7 as an opportunity to inject a sense of realism in its approach to peace. Instead of repeating old mantras like “we must stop this cycle of death,” peace lovers can face the vicious Jew hatred head on and see where this reality takes them. At the very least, they would finally liberate the peace process from its dangerous illusions. 

It has always been true that the obstacles to peace between Israel and Palestinians have been monumental. Brilliant thinkers like Micah Goodman have recognized the enormity of these obstacles by calling for a gradual “shrinking” of the conflict. 

In any case, platitudes about “end games” won’t help us climb Mount Everest. The crucial first step is to recognize how and why the climb is so impossibly difficult, even if that includes modifying your views.

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