Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Revisiting the Handshake - What Do We Have When It's Lost?

Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir Arafat with Pres. Clinton - the historic handshake
Twenty years ago, on November 4, 1995, Yitzhak Rabin, then Prime Minister of Israel, was assassinated at a peace rally in Tel Aviv by a religious extremist. On that day, the chance for peace between Israel and the Palestine territories suffered a setback from which it has never fully recovered. As violence in the Middle East again escalates, I bemoan this lost opportunity.  

In the early 1970’s when we lived in Israel, some of our Israeli friends told us that we were na├»ve. “Don’t you know that the Arabs only want to push us into the sea? You don’t know what it’s like.” At the time, they couldn't imagine Israel signing peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan yet that came to pass. How tragic that they were never proven wrong about peace with the Palestinians. Yet what are the choices if that never happens? Do they continue to have continued rounds of violence forever until they're ultimately destroyed by it?

I’ve often wondered since we returned to America if I would have continued to feel the same way about peace if we had stayed in Israel. Would we be part of the peace movement there or would the events there have caused us to think differently? After all, we’re shaped to a large extent by our experiences.

It’s impossible to know the answer to that question. From the vantage point of living here in America, however, I think that chances are better for peace with a two state solution than in a bi-national state. According to population statistics, if Israel retains the Palestinian areas, the Jewish Israeli population will be only 49% by 2020. Can Israel survive as a haven for Jews fleeing persecution in a bi-national state?

One state hasn’t worked for the Greek and Turkish Cypriots. Even the Czechs and Slovaks separated albeit peacefully. And rumblings of separatism from the Flemish and French have been heard in Belgium. Israel can learn from other countries’ historic mistakes. I mourn Yitzhak Rabin’s death twenty years ago and hope that Israelis and Palestinians and those of us hear can somehow revive what was begun and tragically aborted by Rabin's assassination. The future of peace depends on it.

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