By JEROME E. FISCHER
'May they live to enjoy the blessings of peace'
"A peace is of the nature of a conquest; for then both parties nobly are subdued, and neither party loser."
- William Shakespeare
There are two popular names for Jewish congregations in America, Rodfei Tzedek, Pursuers of Righteousness or Justice, and Rodef Shalom, Pursue Peace. One gets the sense that they are sometimes not mutually achievable. In order to entice the Palestinians into resuming negotiations Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, agreed to release murderers from prison. Many Israelis and Jews around the world see this as a perversion of justice. Israel has no capital punishment, so these prisoners, who in other countries would have been executed, have been waiting for a deal like this to occur.
But in making this deal Netanyahu may have proven himself to be a Rodef Shalom, a pursuer of peace. Many in his own party, the Likud, voted against the deal, and almost all in the Likud are somewhat in a state of shock because it appears that Netanyahu does actually believe that two states for two peoples is the only solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
He is clearly taking a risk. Anwar Sadat, who negotiated and signed the peace treaty with Israel, and famously said "Peace is much more precious than a piece of land … let there be no more wars" was killed for signing a treaty with Israel even though he got all of the Sinai returned to Egypt under the terms of the treaty. Peace with the Jewish state was an anathema to the Muslim fundamentalists. They had penetrated the army and leapt from a parade to spray the reviewing grandstand with machine gun fire that killed Sadat immediately.
Yitzhak Rabin, who said that he would "fight terrorism as if there is no peace process" and "pursue peace as if there is no terrorism" was also cut down, killed by a Jewish religious fundamentalist just after addressing a peace rally in Tel Aviv and singing a song for peace over war.
The Palestinians have yet to suffer the loss of a major leader. However, the struggle between the Muslim fundamentalist Hamas party and Fatah has often taken turns towards violence and murder. Palestinian President Abbas, who scolded Arafat for not transforming himself from a liberator to a national leader after the Oslo accords were signed, has clearly been in favor of a peace treaty. He has spoken words (which he hastily withdrew under pressure) indicating that he does not want to return to his birthplace of Safed, but would be satisfied with a state of Palestine that would be open to all Palestinian refugees who wish to return. And President Shimon Peres has repeatedly said that Israel has a partner for peace in Mahmoud Abbas.
The road ahead is fraught with obstacles: religious fundamentalists and fanatics, diasporas (Jewish and Palestinian) who feel they have a right to influence the negotiations, and terrorists who feel that they can thwart the entire endeavor with some spectacular acts of carnage. And although Secretary of State John Kerry seems to have lined up the Arab League behind these negotiations, the Sunni/Shiite rift, with Iran on the Shiite side, can play out either in favor of peace or as the greatest obstacle to peace.
It is painful for those who have suffered great losses on both sides of the conflict to concede that justice has been thwarted or will not be attained. I hope that they will realize the value of peace and that they may console themselves with the realization that further great losses will not be suffered by others once an agreement is reached.
While there are still strong irredentist forces who do not see anything but total conquest of the other, there are now many groups of young people struggling to break the cycle of violence and reach a peace agreement. And the economic ties that are unspoken but surprisingly strong between West Bank Palestinians and Israelis give a glimmer of the possibilities when peace is achieved.
Zionism strove for a modern liberal nation/state, and the Israeli Declaration of Independence called for peace with all of Israel's neighbors. If the Palestinians want a modern nation state, peace is achievable. And Israel, with its security guaranteed, will take risks to achieve that peace.
I recently had a discussion with an Israeli high school graduate and his mother. The graduate was upset about the prisoner release. The mother, who was sending him, the third of her three sons, into the army, said " 'Peace above all else. No wars - that would make me very happy."
May Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas be pursuers of peace. May they live to enjoy the blessings of peace. May the diasporas of both nations support their pursuit of peace. And may all Americans support Secretary of State Kerry in his dogged determination to resolve a conflict that, in the best traditions of Jews, and Muslims, Isaac and Ishmael, calls for a peaceful, noble, resolution.
Jerome E. Fischer is the executive director of the Jewish Federation of Eastern Connecticut.