It’s been almost a half-century since I was an 18-year-old American Jew in Jerusalem for a year after high school. Toward the end of that year, I thrilled to the Israel Defense Forces’ 1967 victory in the remarkably and thankfully short Six-Day War under the leadership of Gen. Yitzhak Rabin.
As I lived, studied and worked in Israel during the next 11 years, like many Israelis I gradually came to see the occupied territories as admittedly precious portions of significant soil that should be part of a negotiated and comprehensive peace agreement.
In 1993, Jews in Israel and throughout the world were happy to witness the general-turned-prime minister Rabin become a champion of peace. And in that turning, Rabin was enthusiastically supported by the majority of Israelis for his choice to embark cautiously on a path to peace, his choice to trade precious land for a more precious peace.
For this choice, Rabin was opposed by a violent minority of Israelis who labeled him a traitor, burned his effigy and displayed his image in Nazi uniform as a Reichsführer-SS. For this choice, Rabin received two .38-caliber bullets in the back from a Beretta semi-automatic pistol. The right-wing Jewish assassin subsequently gave an interview where he stated, simply and honestly, that he had killed Rabin to kill the peace process.
Has he succeeded?
He certainly derailed the process for 20 years, and the current revival of peace talks begs the question: Which side are we on — that of Yitzhak Rabin or that of the assassin? There is no middle ground.
Secretary of State John Kerry has repeatedly requested the support of Israelis, Palestinians and Americans — especially Jewish Americans — in reviving the moribund Israel/Palestine peace process.
What is our response?
Here, too, there is no middle ground — one is either for the process or against it. One is either for the ever-expanding settlement enterprise throughout the West Bank or against it.
Those who support ongoing settlement and oppose the current peace process insist that the time for a two-state solution has passed. They prefer a single binational state between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. But the single-state solution presents Israel with a stark choice: to grant or not to grant citizenship to the Arabs of the West Bank at the same
level enjoyed by Israeli Arabs.
If Israel were to incorporate the population of the West Bank, it would become a binational state — approximately 56 percent Jewish and 44 percent Arab. With the higher birth rate among Palestinians and the level of Jewish emigration from Israel, one can foresee a demographic shift in the future that would find Israel without a Jewish majority. Simply put, Israel would cease to be “Jewish.” If, on the other hand, the West Bank is incorporated without granting basic rights of citizenship to Palestinians, Israel will cease to be a democracy.
Kerry views an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement as a vital American national interest, and many Israelis view a stable two-state solution as a vital Israeli national interest — two states for two peoples based on the 1967 borders with land swaps — a negotiated peace that ensures Israel remains a democratic and a Jewish nation.
This is the pragmatic calculus that led Ami Ayalon, the former commander of the Israeli navy and former director of the Shin Bet (Israel’s security service), to state categorically that Israel is “taking sure and measured steps to a point where the State of Israel will no longer be a democracy and a home for the Jewish people.” This statement comes from an Israeli who has spent his life in the defense of Israel.
Ayalon expressed his unequivocal support for the two-state solution earlier this year in the Oscar-nominated documentary “The Gatekeepers” by Israeli filmmaker Dror Moreh. In the film, Ayalon is joined by the other five living former Shin Bet directors, all six of them advancing the identical well-informed and pragmatic pro-Israel solution to the conflict: an end to the occupation with two states for two peoples.
Where do we stand? With Israelis like Yitzhak Rabin and the former directors of the Shin Bet, who understand that a viable two-state solution is a vital Israeli national interest? Or do we stand with those who want a Greater Israel that will have to choose between its Jewish character and its democratic institutions?
There is no middle ground.
Dr. Michael Cooper is a member of Congregation B’nai Shalom in Walnut Creek, a graduate of Tel Aviv University Medical School and the author of “Foxes in the Vineyard.”