JERUSALEM (Sep. 14)
The Middle East, Israeli President Ezer Weizman said this week, “will never be the same again.”
Perhaps it was not the most original way of saying it. But Weizman’s remark, delivered to the diplomatic corps here Tuesday during the president’s traditional Jewish New Year reception, represented the simple truth.
It probably represented the most that anyone can sensibly say about the dramatic rush of history that has swept over this ancient, troubled part of the world during the last few days of Jewish year 5753.
“We cannot absorb it,” said Economic Development Minister Shimon Shetreet. “Psychologically we’ll need time to assimilate what is happening to us.”
Shetreet, perhaps the hardest-line of Yitzhak Rabin’s ministers, spoke jubilantly to reporters here Tuesday in response to news that Rabin and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres were at that very moment landing in Morocco for a brief — but public — visit with King Hassan II.
Israeli officials hoped the unannounced trip would produce a declaration of diplomatic relations with Morocco. There were also buoyed by indications that Tunisia and the Muslim nation of Malaysia might follow suit, as well as several of the Persian Gulf states.
President Weizman, in his remarks to the assembled diplomats, voiced the hope that by next Rosh Hashanah Mohammed Basiouny, the Egyptian envoy to Israel, would no longer be the only Arab member of the diplomatic corps in Israel.
Overnight, Israel seems to be moving from its longtime status of an international pariah to that of a paradigm of conflict resolution.
Indeed, statesmen and commentators on both sides of the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland observed sadly this week that the warring Catholics and Protestants of Ulster would do well to take a leaf out of the Israeli-Palestinian book.
What does this suddenly changing future mean for Israel as a part of the Middle East and for Israel as part of the Jewish world?
The best point of departure to try to answer both of these questions may be Prime Minister Rabin’s comments at a news conference in Washington shortly after the historic White House ceremony Monday.
The success of the agreement, he said, would depend on full adherence to the security provisions and on “economic and social development.”
WILL BECOME MORE A PART OF MIDDLE EAST
Significantly, Rabin declined to comment on questions regarding the final status of the administered territories. He made it clear that all negotiating options were being left open and that the outcome of future talks on this subject would depend on how strongly the two cardinal pillars of the accord — security and economics — were built up.
If indeed Israel’s security concerns do gradually abate, as confidence and cooperation take root, then, with time, the tenor of Israeli politics and society will change.
Similarly, if the international community plays — and pays — its full share in building up the Palestinian economy, then Foreign Minister Peres’ dream of a Benelux-type cooperation arrangement involving Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians will seem increasingly less dreamlike and more realistic.
It seems inevitable that Israeli will gradually become a more integral part of the Middle East region, in terms of trade, travel, tourism and culture too.
Some Israelis have long predicted that peace will bring an upsurge of domestic ethnic, religious and social problems that have been held in check by the constant condition of semi-war. This did not happen after the Egyptian peace, they argue, because that was only a partial peace and remains still a “cold peace.”
The more positive attitude to this same problem is best expressed by the wise old Yiddish adage: “Mir zol shoyn halten derbay” — Let’s reach that situation already — when the challenges we face are those of peace, not war.
Without doubt, the prospect of peace, in both the Land of Israel and the wider region, casts into question Israel’s evolving identity as a Jewish state joined by the heart both to Jewish history and to the Jewish people worldwide.
On one perhaps-too-prosaic level, an Israel at peace and in prosperity will be less in need of foreign aid, both governmental and philanthropic.
This point was made by Peres in an interview with CNN prior to Monday’s signing ceremony. The transition from war to peace would be costly, he said. Israel would need to keep its military guard up. But in the long run, he looked forward to a time when Israel could tell Washington it would forgo U.S. aid.
NO LONGER AN EMBATTLED STATE?
That time inevitably would mean a weakening of the present structure linking Israel and the organized American Jewish leadership, a structure founded on American Jewry’s political influence and economic clout.
Some would add that the traditional linkage has rested on the image — indeed the reality — of a beleaguered and embattled Israel, with all the sense of urgency that reality evokes.
Leaders of Israel and of the Diaspora, once they have adjusted to the frenetic pace of current events, will have to address these very fundamental questions that go to the heart of the Israel-Diaspora nexus.
In doing so, they will have to put aside the present, natural awkwardness caused not only by the fact that the Diaspora leadership was in complete ignorance of what was afoot, but also by the fact that almost all of that leadership espoused the anti-PLO position of successive Israeli governments as though it were really immutable.
They failed to apply to that position the rule that applies to everything in politics: Never say never.
When the analyses and self-analyses begin to be written, the Diaspora side will likely find that when it comes to the PLO, it was too ready to believe its own rhetoric and propaganda.
For their part, the Israelis may, if they can find sufficient humility, regret the high-handed way in which they have ignored and sidelined the leadership of the people who love them best: the Jewish people.
Perhaps out of such soul-searching a new and healthier partnership can evolve between the Jewish sovereign state and its hinterland that transcends geography and economics — the Jews.