By DONNIEL HARTMAN
Dear President Obama:
Word has it that you will be coming here to Israel for a visit this summer. We have been looking forward to your visit since your inauguration and look forward to welcoming you. As you undoubtedly know, your visit is especially complex and fraught with many obstacles and dangers.
We Israelis have been witnessing the debate, often rancorous, being waged in the Jewish community regarding your presidency and your relationship with Israel. The Jewish community in North America seems to be divided. There are those who believe that you, our friend and ally, must not merely support us, but must see our reality as we perceive it and adopt policies and priorities which reflect this perception. It is only then that you are at one with us, a person whom we can trust. Others believe that the role of a friend is not merely to support but to criticize and if necessary cajole and coerce us to implement policies which you believe are truly in our interest and will further our well being. Such actions are the responsibility and sign of true friendship.
For us Israelis, neither option is fully satisfactory. Truth be told, we, like anyone, love it when others reaffirm our sense of reality. It makes us feel normal and less isolated. At the same time, however, our greatest yearning is to transform our reality and not let it become set and fixed in stone. We aspire to build a new and better reality for the sake of our children and the well being of future generations. One who is our friend and ally does not help us sanctify the present but rather joins with us in dreaming about a better future and thinking about how to implement it.
On the other hand, it is true that the Jewish tradition perceives criticism as a sign and testimony of love and care. A friend who always agrees and who says, "Amen," is not a true friend. At the same time, we Israelis are not interested in being cajoled or coerced. We are a democracy and want decisions regarding our future to be determined in accordance with the will of our people.
The "problem" is not with a recalcitrant Prime Minister or "right-wing" coalition government who somehow need to be forced by you to do that which is in our self interest. Prime Minister Netanyahu and the current government represent the will, opinions, policies, and concerns of the majority of Israeli society. That majority has stated over and again its desire to sign a peace treaty with the Palestinian people and implement a two-state solution with the new Palestinian state encompassing the vast majority of Judea and Samaria. At the same time, however, the majority of Israelis do not believe that the conditions for achieving the peace and security necessary for implementing the two-state solution currently exist.
Herein lays our dilemma. The issue is not policy. We and the Palestinians know more or less what the final agreement will look like, give or take 10 percent of the West Bank. Our problem is that we don’t know how to get there. I don’t want to bore you with partisan claims about who is to blame for the current impasse. I don’t need you to show your loyalty to us by blaming the Palestinians. But at the same time, I know that you recognize that the problem is real, and deeper and more complex than any particular Prime Minister with whom you may or may not have personal chemistry.
I imagine that your administration has begun to plan the trip and to put into place certain tangible deliverables in order to assure that the trip is a success. I cannot speak to your political considerations and needs. I can speak, however, about ours. We are in all probability going to be asked to take profound risks. Whether Judea and Samaria are part of our historical birthright or an occupied land, our leaving will entail significant dangers and hardships.
We know that staying, in the long run, is not viable, and not in our political, moral, or Jewish interests. We know that the Palestinian people have a right to a viable homeland of their own. We yearn not merely for security and peace but to be a Jewish and democratic state. We are open to friends with new and constructive ideas about how we can achieve the goals that we all desire. We are even open to friends criticizing where they believe we may have made poor choices or failed to capitalize on new opportunities. To be such a critic, however, one must be an insider. Societies don’t grow from the criticism of outsiders, they become defensive. The same words, however, which come from a friend, from the heart, reach the heart.
You and the United States are and have been great friends. Israeli society, however, doesn’t know you, and as a result doesn’t fully trust you yet. I hope that your primary mission will be to speak to us Israelis. Show us that you understand. Show us that you care. Show us that you know that what has been a seemingly intractable problem will not be solved on a short timetable. If you do so you will find us Israelis to be a true partner and willing players in daring and bold initiatives. The citizens of Israel have never rejected a potential peace treaty, and I believe we never will. The Herzlian proverb, "If you will it, it will become a reality," is built into the DNA of this country. The same pioneering and courageous spirit which enabled the building of this country against impossible odds will serve as the engine and foundation for what will hopefully be a new era in the Middle East.
In a democracy the sovereign is the people. Speak to the people and the politicians will follow. Speak to the people and together we can dream and together we can build a new and better future for us all.