By DONNIEL HARTMAN
As a new president, I know that you have many issues and challenges on your mind that are of critical significance for America’s future. And the issues of Israel may seem relatively insignificant at this moment. In writing to you, I am making no claim as to Israel’s significance to the future of America. Rather I am writing because I believe in the significance of your actions for the future of Israel.
I am writing because I firmly believe that you care. If the U.S.A. has taught us Israelis anything it is that your relationship to our country transcends immediate political interests and strategic alliances. You have been our dearest friend for decades. And it is on the basis of that friendship I am writing.
If I may be presumptuous, there is one key request I have of you. And I ask that you take it seriously, for how you respond will determine the well-being of my country and of my family. My request is simple: Take your time and learn. I was and continue to be a supporter of the Oslo Peace Accords. Israel will only fulfill its Jewish destiny and its highest and most important aspirations when we achieve peace with our neighbors and when Palestinians have dignity and a national independence parallel to ours.
I imagine that you have a similar opinion. However, one thing that we have learned over the decade since the signing of Oslo is that there is a fundamental difference between the clarity of our goals and what is necessary to achieve them. Here, I hope you can learn from us Israelis. Most of us have now reached the stage of Socratic wisdom in that we now all know that to be wise is to know that we do not know.
Most of us Israelis want something for our Palestinian brothers and sisters, but we don’t know how to give it to them. At this stage, I am not interested in ascribing blame, nor, as our friend, do I need you to blame the Palestinians, even though this might give me short-term psychological comfort. Mr. President, we are stuck. The disengagement from Gaza, while deeply beneficial to Israeli society, has nevertheless taught us that unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank will not be beneficial to Israelis or Palestinians. I yearn with all my being to leave most of the West Bank, along the lines of the Clinton-Barak plan from Camp David in 2000
. However, the conditions of relative political anarchy among the Palestinians, a lack of clear governmental responsibility there, an as yet unproven commitment to peace with Israel, and the uncertainty of the popularity of Hamas and their potential for seizing control of all Palestinian territories, all present grave dangers we cannot ignore.
My request to you is to take your time; learn from what has not worked, and do not feel that you must come up with immediate solutions. One thing the Jewish tradition has taught us, in the Talmud, is: "If you grab too much you have grabbed nothing. If you grab hold of something you indeed have something." I am sure there is a great temptation to solve the problem, maybe even to convene an international conference under your leadership to once and for all solve the problem. While these conferences make a big splash in the media, and I do not belittle the importance of the public relations side of politics, we have learned here in Israel that they are detrimental to peace. They create a focus on the larger issues when we have learned that it is the details which are the real challenge. Furthermore, these conferences put the focus on winning the approval of world opinion and not the approval of the ones with whom we need to make peace.
Instead, I encourage you to take your time to learn, and begin with one step, and then another. These steps must be real; they must engender trust, but more significantly, they must deal with the real concerns and issues on both sides.
Mr. President, not only is America Israel’s friend, Israel is America’s friend. We trust and respect you and are willing to take significant risks, including ones that endanger the lives of our children, to honor that friendship. We are also, however, a people for whom history is important. The Arab-Israel conflict has a history. Its most significant lesson is not of who is to blame, but rather that simple, quick solutions will always backfire.
The job of a friend is not always to support by agreeing; sometimes, it involves support that challenges, pushes, and prods. You are going to have to be that type of friend. At times I might find it painful and disagree with you, but I will never question your motives. Please recognize, however, that we have been at this for a long time.
In many ways, each side feels deeply abused by the other. It would be nice if we could simply say, "Let bygones be bygones." While we don’t have the time for couples’ therapy, we do need time or, more significantly, the space to address our fears and concerns. So, Mr. President, as you come into office, we are excited to hear from you. I hope you have great plans for the world and for us here in the Middle East in particular. Set forth those goals; excite us again to our largest and most noble aspirations. But recognize that statements of goals and a plan of action may require different timetables.
Our tradition has taught us to state, "Next year in Jerusalem." We are a people of great hope. We define ourselves as a people who shape history by our aspirations; yet at the same time we know that these hopes might have to wait until next year. We look forward to welcoming you this year in Jerusalem and to beginning to work together as friends. Good luck to you and to us all.
Your friend in Jerusalem,
PS: By the way, even though I asked you to take your time, Mr. President, please understand that the process will also take time. Please don’t wait to the end of your administration – as some of your predecessors have done – and then rush to solve the situation. As you are elected for four years, as opposed to the parliamentary system in Israel that can lead to foreshortened terms in office, you don’t really need short-term successes, especially when we already know they lead to long-term failures.