One of the major debates currently reverberating in Israeli society is whether Israel must officially recognize the two-state solution
as the ultimate aim for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. From a purely political perspective what is being debated is whether Oslo, which advocates for this two-state solution, can be repealed or reversed and essentially replaced with the original Camp David
– Menachem Begin plan. This plan, which recognized the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, nevertheless only went so far as to grant Palestinians autonomy – as distinct from statehood.
Leaving aside whether it is politically prudent for Israel to be the one questioning the two-state solution at a time when the Palestinians are incapable or willing to deliver on it in any event, the question remains: Should we officially repeal the two-state solution?
For some, "Oslo" has become a dirty word. It’s as if the Oslo Accords
, that is, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and understandings
developed in 1993 in Oslo, Norway, is the inheritance only of the Left, a program that requires unilateral withdrawal from territory, assumes naivete with regard to Palestinian politics and Islamic radicalism, and denies Israel’s legitimate security concerns.
What is missing from the public debate on the issue is the understanding that, while the implementation of Oslo might be extremely precarious and might even need to be frozen or done in extended stages, there is a grave moral and ideological danger within Israeli society if we repeal Oslo.
It is obviously questionable whether Oslo has produced a beneficial peace process; what is not questionable is its profound contribution to the Jewish moral political discourse of modern Israel. When the majority of Israelis supported Oslo and its notion of a two-state solution, we made the following critical Jewish value decisions:
While the land of Israel is holy, its sacredness is not and cannot be the ultimate expression of Israel’s Jewishness. The principle of land for peace is that peace is more important than land, and the quality of life a more significant Jewish virtue than the sum total of space in which that life is lived.
The two-state solution is a declaration that we as Jews do not want to politically dominate another people. As a modern representation of the biblical requirement to love the stranger because we were strangers in the land of Egypt (Vayikra 19:34, Devarim 10:19), our return to sovereignty cannot be at the expense of disrespect for the sovereign needs of others. For too long we were the strangers – stateless and powerless. Oslo represented our recognition that our greatness as a Jewish state must also be reflected in the moral standards that we apply to others.
Oslo and its two-state solution placed at the forefront our commitment that Israel be a Jewish democratic state and that its democratic principles are a fulfillment of our Jewish values and mission. Without a two-state solution, the demographic balance between Jews and Arabs will be such that maintaining a Jewish State will only be possible if we become a totalitarian regime. At Oslo we formally rejected such a notion as unworthy of our Zionist aspirations and antithetical to the type of Jews we want to be.
The above in no way argues that the two-state solution is viable in the near future. I am also not claiming that the way Oslo unfolded enhanced either Israel’s security or the possibilities of peace. Israelis and Palestinians, and our friends around the world who care for both of our futures, must do serious soul searching as how best to proceed. Dreaming of peace is not the same as building a peace, and Israel’s legitimate security concerns, which will result from relinquishing military control over the West Bank, must be addressed. At present, I admit, I am not even clear as to how, given the state of the Palestinian Authority and the power of Hamas, these concerns can be addressed.
What I am arguing, however, is for the continually proud and vocal adoption of the two-state solution as our only political horizon. To do so is to maintain the quality of Jewish values in our political horizon. To fail to do so is to seriously damage the moral and Jewish fiber of Israeli society.
The debate is not whether or not to implement Oslo, but whether we accept its moral implications of who we are and must be as a people and a Jewish State. We don’t want to return to the belief that the ultimate goal of a Jewish State is more land – for a greater land of Israel means a lesser Israel and a lesser Jewish people. The holiness of the people must continue to be more important than the holiness of the land.
We don’t want to accept a moral discourse that deems it legitimate to deny the authenticity of another people’s yearning for sovereignty and which validates treating Arabs as second-class citizens.
Oslo set the foundation for new Jewish priorities and created a moral renaissance in Israeli political discourse. This renaissance must not be repealed, regardless of the political dangers we face.
Binyamin Netanyahu must be given the time to construct his vision for Israel’s future. This future, however, while not compromising on our security, must also not compromise on our values. Let’s learn how to separate as a people our discussion of our vision and aspirations from the more mundane, but nevertheless equally important, discourse on implementation.
To allow the difficulties of the process to alter our vision of who we know we ought to be is to lose our Jewish soul.