Sunday 2 October 2011

New Year's Dreams

With the Jewish New Year occurring immediately after the UN General Assembly meeting in New York as it just did, it made me take stock of Israel's current situation compared to last year (which seems like only yesterday).  In particular, I thought about where we were in our attempts to make peace with our Palestinian neighbours at this time last year, and the year before that.  As is the custom at the time of the new year, I thought about the future and what could realistically be achieved over the course of the next year.

The truth is that the peacemaking efforts have remained stagnant for many years.  Israeli leaders have come and gone, and a Palestinian leader has gone and another one come.  We have tried peace conferences in Madrid, Oslo, Camp David, Wye Plantation, Ramallah and Jerusalem.  And yet, the obstacles have not moved even one iota.  We are suffering with precisely the same issues as we have suffered with over the years, some of which seem to be beyond solution.

I heard a good piece of advice from our local Rabbi over the new year period about how to set behaviour patterns for the forthcoming year.  He said that we should close our eyes, and dream of where we wish to be in a year's time from now.  We should think about the things that we would wish to achieve by then, and then think about the stage that precedes that achievement.  By continuing to think about the step which precedes each stage, we can finally return back to our present situation with a roadmap of how to reach our goal.  Although this sounds good in theory and a little more difficult to implement in practice, the concept is a good one.  It is important to close your eyes and dream a little, and to set objectives which can serve to guide you in your work and private life.

While thinking about all of this, I spent a few moments considering whether Mahmoud Abbas may have done some of his own dreaming for the Palestinian people which he leads.  Maybe the time of the Jewish New Year is not exactly when you would expect him to be considering this matter, but perhaps he would do so after Ramadan or on Ras as-Sana al-Hijreya, the Islamic New Year which falls at the end of November this year.  If he was to close his eyes and dream of what he would like to see for himself and his people at the same time next year, what would this be?  If we are to believe his public statements, this would be an independent Palestinian state.  Clearly there are details such as the borders and capital of this state, but the "big picture" dream, we are told, is the Palestinian state.  This is what he left us believing following his actions and speech at the United Nations.  If this is true, the answer is in his hands.  The Israeli government has agreed to it, and the sponsors in the form of the US and other members of the Quartet have also accepted this point.  All that is required for him to get there, is for him to make a few concessions and to compromise by dropping the detailed demands that he is making, in return for which the Palestinian state will be his.

The problem is that the details seem to be more important than the big picture objective.  He will not accept a Palestinian state unless its borders comply with specific conditions, or until Jerusalem is handed to him as its capital amongst some of his demands.  Although the Jewish people have prayed for more than 2,000 years for their return to Zion, to Jerusalem as the holiest city in the religion, the Jewish state existed for 19 years with Jewish access to only the western side of the city.  This meant that the holiest sites, including that upon which the holy temple once stood, were out of bounds to Jews.  This fact (and the small issue of being attacked on all sides by Arab countries in the region) did not deter the Jews from establishing Israel as the Jewish state.  The truth is that the objective of having an independent Jewish homeland was bigger than any of the details, no matter how important.  I do not get the same feeling that the Palestinians have the same objective.  Somehow, the details are playing a more important role than the headline objective.

My new hope is that his experiences at the UN a couple of weeks ago would somehow change Abbas's approach to the peace negotiations.  Maybe, by some miracle, Abbas may decide that he needs to acknowledge Israel's position as a Jewish country in order to make progress with his own objectives?  I am sure that he understands the need to make this concession, and how this may give him the state that he claims to yearn for.  His refusal to acknowledge this critical point is extremely concerning.  Is it possible that holding on to his position is more important than getting his independent state?

There is a real danger that the inhabitants of the Middle East have forgotten how to dream, and are forced to be reactive in confronting daily emergencies.  This would a great pity.  In the case of Mahmoud Abbas, it is not clear whether he has stopped dreaming, or whether the dreams that he is communicating to the outside world are not the same ones as the those that he is dreaming.  Under the current circumstances, his dreams will not be fulfilled, no matter what they are.  

My new year’s dream is that Gilad Shalit will be with us and his family, for him to celebrate the new year in freedom next year.  I also dream that Mahmoud Abbas may change his dreams to create the possibility for real peace, although this may be expecting too much.  It is my wish that you will all realise your dreams in the new year, and that our nation's dream of living in peace alongside our neighbours with mutual respect will be realised.  Shana Tova.

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