President Obama, Rabin’s Legacy and the words we use

President Obama’s video message to the November 8, 2009 Rabin Rally in Tel Aviv was truly inspiring. One cannot help but be moved by his call to follow in the footsteps of Yitzchak Rabin and his statement that the USA will never lose sight of our shared purpose “a just and lasting peace between Israel, Palestine, and the Arab world” one that respects the dignity and security of every human being. (View the speech on Youtube. http://tinyurl.com/yfm7tgq )

All human beings of good will must share this noble ambition, but one cannot help but wonder how, with all the hope this speech inspired, we can progress from words to deeds, in the knowledge that the great majority of Israelis do not wish to rule over the Palestinians.

The problem is how to reconcile conflicting objectives, fears, and outlooks in attempting to achieve this goal. If progress is to be made, it is absolutely essential that we improve our communication by ensuring that we all attach the same meaning to the words we use. We need to define what we mean when we refer to Rabin’s legacy and when we proffer simple solutions like “end the occupation” or “return to the 1967 lines.”

The danger is that these mantras resemble advertising slogans like “Let your fingers do the walking” of the Yellow Pages’. And, like advertising slogans, the effectiveness of these catchy political phrases bears no relationship to their accuracy. Repeated often enough, they adhere to one’s memory and become part of conventional wisdom but, sadly, few commentators pause to define what they mean when they offer them up as solutions.

Plainly, there is no chance of a negotiated peace settlement without negotiations. And negotiations imply communication. And effective communication implies the use of words with a shared meaning. The person receiving the words must understand them to mean the same thing as the person sending them. Sadly, we are all victims of the great barrier to effective communication caused by propagandistic popularization of deliberately ill-defined simplistic slogans.

There are as many confusing differences of opinion about what is intended by “ending the occupation” as there are over what is meant by the word “occupation” itself. Some interpret “end the occupation” to refer to territory regained by Israel in 1967. Others expect a retreat to the 1947 partition boundaries. Yet others interpret it as calling for evacuation of every inch of Israel, including Tel Aviv and Haifa.

It seems obvious that if progress is to be made in negotiations the mantra “end the occupation” must be replaced by the pragmatic term “territorial compromise,” as contemplated by Rabin as well as in the careful wording of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, which require that when “a just and lasting peace” is reached, Israel will withdraw from some, but not all, of the territory it occupied in the course of the 1967 war, leaving it to the parties to agree on the borders.

As President Obama urged us to follow Yizchak Rabin’s path to peace, it may surprise many to realize that PM Netanyahu’s present policies do not depart far from those of Rabin who had no intention of returning to the 1967 lines. Like Rabin, very few indeed, even among the most ardent advocates of “ending the occupation” call for Israel to relinquish Gush Etzion which existed prior to 1948, the Western Wall, or access to Mount Scopus.

It is equally important to understand what the Green Line is and what it is not. Too often it is mistakenly referred to as an internationally recognized border, which it is not. The 1949 Armistice agreements were intended to serve only as interim agreements until replaced by permanent peace treaties The Green Line denoting the cease-fire line was not intended as a recognized international border. It only marks the line separating the armies until permanent borders are eventually established by negotiation and agreement.

Below are extracts from Rabin’s speech to the Knesset on October 5, 1995.

He said: “We can continue to fight. We can continue to kill and continue to be killed. But we can also try to put a stop to this never-ending cycle of blood. We can also give peace a chance. We also promise that the non-Jewish citizens of Israel, Muslim, Christian, Druze and others will enjoy full personal, religious, and civil rights, like those of any Israeli citizen. Judaism and racism are diametrically opposed.

..We view the permanent solution in the framework of the State of Israel, which will include most of the area of the Land of Israel as it was under the rule of the British Mandate, and alongside it a Palestinian entity, which will be a home to most of the Palestinian residents living in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. We would like this to be an entity which is less than a state, and which will, independently, run the lives of the Palestinians under its authority. The borders of the State of Israel, during the permanent solution, will be beyond the lines which existed before the Six Day War. We will not return to the 4 June 1967 lines.

..First and foremost, united Jerusalem, which will include both Ma’ale Adumim and Givat Ze’ev, as the capital of Israel, under Israeli sovereignty, while preserving the rights of the members of the other faiths, Christianity and Islam, to freedom of access and freedom of worship in their holy places, according to the customs of their faiths. The security border of the State of Israel will be located in the Jordan Valley, in the broadest meaning of that term.

..Changes which will include the addition of Gush Etzion, Efrat, Beitar, and other communities, most of which are in the area east of what was the “Green Line,” prior to the Six Day War. The establishment of blocs of settlements in Judea and Samaria, like the one in Gush Katif..The primary obstacle today, to implementing the peace process between us and the Palestinians, is the murderous terrorism of the radical Islamic terrorist organizations, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which are joined by the rejectionist organizations. We are also repeating our demand that the Palestinian Authority fulfill its obligation, in accordance with the agreements that we have signed with it, ..to intensify its actions against the murderers and enemies of peace in the area under its control.

I should further emphasize that activity for providing security measures for the Israeli communities, fences, peripheral roads, lighting, gates will continue on a wide scale. Bypass roads will be built, whose purpose will be to enable Israeli residents to move about without having to pass through Palestinian population centers in places which will be transferred to the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority.

..From the depths of our heart, we call upon all citizens of the State of Israel, certainly those who live in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip, as well as the Palestinian residents, to give the establishment of peace a chance, to give the end of acts of hostility a chance, to give another life a chance, a new life. We appeal to Jews and Palestinians alike to act with restraint, to preserve human dignity, to behave in a fitting manner and to live in peace and security.

..We are embarking upon a new path, which could lead us to an era of peace, to the end of wars. “That is our prayer. That is our hope. Rabin’s complete speech may be viewed at http://tinyurl.com/6kzam.

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