So now we know. Confirmation of what our pessimism has been telling us for over two decades. The State of Israel has no real (that is, sincere) intention of reaching a peace settlement with the Palestinians.
The 1600 confidential Palestinian documents leaked to the al-Jazeera TV station – the details of which are being published this week in the Guardian newspaper (www.guardian.co.uk) – offer a forlorn portrait of increasing Palestinian desperation (more and more concessions, a preparedness to make do with less and less) and steadfast Israeli intransigence. The long-term game plan of the powerful – both cynical and humiliating – is laid bare: ‘The more settlements we build, and the more we drag out this process, the more impossible a Palestinian state will become.’ As one lead negotiator, Tzipi Livni, is quoted as saying (in 2007), this has been “the policy of the government for a really long time”.
The Guardian’s lead columnist Jonathan Freedland, commenting on these newly available (and truly sensational) documents, makes the depressingly telling point that they “blow apart what has been a staple of Israeli public diplomacy: the claim that there is no Palestinian partner. That theme, a refrain of Israeli spokesmen on and off for years, is undone by transcripts that show that there is not only a Palestinian partner but one more accommodating than will surely ever appear again.”
What were the Palestinian negotiators prepared to concede? Details are still emerging but so far we have been told that concessions include: that Israel be allowed to annex all Jewish settlements in Jerusalem (except Har Homa); also part of the predominantly Arab East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah (in exchange for an equivalent area somewhere else); a joint international committee could oversee the Temple Mount/ Dome of the Rock/Al-Aqsa holy sites; and - perhaps the most emotionally laden of all the issues of historical disagreement - a limit of a “symbolic” 10,000 over ten years to the number of refugees (out of 5 million) who would be permitted to return. (As well as being enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and UN resolution 194, this ‘right of return’ had a status in the Palestinian psyche of an almost sacred principle – to surrender it in this way would have been extraordinary. And yet it was offered as part of a negotiated settlement).
The Palestinian people may themselves have rejected these concessions as too far-reaching - but my concern here is on Israel's responsibilities and commitment to justice. And these documents offer up a damning indictment of a generation of so-called Israeli ‘leaders’. No doubt in the days and weeks to come these revelations will be fought over and disputed by all sides. But to anyone with a dispassionate eye, the willingness of those without power to surrender their land and their dreams, and the unwillingness of the Israeli negotiators to negotiate in good faith, is heartbreaking. Some of us long suspected it, but now we know what we hate to admit: the enthronement of injustice represented by the State of Israel’s stance towards the Palestinians renders Israel morally bankrupt.
How are we Jews going to be able to read the Torah text that we are due to read this Shabbat, a text enshrined in our hearts by dint of repetition through the generations: ‘You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt’ (Exodus 22:18)? How can we be so brazen as to say it with no shame in our voice?
Maybe this week , in the midst of our reading, in the midst of our proud evocation of our sacred story, when we come in synagogues to this verse we should drop our voices, mute our reading, whisper it sotto voce, open up a silence in the midst of our holy text, a space for reflection, a space to hear the words in our hearts that we are unable to live out in our land.
A space for our hearts to be pierced - so that as a people we may begin the long, long journey back towards truth and righteousness.
We know this won’t happen. But it should, it should, it should...