Why Peace Matters

By Guest Contributor


“I told you,” Columbia Professor Joseph Massad said at his lecture about Zionism, Palestinians and Israel last week, “I was not interested in building peace.” After a speech full of mischaracterizations, out-of-context quotations and utter lies, Dr. Massad finally explicitly asserted his true goals. “Peace will only come after justice is established,” he said.

Dr. Massad never explicitly articulated what such “justice” might look like, but it is not hard to understand what he meant. The problem, he claimed, was that seeking peace does not address what he considers the primary sin of Israel: its very existence. “Justice” therefore requires that the State of Israel be dismantled. For Dr. Massad, “justice” is retributive and biased in favor of the Palestinians. Dr. Massad argued throughout his lecture that Zionism is the ultimate injustice, even going so far as to call the claim that Jews are the descendants of the Ancient Hebrews “a myth.” As with much of his scholarship, this statement is refuted by the facts. Research published in the American Journal of Human Genetics concludes that 40 percent of Ashkenazi Jews are descended from just four mothers; virtually all of the rest share roughly 150 female matriarchs.

Dr. Massad’s denial of Jewish identity, in addition to being insulting, indicates a larger problem with his argument: it proposes no workable solution. Israel exists and is not going anywhere. Its existence was sanctioned by the United Nations in 1948. Dr. Massad may deny the Jewish claim for statehood, but history has already refuted him. The central question of politics remains: what is to be done? Dr. Massad’s answer is not only wrong and unrealizable; it is counterproductive.

Politics is about compromise. When the Zionist leaders were offered a state in the 1947 Partition Plan, they were unsatisfied with the borders but chose to accept the proposal nonetheless. The Palestinians rejected that proposal, as they did subsequent peace offers — most notably in 2000, when the Israelis offered 97 percent of the West Bank (with the remaining three percent to be given in the form of land swaps), $30 billion to facilitate the resettlement of refugees and full Palestinian sovereignty. In recent years, Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank has expanded despite Palestinian objections. On this issue, the Israelis have mostly refused to compromise. Yet that is not the whole story. On several occasions, both sides have shown a willingness to make concessions. In 1993, the Israelis gave the Palestinians partial sovereignty in exchange for official Palestinian recognition of the State of Israel and security arrangements. Recently, Palestinian police have cooperated with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to virtually eliminate terrorism. As a result, the Israelis have ceded further military control to the Palestinian leadership.  Palestinians, although still subject to unacceptable treatment and occupation, live more peacefully as a result of the cooperation between the IDF and the Palestinian police. History demonstrates that when Palestinians and Israelis work together, progress can be made.

Former Ambassador to Israel Dennis Ross noted in his lecture on campus several weeks ago that those who think Israelis and Palestinians can simply live in one state are “not being realistic.” The only just solution to this problem remains what it was in 1947: two states for two peoples, living side-by-side in security and cooperation with each other. It is impractical to assume that two different peoples are capable of living peacefully in the same state amidst such deep hostilities and conflicting claims. Neither Israelis nor Palestinians have given up on their national aspirations. They will both continue laying claim to the same piece of land and thus will be condemned to unending conflict.

The Jewish desire for statehood is enshrined in the Amidah, the prayer Jews have been reciting every day for over 2000 years: “Bring us together from the four corners of the earth into our land. Blessed are You G-d, who gathers the dispersed of His people Israel.” Given the history of anti-Jewish persecution and the fact of their nationhood, Jews are not likely to give up their sovereign state anytime soon. Nor should they, as with all peoples they are entitled to determine their own future, particularly when the world repeatedly denies them such freedoms. Dr. Massad called Israel “colonialist.” The truth is that Israel is anti-colonialist, an example of self-determination in the face of centuries of oppression and deep-seated hatred. The Palestinian desire for statehood is also legitimate. The occupation is unsustainable and Israel must end it responsibly, without losing sight of its security concerns. Each people deserves the opportunity to determine its own future.

Dr. Massad appears to confuse justice with revenge. Of course, the Israelis have claims against the Palestinians as well. Days after Palestinian leaders rejected Israel’s peace offer in 2000, Palestinian terrorists began a multi-year campaign of blowing up cafés full of women and children in Jerusalem. According to Dr. Massad’s definition of “justice,” Israel might be justified in never offering the Palestinians a state again. Each side has grievances against the other. The only solution will require concessions on both sides. The Palestinians must stop seeing Israel as illegitimate and accept the fact of its existence, and the Israelis must recognize the very real injustices and unsustainability of the occupation.

Luckily, polls consistently demonstrate that most Israelis and Palestinians consider the two-state solution the best available solution. They recognize that compromise can itself be a form of idealism and, as President Obama said in Israel two weeks ago, “Peace is necessary. But peace is also just.” It might be easy for Dr. Massad to call for retributive justice against Israel, but the people on the ground know better. The most just solution is not that Israel gets some sort of comeuppance, but rather that Jews, Arabs and Christians live in security and freedom.