How can Jews be ‘Orthodox’ without living in Israel?

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 4-28-11

I just experienced a classic American Jewish cultural phenomenon – the deluxe, kosher-for-Passover hotel. For eight days, a New Jersey hotel became a Yiddishe Club Med, mostly for the tzitzes-and-snood set. Consuming mounds of flanken, schools of gefilte fish, cartons of matzoh, our spirits soared. Our hearts gladdened. Our waistlines expanded. Our arteries clogged. Yet it seemed a great inversion has occurred. The Torah does not just dictate what to eat but where to live. Although to some traditional commentators the mitzvah, commandment, of living in Israel outweighed all other mitzvoth combined, the behavior of many Orthodox Jews today suggests that many trifling mitzvot trump living in Israel. I wondered: How can Jews be “Orthodox” without living in Israel? Rather than singing so passionately about “Next Year in Jerusalem,” why don’t they simply make it happen?

I regret being ungracious because the experience was beautiful. The seders enabled far-flung families to reunite, consecrate the moment, and reinforce their bonds by embracing enduring values while reenacting meaningful rituals. And this time, someone else did the dishes.

In creating this temporary, luxurious, Jewish village, the guests expressed that characteristically Jewish need to consecrate a Jewish space. Living in Jewish time is not enough – which is why Golden Ghettos have sprung up worldwide. The contrast between the temporary kosher zone we rented in Central Jersey and the chametz-filled Newark Airport we encountered upon leaving was striking. Part of this year’s seder magic came from our parallel experiences in our artificial Jewish space: hearing the echoes of Dayenu resounding through the hotel’s halls; peeking into other family seders; noting who wore white kittels and who did not, who prepared shtick for kids and who did not, who continued past midnight and who did not, while all singing from the same hymnal, er, Haggadah.

As a sensual, 24/7 religion, involving tastes, smells, sounds, and as the religion of one historic people, Judaism functions best in a Jewish space. But suburban New Jersey is not our natural habitat; the land of Israel is, being the Jewish people’s historic homeland. That is why the Bible made Judaism a homeland-based religion. That is why so many commandments are bound up in the land. That is why the exile was so painful for millennia. And that is why – at two of the most popular, profound Jewish religious moments – ending Yom Kippur and climaxing the seder – we sing “Next Year in Jerusalem.”

I am not a Zionist fanatic. I understand why non-Orthodox Jews, especially those who do not take the Torah literally or believe in God, might live elsewhere, even if they acknowledge the upside of Jewish sovereignty, even if they love Israel. And these secular Zionists, of course, are the minority. Most American Jews have never visited Israel. They love the land they were lucky enough to be born in. As modern Jews they easily balance their Jewish and non-Jewish selves outside Israel. Most have no problem supporting Israel without ever living in Israel. I applaud Zionism for maturing beyond its original negation of the Diaspora. I particularly love the United States and Canada, being grateful for the welcoming home these two, safe, flourishing, prosperous democracies provide to millions of Jews.

But Orthodox Jews are, well, Orthodox! Anyone who feels commanded to live fully as a Jew should acknowledge Israel’s centrality in that mission. Moreover, Orthodoxy seems to be particularly rigid these days, with fanatic rabbis turning ritually autistic, blurring minor and major commandments, demanding blind observance to all religious dictates equally, passionately, fully. The traditional seventy fences placed around each mitzvah risk becoming seventy prison walls, with the most restrictive interpretation triumphing.

This rigidity is often curmudgeonly. Before Passover, the New York Times’ front page covered the quinoa controversy. Many Ashkenazi Jews have embraced this South American grain during Passover to expand their gastronomic repertoire. Yet some rabbis have banned it, although it was unknown in Biblical times, in what seems to be this Ashkenazi compulsion to disdain anything new and make Passover another trial to endure.

Given that, how do so many rigidly pious Jews ignore the commandment to live in Israel? How do they reconcile this contradiction? And why do their rabbis, who hector them about the most minor kashrut questions, avoid this subject in sermons?

My mother, despite being Jewish, teaches that “guilt is a wasted emotion.” I do not raise this question to make Orthodox Jews feel guilty. I acknowledge how deeply Zionist the Orthodox community is, having made the pre-college year studying in Israel a given for most Orthodox youth. But this mass violation of the commandment to settle the land, in an era when the land is accessible and appealing albeit challenging, demands debate.

A fuller discussion might help religious Jews see other compromises they make too. That recognition might encourage the often-ignored Jewish value of humility, which could improve relations with less-Orthodox Jews. This humility could encourage greater flexibility on minor matters such as micro-bugs in lettuce as well as major matters such as conversions and the need to consider compromising with Palestinians, who actually live in the land of Israel and whose own nationalist longings should be respected – if they choose to be peaceful and recognize Jewish nationalism.

At its worst, Orthodoxy today risks making Judaism into what traditional Christian critics claimed it was – a pots-and-pans religion obsessed with form not substance, more concerned with superficialities than spirituality. Three decades ago, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin had the guts to read Torah in his Manhattan synagogue, follow its dictums and move to Israel with a small committed minority. Are other rabbis at least brave enough to broach the subject with their congregants? Or are these supposedly Orthodox rabbis and their professedly pious followers actually reformers, having magically made the Israel-based mitzvoth optional?

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Research Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. The author of “Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today,” his most recent book is “The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.”

Treat antizionist Rabbinic students like the Four Sons

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 4-20-11

Word on the street – at least Jerusalem’s byways – is of anti-Zionism spreading in liberal rabbinic programs, especially in rabbinic year-in-Israel training programs. Most rabbinic students are either pro-Zionist or neutral. Yet a loud anti-Zionist minority seems to be setting the tone regarding Israel, making implicitly anti-Israel, one-sided, encounters with Palestinians a don’t-miss component of every aspiring rabbi’s year, mourning what the Palestinians call “the nakba,” catastrophe – meaning Israel’s creation in 1948 – and intimidating the majority with politically correct self-righteousness.

Recently Rabbi Daniel Gordis condemned this phenomenon in these pages. Among the outrages he publicized was one rabbinic student’s birthday party in a Ramallah bar – resulting in Facebook photos of young-rabbis-to-be merrily posing in front of Jihadist posters emblazoned with slogans urging Palestinian victory and Jewish misery. The birthday boy replied, 1970s-style saying “I’m OK. You’re OK.” “When I visit a place like Ramallah…,” he wrote, “I read, see and hear things that make me feel uncomfortable. There are also many places in Israel where I feel uncomfortable as a liberal Jew, a Zionist and an American. Feeling uncomfortable is not an invitation to disengage, close myself off or stop listening…”

The statement while increasingly commonplace is shocking. The student suggests some sources of alienation while offering a cartoonish moral calculus. Many liberal – i.e. non-Orthodox – rabbinical students justifiably resent the Rabbinic establishment’s fascist hold on Israeli Judaism – I don’t use that f-word lightly. I say to these students what I say to alienated Israeli and American Jews – we must not legitimize fanatic rabbis by surrendering, letting them define Israel or Judaism.

The students’ statement treats America as the new Promised Land, dismissing Israel as too illiberal, too nationalist, too foreign, too messy. These Americanists, if you will, never delegitimize America because of its flaws but are quick to abandon Israel. They are the new Hareidim, albeit liberal, shaved and rainbow-clad, mistakenly letting religion eclipse people-hood, letting spirituality trump community.

Underlying it is this moral numbness, comparing the “discomfort” resulting from an overbearing rabbi – or an Israeli military overreaction – with a Palestinian cult of terror the Ramallah posters celebrate, which has maximized anguish on both sides and repeatedly undermined chances of peace.

Especially during Passover, it is tempting to deem students like this “Rasha,” wicked, and “Hakeh et sheenav” – hit ‘em in the teeth, rhetorically. But that approach is counterproductive. That is why I don’t mention the student’s name. We need educational processes encouraging students to experiment intellectually, recognizing that one student’s question – or answer – usually represents many other students’ too.

We should treat these students – and all students, even those who have internalized the Ivy League sneer singling out Jewish nationalism meaning Zionism as the only illegitimate form of nationalism – as the Haggadah treats the wise son. They are struggling with ideas, even if they are challenging. We should update Israel curricula, and people-hood platforms, explaining Jewish nationalism and Jewish sovereignty in more sophisticated ways while creating more opportunities for questions, criticism, dialogues which clarify and empower.

But as the wise ones mature from students to leaders, they will have to acknowledge three facts. Like it or not, Israel is now the world’s largest Jewish community. Two, Israel, for all its faults, is enduring a particularly vicious assault. And three, communal leaders are paid to uphold communal consensus points. The traditional revulsion against Jews who violate Shabbat in farhesia – publicly – extends to rabbinic students who wear t-shirts proclaiming themselves anti-Zionists in an age of delegimitization when Jewish leaders’ attacking Israel feed a worldwide assault on Israel’s right to exist.

Moreover, this scrutiny the anti-Zionist rabbinic students may now feel is basic training for the nit-picking, second-guessing, and role-modeling of rabbinic life.

Of course, every Jew, like every individual, is entitled to free thought, free expression. But all communities operate with certain norms. “There are things a Jewish community shouldn’t be doing, like serving a bacon cheeseburger on Yom Kippur,” Andrew Apostolou, a Washington DC Jewish Community Relations Council member explains. Apostolou’s postulate should get young rabbinic students – and synagogue hiring committees – thinking about what core ideals rabbis should support — because the ideas are valid and mainstream.

The lessons of the two additional sons can help too. Thinking about “She-eynu yodeh leshol,” the one who does not ask, should encourage us to stir the pot, to pose tough questions. Not enough Jews today ask “why do we need a Jewish state,” “how does Israel sovereignty enhance the Jewish religion,” “how does a Jewish state avoid theocracy” – thereby missing the opportunity to define boundaries between Jewish peoplehood or nationhood and Jewish ritual or spirituality.

Finally, the father’s embrace of the simple son, understanding he must define the educational interaction, should challenge Zionists to change educational approaches. We should embrace all young learners visiting Israel. Why not have a Bakka-Encounter – with the various Anglo-heavy synagogues in Southern Jerusalem doing more to encourage members to host young student visitors to Jerusalem? But rather than just trusting the magic of the perennial kosher-wine-lubricated debate about which challah tastes best, why not prepare some guidelines, some questions?

These Shabbat dinner and lunch encounters could become more meaningful if hosts were encouraged – openly not secretly – to share their stories of why they came to Israel, explaining why they stay. Some coaching could embolden hosts and guests to share more openly, to address questions which might prove inspirational, enlightening, constructively confusing – even to the Americanists.

I admit, I find some stories of anti-Zionist student excess appalling. But I blame much of this on the previous generation of parents and educators who failed to convey a compelling and complex Zionist narrative. Like Danny Gordis, I am eager to engage the educational debate, not to demonize or squelch but to stimulate and stretch the students’ vision – and our own.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute. The author of “Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today,” his most recent book is “The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.”

Remember the Victims of Terror at the Seder 5771


Note: Unfortunately, this is the tenth year in a row that I feel compelled to circulate this call (the text is updated…)


Once again, during this year’s seders, we will celebrate our joyous holiday of liberation with heavy hearts. Even as we revel in our freedom as Jews in the modern world, even as we marvel at Israel’s strength and tenacity in the wake of a terrorist onslaught, too many of our brothers and sisters in Israel are in pain. This year, in particular, as we think of Hamas’s hostage, Gilad Shalit, and his family, truly in a Mitzraim, in dire straits, and as we think of an entire region, the South of Israel, held hostage, we must rise to the challenge to reclaim our symbols, to remember our losses, to reaffirm our commitment to Israel, to the Jewish people, and to a true peace.

Since the bloody, unnecessary war begun back in 2000 when the Palestinians turned away from negotiations toward violence, too many have died, too many have been injured, on both sides. Israel has won that war by learning to be proactive in its fight. Even though the violence has lessened, too many seders now have empty chairs — missing husbands, fathers, brothers, sons; missing wives, mothers, sisters, daughters.

The power of the seder — which remains one of the most popular of Jewish ceremonies — comes from its ritualization of memory. It is a most primal, most sensual, most literal, of services. The seder plate — with its representations of the mortar used in building, the charoset, and of the tears shed by the slaves, the salt water — helps us visualize the trauma of slavery.

The physical acts of reclining, of eating special foods, of standing to greet Elijah the prophet, help us feel the joy of Yetziat Mitzrayim, of leaving Egypt. And, in an affirmation of the importance of peoplehood, we mark this special moment not as individuals but as a community.

In that spirit, we cannot proceed with business as usual during these difficult times. We must improvise a new ritual that marks our present pain, that illustrates the vital interconnectedness of the Jewish people in Israel and beyond. Let each of us, as we gather at our seders, intrude on our own celebrations by leaving one setting untouched, by having one empty chair at our table.

Let us take a moment to reflect on our losses from this deadly decade, for even as stability has returned, terror attempts continue, freshly dug graves pockmark the Holy Land, and the mourning for those lost persists.  And as we reflect, let us not just remember the dead as hundreds of nameless and faceless people, but let us personalize them. Let us take the time to find out the name of one victim of the current conflict, one Jew who cannot celebrate this year’s holiday, one family in mourning.

Let us call out the name of Gilad Shalit, a 24-year-old with a shy smile, kidnapped by Hamas on the Gaza border in July, 2006 – despite the fact that Israel had disengaged from Gaza, uprooting Jewish settlements in the hope for peace. “This year we won’t celebrate Pesach,” Gilad’s father Noam said during the family’s first year in hell.  “Pesach is about freedom, and we don’t have that in our hearts. We want Gilad to return from imprisonment to freedom. It’s been nine months, and we’re not giving up.” After more than 1750 days – more than 250 shabbatot – the Shalit family, and good people around the world still refuse to give up.

Let us call out the name of Daniel Aryeh Wildfich —  a 16-year-old hovering between life and death because Hamas terrorists fired an anti-tank missile at the schoolbus he was riding in, in the South.

Let us call out the name of Mary Jean Gardner, aged 59, killed in Jerusalem bus bombing – a non-Jewish British woman living in Jerusalem for a year to study Bible, whose murder in the recent Jerusalem bus bombing reminds us that this kind of terror targets Jews and non-Jews, Israelis and Arabs, who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Let us call out the names of the Fogel family – Udi, age 36; Ruth, age 35; Yoav, age 11; Elad, age 4; Baby Hadas, age 3 months – butchered to death on a Friday night, in a mass murder that should have elicited worldwide revulsion but triggered celebrations in Gaza.

Let us call out the names of  Hani al-Mahdi, 27, of Aroar, a Beduin settlement in the Negev, Irit Sheetrit, 39, of Ashdod – a mother of four — Warrant Officer Lutfi Nasraladin, 38, of the Druze town of Daliat el-Carmel, all killed by Hamas rockets smuggled into Gaza, then launched into Israel’s pre-1967 borders in separate incidents on December 29, 2008. The different communities, religions, and yes, skin colors, of the victims, remind us that Israelis are a diverse, multicultural, multiracial lot, further disproving the ugly lies that Zionism is in any way racist.

Acknowledging the bravery of the IDF soldiers who fought reluctantly but heroically to defend their country in Gaza, let us call out the names of Major Eliraz Peretz, 31, of Eli, and Staff Sergeant Ilan Sviatkovsky, 21, of Rishon Letzion, killed by Hamas terrorists on the Gazan border on March 26, 2010, four and a half years after Israel voluntarily disengaged from Gaza, inviting and challenging Palestinians to build their own civil society rather than trying to destroy Israel.

Remembering previous victims, let us call out the name of Yaniv Bar-On, the 20-year-old son of a South African father and a Canadian mother, ambushed while trying to save Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev from Hezbollah’s clutches in 2006, of Roi Klein, 31, a father of two, who jumped on a grenade crying “Shma Yisrael,” Hear O’ Israel, sacrificing his life to save his troops from certain death during the Second Lebanon War, and of Benny Avraham, age 20, one of three young Israelis murdered by Hezbollah in a failed kidnapping in October 2000, whose bodies were kept frozen as the sadistic terrorists toyed with the emotions of the three grieving families – and people of conscience throughout the world.

Let us call out the name of Koby Mandell, age 13, a young American immigrant brutally killed in May, 2001, whose father, Rabbi Seth Mandell, talks about the empty seat at his Shabbat table and shares the pain of watching other boys grow up, watching their voices deepen, their shoulders broaden, their gaits quicken, even as his son lies dead.

Let us call out the names of Ernest and Eva Weiss, aged 80 and 75, residents of Petach Tikvah who survived Nazi concentration camps only to be slaughtered while sitting down for the Pesach Seder at the Park Hotel exactly nine years ago, Pesach, 2002.

And as we condemn modern-day Pharoahs in Iran and elsewhere, as we recoil from the worldwide scourge of anti-Semitism this terrorism also unleashed, let us call out the names of Ilan Halimi, the 23-year-old French Jew cellphone salesman kidnapped, tortured and murdered in a Parisian suburb by anti-Semitic thugs, and of Daniel Pearl, the 38-year-old Wall Street Journal reporter kidnapped, then murdered, in Pakistan almost exactly four years earlier.

As we call out these names, let us vow to do what we can to bring Gilad Shalit home. As we call out these names, let us commit to some action, to embrace the families of the victims – more than a thousand who have died and the nearly ten thousand who were injured. As we call out these names, as we also celebrate the redemption we will mark as we celebrate Israel’s 63rd anniversary, let us commit to building a  friendship with Israel and Israelis which is not just about politics, and not solely about mourning and memory.

And as we call out these names, unlike too many of our enemies, let us not call for vengeance; let us not call for more bloodshed. Instead, as we mourn, let us hope; as we remember the many lives lost during this crazy and pointless war, let us pray ever more intensely for a just and lasting peace.

Information about many of the Israelis killed in the current violence can be found at the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s website.

Ideas about how to help families of victims can be found from the Jewish Agency’s Fund for the Victims of Terror.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and the author of Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today. He splits his time between Montreal and Jerusalem.

Hamas, Gilad Schalit and the Problem of Evil

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 4-12-11

As an historian not a theologian, I dislike speaking of “evil” when talking politics. All governments are imperfect collective expressions of flawed human beings. Good-and-evil talk regarding states encourages deadlocks; fighting evil precludes compromise. Still, some actions truly are evil, as are their perpetrators and enablers.

Firing an anti-tank missile at a school bus is evil – as Hamas terrorists did last week. Celebrating the slaughter of a baby and her sleeping family, let alone slaughtering them, is evil – the villains remain at large; Gazans cheered last month.  Honoring the criminal who masterminded the infamous Seder suicide bombing which murdered thirty people is evil – as the PA is doing. Isolating a kidnapped soldier from loved ones and the Red Cross is evil – as Hamas is doing. These outrages, among others, demonstrate how the Palestinians keep escalating a solvable border dispute into an existential fight over Israel’s right to exist.

With much of the human rights community and the United Nations serving as Hamas enablers and Palestinian Authority lackeys by keeping silent about such sins, this regional tragedy goes global. Robert Bernstein, the founder of Human Rights Watch, finally recognized that this world blind spot ignoring Palestinian wickedness and Jew hatred mocks his organization’s supposedly universal values. Idealistic students should embrace Advancing Human Rights, Bernstein’s attempt to reboot the human rights system, especially with many now, suddenly, realizing that the Arab protests disprove Palestinians’ conceit that theirs is the central Middle East problem. Unfortunately, this sloppy, selective indignation against Israel has tarnished Bernstein’s old allies and these core ideals.

In his new book, The Violence of Peace: America’s Wars in the Age of Obama, Stephen L. Carter of Yale Law School seeks limits and legalities within war’s ugliness. Displaying philosophical sophistication, moral judgment and a stick-to-it-iveness that Judge Richard Goldstone never displayed – neither as biased scold nor as recent penitent — Carter understands President Barack Obama as a reluctant warrior, an outraged outsider turned responsible insider. While focusing on Obama, the book demonstrates how rationalizing Palestinian violence has undermined the Western quest to keep war “a rule-governed activity,” as the Princeton philosopher Michael Walzer calls it, “a world of permissions and prohibitions – a moral world … in the midst of hell.”

Closer to home, the failure of those who call themselves “pro-peace” to condemn Palestinian crimes intensifies the Great Betrayal Israelis have experienced since Oslo.  Obscuring clear moral issues including targeting a school bus with neutral warnings against “escalations of violence” equates Hamas terror tactics with Israeli defenses, discouraging compromise. Every Kassam launched, every mortar fired, every weapon smuggled into Gaza blasts away at the Israeli left’s delusions that the Palestinians want peace and the Israeli center’s hopes for a workable solution. Who can negotiate with baby killers, suicide bombers and delegitimizers?   Why trust “guarantees” of an international community which cannot muster appropriate outrage at brutal murders?

When fellow citizens in the south sleep huddled in concrete-reinforced rooms, most Israelis head for their psychological shelters, remembering the false promises of peace with the Palestinians from Oslo and the Gaza disengagement that spawned suicide bombings and Kassam storms. Each eruption in Gaza reminds Israelis that Gilad Schalit, the kidnapped soldier who has become a national icon, just endured his 250th Shabbat in his Hamas hole, isolated, terrorized, deprived of his most basic human rights.

While debating just what price to pay, all Israelis desperately want him home.  Aspiring peace-makers seeking a game-changing gesture should remember this shy, vulnerable 24-year-old dual citizen of Israel and France. Barack Obama could transform the Middle East by visiting Israel, confronting Palestinian incitement directly, and proving his power by helping free Gilad Schalit.

Absent that, people of conscience must remember this suffering, sensitive, sports fan. Every Passover Seder table should leave one seat empty for Gilad Schalit – symbolizing his parents’ perpetual feelings of emptiness. In that spirit, last Thursday 250 Young Judaeans and Federation of Zionist Youth activists quite literally stopped everything to broadcast their message to Gilad:  you are not alone. On the 1747th day of his round-the-clock nightmare, these participants on Young Judaea’s Year Course gathered in downtown Jerusalem. Suddenly, at noon, they all shouted “HaTzilu” – Help! – and froze for five minutes, one minute for each year Schalit’s life has been frozen in hell. They will soon post the “Freeze-Out” video on the Internet – to fight what Michele Freed from Michigan called the “compassion fatigue” people abroad seem to be experiencing, as the same story has dragged on for five years.

“This day was arranged by the members of Garin Arevim, a group of participants who have chosen to spend extra time during our year working to aid victims of terror attacks including the Schalit family,” Joel Srebrenick of New Jersey explained. When I congratulated Year Course’s director Adam Jenshil on this initiative – I was privileged to address the group before the “Freeze Out” – Jenshil insisted, “It was all the participants’ doing.” He smiled, “this gives me hope!”

The next day, while jogging just outside Zion Gate, I passed thirty-three seventh graders from the Zomer School in Ramat Gan who had just spent a week walking to Jerusalem. Their educator explained that he proposed the journey to Jerusalem as a bar mitzvah project – but the students decided to walk for Gilad Schalit. Other initiatives continue popping up, including a new Website for sending messages to him:

Ultimately, politicians not the people will decide Schalit’s fate. But these spontaneous grassroots initiatives demonstrate the Zionist response to evil. For over a century, young idealistic Jews have been blunting anti-Jewish hate with love, choosing to build when others try destroying us, defeating enmity with creative, constructive activism. Year course’s Jenshil was right – this does give us hope!

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. The author of “Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today,” his most recent book is “The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.”

Three Steps to a Two-State Solution

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 4-6-11

I do not worry about the biased UN recognizing a Palestinian state. When Israel disengaged in 2005, Gaza became an independent Palestinian entity. Why not call it a state – and demand it act responsibly rather than blaming Israel for its failures? Similarly, much of the West Bank, even if you call it Judaea and Samaria, is fully Palestinian.  Vast swaths are inaccessible to even the most ideological, stereotypical, gun-toting, Brooklynese-speaking, big-kippah-wearing, payes-flowing settlers.   Oslo’s essential insight of having as few Palestinians as possible under Israeli control as quickly as possible has allowed millions to live under Palestinian rule for years now.  Given these realities, Israeli policy should focus on getting diplomatic – and American — credit for already ceding much territory, making Palestinian maximalism and Arab rejectionism of Israel’s existence the issues, not Israeli intransigence about borders.  Every attack on Israel’s legitimacy must be seen as a blow to peace. 

Despite calling terrorism counter-productive, Israel frequently rewards Palestinian violence by conceding under the gun.  Rather than waiting for populist Palestinian “Arab spring” protests, Israel should make a pre-emptive strike for peace by accepting the reality – and risks — of a Palestinian state. Inaction is also risky. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s conservative coalition may be best suited to make the best deal possible. Besides, it is immoral to control millions of unwilling non-citizens if there is an alternative which does not threaten Israeli lives. 

Accepting a state requires a third conceptual revolution for Israelis regarding Palestinians. The Oslo peace process in the 1990s forced mainstream Israeli opinion to acknowledge Palestinian national rights. A decade later, the wave of suicide bombings forced Israelis to admit they needed clear protected borders with Palestinians – rightists realized they could not keep everything, leftists learned that fences saved lives. 

Palestinians need even more dramatic conceptual revolutions. They must end their addiction to delegitimization and terrorism. Beyond accepting Israel’s existence they must accept Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state. Finally, Palestinians will have to choose what they might consider an imperfect peace over perpetual war. 

Netanyahu’s government has already taken important strides which the world should respect as Step One to a Two-State solution. At Bar Ilan, Netanyahu recognized Palestinian national rights. His government has started no new settlements, dismantled Gilad Farms, and curtailed construction within existing settlements, even if reluctantly. In 2010 alone Israel’s Army eliminated 98 roadblocks. While relaxing security restrictions and issuing 42 percent more entry permits, the IDF invested millions improving Palestinian infrastructure to facilitate traffic flows. Palestinians now usually move freely between Jenin and Hebron. The Palestinian Authority controls a much larger contiguous area than at any time since Palestinians’ return to terror in 2000 triggered a necessary crackdown. 

As a result, Netanyahu’s “economic peace” is flourishing. The Palestinian economy is growing 9 percent annually. The average minimum wage increased 6.5 percent. Tourist traffic entering the much-less-occupied territories surged 49 percent. Israeli-Palestinian joint ventures are proliferating, with building permits up 23 percent.
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is the un-Arafat, a courageous technocrat more committed to building his people’s state than destroying the Jewish people’s home. He is cultivating the conditions that could lead to peace rather than fighting a perpetual war. 

President Barack Obama, along with the Europeans and the UN, should acknowledge this progress, celebrating this successful first step. The challenge is psychological and political. These new conditions should be publicized as bold moves, building confidence.  The second step should then emphasize mutual recognition to foster the trust needed for the final border discussions when Israelis will have to sacrifice land, as Palestinians sacrifice some of their longstanding demands. 

To prepare for that sensitive stage the second stage requires zero tolerance for incitement in any Palestinian institution, including mosques, the media, and schools. Serious international supervision should impose real punishments for violent words and deeds.  Every act of incitement or violence should delay Palestinian statehood by a month; rockets from Gaza should result in pushing the border back a few hundred meters each time. Similarly, Israel must dismantle all illegal outposts while starting a serious national conversation about which settlements to abandon to create new boundaries. 

Palestinians must take responsibility for Israeli fears – given the last decade’s unhappy track record when Israeli withdrawals brought Palestinian violence not peace. Israelis must take responsibility for Palestinian worries – given Oslo’s unhappy track record when Israeli settlements increased. Palestinians should acknowledge the Jewish state. And Israel should acknowledge Palestinians’ right of return, offering citizenship to any Palestinians who lived in Israel in 1948. Palestinians wishing to move back should be compensated for any homes others currently inhabit – but, as in the rest of the world, refugee status should not be inherited; their descendants will have to relinquish fantasies of “return” to fulfill realistic dreams of statehood. 

Israel’s actions should not be motivated by guilt. Israel has legitimate rights to Judaea, Samaria and Gaza – historically and based on the justified Six Day War. But having rights does not require exercising them. Sometimes, historical or demographic realities intrude. Israel should sacrifice some historical rights to achieve peace – without risking lives for an illusion of progress. 

Given Palestinians’ long history of rejectionism, this delicate second stage should take at least two years. During that time, the details of stage three, creating a peaceful Palestinian state, should be finalized. 

This brief column cannot detail an entire peace plan. But supporters of a two-state solution must start envisioning progress. And Israelis who reject compromise should explain – what do you do with millions of Palestinians sharing the same space, yearning for a state? Neither side can achieve its maximal demands. But Israelis have controlled too many Palestinians for too long – while Palestinians still cling to too many unrealistic demands and lethal desires. Many in the Middle East seem ready to take risks for war – true courage entails taking risks for peace. 

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGillUniversity and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. The author of “Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today,” his latest book is “The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.”