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Taking the Guidance of Hillel on Israel and Palestine

Taking the Guidance of Hillel on Israel and Palestine

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Published by Maurice Harris

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Published by: Maurice Harris on Oct 05, 2011
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Taking the Guidance of Hillel on Israel and Palestine
Hillel used to say: If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If Iam only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?
– MishnahAvot 1:14Hillel’s words outline a healthy framework for Zionism.
If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
These wordscharacterize important elements of Zionism: survival, the right toself-determination within our historic homeland, and rebirth afterthe Holocaust. In Israel today we feel the self-esteem, livingenergy, creativity and dignity that characterize this precious andremarkable country. We've created a safe haven andrediscovered our connection to our roots in ancient Israel.
If I am only for myself, what am I?
It’s not enough to survive in afortress. For Israel to fulfill its aspirations, it needs to express thehumanitarian impulse that sits at the core of Judaism, and givefrom the heart to others. Indeed, Israel has done that for decadesby sharing technological, medical, and organizational expertisewith poor and disadvantaged nations.But there’s another aspect of this part of the Hillel formula. Wecan’t only be for ourselves in our conflict with the Palestinians. Wecan’t erase the legitimacy of the Other, of our neighbors, of theirbasic rights and legitimate aspirations either. That’s why the two-state solution, despite all its detractors on both sides, remains thebest hope for a dignified, secure, and more just future.
 And if not now, when?
Hillel’s third plank speaks to the currentmoment. The window for a two-state solution has been closingand may disappear within the next months. Israel’s choice isbetween a future with one state or two. As many Israeli leaders,including Ehud Olmert, are saying, a one-state-solution in whichIsrael annexes the territories will spell the end of the Zionistdream, requiring Israel to become either a state with a voting
 
majority of Arab citizens, or a bona fide apartheid state refusingto give its new Palestinian citizens the right to vote.Given that there is so little time to achieve a genuine two-stateagreement, what is the wisdom of the Israeli government’s recentannouncement of plans to build new housing units in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo, beyond the Green Line? SomeIsraeli officials argue that the Palestinians have already concededthat Gilo will end up annexed to Israel in a final peace deal, sothey shouldn’t really care. This argument ignores the fact that theplan just authorized by Israel includes expropriating more WestBank land to enlarge Gilo, and thus unilaterally changes what thefinal boundaries of a two-state solution would look like. The realityis that Israel’s leaders know that, in the political world that theirPalestinian negotiating partners inhabit, it is not possible for themto come to the table in the same moment that Israel is unveilingnew plans to enlarge its footprint in the West Bank. The real question isn’t whether Israel has the right to build in Gilo;it is whether or not it’s helpful to the peace process for Israel toinsist on doing so
now
. If Israel knows that it is going to end upwith Gilo anyway, then there is no urgency to add housing thereright now. There is urgency, however, to get the peace talksmoving forward towards a final agreement – tremendous urgencyand dire consequences for failure. Israel can build in Gilo to itsheart’s content, without controversy, as soon as the peace deal isconcluded. The Gilo announcement is reason to wonder whether Netanyahuis serious about moving things forward. He knows that the Giloannouncement throws cold water on President Abbas’s ability toresume talks with dignity and credibility among his own people.He must know that the Gilo announcement is also quite a slight tothe US, the EU, and the Quartet, all of whom just concludedmonths of working at a fever pitch to support Israel in the face of the Palestinian request for statehood in the UN.

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