Rabbi Stern has many good reasons to be pessimistic about the ultimate outcome of the peace discussions begun this week at Annapolis.
However, not everything appears as dark to me as it does to Rabbi Stern. Why? For several reasons. First, because at Annapolis, Saudi Arabia met for the first time directly with Israel. This is big news.
Speaking to my congregation last week as part of our series on “Israel: Can There Ever Be Peace?,” Rabbis for Human Rights Director Rabbi Arik Ascherman, explained that our wariness over provisions in the Arab peace plan proposed by Saudi Arabia in 2002 have obscured how monumental a step it was that Saudi Arabia–protector of Mecca, Islam’s holiest city–was willing to publicly acknowledge its willingness to officially recognize Israel and sign a peace treaty with it. This is a far cry from the 1967 Khartoum Resolution of the Arab States that cited the three “no’s”: no peace, no negotiations, and no recognition of Israel.
By actually sitting down at the same table with Israel this week, Saudi Arabia reaffirmed its willingness to recognize Israel under the right conditions. While the devil remains in the details, such a public display helps pull the rug out from under obstructionists like Hamas, Islamic Jihad and their friends, as well as provide hope for the Arab street that a Palestinian State may indeed be possible. A recent poll shows that support for Hamas is waning, particularly after they fired upon Gazans who rallied in memory of Arafat a few weeks ago. If life becomes easier for Palestinians as a result of these talks, then support for Hamas will continue to wane.
Another reason for cautious optimism is that, for the first time in history, Saudi Arabia and its largely Sunni Arab allies finally have an existential incentive to seek peace with Israel: the threat of non-Arab Iran and its exported Shiite insurgents/terrorists. Dr. Rice is not the only one to realize that settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can help ease tensions across the Arab world and that failing to do so will continue the region down a road that leads to greater and greater danger for all of us.
Finally, as one of my other speakers, Dr. Ofir Ganel observed, both Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and PA President Abbas are so weak on their respective home fronts, they have little to loose and everything to gain by working together.
While there may be more reasons for pessimism, based on the failed history of early peace efforts like Oslo and the Road Map, there still are some good reasons for cautious optimism.
Scripture teaches us “Seek peace and pursue it” (Psalms 34:14). That is why I have been concentrating my prayers this week not only on the esoteric concept of peace, but also on the real politic of God softening the hearts of peace’s enemies and granting strength and wisdom to the peacemakers on both sides. While I have found that God helps those who help themselves, I have also found that prayer never hurts and often helps.