Champion of dialogue describes Mideast ‘tragedy’
Prior to his Oct. 27 speech, Yossi Klein Halevi urges teenage members of Temple Sha’arey Shalom’s youth program to be committed to Israel.
November 4, 2009
Israeli author and journalist Yossi Klein Halevi discussed the “immediate and devastating” political consequences of an Iranian nuclear weapon in an Oct. 27 talk at Temple Sha’arey Shalom in Springfield.
“Within Palestinian politics, Hamas will be ascendant,” predicted Halevi, a frequent contributor to The New Republic. “Hamas will have been vindicated for its alliance with Iran…. It will mean the effective end of the possibility — even long-term — of a peace process. It will mean the effective end of real change in the Arab world for the foreseeable future. It will also lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.”
But, Halevi said, he also sees a “positive side” to the dispute over Iranian nukes.
“For the first time in the history of the Middle East conflict there is a shared interest between Arabs and Jews,” he said. “We have a common enemy.”
Halevi’s comments on Iran came at the end of an hour-long talk to the Reform congregation.
Titled “Between Jihad and Reconciliation: Can the Jewish State Live with Islam?,” the talk was based on his 2001 book, At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jew’s Search for God with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land.
“Reconciliation is not only essential, but it is also possible,” said Halevi.
But he cautioned those who are hoping for an “imminent breakthrough.”
“The tragedy today for Israel is that a Palestinian state is both an existential necessity and an existential danger,” said Halevi. “The consequence of that stalemate is being played out in Israeli politics today, where we really don’t believe a peace process can really lead to peace.”
The American-born Halevi, who has written a memoir about his one-time infatuation with the late Jewish nationalist Meir Kahane, likened West Bank settlements to “the Palestinian demand for the descendants of refugees to return to Jaffa and Haifa and the Galilee.”
“If there is going to be peace, the only deal has to be ‘your right of return for my right of return,’” he said. “‘I will confine my right of return to the State of Israel and allow a Palestinian state to emerge. You will confine your right of return to a Palestinian state and leave the State of Israel out of your ambitions.’”
He called that the “only trade-off that makes sense.”
“When we have a Palestinian partner who will say unequivocally, ‘We will confine our right of return to a Palestinian state,’ that will be the signal that peace is possible.”
Returning to the subject of Iran in the question-and-answer period, Halevi criticized the Obama administration for failing to actively support the Iranian democracy movement.
But, he said, the president was being unfairly criticized by many Israelis for his speech last June in Cairo.
“Obama said what the Israeli public expects for the Arab and Muslim world is the acceptance of our legitimacy, and he used the word ‘legitimacy’ several times,” said Halevi.
Halevi also applauded the president for inviting Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, to join the Muslim celebration of Iftar at the White House on Sept. 1.
“That’s very significant,” said Halevi. “We have for the first time a president with the potential to engage the Muslim world in real dialogue who appears to be genuinely committed to forcing the Muslim world to confront the legitimacy of Israel. I give him a lot of credit for that.”
He warned about fellow Jews who would demonize Obama.
“If we turn Obama into an enemy, we in Israel or the pro-Israel community here are making a potentially disastrous mistake,” he said.