Published in The Jerusalem Post on December 13, 1998
As you wake up this fine Sunday morning in a beautiful room overlooking the sun-drenched, golden walls of Jerusalem’s Old City, I ask you President Clinton to take a few minutes to contemplate history, to think about fate.
Before you plunge into the murky waters of Mideast peacemaking, take a step back and consider the moment. Just what does it mean to be the President of the United States, the leader of the free world, Israel’s best friend on the globe, here in united Jerusalem on the eve of Chanukah, just before Christmas, in Israel’s fiftieth year — about to engineer ‘permanent status’ talks between Israel and her neighbors?
It means, I think, that one has to think in Providential, prophetic terms. In this holy city you are challenged to fathom the processes at work *behind* the curtain of current affairs; to discern mystic movement, the Divine drama if you will, at play; to understand the State of Israel and its travails in grand historical terms.
Remember this: history knows no parallel to the prophecies of the Bible, which foretold of Jacob and Joseph’s exile, of the break-up of a people into a thousand pieces across the world, to every culture and civilization — yet destined not to assimilate, but to return. What you are witness to is a metaphysical union spanning centuries, between a people, their God, and a land — defying all odds.
Our jubilee year marks the celebration of a nation which rose from the ashes, at a moment of ultimate nadir, armed with little more than conviction and a historical consciousness, to stake claim to their ancestry.
And thus the establishment, survival and blooming of Israel into a thriving democracy is more than a political or secular event in Jewish, or indeed in global, consciousness. Israel stands as vindication of the spirit; as validation of the tenaciousness of faith.
This belief in the power of human will, animated by ancient faith, explains much about Israel, even today. It explains why we sometimes cling to forlorn hilltops and old-fashioned principles, stubbornly refusing to recognize the rational calculations of diplomatic cost and benefit — calculations politely impressed on us by well-meaning allies.
It explains why those who consider history only in terms of national politics and international relations underestimate or misjudge us. They fail to understand that Israel is guided by an astral calculus that is not always perceptible, a reckoning that blurs the line between aspirations and reality.
You, Mr. President, are an integral part of this otherworldly reckoning. You represent the country that, more than any other, has championed liberty and religious freedom the globe over. You lead the nation that has most consistently backed Israel through adversity, and you personally have acted to strengthen the US-Israel partnership — the linchpin of our security in this dangerous region of the world. US-Israel ties go beyond the political; they are culturally deep, spiritually intimate.
IT IS SPECIFICALLY BECAUSE of the close moral bonds between us, that many Israelis are uncomfortable with your trip to Gaza tomorrow. The visit, and the honor to Yasser Arafat it suggests, perhaps are an inevitable outcome of the Oslo process and Wye accord, as is the establishment of a Palestinian state. We know that, well, you’re doing your job as Mideast mediator.
But what shakes us is the intrusion by Yasser Arafat, as it were, on our relationship with you. We’re uncomfortable sharing America with the Palestinians. It is hard for us to swallow the diplomatic pageantry you’re accepting by going to Gaza – an honor guard of men who not so long ago were terrorizing us and tomorrow threaten to fire on us again. The respectability of it all irks us no end, even though the end-goal of the trip – pushing the process forward – is to our mutual advantage.
The parity implied by the even-handed scheduling of your visit also is hard to accept. A day-and-a-half here, equal time there. As if there was moral symmetry in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As if both sides to this conflict were democratic allies of the US, equal heirs to the moral traditions of enlightenment, human rights, free speech, and abhorrence of violence. As if we shared the same heroes – people like, say, Saddam Hussein, Yihye Ayyash or Louis Farrakhan. As if both sides were taking equal risks for peace.
So, as you make your diplomatic rounds brokering peace, consider the limits of even-handedness. Balance Netanyahu’s recalcitrance with Arafat’s confrontationist chicanery, as you must — but keep the moral, prophetic perspective in mind.