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October 13, 2015 | 30th Tishrei 5776

The Painful Search for Peace

Blog posted to on August 25, 2010.

Will the direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority lead to peace?  I have no idea.  It is hard to be optimistic, but like Prime Minister Netanyahu, I will not give up hope.

But whatever happens, let's keep focused on the ultimate goal: the establishment of a Palestinian state living in peace and security alongside Israel. Creating such a state would enable Israel to retain its Jewish and democratic character while bestowing dignity and independence on the Palestinian people.

It may be that peace is not attainable at this moment. The Palestinians have shown little indication that they are ready for the concessions that they will have to make. But even if peace does not come, it is in Israel's interests to regularly remind the world of its intentions and to assure that it takes no steps - with regard to settlement building, for example - that will make peace impossible at a later time.

Why is a two-state solution necessary? We have been discussing this issue for decades, but perhaps the best explanation is to be found in a few sentences written by Michael Oren in a May 2009 article in Commentary:

Israel, the Jewish State, is predicated on a decisive and stable Jewish majority of at least 70 percent. Any lower than that and Israel will have to decide between being a Jewish state and a democratic one. If it chooses democracy, then Israel as a Jewish state will cease to exist. If it remains officially Jewish, then the state will face an unprecedented level of international isolation, including sanctions, that might prove fatal."

Oren's words were written just prior to his appointment as Israel's Ambassador to the United States. In an extraordinary example of out-of-context misrepresentation, George Will recently quoted a different section of the Oren article to prove that a two-state solution is impossible. But the point is exactly the opposite:  a two-state solution is essential, even though it will be exceedingly difficult to achieve - and may not even be achievable now.

Some, of course, will argue against a two-state solution - and against a settlement freeze in any form - on religious grounds. Making an argument that they have often made before, they will say that the Torah forbids withdrawing from any territory of Eretz Yisrael. But we should dispense with this argument now. It is without foundation. There is no such prohibition.

One of the most famous statements on this issue was made in August of 1979 by Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, then the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel. In a speech to a rabbinical convention in Jerusalem, Rabbi Yosef referred to those passages in the Sifre that discuss the supreme importance of settling the Land, and then contrasted them with Maimonides' statement in the Mishneh Torah that the commandment to save a life is to be given precedence over all other commandments. Rabbi Yosef comes down on the side of Maimonides.

Let me be clear:  Rabbi Yosef did not advocate territorial withdrawal - but he did say emphatically that if military and political leaders think that withdrawal can be done safely, and if doing so will prevent war and loss of life, it is permissible.

In summary, at this moment I pray for a positive outcome to the peace talks, even as I know that the grim realities on the Palestinian side make the chances for success small.  I look forward to seeing a Palestinian state established alongside Israel - if not now, then at some point in the future. And I hope that Torah will be used - but not distorted or misused - for guidance and inspiration as Israel's search for peace continues.


Rabbi Yoffie is President of the Union for Reform Judaism.

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