We Jews have given birth to splendid musicians. But lately our fine sense of hearing has gone awry. Fears for our security and survival, justified indeed, have prevented our hearing the stage-whispered messages of moderation from Palestinians in the world press, in high-level private meetings between Arabs and Jews, in PLO publications, and from Arafat himself.
Anxiety impairs listening and the nuclear age has intensified historic fears. Einstein's "we are drifting toward a catastrophe beyond conception. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if (we) are to survive" is a Jewish imperative today.
When it comes to Israel, we Jews -- whether liberal or conservative, American or Israeli -- tend to think with our emotions. Even the most analytical of us responds with a knee-jerk "Is it good for the Jews?" That survival instinct has served us for thousands of years. But it no longer works. Not for our security , not for our peace.
The Israelis are superb tacticians. They win battle after battle. Their long-term strategy, however, is failing. Though many Jews responded with righteous pride at the strike on the Iraqi nuclear facility, most could not stomach the bombing of civilians in Lebanon. All are uneasy in the growing realization that Israel cannot continue indefinitely to put out a nuclear brush fire here, a missile threat there. Proposals for nuclear plants issue from Morocco, Tunisia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and other countries. There are too many potential "enemies" even for Israeli military forces.
Our tiny silver of homeland with a few million Jews surrounded by a hundred million Arabs is at the hub of history. The Middle East is the nerve center for the world, today as in the time of Abraham, Jesus, and Muhammad. It holds the trigger for world peace or world war.
We Jews know deep in our hearts that we can count utimately only on ourselves. Israel's vital dependence on the United States, thousands of miles away, is subject to the vagaries of oil politics and cold war diplomacy. Camp David is not a "comprehensive peace." Nor do the people accept us. Sadat cannot stand alone forever. Our few "friends" in the UN are hard put to support policies they see as "annexationist" and aggressive. Israel has become a pariah among nations. We are losing support and former friends at a dangerous pace. The controversy over Jacobo Timerman is not whetherm there is anti-Semitism in Argentina, but how much. Argentina is only the most forthright example in a world of growing, thinly-disguised anti-Semitism -- Manhattan to Moscow, Paris to Peoria.
The crushing economic burden of Israeli armaments portends more potential defeat than enemy armies. Emigration challenges immigration. The Israeli Air Force demonstrated clearly that fortresses, settlements, and "buffer zones" are easily circumvented by advanced military technology. Missiles and planes fly in both directions. The prognosis appears gloomy.
Time is not on our side. Yet all is not lost. Israel remains military powerful, its people brave, and worldwide Jewry firm in resolve. Above all, our strongest card can be our moral and ethical tradition and our will to survive.
One approach is so obvious that we haven't even considered it: an initiative toward a comprehensive peace agreement. The key is the "Palestinian question."
Israel is a Middle East country. Sooner or later it is going to have to learn to get along with its Arab neighbors and 650,000 Arabs within the state. They cannot be wished or driven away. Preemptive strikes, ad hoc settlements, military might, and Maginot Line defenses will not work.
Genuine and lasting security for Israel -- indeed for Jews everywhere -- lies in coexistence, in gaining new allies and regaining old friends. Is it so unthinkable for us to open discourse with our fellow Semites and their only representatives, the PLO? If we take the initiative the whole world will applaud. If the accomodationist rumors are a bluff, they will be exposed as such.
Tomorrow we may be forced into such talks (by the US or by circumstance), thus weakening our negotiating position. The peaceful regaining of the Sinai by Sadat is an example that secure borders are achievable and that former enemies can be transformed into peaceful neighbors. A true Palestinian peace, crucial to a comprehensive agreement, would secure Israel's borders and defuse much of the hostility in the entire Arab world. We took a chance one, why not again?
Risky? Sure. There are many problems: Arab population growth; fears of a two-front invasion; early warning defense needs; right and left-wing irridentism , and, above all, the belligerence of the "Destroy Israel" covenant.
But were we not just as belligerent when our interests were being negotiated by outside parties? Weren't some of us, Begin included, also "terrorists" when our fate was being decided by the British without our representation? Begin and Mugabe were among "terrorists" who became responsible statesmen once their goal of full autonomy was achieved.
Can we trust the Arabs? The answer in time-honored tradition is another question. Do we have a choice? Now is the time to explore the growing willingness to recognize Israel, to drop the hated covenant, and to sit down and negotiate an agreement which would ensure the security of Israel and the desired objectives of the Palestinian people. It needn't be done all at once; implementation could be achieved in a step-by-step procedure with mutually enforceable guarantees. Election time is propitious for bold rethinking.
A first flutist and a first oboist, sitting side- by-side in the orchestra, may dislike each other intensely. Still, they make the best possible music together -- in their own self-interest. The opportunity to end the escalation of violence and bloodshed on the world stage may be ours.
Let's talk with and listen to our neighbors. Soon. Tom orrow may be too late.