The High Road

Tonight, Israel faces a life-or-death decision.

Throughout the past few weeks, representatives of several parties (including Israel, “Palestine,” and the United States) have met in an attempt to “get the ball rolling” on fresh Middle East peace talks. These talks, regardless of their ultimate effect, have set the stage for a calm conversation about a subject that usually amounts to a screaming match.

Perhaps you believe that peace is possible. Perhaps you are a cautious skeptic. Maybe you are certain that comprehensive peace in the Middle East is out of the question. But most people will acknowledge that these talks are shaping up to be the closest thing to a “step” that the world has seen in a long time.

So, what is Israel’s life-or-death decision? Tonight at midnight, the disputed moratorium on Israel’s settlement construction in the West Bank ends. Palestinian negotiators have stated in unequivocal terms that the current peace dialogue will quickly become a hopeless monologue if Israel allows further construction in the West Bank. Peace Now— which dubs itself a “left-wing non-governmental organization”– claims that Israel has thousands of building projects set and ready to go. This leaves Israel with a quandary: muffle the dialogue, or take another “step.”

I’ve been to the West Bank.

One of the most sublime, peaceful weekends of my life was spent in the Gush Etzion settlement of Efrat. It’s not scary to live there or to spend time there. Walking around Efrat is a pleasure. It’s serene, almost like being in a suburb of Los Angeles. What’s scary is driving out of Jerusalem and into the West Bank (or vice versa). As you drive into the West Bank, gargantuan walls overwhelm you. “Why do I see giant stone dividers driving into your neighborhood?” I asked my host. Because during the Intifadeh, Arabs shot at Israeli drivers. They threw rocks and explosives. My host told me about an occasion when she had been driving with her children (who were very young at the time), and a bullet grazed her windshield. They were lucky. Other bullets, upon other cars, didn’t graze. It’s a reality that Israelis living in these neighborhoods must endure.

To me, one expression pops out in my mind. “Take the high road,” my mom has always said to me. Sure, in second grade, that Crayola marker was rightfully mine. But when Danny stole it from me, should I have let it go, or should I have fought and screamed until both of us were hostile and acrimonious? For those of you who missed out on your kindergarten teacher’s lesson on sharing, the correct answer is the former. Swallow your pride and take the high road.

Israel, you have the right to build your settlements in the most controversial spot on earth. But you could also build your apartments in Be’er Sheva, Eilat, Haifa, Sde Boker, Dimona, Karmiel, Hertzeliya, or anywhere else. Anywhere. To use economic terms, the ultimate cost to the peace process outweighs the immediate benefit to Israel; the utility Israel derives from pissing off the Palestinians. Continuing to build settlements in the West Bank is not a good idea.

Tonight, be the bigger man and swallow your pride.

Tonight, take the high road.