The tragedy of not find­ing a way to two-state so­lu­tion

All of us must hold our lead­ers’ feet to the fire. South Africa be­cause of its his­tory must help us to do this, Is­rael’s am­bas­sador Arthur Lenk told Janet Smith

The Star Early Edition - - INSIDE - Arthur Lenk was born in the US and em­i­grated to Is­rael in 1983. A lawyer and mem­ber of the Is­rael and US bars, he has been am­bas­sador to South African since Au­gust last year.

Janet Smith: Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu this week won cab­i­net ap­proval for a highly con­tro­ver­sial bill. It seeks, for in­stance, to put the Jewish state into con­sti­tu­tion-level law and there is a fear that it will re­move Ara­bic as a na­tional lan­guage. It is widely seen as dis­crim­i­na­tory and di­vi­sive, even by Is­raeli Pres­i­dent Reu­ven Rivlin. You would have a home­land for only Jewish peo­ple.

Arthur Lenk: There are 193 coun­tries in the world – Christian and Mus­lim coun­tries, a Hindu coun­try or two – and out of th­ese there is only one that is a Jewish state.

Is­rael is very much a vi­brant democ­racy and a coun­try of our cit­i­zens… our an­ces­tral home­land and that’s not go­ing to change.

This week, we faced the ques­tion of whether to throw other ideas into par­lia­ment. You know, to the credit of both of us, Is­rael and South Africa, that par­lia­men­tary process is vi­brant, in­ter­est­ing and alive. If you throw them in, you never know what will come out.

There are many coun­tries that would give their eye teeth to have democ­ra­cies. But let’s bring the is­sue back to Pales­tine.

We un­der­stand this is a big ques­tion for South Africa, a coun­try which re­ally cares, and it is clear that it is a topic that in­ter­ests peo­ple more than other top­ics many should be in­ter­ested in.

The girls kid­napped by Boko Haram are still not back yet. We don’t see any protests and ral­ly­ing. The shoot­ings in Kenya at the week­end… when peo­ple were pulled off a bus and made to re­cite parts of the Qur’an and if they couldn’t they were killed – they don’t at­tract this kind of at­ten­tion.

JS: There are in­creas­ing calls for sol­i­dar­ity with the Pales­tinian peo­ple from around the world, in­clud­ing in South Africa. What’s the re­la­tion­ship like be­tween us and Is­rael? This week, Pales­tine Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas was here on a state visit, and Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma said Is­rael was un­der­min­ing prospects for a two-state so­lu­tion.

AL: We be­lieve South Africa has a won­der­ful story, while your con­flicts and dilem­mas are dif­fer­ent from ours. You solved a prob­lem that was un­solv­able. We can cer­tainly be in­spired by that.

And be­cause South Africa cares so much, it can use that voice for pos­i­tiv­ity, but it is not nec­es­sary to solve our dilemma the way you did yours.

We have to face down the tough chal­lenges. Times are chang­ing. Things have to be dif­fer­ent. South Africa should tell them (Pales­tine) as an older brother or sis­ter: “We did it, now you go do it.” It’s com­pro­mise… ac­cept­ing the other. I am not say­ing they are the en­emy. They are not. They are our neigh­bours. We have a need to face a seem­ingly im­pos­si­ble prob­lem.

South Africa can be prag­matic and help­ful, be­cause you have made that leap. You can be help­ful and in­spi­ra­tional.

But as long as there’s a ten­sion, when peo­ple bring pigs into su­per­mar­kets, when they go onto univer­sity cam­puses us­ing lan­guage that is not peace­ful, it be­comes fright­en­ing – not for Is­rael, but for my brothers and sis­ters in your rainbow na­tion.

There were big ral­lies this year in Joburg sup­port­ing Is­rael, and in Cape Town, you had peo­ple walk­ing down the street say­ing: “We are Ha­mas”. Re­ally? You’d like to be Ha­mas? They say there should be no state of Is­rael. They took over Gaza in a coup. Any­one who dis­agrees with them is a heretic. I would say they are the same as Isis – they have the same meth­ods of deal­ing with the other in common.

JS: But Ha­mas is not say­ing that, and has not been say­ing that for a while. Their leader, Khalid Mishal, has been ab­so­lutely clear that they do not seek Is­raelis to be wiped off the face of the Earth. They be­lieve Pales­tine could even be a bul­wark against Isis. He says they at­tack Is­rael as an oc­cu­pier, and only in re­tal­i­a­tion. Aren’t you the oc­cu­pier?

AL: This is a dilemma for Is­rael. They are our neigh­bours. There should be a Pales­tinian state where Pales­tini­ans should have a right of re­turn, just like Jews should find their home­land in the state of Is­rael.

But who do you ne­go­ti­ate it with and how do you meet th­ese chal­lenges?

We’ve been tak­ing one step for­ward and two steps back. We are in a two-steps-back mo­ment (right now).

JS: We achieved free­dom in 1994, but the ANC also used armed re­sis­tance to get there. There are sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween what the ANC did and what the Pales­tine Lib­er­a­tion Or­gan­i­sa­tion (PLO), dif­fer­ent fac­tions of the PLO, did and do in or­der to re­alise free­dom for the Pales­tini­ans. How do you re­late to that when deal­ing with the ANC which, as you say, has his­toric ties with the Pales­tinian peo­ple?

AL: Dur­ing the 1970s, the ANC and the PLO were very close; they had a brother­hood. But the ANC never went into cof­fee shops with sui­cide bombers. Their ap­proach was to­tally dif­fer­ent.

Gaza is not a nice place. I wouldn’t want to be there. Nei­ther of us would. There is a lot of suf­fer­ing and we re­gret that, but Ha­mas is re­spon­si­ble.

JS: To­mor­row is the UN In­ter­na­tional Day of Sol­i­dar­ity with the Pales­tinian Peo­ple. Does this day mat­ter to Is­rael?

AL: Do you know why they call it that, on Novem­ber 29? It’s be­cause of what hap­pened on that day in 1947. The UN had just been founded and passed a res­o­lu­tion on Is­rael, and two-thirds, the majority of states, voted for it.

The Jews said yes, the Arabs said no. It was a tragedy in a sim­ple way. They missed it.

They passed (it), and in May 1948, we won and Is­rael came to be.

So the ques­tion still to­day, 68 years later, is how do we find that so­lu­tion?

How are we to be safe in a crazy neigh­bour­hood – Isis, Syria… phew. Right. Those are some neigh­bours. Don’t even talk about Iran.

It is a tragedy that we can’t find the way to a two-state so­lu­tion… but we must, all of us, hold our lead­ers’ feet to the fire. In South Africa, be­cause of your his­tory, you have to be a place to hold their feet to the fire, too.

It has to be re­spect­ful to all sides.

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