LOS ANGELES If at first you don't succeed in making friends with a neighbor who's forever dreaming of killing you, try again. If that doesn't work, cry "mea culpa." Then call your lawyer and make sure your will is up to date.
The notion that trusting your enemies against all evidence to the contrary is the most stubborn liberal pipe dream. If you wish upon a star hard enough, hold hands tight enough and sing kumbaya loud enough, dreams come true.
Yosef Kanefsky, a prominent Orthodox Jewish rabbi in Los Angeles, detonated a fierce debate among Jews and their Christian allies here last week with his argument that maybe the insoluble, intractable standoff in the Middle East is the result of lies, or at least stretchers, told by Jews and evangelical Christians. And a few little white fibs told by misguided Muslims. A good place for repentance to start is to divide Jerusalem.
"The question of whether we could bear a redivision of Jerusalem is a searing and painful one," he wrote in a provocative essay in the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles. "The Orthodox Union, National Council of Young Israel and a variety of other organizations, Christian Evangelical ones, are calling upon their constituencies to join them in urging the Israeli government to refrain from any negotiation concerning the status of Jerusalem at all, when and if the Annapolis [peace] conference occurs. ...
"It's not that I would want to see Jerusalem divided. It's rather that the time has come for honesty. ... [T]hese organizations are not being honest about the situation that we are in, and how it came about. And I cannot support them in this."
Well, the rabbi, like the rest of us, at least in the West, is entitled. But it's difficult to see how giving your enemies a "mea culpa" is a smart bargaining position when those enemies devoutly believe that with only a little more pressure you'll cave. Rabbi Kanefsky goes further:
"No peace conference between Israel and the Palestinians will ever produce anything positive until both sides have decided to read the story of the last 40 years honestly. On our side, this means being honest about the story of how Israel came to settle civilians in the territories it conquered in 1967, and about the outcomes that this story has generated."
This is the well-meant goodwill gesture that Israel's enemies will take for an admission that the Palestinian radicals were right all along, that the Jews are as perfidious as the Islamic radicals have been saying they are, and their Crusader allies are just as bad. Conceding half of Jerusalem for nothing in return would further embolden the Palestinians to scorn the half-loaf when they can soon get the bakery.
Nevertheless, the rabbi's remarks are taken very seriously indeed. Several of his rabbinical colleagues praised his "bravery" and "courage," though it's not clear what bravery and courage have to do with anything, since rabbis, like Christian pastors, generally do not fear the beheadings, firebombings and similar tools of doctrinal suppression often employed in certain other places.
Only a cockeyed optimist expects anything but gloating over Rabbi Kanefsky's mea culpa. The Palestinians could have had a Palestinian state years ago. With the help of the Israelis and their friends here in the bosom of the Great Satan the Palestinians could be living now in a desert green and lush with peace and plenty. The prospect of what could be, and ought to be, sometimes leads men of good will to say foolish things. "Rabbi Kanefsky is completely off-base," said Rabbi Pesach Lerner, the executive vice president of the National Council of Young Israel. "I think his call for this discussion is ridiculous. It would amount to religious suicide."
The diplomats, like Condoleezza Rice, are fond of keeping hope alive with "confidence-building steps." But you don't build confidence by stepping into an abyss of unknown depth.