Einat Wilf, former member of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, spoke about the conditions for peace in Israel at the Center for Jewish Life on Nov. 16.
Wilf served in the 18th Knesset, as a Lieutenant in the Israeli Defense Forces, and as foreign policy advisor to Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres. She is a senior fellow with the Jewish People Policy Institute and the author of four books on Israel.
Wilf started the talk by describing herself as a “devout atheist and liberal,” and went on to discuss her early political life as a member of the Labor Party and a supporter of the two-state solution.
She described the 1990s as a “time of euphoria,” noting a sharp contrast to the 2000s, which was marked by violence against civilians. Wilf stated that, while the media called the period one of “moral collapse,” she would instead characterize it as “moral clarity for the left.”
“All systems of morality say to choose your survival over others,” Wilf explained. She added that she has “no moral qualms about choosing [her] people, [her] survival.”
Wilf described her former view of peace as a matter of territory and resettlement. She said she later realized that it was a “far deeper and serious conflict,” one that involved the Palestinians’ failure to acknowledge that the Jewish people have a claim to the land.
There is no symmetry in the Palestinian and Israeli characterizations of “moderate,” she noted, politically moderate herself. She explained that, on one hand, Israeli moderates recognize the mutual claims to land, while on the other hand, Palestinian moderates deny the Jewish claim to land.
“The Jewish people and the Arab Palestinians are both indigenous to Israel and Palestine. Both have the right to return and settle,” Wilf said, “but they are two different peoples. If they agree for the causes of justice and peace, they will divide the state and will allow minority people to live in each others’ land.”
Wilf said she believes peace will come when both sides acknowledge the mutual and equal right to the land, a process that “might take a century,” she stated. She also included her opinion that, if either side insists that its right is superior, there will be no peace.
Following her talk, Wilf took a number of questions from the audience.
Gabriel Swagel ‘20 asked about the settlement situation. Wilf said that the consensus is that there should be a land swap, whereby the settlers would move to live with their respective group. She noted that a better option would be to keep the settlers where they are; it would be more economical, and there is a social benefit of having minorities in a given society, according to Wilf.
Wilf then raised the question of Zionism. “It is about sovereignty,” she said, “the fact that we govern ourselves, self determination, at no one’s mercy. We come to Israel to be masters of our fate, not slaves to the land.”
She said that she embraces this secular and humanist idea, and she rejects the Messianic view that Zionism is about the land.
Another student asked about the Palestinians’ goals. Wilf referred to an analysis of a British foreign minister, who she said referred to the situation in Israel as an irreconcilable conflict because the Israelis wanted a Jewish state, and the Palestinians wanted to prevent this.
“Arabs have had many opportunities to end the occupations—to have a state,” she said. “Occupations are humiliating and ugly. Every day they have opportunity to end this, but they don’t want humiliation of acknowledging that Jews will be an equal sovereignty next door. That choice speaks to their priorities.”
Wilf said that the Palestinians held the notion that Israel is temporary. “Why are movements on campuses called ‘Justice for Palestine?’ Why not ‘peace?’ Because from their perspective, the injustice to be corrected is Jewish sovereignty.”
Another student asked if the Palestinians would change their mindset. Wilf said she thought so, but it will take time.
“It’s a matter of history and power relations. Jews are cognizant of their status as minority. Their decisions reflect this.”
Wilf said that Israel would have peace when both sides reached “mutual exhaustion” with their respective philosophies. For the Jews, this was the idea that they will drive the Palestinians away; for the Arabs, the idea that the Jews will leave.
Elizabeth Lilly ‘20, who came to the talk, said she found that “the complexity of her viewpoint and that worldview doesn’t perfectly fit into one political faction” to be the most interesting aspect of the talk.
The talk, entitled “A Condition for Peace: What do we mean when we speak of the Jewish State?” took place at Wilf Hall in the Center for Jewish Life at 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 16. It was sponsored by Tigers for Israel.