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If Arabs with sechel have their say, Palestinians will have their state
November 30th, 2001
Chicago — Sechel is not only my favorite Yiddish word, it is my favorite word. It so well captures the essence of something that you can’t really put into words, but that you recognize when it’s there.
Sechel is just plain smarts, a grasp on what really is and really counts, that cuts and sees through it all, that guides you to do the right thing the right way at the right time, to size up what’s really going on, to see where someone really comes from, to understand what does and doesn’t matter.
You either got it or you don’t. If you do, you are blessed. If you don’t, oy va voy.
The Jewish people, as a people, have sechel. Not every individual Jew has it, of course, but collectively we do. That, more than anything, has allowed us to navigate all we’ve had to navigate these last 3,000 years.
The Palestinians, collectively, don’t have sechel. As former Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban said, the Palestinians “have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” It takes no sechel to do that.
The Palestinians, from 1947 to this very day, have shown absolutely no sechel. If they had, they would have had an independent Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital, and it would have flourished just as Israel has these past 50 years.
But Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion had sechel and said yes in 1947, though the Jewish state he said yes to did not include the Western Wall, our holiest site.
The Palestinians said no and so still do not have their own state. Just think how different everything would have been if they had only said yes in 1947. If they only had sechel.
Even sadder is that they still don’t have it. Camp David in 2000 gave them another chance to say yes, to have their own state, with Jerusalem as its capital. But again it was no.
Both here to stay
One of the side effects of not having sechel is that you always blame others for your tsuris. So Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat keeps blaming Israel because he didn’t say yes.
Arafat had his chance to show some sechel but didn’t, wouldn’t, couldn’t. Nothing good or productive will ever come from him. But that doesn’t mean that’s the end of the story.
A way must be found for Israelis and Palestinians to live together. Neither one is going away, both are here to stay, the land is tiny, they’re stuck with each other.
That’s the reality. So we either figure out some way for both of us to live or we both keep suffering.
What’s most needed is not another speech by the U.S. Secretary of State or another plan or report, no more visits by prime ministers, no more addresses to the United Nations, no more commissions or high-level envoys or fact-finding missions or proposals. What’s most needed is sechel. In fact, that’s all that’s needed.
Face it, we all know how this is going to turn out, what needs to be done, what is fair, what will work best, what gives enough to, asks enough from and respects the needs and sensitivities of each side.
All the hard stuff is easy. All the questions have answers. All the problems have solutions. All that’s missing is sechel. With sechel, anything is possible.
Which is why, I’m feeling kind of optimistic, hopeful even. Recently I saw, for the first time ever, the glimmer of Arab sechel.
First, King Abdullah of Jordan recently called on the entire Arab world to recognize Israel’s right to exist. Abdullah said that for there to be a Palestinian state, all 22 Arab nations must give a formal and collective guarantee of Israel’s security.
What is stunning about this is that it shows so much sechel. It makes so much sense, is so right. And once done, it would change everything.
It would be good for the Arabs, for it would introduce them to reality. It would be good for the Jews, showing we are finally being accepted into the neighborhood. At that point, the deal we all know is eventually going to come would be here.
Amazingly, Abdullah’s sechel was echoed by two leaders one least expects to have sechel. Libya’s Col. Muamar Gadhafi proposed a pan-Arab declaration recognizing Israel if Israel will agree for east Jerusalem to be the Palestinian capital. Iran’s President Mohammad Khatami said he was prepared to recognize Israel if the Palestinians did.
Most significant of all, I saw Palestinian sechel from Sari Nusseibeh, a name I pray we will become very familiar with in the coming years.
>Nusseibeh was recently appointed as the P.A. minister in charge of Jerusalem affairs. He is also president of Al-Quds University in Jerusalem. So what he says matters.
He said, in public, to the Arabic language press, that if there is to be peace, Palestinians have to give up their demand for the “right of return” for refugees who fled their homes in Israel during the 1948 War of Independence. Such a demand, he said, is a “deal breaker” that Israel will never accept.
Incredibly, the secheless Palestinians have been insisting on the “right of return,” even though Israel never would or could agree to having four to five million Arab refugees and their descendants be allowed into Israel. Yet, the Palestinians have continued to insist on it, ensuring there will never be a deal.
Nusseibeh finally called them on it. Forget about it, he told his fellow Palestinians. Not going to happen. Drop it.
“The Arab world and the Palestinian leadership have to take another look at what’s possible,” Nusseibeh said. “Rather than allow people to continue dreaming an unattainable dream, replace it with a dream that can” come to life. Sechel in action.
My grandfather Yosef, of blessed memory, was a farmer in Czechoslovakia before the Holocaust. I don’t think he voluntarily gave up his farm or transferred title to it. Therefore, it should rightfully be mine.
Now, I could struggle and demand it back, or I can figure that farm won’t ever be mine and I had better move on.
That’s what Nusseibeh is telling the Palestinians: If you want to get anywhere and make your lives better, if you want to engage in productive efforts to build your future as opposed to futile obsessions with your past, it’s time to say good-bye to the “right of return” and say hello to sechel.
One can only hope enough Palestinians will have the sechel to listen.
Joseph Aaron is editor and publisher of the Chicago Jewish News.