In my regular column in Haaretz, my new article: “The Trump-Netanyahu Meeting and the Chance for Peace”
Shalom (peace) means hashlama (complementing), as vying parties complement each other to make something new and complete.
Last week, US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met for the first time after Trump’s inauguration. The two have known each other a long time and had no qualms about showing that they share a personal friendship beyond the cordial formalities required at such events. If peace had to be negotiated between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Trump, they would probably sign, seal, and deliver the deal before the first press conference.
But Trump is not a party in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The two parties are, well, Israelis and Palestinians, and the Palestinians have a very different take on the desirable solution than we do.
At the press conference following the meeting, President Trump said that he didn’t mind which solution was reached, as long as it was agreed upon by both sides. In his words: “I’m very happy with the [solution] that both parties like. I can live with either one. …If Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I’m happy with the one they like the best.” A little while later he added, “As with any successful negotiation, both sides will have to make compromises,” [turning to Netanyahu], “You know that, right?” To this, Netanyahu quickly replied, “Both sides!”
From Labels to Substance
Later in the press conference, Netanyahu mentioned that he would like to switch from “labels to substance,” meaning to talk about the actual implementation of peace rather than sticking to slogans such as a “two-state solution.”
But how can you talk about peace with a partner who does not want to reconcile with you? In truth, and we should recognize this by now, the only peace that the Palestinians want is the peace of mind of having driven the Jews out of Israel and into the Mediterranean, or to another country, or to another world. Three times they have been offered statehood, one of which included withdrawal from 97 percent of the territories occupied in 1967, as well as the right of return to thousands of Palestinians. To justify their rejection of this offer, Abbas stated, “The gaps were wide” (May 29, 2009).
Indeed, as Netanyahu said, what we are lacking is substance. But substance must begin with understanding the meaning of peace prior to attempting to achieve it. In fact, compromise is not peace; it is merely a cessation of hostilities until one side feels strong enough to completely annihilate the other side.
Instead of compromise, we should look for the real meaning of peace. To most people, “peace” is just a word, a fantasy of slightly “unhinged” youngsters, or a required platitude of politicians during election campaigns and pageant contestants when asked about their vision for a better world. But in reality, as I just showed, there is no peace.
And yet, when we look at nature, we see that despite the constant struggles for survival, nature maintains a balance that fosters growth and prosperity. Surprisingly, the struggles actually contribute to the healthy evolution of species. Rival species complement one another, and by feeding off each other they maintain one another’s health and vitality. The existence of predators guarantees the prosperity of the entire food chain. In some cases, the removal of one species of animals damages not only the ecosystem’s fauna, but also its flora and even the topography of that system.
The Hebrew word for peace, shalom, has nothing to do with compromise. It comes from the word “hashlama,” which means complementing and pertains to a state where contradicting parties complement one another, thereby creating a new and complete creation, which would be lacking without their individual contributions, as portrayed by the example in the link above.
The Primordial Peace Maker
Curiously, the first person to understand the essence of peace was Abraham the Patriarch. Maimonides describes in detail how he searched in nature until he discovered that all forces and all of nature’s seemingly conflicting elements complement each other (Mishneh Torah, Chapter 1).
Abraham did not begin his search out of scientific curiosity; he was troubled by the hatred that erupted among his people and wanted to understand its cause and work out a solution. Abraham observed the builders of the Tower of Babel and realized that their hatred of each other would destroy them. The book Pirkey de Rabbi Eliezer (Chapter 24) writes that “If a man fell and died, they would not pay him any mind. But if a brick fell they would sit down and wail, ‘Woe unto us; when will another come in its place?’” The alienation among the builders got so bad that they “wanted to speak to one another but did not know each other’s language. What did they do? Each took up his sword and they fought each other to the death. Indeed, half the world was slaughtered there, and from there they scattered all over the world.”
Seeing all this hatred, Abraham developed an ingenious method of connection. Instead of forcing people to connect despite their odium, he encouraged them to remain individualistic, and connect with others above their separateness. He didn’t ask anyone to make any compromises. He simply said that our uniqueness complements the uniqueness of everyone else. Others are not rivals, as we think, and together our unique selves make up a whole that is the joint creation of us all. It is like a child, who is the beloved creation of both parents.
Nimrod, King of Babylon, did not agree with Abraham’s notion of connection above hatred and drove him out of Babylon. Abraham set out to Canaan and along the way spoke to anyone who would listen. “Since [people] gathered around him and asked him about his words,” writes Maimonides, “he taught everyone. …Finally, thousands and tens of thousands assembled around him, and they are the people of the house of Abraham.”
The group that Abraham developed lived by a simple principle: They did not try to uproot the hatred between them, but strove to connect above it. This remained the motto of “the house of Abraham,” which later became the Jewish people, until their exile after the ruin of the Second Temple. The wisest of all men, King Solomon, succinctly described this principle in Proverbs (10:12): “Hate stirs strife, and love covers all crimes.”
For Israel, Peace Has Always Been About Complementing
“The essence of vitality, existence, and correction in creation is achieved by people of differing opinions mingling together in love, unity, and peace” (Likutey Halachot [Assorted Rules]). “The Essence of peace is to connect two opposites. Hence, do not be alarmed if you see a person whose opinion is completely opposite to yours and you think that you will never be able to make peace with him. Or, when you see two people who are completely opposite to each other, do not say it is impossible to make peace between them. On the contrary, the essence of peace is to try to make peace between two opposites” (Likutey Etzot [Assorted Counsels]). These and numerous other texts written throughout Jewish history exemplify the idea that peace in Judaism is not the mere absence of war, but is a means to achieve greater unity on a higher level of connection among people.
At the foot of Mt. Sinai, we attained the first level of unity and became a nation after committing to be “as one man with one heart.” Immediately after, we were instructed to be “a light unto nations,” namely to pass on that method for achieving unity to the rest of the world. In essence, that method was the same one that Abraham had developed and intended to share with his countryfolk, the Babylonians. It is therefore not surprising that once the Jews achieved unity, the first thing that they were instructed to do was to share that unity. This is why “Moses wished to complete the correction of the world at that time. … However, he did not succeed because of the corruptions that occurred along the way” (The Ramchal Commentary on the Torah).
Peace in the Time of Hatred
Abraham could not share his wisdom with the Babylonians, and they vanished. So did all other empires that built their might on self-centered might. Only the Jews, though few in number, survived for many centuries through their ability to unite above their hatred. But when they abandoned the law of covering hate with love, they also lost their land and were scattered around the world. To this day, there is not a single Jewish text that attributes the exile of the Jews from the land of Israel to any other reason but internal hatred.
Today, we are back in our land, but we have been given our state by the nations; we did not “earn” it. That is, we did not restore the principle that love covers all crimes, and so internally, we are still in exile. Peace and security will come only when we restore this modus operandi among us. “The prime defense against calamity is love and unity. When there are love, unity, and friendship between each other in Israel, no calamity can come over them,” writes the Maor VaShemesh (Light and Sun). “When Israel have unity, there is no end to their achievements,” adds Noam Elimelech.
We may think that we are few and weak because we are vastly outnumbered against the Arab world. But if we unite, we will overcome all enemies—not through war, but by covering the hatred with love.
Therefore, the first, and most important peace treaty we must sign is not with our Arab neighbors, but with our Jewish neighbors. Here lies the key to solving the Middle East conflict. When we unite, we will truly become “a light unto nations.” All people and all the nations will want to learn the method of connection that Abraham developed, and his disciples and descendants polished and perfected precisely so that today we may come and use it for our benefit.
Once we unite among ourselves, all the nations’ hatred toward us will vanish as though it never existed. For now, the nations’ hatred keeps us from completely dispersing among them. But once we unite among ourselves, we will not need anti-Semitism to keep us together and it will vanish.
This week, thousands of people from all over the world and from all nationalities and faiths will gather at Ganei Hataarucha, Tel-Aviv to unite above their differences. Each and every one of them is a living proof that Abraham’s method works, if you only make a tiny effort to connect. I invite everyone to see this miracle for yourselves. Call 1-700-509-209 and you will find out for yourself what happens where “love covers all crimes.”