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April 20, 2014

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WHERE I STAND:

New year, but same quest for peace

Rosh Hashana, the year 5772.

Jews around the world last week celebrated the Jewish New Year, which begins 10 days of penitence, culminating in our most solemn holiday, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

The number 5772 is meaningful. Think of 2011 in the Gregorian calendar. That means Jews have been at this a long time, praying for forgiveness, repenting and doing good deeds sufficient to get them inscribed in the Book of Life for another year.

I am not trying to make light of this important religious holiday, in which human beings think seriously about their place in this world and of the very human need to feel part of a much larger plan. What I am thinking about is why, year after year, we keep doing the same things over and over and are surprised when we get the same results.

It doesn’t matter whether we are talking about the U.S. political process — in which people allow themselves to be manipulated toward an end that seems to be going nowhere — or the reality of our daily lives — in which we continue doing only that which we know for fear that trying something different will lead us, well, somewhere different. Or in our business lives when, faced with financial hardships the likes of which none of us has ever experienced, so many of us choose to turn inward toward our fears rather than outward toward the possibility of, well, other possibilities.

For me, and so many other Jews and non-Jews around the world, this is a time for reflection and, yes, change when change is called for. Too many of us are content — out of fear, inertia or habit — to continue doing whatever we did yesterday. What is wrong with thinking anew, trying something different, looking at our problems with a fresh set of eyes or challenging the way we did business yesterday in favor of something radically different today?

I am thinking specifically, because it is a Jewish holiday, of the myriad challenges that define the Middle East. For many decades, the issue of peace between Israel and her Arab neighbors commanded the spotlight of world attention. That spotlight hasn’t moved much in the past 60 years, but it has broadened. No longer is the matter confined to just Israel and her neighbors. Now her neighbors are going through a kind of turmoil that threatens whatever stability has existed in those countries.

And that presents some real opportunity if Israelis and those who are interested in a genuine peace with the Jewish state can think a little differently than they have been.

I have never been a proponent of anything less than a secure Israel at peace with her neighbors. If that were to happen, the possibilities for change in that part of the world would be endless. Imagine unleashing the superior technological advantages in Israel with the incredible entrepreneurial talents in neighboring countries. The hunger that defines the north of Africa could be a thing of the past. The issues surrounding a regional lack of water could be resolved and turned toward a rebirth of the Garden of Eden. And the combined brainpower waiting to be unleashed in that part of the world could create a superpower in business, academia and technology.

Yes, that can all happen if only the people over there could consider changing the way they think about their challenges.

Israel enjoys incredible and well-deserved support among Americans who understand that she is our only democratic ally in the Middle East. Israel is a country that has so many shared values with the United States, as well as shared dreams, that she is a reflection of ourselves in that part of the world.

The horrors of the Holocaust, which gave birth to Israel, have started to fade as newer generations are born and those who have connected us to that inhumane past are leaving us. And the Cold War, which made Israel an absolutely reliable U.S. ally and bulwark against the spread of Communist aggression, has been in a decades-long retreat. Both were reasons for initial, unwavering support from the United States.

Today the world is in need of additional reasons to support that tiny country, which, unbelievably and inexplicably, allows those who murder innocents as a matter of national policy to win the battle for public opinion.

I suppose that when you spend every waking minute trying to defend yourself from bus bombs, suicide bombers and rockets raining indiscriminately on your cities, towns, schools and parks where innocent children play, there is little time for public relations. I don’t just suppose, I know it’s fact.

The fact, however, is that the bad guys, those who care little or nothing about human life, are slowly, inexorably winning over the hearts and minds of countries around the world, those who have their own problems and don’t want to spend the time understanding the problems of others. That is a great danger because Israel, unlike many other countries throughout history, will not allow itself to go gently into the night. Not without one hellacious fight. And no one, not the good people who care about Israel and not the bad people who don’t give a damn, should ever want to witness that eventuality.

The world should reflect during these 10 days of penitence and decide what kind of neighbors we want to be to the Middle East. Do we want to continue, as we have done for six decades, to just pay lip service when it comes to condemning vicious terrorist acts, and worse, provide justification for them? Or should we finally say, “enough,” which means no longer rewarding that kind of behavior (killing innocent children, for example) with any kind of moral justification.

On the other hand, Israel is not completely without blame, although what she does is child’s play compared with the brutality that comes from those arrayed against her. Everyone who pays attention knows that there has to be a two-state solution, if only because Israel cannot be a Jewish state if the West Bank becomes part of that country. And if the West Bank is part of Israel, a Jewish state can no longer be a democracy, which is unthinkable.

Given that logic, much of the West Bank and the settlements built within it will be part of a Palestinian state. So why must Israel continue to poke its finger in the unstable eye of the Palestinian Authority? Just because it can? Or just because it wants to prove a point?

The time has come and gone for the same moves from the same players. How about something different? For example, Palestinians want the U.N. to declare them a state. The U.S., rightly so, has promised to veto such a unilateral move. But, what would happen if Israel were the first country to vote for Palestinian statehood? The borders would have to be negotiated, the capital city — if they still want a piece of Jerusalem — would have to be negotiated, as would other outstanding issues.

And with whom would they have to negotiate? Israel, of course. The reality is nothing much would have changed except that there would be a Palestinian state that the world, as well as Israel, could hold absolutely accountable for any terrorist activity within its borders.

I don’t know if that would work, but it is a different approach to a problem that has yet to be resolved.

Rosh Hashana is a time for such reflection and ideas. And for all those people around the world who wish to please their God by doing a good deed, can you think of a better one?

Peace in the Middle East. Now that would make for a very happy New Year!

Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.