But as with any thrill, the emotion recedes from its peaks, and complexities emerge. True, the reassurance of strategic depth, the connection with the cradle of Jewish history, the sheer beauty of those rocky hills and valleys still stir the heart and make glad the mind; for some, enough to make their homes there.
But the accompanying dilemmas demand to make themselves heard: the security benefits versus the rule over another people; the tension of Israel’s Jewish and democratic character with evolving demography; the expenditure of scarce resources on distant communities that serve to entrench a presence, not facilitate its end; the consensus that developed around retaining certain blocs, even as proposals and negotiations foresee a broader withdrawal; the constant and legitimate fight against terror versus the inherent roughness of occupation; the reasonable debate and criticism of certain Israeli policies versus the maddening refusal of Israel's enemies to recognize the very legitimacy of its existence.
For 50 of its 69 years, Israel has lived with these incongruities. They can hardly be considered temporary, and most Israelis know no other reality, even as, in many respects, the country thrives. And they continue to debate their future: two-states, one state, autonomy, annexation, equal rights, federation, confederation, status quo. Everyone has a plan that speaks to them. No one can be sure that any of them will work.
My whole adult life, I have worked on behalf of America, and as an American Jew who deeply identifies with Israel, to advance the cause of ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a negotiated two-state solution, in which both peoples could live secure, at peace, and with mutual recognition. Were it to succeed, it would likely necessitate the uprooting of friends, good people from their homes, people who have worked for coexistence, as well as others who are more extreme, even violent, and deny the rights of others. It seemed to me, and still seems today, the only path to protect the Zionist dream of a secure, Jewish, democratic Israel in the historic homeland of the Jewish people. And the only path that promises Palestinians the self-determination all people deserve.
But it may not happen. What seemed inevitable ten and twenty years ago now feels distant, fading. Palestinian terrorism and weak leadership, Israeli settlement expansion and right-wing governments, rivers of mistrust, and a region on fire all make the prospects of two states anything but inevitable, maybe even unlikely. While keeping that hope alive, and offering support to a new president’s initiative, we have reached a stage where even proponents of two states must begin to talk about alternatives. It is not a happy discussion. They are all worse. The American stake in its relationship with Israel will persist. But standing with Israel as it faces its future means both celebrating its achievements, and facing its challenging reality.
Ambassador Daniel Shapiro is a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS). Ambassador Shapiro served as United States ambassador to Israel from July 2011 to January 2017. Previously, Shapiro served as Senior Director for the Middle East and North Africa at the National Security Council at the White House and in numerous senior advisory positions in the U.S. Congress.
For those under age 50, the Six Day War is literally a lifetime ago. One must consult books and film reels and the accounts of older women and men to understand: the terror that preceded the war; the fear that the young state, only 19 years old, and not a generation removed from the Holocaust, would be overrun; the shock of the lightning defeat of hostile armies; the thrill of the Jewish people being reunited with their holiest places; the pride in the heroes: Dayan, Rabin, Gur, and the paratroopers; the swelling emotion at the singing of Yerushalayim Shel Zahav.