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Encountering Peace: The stage is set for the final act
By GERSHON BASKIN
03/12/2012
We have bought into the myths that they have woven together to justify our inability to grasp at opportunities for real change and breakthroughs to peace.
 
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s speech at the UN was a bad one. I could explain that he was speaking to his own public after a war in which Palestinians were killed, and his people were angry.

I could point out that throughout the world experts noted that the one real loser of the Gaza war was Abbas and his Palestinian Authority.

It is also noteworthy that the Palestinian leader was backed into the corner of going to the United Nations with no apparent other choice, and that not doing so would have been the final death blow to his own political career. All of this is true, but Abbas could have still used the international podium for a different kind of speech that would have addressed the Israeli public positively and would have scored a lot more points for the cause of Palestine.

Ambassador Ron Prosor’s speech was also a bad speech, although not as bad as Abbas’. Great speeches are those used to launch a new policy, to change consciousness, and to signal new opportunities. The Palestinian and Israeli UN speeches were old news, bad news and missed opportunities, once again.

The cause that both sides should have addressed is ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a negotiated agreement that would provide security for both peoples and mutual recognition of the existence of two nation-states living side by side in peace. That could have been reality had the antagonism and threats surrounding the Palestinian move in the UN been replaced by mutual agreement to utilize the UN resolution as a stepping stone to renewed negotiations.

A deal was on the table that entailed Israel accepting the resolution, Palestinian agreement not to take legal steps against Israel in the International Court of Justice or the International Criminal Court while both sides enter intensive ongoing negotiations on the two-states-for-two-peoples solution. The opportunity was lost and now the cycle of revenge has begun.

This scenario provides the finest raw material for spin doctors planning the Israeli election campaigns, and the populists are already competing for the best play against Abbas and the Palestinian people. With only elections in sight, there is no thinking whatsoever about the day after.

Who is going to pick up the pieces when the PA is in financial collapse and perhaps political turmoil? Right now the only mutuality and reciprocity in play leads us to a mutually injurious stalemate, a situation in which neither party thinks it can win without incurring excessive loss, and in which both will suffer from a continuation of fighting.

WE HAVE moved into the “lose-lose” phase of this conflict and leaders on both sides seem to have adopted it fully within the mindset of, “We will think about tomorrow, tomorrow, or the day after that.”

We, the people, on both sides, have embraced our leaders and their lack of wisdom and vision. We have bought into the myths that they have woven together to justify our inability to grasp at opportunities for real change and breakthroughs to peace. We want peace but the other side clearly does not. We are a peace-loving people but the other side incites, teaches hatred and racism, and denies our right to exist.

This conflict, despite all of the conventional wisdom to the contrary, is resolvable. The parameters for peace are known, the negotiations on all of the issues have been conducted over years. We can learn the lessons of previous failures and create the means for better chances for success. Public opinion research on both sides demonstrates the potential for majorities to support a deal which would provide both sides with enough relative justice to bring this conflict to an end.

Leaders and public figures on both sides enjoy much more popular support when they transmit the opposite message – peace is not possible, there is no one to make peace with, how can you even suggest talking to the terrorists on the other side? That self-admiration and praise to one’s own side and the venomous attack of the other are the measure of the popularity of both message and messenger is the sign of societies suffering from conflict fatigue. We deal with this through a combination of prescriptive reliefs: avoidance, evasion, escapism, blaming and naming, inflicting pain on the other side even when it hurts us, with a total inability to see any way of changing our plight.

Our two societies are in desperate need for a game changer, a new voice, a vision of hope with the ability to deliver. We need a dramatic act with the ability to capture our imaginations and allow us to go beyond the deadlock of immovability. The alternative is what we have and what we know. And what we have, what we know and where we are going is to another round of violence.

The stage is set, the players are ready, and the show is about to begin again, but the final act has yet to be written.

Will the producers use the same old tragic ending? The audience can help to decide, but will it? Will the spectators quietly wait until the theaters goes up in flames or will someone yell “fire” before the match is lit?

The writer is the co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit.
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