Listening these days to Israeli and Palestinian leaders, one might think that we are all facing a mortal threat in the form of Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Binyamin Netanyahu depicts the peace era as a tsunami of existential threats – Tel Aviv will be under constant missile attacks from the West Bank, planes will not be able to land in Ben-Gurion Airport, Palestinian immigrants will flood Israeli cities, Hamas will conquer the West Bank and Jordan will fall into the hands of fundamentalists.
Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) describes the same period as an ongoing Israeli occupation, an ethnic cleansing of the West Bank and a Jewish conquest of the Jerusalem mosques.
They are in the process of making absolutely sure that not a single soul in Israel or Palestine will back a peace deal. Both play on the most powerful of human sentiments – fear of an unknown future.
This rhetoric is not only detrimental to the peace process, but is poisoning the minds and hearts of the two constituencies, especially the young. If this is what the people who are supposedly in the know believe, then peace is a danger, not a promise.
These pronouncements of the political leaderships are unfortunately quite sincere; the good thing about our prime minister is that he often says what he thinks; the bad thing is that he actually thinks what he says. These “peace warnings” stems from a deep mutual suspicion.
Netanyahu and Abbas are mental victims of conflict rather than conflict- solvers.
Both are chefs d’orchestras with some virtuoso performances by their colleagues, be it Saeb Erekat, with his ridiculous implication that Israel wants to kill Abbas, or our “bogey man,” Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who, in a rare outburst of diplomatic gallantry, was prepared to buy John Kerry a one-way ticket to Oslo for a Noble Peace Prize as long as he doesn’t bother us with an American peace obsession. To be obsessive about peace has become a insult.
With such a mindset, peace will not happen. Peacemaking needs tremendous courage. Unpopular decisions have to be made with mutual concessions in order to achieve compromise. The post-conflict era is generally characterized by prolonged instability in the transition from warfare to cooperation. The real fruits of peace can often be reaped years after the negotiations. Yet peace is of existential importance, a natural human condition to fulfill individual and collective potential, as well as a moral choice.
It is happening elsewhere. There have been many relative successes – South Africa defeated apartheid without significant bloodshed, Northern Ireland achieved a seemingly impossible reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants, the former Yugoslavia did the same for Muslims and Christians, and, even in Rwanda, after the genocide in which one million people were slaughtered, Hutu and Tutsi live in peace.
None of these peace processes is perfect – there remains some instability, some violence and some development hurdles; yet in all of them, there is progress, economic development and new hope.
In these regions, the difference was made by leaders who had the courage to break with conventional wisdom and make peace with the enemy – such as did Nelson Mandela, David Trimble and Paul Kagame.
Their peace processes have proven that peace is not something that just happens or that has an outcome that one can prophesize. Peace needs courageous decisions, the creation of new partnerships and day-to-day work to turn peace into relative security and economic development. Peace is imperfect, but the imperfection of peace is better than the perfection of war.
As the Kerry-led process is now coming to a crunch, Netanyahu and Abbas must stop making maximalist demands and describing only worst case scenarios.
Peace is neither a curse nor a gift from heaven. It must be crafted by leaders and supported by the people. It is a test of leadership.
For Israeli-Palestinian peace to succeed, it must include several key components: • The permanent-status deal must address future benefits for both nations.
After the problems of the past are solved, a new border is created between two states; people will expect peace dividends, mainly in the form of a dramatic and significant upgrading of their economic well-being, especially the young middle class. Peace must open up, through investments and cooperation, educational and employment opportunities, by linking the peace economies to the globalized world. Improved economies will also strengthen security as people have more to lose.
• A peace deal must reflect a balance of interests – a win-win situation. Both sides want to mistakenly win the peace negotiations; yet only when both sides gain equally can peace be sustained in the long run.
• Peace must reflect the interests of the people and be legitimized by them. The current political leaders speak mostly out of their immediate political interests, in nationalistic slogans. The people must be included in the decision-making process, through peace referendums, and in the peace-building process through people-to-people cooperation.
When Israelis and Palestinians meet, they generally get along. Too few have had this experience. Peace must be participatory, through joint programs such as city-to-city cooperation, youth exchange programs, and on social networks.
This will, with time, break suspicion and prejudice.
• There must be, on both sides, zero tolerance for violence. Peace treaties tend to raise the voice of nationalistic and religious opposition, which rebel with violence. Realistically, this cannot be totally prevented, but the policies of the governments have to fight violent oppositions without compromise.
• An Israeli-Palestinian deal must be strengthened by the rest of the Arab world. It would be the third peace treaty in the region after the agreements with Egypt and Jordan. While the peace treaties did not turn into warm, neighborly relationships, they were of tremendous strategic significance for all parties, by saving lives, strengthening security, economy and relations with the world.
This can also be true for peace with Palestine, the most important one. It must be coupled, according to the Arab Peace Initiative, with full normalization of relations between Arab countries and Israel, and lead to economic and regional cooperation.
Such cooperation will include linkages of infrastructure and international investment in regional ventures.
The economic growth rate in the region would grow to above 5 percent.
• The United States and Europe can contribute significantly to a stable and sustainable Israeli-Palestinian peace.
US-Israel security relations could be upgraded up to a formal defense pact.
Israel’s position in NATO could be upgraded through a partnership agreement, aside from tactical security arrangements. The Americans, together with the EU, would, with peace, increase economic investment in Israel and Palestine, upgrade trade relations and increase tourism.
These components can make peace into a sustainable equation of mutual interests. Peace is dynamic and its content depends on the ability of leaderships to strengthen their country’s national security through bilateral and multilateral agreements.
First and foremost, peace must be a people’s peace, to reflect the interest of the people, mainly the next generations of both sides. It is therefore necessary for our political leaders to stop frightening us about the dangers of peace and start working for the opportunities of peace; stop derogating our future peace partners and speak in a new language about the values of peace. This is not a real-estate deal; it is a transformation of hate and killings to mutual respect and life, from destroying economies to growing them. Above all, it is an attitudinal and educational transformation to give up on defeating the other side, on revenge, on superiority, and to embrace equality, mutual respect and understanding.
These leaders warn us of the dangers of peace, mainly because they are afraid themselves of taking the necessary decisions to make peace. It is they who have to be warned, that if they don’t lead us in the direction of a peaceful future, they will be replaced.
The writer is honorary president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.
Barbara Hurwitz edited this column.