Like many of you I have been watching the political gamesmanship involved in US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry working to bring Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table after a three-year hiatus to try to find a way to thread the needle and make enough tangible progress to encourage each of the leaders, their political constituents and their publics to believe again (many for the first time), that peace is more than a dream, it is a necessary outcome in a violent and unstable Middle East.
It would not be a stretch to say that success so far has been minimal. Israel conceded 126 terrorists (from the Oslo days), given up in four allotments including the last by the end of March, as the primary inducement to get the Palestinians back to the negotiating table. That table has been busy over the past eight months but now time is ticking down and the two leaders who joined John Kerry and Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations Martin Indyk are working overtime to blame each other for the failure that seems to be waiting on the horizon. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is ready but says Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is not. Abbas wants peace, but not to go forward during the expansion of settlements. There is Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley, the right of return and the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state all weighing down the meager progress that appears to be held together by the sheer will of John Kerry not to lead the American mediators inevitably to another failure.
So President Obama has met them both in Washington now and told each leader that it is time for tough choices. But there is no agreement in the Knesset or the PA that the time is right to put down their weapons and make peace. The words of key ministers go beyond their leaders in hostility and raising ugly language full of anger and worse against the party at the other end of the peace table.
There have been moments like the recent release of a statement by The Israel Talks in New York that calls for respect for others’ opinions and has been signed by a plethora of New York regional Jewish leaders from Orthodox to Reform and from J Street to AIPAC. It is the hostility between Jews and Muslims and Christians in their own mosques, churches and temples, that denies the groundswell of people over and over again who yearn for peace deep in their hearts. Organizations large and small in Israel, the West Bank, Europe, America and beyond that are pro-peace are calling loudly to their members and friends to get behind the peace process now. But it is not enough.
Too many of us are outside their circle and although we want peace we see all the too many obstacles that stand in the way, recognize the pain, feel the anger and continue to look across at the enemy with evil intent.
Peace cannot be made or kept when so very many people are not a part of it.
We have work to do. Whatever happens in Washington, Jerusalem or Ramallah we have to “seek peace and pursue it” as it says in Psalms. To do so we have to raise our voices and demand a seat at the table. The people have to play a role in realizing peace and that role is to begin an ongoing dialogue with the enemy. Until Palestinians and Israelis sit down together and begin the long process of breaking down the barriers that separate them physically, politically and socially they cannot accept a peace they do not recognize with a people that remains foreign.
We all have to listen to the other’s story, to really hear it with hearts and minds open enough to absorb the pathos and the pain. Many of us will need a great deal of help to overcome our own biases to let the words of others penetrate our defenses. We will need to get help from the international community to make this dialogue large enough to become truly meaningful in the peace process, to make it stick and to get it underwritten by both President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu irrespective of what happens in the formal talks. It will be a People’s Campaign for Peace that ends with two peoples living as neighbors in two independent secure states. It will take all of us to make peace happen.
The author is president of ICMEP, the Interfaith Community for Middle East Peace, a non-profit organization based in suburban Philadelphia, who can be reached at ld.snider@ yahoo.com.