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Savir's corner: Own goals
By URI SAVIR
19/06/2014
In these days of the World Cup I am reminded of a football match that I organized in the Rome Olympic stadium in the year 2000, under the auspices of Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat.
 
The soccer Mondial in Brazil is attracting the attention and passion of billions in the world.

The most under-represented region in this world gathering is the Middle East. Only Algeria qualified, as a representative of Africa. All other Arab countries and Israelis stayed home to watch with frustration and envy for their international peers on television.

In our region, passions run high on conflict and scoring political goals in diplomatic battlefields.

This is a game that is detrimental to the people of the Middle East. Everybody in it is offside from the globalized world. Most goals scored are own goals.

The “stars” in this game – the political leaders – are champions in inflicting harm on their own side.

Take Israel and Palestine. In a competition of own goals, they could easily win the trophy.

Each side in this political conflict is convinced that it can score points and gain assets by inflicting harm on the other and that the best way to win this conflict is to pursue it, the motto being “your loss is my gain” – not comprehending that the future and fortune of each side are interdependent.

An Israel that is threatened in its security, or in the sense of security of its citizens, is a more aggressive Israel. An Israel that is more delegitimized by Arab rhetoric will not feel the confidence necessary to make difficult compromises. When Palestinians cheer at the abduction of three youngsters by Palestinian zealots, they do not comprehend the devastating impact on Israeli political opinion that would oppose compromise.

Similarly, a Palestine that is more oppressed by Israeli occupation will be less inclined to cooperate with Israel to prevent terrorism. Israeli settlement construction creates despair with the Palestinians, who see their state being robbed by settlers. Israeli governmental rhetoric of dictating to the Palestinians has a humiliating effect on the Palestinians, who will then resist.

This is the nature of chain reactions within a vicious cycle, until the conflict spirals out of control.

As a result both sides lose life, livelihood, security, and independence; the young generation remains with no vision of hope in sight.

Israel announces, virtually every Monday and Thursday, the establishment of new housing units in the West Bank, in order to “punish” the Palestinians.

As a result the Palestinians give up any hope of negotiations and will resist initially, politically, and in the international arena – and in time by being soft on preventing violence.

Israel has only lost from these policies and attitudes.

The Palestinian Authority has decided to go hand in hand with Hamas before Gaza has renounced terrorism. In the eyes of the Palestinian leadership, it is a show of force against Israel and to the world. As time will tell, real unity it is not.

Have the Palestinians gained anything from this move besides some temporary publicity for Abbas? The contrary is true. The Palestinians have convinced even the more pragmatic Israeli parties that they are not a stable partner. They are on the defensive internationally and aid from the United States is challenged.

Teaming up with the sons of the Muslim Brotherhood does not improve the image of their cause.

And yet most of the public on both sides cheer such nationalistic policies; public opinion has become blind to the fact that each side has lost major strategic assets in the process.

Every settlement house constructed in the West Bank is another brick in the wall of Israel’s international delegitimization. It is another step that will make a two-state solution impossible.

The abduction of Israelis or every missile fired from Gaza on Israel’s South penetrates the heart of the Palestinian cause. It impinges on the necessary resolve of Israel to compromise and it makes the legitimate Palestinian case unpopular. This is even more the case since the establishment of the unity government.

There are many examples of this self-defeating bravado.

Every speech of Netanyahu denouncing Abbas as a friend of the terrorists, with his typical flair of superiority, distances the pragmatists in Palestine from the option of negotiations.

Every roadblock Israel establishes harassing the free movement of thousands of Palestinians each day creates humiliation that is seeks its revenge.

Every unrealistic, tough position on settlement blocs in the negotiations with John Kerry ensures the collapse of these talks.

Every instruction from the Netanyahu government to AIPA C to work against economic aid to the Palestinian authority, and AIPA C’s docile compliance with it, not only undermines the Israel-friendly Obama administration, but if accepted will bring about the collapse of a poor and chaotic Palestinians Authority into the hands of the Israeli occupier.

Every official Palestinian TV program on freeing all of Palestine from the Jews drives more Israelis into the arms of the settlers.

Every ”no” to John Kerry’s framework agreement by Abbas, expecting perfection rather than the good language of diplomacy, gave Netanyahu a good alibi to break the peace process. Every attempt of violence from Gaza or the West Bank convinces Israel that the 1967 lines are too big a security risk.

In this tragedy of errors, when both sides take ultra-unrealistic positions, they harm their own cause and interests. Together they could be in the Guinness Book of Records for own goals.

What Israel and Palestine must comprehend before it’s too late is that our two destinies are intertwined and interdependent. Without Palestine as a fully independent state there is no Israel as a Jewish democracy. Without Israel there is no Palestine as an independent Arab state.

Such a win-win situation can only come about through an historic compromise and cooperation between the two states.

The alternative of Israel deepening its occupation is tantamount to national suicide; similarly, violence and terrorism by the Palestinians is tantamount to abandoning the Palestinian state.

We are at a crossroads and stand before a historic choice: We can continue to fight, hate, and blame each other. Israel may sense a gain by further subordinating the Palestinians. Palestine may sense a gain by further terrorizing Israelis. This equation will not end in a win-win situation, but result in a loss for both.

The dilemma is obvious: One can either gain for ultra-nationalism or for the nation. The two contradict.

Points for Bennett’s blue and white team and his coalition partners are defeating the Israeli dream and undermining the nation’s future; points for Hamas’s green team and its governmental partners are nails in the coffin of the Palestinian state.

These nationalistic policies and attitudes will lead to violence and to a catastrophe for both sides.

The alternative to extreme nationalism is good patriotism on the Israeli side, to further the Zionist dream according to the values of equality and peace inscribed in the Declaration of Independence, caring for a safe future for the young, and investing in their education and health rather than in the settlements.

On the Palestinian side good patriotism is to continue on the strategic path of 1993; the path of achieving a state by peaceful means and negotiations, caring for the nation-building process and the wellbeing of the young.

The two patriotisms can coexist in a just compromise and mutually beneficial cooperation.

In short, we either live together or hang together.

In these days of the World Cup I am reminded of a football match that I organized in the Rome Olympic stadium in the year 2000, under the auspices of Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat (who attended the match). On one team played a combination of the national teams of Israel and Palestine and on the other, a mixture of Italian professional players and celebrities such as Pelé and Sean Connery. The revenue from the game went to the creation of football fields for the kids in the two countries.

The Israeli and Palestinian players, suspicious of each other, initially hardly looked at each other or passed each other the ball; until finally one of them scored a goal. Then 50,000 spectators cheered and the Palestinian and Israeli players, as is common in football, embraced each other in joy.

It was not an own goal.

Uri Savir is the honorary president of the Peres Center for Peace and the founder of the Yala Peace Movement and the former chief negotiator of the Oslo Accords. Edited by Barbara Hurwitz.
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