A qualitative difference for the Democratic platform on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Until addressed, any agreement will be much harder to reach and possibly will fail.

June 22, 2016 20:52
4 minute read.
Clinton AIPAC

Hillary Clinton addresses AIPAC in Washington DC. (photo credit: screenshot)


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Assessing the work of the Platform Drafting Committee for the Democratic National Convention, committee member and environmentalist activist Bill McKibben astutely pointed out, “Usually, the platform is a document that – I don’t know how to say this politely – is not well read. And that’s because usually there’s been a clear consensus nominee and they basically put their stump speech into prose and there it is – a platform. This year it’s going to be more interesting, and perhaps a kind of vehicle for bringing everybody together as we head toward the fall.”

A critical area where the committee has an opportunity to make a difference is the role of the next administration in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Whoever is president will focus on the core issues: borders, security, refugees and Jerusalem.

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There is not much left to negotiate with these issues; most have been discussed in the formal negotiations, the Geneva Accords, the Pittsburgh Process, et cetera. In many ways, preventing an agreement from being reached are the issues under the table, because they are the heart of the conflict.

These overlooked issues include emotion, trauma, responsibility, cultural differences, breaking down myths and, related, acknowledgment of and a better understanding of the other. In so many ways, those elements are the real issues.

Until they are addressed, any agreement will be much harder to reach and possibly will fail. It can’t be emphasized enough: we need to turn concrete attention to them, and the platform needs to signal this essential change.

If, when president Clinton had the White House ceremony, both peoples were on the 20 yard line, now they are on their own 30; 70 yards to go now, not 20. To move both people closer to a two-state solution, the United States needs to take advantage of the scores of Palestinian and Israeli people-to-people NGOs within the Alliance for Middle East Peace – underutilized peace assets on the ground that are able to address the aforementioned neglected issues. Their profiles need to be elevated.

This can be achieved with three tangible initiatives:

1) We should encourage members of Congress and other high-level government officials to make site visits, for example, to the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, to remind people of its transformative work.

2) The US should increase the funding it makes available to these organizations, including support of the International Fund of Israeli Palestinian Peace, to raise the profiles and influence of these organizations.

3) We need to get away from looking at Track 1 diplomacy as the only way to solve conflict.

There should be “Full Track” diplomacy which brings together Track 1, Track 2 and Track 3 participants. This conflict, more than any, calls out for that approach. The use of these people- to-people Israeli and Palestinian NGOs from Track 2 diplomacy are essential for this shift.

US policy should include, as advocated by Liel Maghen of the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, “economic incentives for peace,” that will push more people to work together and help break down myths of the other, as well as gain a better understanding of the other.

Reduced to one of its core components, this conflict is about land – more precisely, the borders that nations draw on the land. When we look upon the land solely as a geopolitical instrument, it is viewed as one of the major stumbling blocks to any reconciliation.

However, when we view the land from an environmental perspective – which does not know from political borders, walls or fences – a new framework opens up. Dr. Clive Lipchin of the Arava Institute has pointed out the need to look at watersheds rather than political borders. This has led to work between Palestinians and Israelis in the Besor-Hebron-Beersheba watershed and similar ideas when it comes to the Jordan River watershed.

The US should also consider a social media campaign that clearly denounces violence and promotes a two-state solution.

Edward Hall talks about high-context and low-context cultures: how people of differing cultures communicate and express themselves in ways that people of other cultures can easily misinterpret. In Hall’s rubric, Israel is low-context and the Palestinians are high-context. In his astute book, Culture and Conflict in Egyptian Israeli Relations: A Dialogue of the Deaf, Raymond Cohen makes that point when it comes to Israelis and Egyptians and, by extension, to Israelis and Palestinians.

This is an area where the US needs to be more effective in translating and defining – not only words but also the cultural nuances at those moments when both sides talk past each other through their expressive cultural differences.

McKibben also said, “So let’s hope this one reads differently than the last time around, because the world’s a different place than it was four years ago.” If the Platform Committee addresses the too-long-overlooked issues of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the platform will have a chance to send a qualitatively different message than previous platforms and make a difference.

The author, a rabbi, teaches conflict resolution at Bennington College’s Center for the Advancement of Public Action.

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