Encountering Peace: Moving from despair to hope

On the battlefield for peace those on the front line confront a combined force made up of cynicism, hate, fear, anger, and a lot of despair.

June 12, 2013 21:49
Netanyhau arrives for weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusaelm, May 26, 2013

Netanyahu walking 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Menahem Kahana/Pool)

On the battlefield for peace those on the front line confront a combined force made up of cynicism, hate, fear, anger, and a lot of despair. This powerful combined force is met face-to-face with the exact same ingredients on the opposite side. The battlefield has been controlled by the nay-sayers, the fear mongers, the threat producers and their arsenal of “facts” woven together neatly into a shield of excuses explaining why, while we clearly want peace, the other side clearly does not.

The low intensity of the warfare may create the sense that our positions are strong and the status quo is acceptable, but it will not last for long. In this battle as it is currently shaped, using the same “weapons” for the past decades, there are only losers. It is time for the nay-sayers and the die-hard pessimists to give way to those who can recreate hope, those who know how to negotiate a deal, those who can deliver the promise of peace and security for all of the people living in the land between the river and the sea.

While the pessimists are busy doing their usual thing, changes are taking place, mostly under the radar, perhaps, but some blips are beginning to appear on the screen. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has essentially frozen settlement building outside of the blocs he assumes will be annexed to Israel in the framework of an agreed-upon border with the Palestinians.

This goes beyond taking into account the pressure from the United States; it indicates the beginning of real thinking and perhaps real planning of a border between Israel and the Palestine – the first step toward implementing the two-state solution.

Secretary Kerry is coming back and expecting to begin the process of getting definitive answers from both parties on key questions of substance that will enable the beginning of the weaving together of the package of trade-offs that will shape a peace treaty. The Palestinian side has been engaged in a process of deep internal consultation to define their positions, that Kerry will try to match with Israel’s. It is entirely possible that as real substance will be dealt with, the existing preconditions may find themselves anachronistic, and the issues themselves can be placed on the negotiating table rather than providing excuses for not talking.

While this process is getting under way both leaders should begin to consider what they can do to affect positive public opinion change within their own camps, that will provide support for accepting the deal that will provide profound benefits but will also include significant concessions on positions currently verbalized and attributed to themselves.

Instead of hiding behind denials of any change in the building map in Judea and Samaria, Netanyahu should come out boldly and admit to the public that we are working on the delineation of a permanent border for the State of Israel that will enable us to become a normal state with borders instead of a state with provisional borders that we have been since our birth in 1948. Israeli citizens will be provided with the security of knowing that the Palestinian state, next to Israel, will be demilitarized and definitive security measures will be in place that will guarantee that the Palestinian state will not become a base for terror attacks against Israel.

Abbas should begin telling his public that as the end of the occupation comes into sight, Palestinians need to recognize that the task ahead is the hard work of state building and transforming the Palestinian core identity from the memory of suffering, catastrophe and refuge into rebirth and renewal.

Abbas can also turn to the Palestinian people in Gaza and call on them to prepare themselves to become part of the dream of statehood, independence and dignity, by removing their nay-sayers from power and reuniting the Palestinian house in the fulfillment of the vision of peace for themselves and peace with their neighbors.

This is not merely a pipe dream. The work of making peace is hard work and there is much to do and many hard decisions to make. Reaching agreements on the formula of peace is only the first step. The implementation of those agreements will take years and need to be carried out and advanced based on the positive performance of both sides of the full undertaking of their obligations within the treaties.

We know that we will need trusted monitors and verifiers whose task it will be to indicate when treaty obligations and commitments have been fulfilled and when they are not; those monitors and verifiers will be called to assist in resolving disputes as they arise.

Risks will have to be managed and mitigated for both sides as much as possible because we simply cannot allow ourselves to fail once again in this process, which has already taken too long to materialize into real peace. As we begin to progress both sides should take significant steps to indicate that they are serious and prepared to be a responsible partner.

Israel should agree to release the 123 pre-Oslo prisoners who committed their crimes before the peace process began more than 20 years ago. This would be a very good signal, one of the best to the Palestinian people; that the paramount way to free their people from Israeli prisons is through peace and not through abducting Israeli soldiers and citizens.

Abbas should demonstrate his commitment to peace by confronting head-on the incitement and hate language existing within his own camp and removing it forever from public sphere.

It is also now time to take on the refuseniks and pessimists and to begin to create hope. It is quite amazing how optimism and hope can transform obstacles into challenges and challenges into opportunities. Caution, careful planning and intelligent, rational, constructive negotiating are the ingredients that our leaders need to deploy now and give this, perhaps last opportunity for peace a real chance.

The author is 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.

His new book, Freeing Gilad: the Secret Back Channel, has been published by Kinneret Zmora Bitan in Hebrew.

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