Encountering Peace: A brighter future

Those Israelis and Palestinians who still believe that someday we may actually live in peace have a direct responsibility to go beyond apathy, acceptance of the status quo and despair.

June 27, 2018 22:15
Encountering Peace: A brighter future

US President Donald Trump speaks to reporters while meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, US, June 25, 2018. (photo credit: REUTERS/JONATHAN ERNST)


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From what has been disclosed so far in the media regarding talks held between Trump administration officials, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and several non-Palestinian Middle East leaders in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, there is little reason to believe that US President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” will be anything but a “non-starter.”

In addition to the essentially non-existence of an effective US peace mediation – and an international community that is more than willing to wait for Trump to fail – there is no genuine push from Palestinian or Israeli societies on their leaders to return to the negotiating table, with or without the Americans.

It is difficult to speak about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process after so many years of failure and no negotiations having taken place for more than four years. The leaders of Israel and Palestine have little problem making their claims of not having a partner on the other side for peace. Neither Israelis nor the Palestinians have reason to believe that the other side is sincerely interested in making peace.

The belief in the non-existence of a peace partner on the other side has sunk deep within the narrative of both sides and goes unchallenged across the political spectrum of both peoples. For years now, Palestinians and Israelis have very little contact or interaction – and seemingly very little desire to change that.

On the Palestinian side there is general acceptance of the boycott of Israel, whether it’s called BDS or anti-normalization. Palestinians continue to insist that while they have recognized the State of Israel, they will continue to refuse to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. This strengthens the belief in Israel that the Palestinians will never accept the existence of Israel or the idea of making peace with Israel.

On the Israeli side, even what remains of the Left talks about separation and never mentions cross-boundary cooperation. The right wing in Israel continues a long-held tradition of non-recognition of Palestinian national rights anywhere within the borders “between the River and the Sea” – the Jordan and the Mediterranean. Israeli society seems to be moving swiftly towards partial or complete annexation of area “C” (62% of the West Bank) which would put a fatal blow to the chances of a two-state solution.

What was once called the “peace camp” on both sides has dwindled to its smallest size, struggling for survival amidst the tiny amount of financial resources available to conduct activities attempting to bring enemies together. When there is no official peace process taking place or even within sight, the international community devotes its financial resources elsewhere.

BUT THIS article is not about money. Israelis and Palestinians are not going anywhere and neither side will surrender to the other. Neither side will give up its demands for the recognition of their territorial and national rights. While our leaders, on both sides, have failed us in delivering a pathway towards peace, we – the citizens of Israel and Palestine – must take steps, against the tide, to ensure a brighter future.

Physical face-to-face meetings between Israelis and Palestinians have never been more difficult to arrange. Walls and fences might be necessary and appropriate during times of acute violence, like during the Second Intifada, but these are not the walls and fences that build peace and understanding.

The Oslo peace process brought with it the creation of a regime of restricted movement and a geography of fear. The huge red signs posted at the entrance of Palestinian towns and cities, warning Israelis that entering the area is risky to their safety and their lives, are very effective at keeping Israelis in a constant state of fear of Palestinians. It is illegal, by Israeli military orders, for Israelis to enter areas under the direct control of the Palestinian Authority. Palestinians cannot enter Israel without a permit from the Israeli army and those permits are not so easy for an ordinary Palestinian citizen to receive.

Those objective realities are difficult enough – then there are the political and social pressures which discourage contact with the other side. In a situation where most Israelis and most Palestinians are convinced that there are no partners for peace on the other side, it is very difficult to break barriers and to create hope. In fact, this is the least hopeful period that I remember since the very dark days at the end of 2000-2003, during the blackest days of the Second Intifada.

Those Israelis and Palestinians who still believe that someday we may actually live in peace have a direct responsibility to go beyond apathy, acceptance of the status quo and despair. I am constantly asked: “What can I do?” My answer is: “Find someone on the other side to talk to.”

But it is not that simple. Just talking usually ends up in just arguing. Just arguing strengthens preconceptions, stereotypes and leads to more despair.

What is first required is just to listen. And asking probing questions with the aim of understanding, deeply, with empathy and compassion. That goes for both sides of the conversation. We Israelis and Palestinians need to get back to addressing each other at the most basic human level, because we have gone through too many years of mutual dehumanization.

Yes, we need to go beyond words. We must go beyond dialogue. But there is so little dialogue taking place, and almost none at the non-organized level, that we must all relearn how to take the baby steps necessary for walking forward.

So much destruction to the basic idea that peace might be possible has occurred over the past almost two decades; a whole generation of Israelis and Palestinians needs to go back to the beginning. Perhaps this will lead to new pathways for mutual acceptance and future peace.

The author is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to the State of Israel and to peace between Israel and her neighbors. His latest book In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine was published by Vanderbilt University Press.

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