Women celebrate inside a peace tent erected as part of an event organized by ‘Women Wage Peace,’ near the Jordan River on October 8, 2017.
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
If you ask Palestinians if the Israeli people want peace, the overwhelming answer would be a clear and loud no. If you asked Israelis if the Palestinian people want peace, the overwhelming answer would be a clear and loud no. If you asked Palestinians if they want peace with Israel, their overwhelming answer would be clear and loud yes. If you asked Israelis if they want peace with the Palestinians, their overwhelming answer would be a clear and loud yes. This is what I find when I encounter Israelis and Palestinians from all walks of life on both sides of this conflict. There is a clear and resounding declaration that “we” want peace, but “they” do not – on both sides of the conflict. The insistence of a lack of a partner for peace exists on both sides and that impression has been reinforced daily by both sides for years.
The ultimate decimation of the notion of having a partner for peace occurred following the failure of the Camp David summit of leaders Clinton, Barak and Arafat in July 2000. On the plane ride home from the US, prime minister Barak and his team concocted the myth of “no partner” to blame Arafat for not accepting his “take it or leave it offer.” The Palestinian violence which erupted after opposition leader Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount, put the existence of partners for peace into a deep freeze. Suicide bombings convinced Israelis that there was no one to talk to. Operation Defensive Shield, which reconquered all areas of the PA and put its head under siege, convinced Palestinians that there was no one in Israel to talk to. The Hamas victory in Gaza in 2006 put the possibility of peace out of the minds of most of the international community. But the possibility of partnership re-emerged with the intensive direct negotiations undertaken by prime minister Olmert and president Abbas in 2007-2008. However, Olmert’s indictment and Netanyahu’s eventual victory since then buried the idea of the possibility of a partnership.
To ever renew negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, it is necessary to believe that there are partners for peace on the other side. Israelis and Palestinians have very little reason to believe that there are partners. Both sides receive clear messages every day that the other side is not interested in peace. We have what seems to be a very coherent mutually reinforced negative process to prevent the emergence of trust and confidence that peace is a real option. In the absence of any process of trying to rebuild partnerships for peace, some of our leaders have developed the idea that we can avoid negotiations and bypass Palestinians directly to the Arab Gulf. These people create confusion because they believe that the common threats and some common interests between the regimes in the Gulf and Israel mainly focused on Iran, in order to create an illusion of the possibility of peace. They believe that these regimes will engage fully with Israel and normalize relations while the occupation of Palestine remains intact, Israel continues to build more settlements, east Jerusalem remains under full Israeli control and al-Aqsa is threatened by a decision to divide the Holy Mount between Jews and Muslims. There is no chance for real peace with Arab countries, especially with Saudi Arabia, while the occupation continues.
FAR RIGHTISTS in Israel, some of them central to the ruling coalition government, propose annexing parts or all of the West Bank. Some propose granting some kind of fake citizenship offer to Palestinians who would declare their allegiance to the Jewish State of Israel. This is just a smoke screen. Many of these have their own fake demographers who claim that the number of Palestinians in the West Bank is about half of what it really is. Less democratic ones propose measures that would “encourage” Palestinian abandonment of their homeland, ever for large sums of money. And then messianics among them, including Naftali Bennett, rejoice when antisemitism in America raises its ugly head with the belief that millions of American Jews will make aliyah and remove any demographic threat from Jewish Israel.
Others in the opposition are very frustrated by the lack of decision making by the government on questions regarding mainly what they perceive as the demographic threat of the growing Palestinian and Muslim population between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. These people, led by former generals of the IDF, prefer to adopt the strategy of unilateralism. They propose withdrawing to the separation barrier, removing settlements east of that line, keeping the occupation beyond the line and doing all of this without negotiations and without an agreement.
Perhaps my belief that it is still possible to rebuild cross-boundary partnerships for peace is the most naïve of them all. But maybe not? This has not been tried. There is little doubt that the current government would even try. This I know for a fact. But this is something that the opposition leaders, or those who declare themselves as future leaders, could and should do.
YAIR LAPID will not. He has repeatedly declared his unwillingness to meet with Palestinian leaders or even to allow members of his party in the Knesset to meet with Palestinians. He is not an alternative to Netanyahu, he is only a cheap copy, and we don’t need that. Months ago I proposed the idea to Avi Gabbay that the great challenge he faces as head of the opposition is to rebuild the sense of partnership with the Palestinians and to demonstrate that not only does he propose an idea to change the relationship between Israel the Palestinians and the Arab world, but that he would demonstrate it in reality. He rejected this idea, refusing to meet with Mahmoud Abbas or any one else from the Palestinian leadership and declaring that he would not remove settlements and that the left forgot what it means to be Jewish. He is not an alternative to Netanyahu either.
What about Barak? Gantz? Ashkenazi? Livni? Anyone else? It is not enough to present ideas and promises of what leaders declare and promise that they would do. This has to be backed up by something credible, believable, something that inspires others. The Palestinian leadership is in a deep crisis. Their house is deeply divided and their president has not held elections in 12 years. The majority of Palestinians are young and the next generation of leaders will emerge when Abbas is no longer in power. There are many opportunities for people who put themselves forth as new leaders in Israel. The biggest achievement that they can make is what they can do to inspire us all – that peace is not an empty word and a false promise. A genuine and viable opposition to Netanyahu and his regime must demonstrate a pro-active engagement with Palestinians that will carry with it the ability to demonstrate to Israelis and Palestinians alike that we can re-embrace hope and declare the dawn of a new age.
The author is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to the State of Israel and her peace. His latest book In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine was published by Vanderbilt University Press.