‘RACISM IS not me,’ this image from the Bokra Facebook page promoting coexistence proclaims in Hebrew and Arabic..
(photo credit: BOKRA.NET)
Years ago I gave a talk about the puzzle of peace in the Middle East, and divided a poster into more than 50 pieces that I named and tried to explain. It wasn’t a bad show and tell and it enabled me to put Turkey and Terrorism on the same page with Iran and Peace. Making it coherent was the trick, and I did OK back then. But the world has changed and there are some new pieces on the board along with Hamas and Hezbollah, and some new leaders, beginning with Islamic State (ISIS) and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
America’s role has shifted to allow others, such as Russia, to fill the vacuum and play a new and larger role in orchestrating the future of both Syria and the region.
To begin to address the role of the principals in a hostile and unforgiving region I will add in a large player: the United Nations. In its infancy it settled the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the British retreated by structuring a Partition Plan that as everyone knows collapsed under the weight of Arab vs. Israeli nationalism and the ensuing war that conveyed independence to one people and a Nakba, or catastrophe, to another that was not well represented by the invading armies of Egypt, Syria, Transjordan and Iraq, who were joined by contingents from Yemen, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Sudan.
Today the UN is often seen as a less than impartial player that has tried to pass dozens of resolutions against the State of Israel through its Security Council only to be blocked again and again by the long-standing vision of the US to directly mediate negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis. These days the failure of the Obama administration to create, engage in and carry peace talks all the way to a final-status agreement has prompted France to lead a European effort that just may provide an American president with the opportunity to abstain on a UN resolution after the November elections and make one last bet on peace before he leaves office in January 2017.
But times have changed and along with the emergence, development and metasticization of ISIS the US itself changed the dynamics of the Middle East and far beyond not only through its premature pull-out from Iraq which enhanced the regional authority of Iran but even more forcibly by managing the Iranian nuclear deal and handing over more than $100 billion in exchange for relative Iranian compliance.
The challenges to Israel are growing with the continuing destruction of the central government in Lebanon, the decimation of Syria, the spread of an ISIS affiliate to the Sinai and the ability of Iran to expand its support of Hamas and other anti-Zionist entities throughout the region and beyond. The 1,000-year Sunni- Shi’ite conflict has been re-energized by the US and its allies and so-called enemies who are not only buying oil from Iran but selling it everything they can, including Russian and Chinese advanced weapons systems that will help to make Iran virtually invulnerable to any potential Israeli attack on its nuclear sites.
So along with all of the new and escalating threats, Israel is facing an “Internet intifada” that sends children (Palestinian teenage boys and girls) as well as others into Jerusalem and Hebron and many other sites with knives and additional arms to kill Israelis and become martyrs.
Even as this happens the Palestinians are engaged in an international boycott campaign to delegitimize Israel and disrupt trade and academic relations. In this climate the Israeli Left, led by MK Isaac Herzog, has said the only way to preserve two states as a potential for the future is to further separate Israelis and Palestinians now by finishing the Security Wall.
It is increasingly difficult for Israelis and Palestinians to meet, to talk and to carry on their lives together with all the physical and emotional barriers that have been constructed between them. Palestinians have a full-fledged policy of anti-normalization which reinforces and underlines the division because of the costs it applies to breaking the policy. All of this makes talk of two states seem like pie in the sky, unless we start with some positive steps.
I believe in dialogue. There is enough international money to support a National Dialogue Project that brings Israelis and Palestinians together respectfully to listen to each other’s story and build positive relations. To make it meaningful it has to move on a separate track from politics while being formally endorsed by both leaders. Incitement by politicians, media and public and private institutions must be relinquished as a means of accepted communication again in part through the formal endorsement of both leaders.
Israel can then choose to take a number of steps to relieve pressure on the West Bank and the Palestinian Authority can move to eliminate violent protests at checkpoints and other choke-points throughout its territory. As stress is relieved it is possible to look forward to the advantages of working with like-minded regional partners to promote a peace process that ensures security for Israelis and Palestinians alike and creates economic advantages while moving assiduously toward the day when an independent Palestinian state makes sense again to both peoples.The author is president of ICMEP; Interfaith Community for Middle East Peace an NGO based in suburban Philadelphia. He can be reached at email@example.com.