This week, I had a conversation with a very kind and intelligent right-wing religious woman. She said to me, “please write something kind about us right-wingers.” I told her that on a personal level, I have nothing against right-wing Israelis – we simply have opposing political views regarding our lives on this land.
I said to her what I believe is axiomatic, yet I am not sure that she accepted it: There are two peoples, roughly equal in size, who are living on the land between the river and the sea, who both claim that they are the rightful owners. Our challenge is to find a way to live together in peace.
My brief conversation with her led me to think if I could come up with a set of “truths” that would be agreeable to the majority of Israelis (Right and Left, religious and non-religious) and Palestinians (from the PLO and from Hamas). This was quite a big challenge.
I came up with the following:
• Between the river and the sea there are two peoples, roughly equal in numbers – the Jewish Israeli people and the Palestinian people.
• Both sides claim ownership over all of the land between the River and the Sea.
• Both sides claim that they give their identity to the land.
• Both sides claim that they take their identity from the land.
• Both sides claim that they were here first.
• Both sides claim a religious link and a divinely inspired claim to the land.
• The whole of the land is important to the Palestinian people.
• The whole of the land is important to Jewish Israelis.
• Palestinians and Jewish Israelis live in almost all parts of the land, often as neighbors, but usually without good neighborly relations.
• We have been fighting, dying and trying to kill each other for a territorial expression of our identity for more than 100 years.
• Both sides claim the right to self-determination on this land.
• Israel exists. Israel is a state. Israel has diplomatic relations with most of the countries in the world. Israel is strong; economically, militarily, and diplomatically.
• Palestine exists. The State of Palestine is recognized by more than 130 countries, but not by most of the countries in The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
• Palestine is poor. Palestine is occupied and controlled by Israel. (I know that there are Israelis who claim that Palestine is fictional, but for most people in the world this is not true).
• The Palestinian people are determined to achieve freedom and liberation.
• Unemployment is very low in Israel and very high in Palestine.
• Both sides claim that they are the victims of this conflict. The Palestinians are much bigger victims than the Israelis, but the Israelis still claim victim status.
• Mutual hatred has grown deeper over the past 20 years, since the failure of the peace process.
• Both sides claim that the other side is responsible for the failure of the peace process.
• Both sides claim that they want peace (Hamas has not claimed that they want peace, but the PLO has made that claim).
• Both sides claim that the other side does not want peace.
• Both sides have become more religious over the past years.
• Both sides claim that God is on their side.
• Both sides claim that al-Aqsa/the Temple Mount belongs to them. For the time being, both sides agree that only Muslims should pray at the Holy Site, but this may change soon.
• Both sides have killed many people on the other side – not only combatants but innocent civilians, including women and children.
• There are thousands of Palestinians in Israeli prisons.
• Israel controls the population registry of Palestine as well as its external borders (with the exception of the Rafah crossing to Egypt).
• Gaza has been under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade for 15 years.
• Israel now enjoys peace with five Arab countries and believes that more is on the way.
• The Palestinians have the support on the Arab streets all around the Arab world, but much less support from the Arab regimes.
• After five rounds of elections, Israel will soon have a new government. It will be the most right-wing and religious government in the history of Israel.
• Palestine has two governments that have not been elected by the people since 2006.
• Palestinians are divided between the two main political movements – Fatah and Hamas – both of which have proven incapable of mending relations between them for the past 15 years.
• The Palestinian people are united in their demand for new elections.
• There have been no serious direct negotiations between the two sides since the Olmert-Abbas negotiations of 2008.
• The new Israeli government has no intention of negotiating with the Palestinians.
The reality is seen
THE REALITY that I set out above, I believe, is indisputable. There are probably further indisputable statements that could be added to this list, but this certainly paints a very bleak picture for the future of both peoples. Violence in this conflict has existed for more than 100 years and there are no signs that it will end anytime in the foreseeable future.
We do not have leaders, on either side, who are inclined to negotiate a fair and reasonable deal that would provide the majority of people on both sides with a sense of security and a sense that their basic minimal demands are being met. There are no indications that the international community will place the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the top of its agenda.
There is no genuine international pressure on Israel or on Palestine. The prospects for the coming years on the relations between Israel and Palestine are quite negative.
The big question is what we do with this bleak reality. For starters, we need to talk to each other across the borders and probably above the heads of the current political leaders.
I don’t believe that our discussions should be about the number of states that will, or should exist between the river and the sea. For me, it is not a discussion about one state, two states or ten states. The discussion should be focused on how we will be able to live on this land – two peoples – in a way that will provide all of us with dignity, identity, security and a chance of prosperity.
The discussion should be about how we create a reality where people live with freedom and have a sense of control over their own lives – as individuals and as communities. The reality we should want to create should be one of cooperation and a mutual interest to ensure the success for both societies.
I can imagine in my mind a reality where we all learn to communicate in both languages – Arabic and Hebrew. A place where we can live as neighbors who celebrate each other’s holidays and festivals. A place where we come together to show respect and mourning when we bury our loved ones; Islam and Judaism as the two closest religions in the world, after all. We have many more similarities than differences. Islam and Judaism lived together in peaceful coexistence in the past and it is possible for them to live in peaceful coexistence in the future.
To arrive at the kind of future I describe, we have a lot of work to do. It will take generations to resolve the conflict and to reach reconciliation. We are currently on the opposite path – marching with our eyes wide open toward more death and destruction. It will take a very long time for us to create leaders who wish to change that course.
But that long journey begins with creating a vision for the future that we want to see. Creating that vision is a process – it takes time, imagination, creativity, broad-minded thinking, and dedication. Once a vision is created it will take time to find partners, and thereafter, to build partnerships.
The writer is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to the State of Israel and to peace between Israel and her neighbors. He is now directing The Holy Land Bond.