Encountering Peace: Partners in dispute

Partnership doesn’t come naturally and it doesn’t exist when only one side wants it. Partnership has to be created and nurtured and built on and supported.

Clinton, Barak, Arafat at Camp David 311 (photo credit: REUTERS/Win McNamee)
Clinton, Barak, Arafat at Camp David 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/Win McNamee)
I got a letter today from a friend who has a senior position in one of Israel’s important ministries. He used to work with me. He has spent years in the IDF and was one of the people in charge of security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority. He wrote that he continues to admire my dedication to peace with the Palestinians, and that he has no doubt my reasons for continuing to believe and work for peace stem from my commitment to the State of Israel and the Jewish people. But, he wondered, when will I finally come to understand that we have no partner on the other side?
No partner. I hear those two words every day from so many people, Israelis and Palestinians! We all want peace, but who can we make peace with? The other side breached its obligations, took unilateral steps that have made Oslo null and void and continue to incite against us, against peace, and support violence.
They don’t even recognize our basic right to exist. Just listen to what they say and look at what they do. They prove, every day that they don’t really want peace. Sure they tell the international community that they do, but listen to what they say to their own people.
It never ceases to amaze me. The same words, the same thoughts the same feelings – like a mirror image – on both sides of the conflict. Objectively speaking, Israel and Palestine continue to demonstrate that both sides are right. Israel has no partner for peace and Palestine has no partner for peace. Neither side seems willing to take the steps that are necessary to prove that there is a real partner for on the other side. Both sides continue to miss opportunities to change this dynamic. Both sides seem to go out of their way to convince the other side that there really is no partner.
Partnership doesn’t come naturally and it doesn’t exist when only one side wants it. Partnership has to be created and nurtured and built on and supported.
Israelis and Palestinians are not partners because we have both experienced a peace process that failed. The failure is owned by both sides and both sides are responsible for the consequences of that failure. Five agreements were signed by the two sides and all were breached in significant ways. Since those breaches were not dealt with in real time and repaired they became the foundations for the continued failure of the process.
Violence replaced diplomacy and as more people were killed, more property destroyed, new generations of youngster grew up into culture of fear, suspicion and hatred. Now there are almost no contacts across the conflict lines and growing numbers who have no desire to have contacts on the other side.
The parties came back from Camp David in July 2000 more dedicated to blaming the other side for the failure not to reach an agreement than to taking responsibility for sticking it out at the table and finding solutions. Strangely, between Camp David and Taba in January 2001 the negotiators 52 more times, without the fanfare of presidential summits, and finally made it to another peace summit. But by the time Taba came around in January 2001, the Israeli government was run by a minority coalition and Yasser Arafat had let loose the tiger of violence of the second intifada and refused to control it until he, too, lost the ability to stop it. The Taba negotiations produced real progress but they were held too close to elections to be legitimate, and then Ariel Sharon won a landslide victory and the peace process ended.
Sharon refused to negotiate, even after the international community forced Arafat to appoint a prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian architect of Oslo, to be in charge. At the Sharm e-Sheikh summit in February 2005 Abbas tried to convince Sharon that he as prime minister would bring an end to the intifada: “We have agreed with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to stop all acts of violence against Israelis and Palestinians.... The calm that our land will experience starting today is the start of a new era, a start for peace and hope. It is the beginning of peace and hope.
What we have announced today... is also an important step representing a new chance for the peace process to regain momentum and to get back on track, so that the Palestinian and Israeli peoples might regain hope in the possibility of achieving peace.”
From that day on renewed security cooperation began, and the path to the calm that we have known over the past years under the Abbas leadership began.
Nonetheless, Sharon decided on unilateral disengagement from Gaza and refused to negotiate with Abbas. The Hamas electoral victory of January 2006 was the child of unilateralism and Arafat’s corruption.
Arafat died, Abbas became president, Salam Fayyad was appointed prime minister. Israel built the separation barrier, continued to build settlements, and yet terrorism was defeated. The Israeli security forces and the determination of Abbas and Fayyad together earn the success of security in the West Bank.
The Israeli demand for Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people was born in Annapolis in 2007 by a new demand by Tzipi Livni. In September 1993 Arafat wrote to Rabin that “The PLO recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security.” In 1993 that statement was sufficient to launch a peace process. In 2007, after the second intifada, it was no longer enough for Israel.
The refusal of the Palestinians to recognize the legitimate right of the Jewish people to a state of the own added substance to the Israeli claim there is no partner for peace. But Palestinians answered that recognition of Israel as the Jewish nation state would deny the one million Palestinian citizens of Israel their birthright in their own state. They also said that such recognition would remove their right to put the issue of refugees on the negotiating table.
Additional issues contribute to the lack of belief that there is a partner. Jerusalem, for instance. The Palestinians claim that Israel is forcing Palestinians to move out of their neighborhoods and is replacing them with Jews. This is happening in Silwan and in Sheikh Jarah. Palestinians complain that Israel denies Muslims the right to pray freely at Al Aqsa Mosque.
Israelis hold fast to the statements made by Palestinian leaders, including Arafat, that Jews have no connection to Jerusalem. Arafat once said that the Jewish Temple was never in Jerusalem. Jews will never forgive him for that.
Education and incitement is another area that both sides latch on to to prove the “no partner” assertion. It is no real challenge to find evidence of incitement on both sides – rabbis, sheikhs, politicians and the media all make generous contributions to spreading hate. Regarding education, Israel’s textbooks are better than Palestinian in terms of teaching something positive about the other side, but both sides suffer greatly from the crime of omission.
The serious challenge is not in proving the lack of partners but in changing the course of history and taking steps to create the partnership that is necessary to make peace. It is possible to build partnership.
The basic desire for real peace is genuine on both sides, despite what most Israelis and Palestinians think. I travel on both sides of the conflict and I hear both peoples speak their truths.
Gershon Baskin is the 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.