Encountering Peace: Peace directive in the hands of leaders

There is a debate going on locally and around the world on the question of whether perhaps it’s too late to achieve peace.

An evacuated Jewish settlement in Gaza 370 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS)
An evacuated Jewish settlement in Gaza 370 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
I challenge the leaders, Binyamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas – how long would it take to make real peace if making real peace was your primary governmental directive? If you said to yourselves: I will make peace with the other side – there is nothing more important for me to do in my position as leader of my people – how could your personal decision affect real change and make the difference in leading us to peace?
There is a debate going on locally and around the world on the question of whether perhaps it’s too late to achieve peace. There is a growing number of people who suggest that the two states for two peoples solution is no longer valid and viable. They claim that there are simply too many Israelis living in the areas that are supposed to become a Palestinian state. They claim that the Palestinians will never give up the right of return and that Israel will never agree to accept the right of return. There are those who say that after 20 years of failure it is time to admit that the Oslo paradigm is dead and we should begin to look for something else.
I am one of those who claim that there is only one solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and it is two states for two peoples. If by “solution” we mean the end of the conflict, only by this solution can we reach this desired end. Every other proposed “solution” in my view will result in the continuation of the conflict and, I believe, in its escalation. There is no one-state solution. Neither Israelis nor Palestinians wish to live in a homogenized reality where their identity is not the determining one on the ground. No binational state idea will work here. The failure to reach a solution which is based on territorial partition into two national states means that we will continue to struggle about whose identity is in control of the territory.
The non-coordinated Gaza disengagement and its aftermath put an end to the dream of unilateralism, although some still speak about some kind of coordinated mutual unilateralism where each side will take unilateral steps that answer their own interests and somehow inform or coordinate those steps with the other side. This is very unlikely to succeed. Lack of formal agreement in conflict settings between enemies strengthens radicals and weakens moderates who advocate agreement.
Yes, so far the Israeli-Palestinian peace process can only be called a failure. Both sides, as a result of continued failed implementation of agreements and understandings have come to the belief that there is no serious partner for peace on the other side. Does this mean that the paradigm has failed, or does the failure perhaps lie somewhere else? I believe that the failure has a different address – not the desired outcome, but the ingredients of bad agreements, failed implementation, perhaps less than good intentions, lack of dispute resolution mechanisms, inabilities to deal with breaches in real time, continued violence by enemies of peace, and political leaders without determination to bring the process forward because of a lack of political will to pay the necessary price for completing agreements.
I continue to believe that the final outcome of a peace process based on the two states for two peoples formula is a known value with the details of possible agreements on all of the issues concerned planned, documented and feasible. There is not a single issue in dispute which has not been dealt with by experts and negotiators on both sides and in the international community.
Everything is resolvable, every single technical element has solutions, the plans for dealing with security, water, environment, economics, borders, Jerusalem and refugees have all be worked out. A range of options exists within the realm of what could be acceptable to both parties. There are no secrets here and almost all possibilities have been explored. There are several new ideas which have appeared recently and have been or are being presented to decision makers, but for the most part, most of the issues have been negotiated and the areas of compromise have been defined. What remains absent is not the know-how but the political will to make it a reality.
It may come to pass that for the time being the two states for two peoples option will be off the agenda.
The current leadership on the Palestinian side, which continues to adhere to this solution and even sincerely believes in it, may soon no longer be in power. The leadership in Israel, which has mainly given this solution lip service and has done little to advance it, may find that it will continue to speak about this solution after the rest of the world, and mainly the Palestinians, are not longer considering it.
We may go through a period of searching for other solutions and presenting “new” ideas. We may have to go through another round of violence leading to the unnecessary deaths of thousands. In the end of the searching, after all of those people have been killed, we will come back to the basic reality that there are two national groups living on the land between the river and the sea who each want a piece of it to call their own. We both want a territorial expression for our identity and we don’t want to be controlled by someone else.
This all seems so obvious to me and I fail to understand why this is so much more difficult than it has to be. It is first and foremost and matter of political will.
If the two leaders would make the decision that there will be peace and that they will invest all of their energies and attention to making it a reality, it will happen.
How to start? I suggest that each side do something tomorrow morning that will positively surprise the other side. I can provide you both with a long list of suggestions, but I am quite sure that you can come up with your own lists as well. Keep in your minds the following idea: what we do and what we say impacts and what the other side does and thinks. It is completely possible to influence the policies and the thinking of the other side. Get started... now!
The writer is the co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post, a radio host on All for Peace Radio and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit.