Encountering Peace: Cross border cooperation and partnerships, not divorce

Political movements are built around ideas, and ideas are expressed to the public though slogans.

Arab and Israeli activists gather at Jaffa’s clock tower  (photo credit: Hadas Parush)
Arab and Israeli activists gather at Jaffa’s clock tower
(photo credit: Hadas Parush)
It might be too late to reach a two-state solution with the Palestinians. That is what a majority of Palestinians believe. A growing number of Israelis believe the same thing, perhaps even a majority. Years of right-wing governments have worked systematically to erase the Green Line and to move hundreds of thousands of Israelis to the West Bank. The idea of peace, on both sides, has been delegitimized and the Oslo agreements are perceived as the most strategic mistake of the past 70 years. So what now?
“We must get divorced from the Palestinians!” Great slogan. It seems to have so much appeal to a majority of Israelis. Animosity and hatred toward the Palestinians are once again reaching new heights. The trashing of the Palestinian leadership and the Palestinian people by Israeli leaders from the deep Right to the deep Center is part of every speech. Palestinian citizens of Israel and their leadership are delegitimized by legislators, mayors and members of the Israeli government regularly and systematically. Even the Arabic language is downgraded by the Knesset.
Political movements are built around ideas, and ideas are expressed to the public though slogans. Ideas and words are important, and when dealing with complex and sensitive political issues, ones with life and death consequences, the selections of words and terminology must be calculated beyond their electoral value.
Commanders for Israel’s Security is an organization that was founded around the basic idea of ending Israel’s control over the Palestinian people and pulling Israel back from the edge of the cliff of annexation of the West Bank. In their own words this is who they are and what they stand for: “Commanders for Israel’s Security (CIS) is a nonpartisan movement comprising the overwhelming majority of available retired IDF generals and their Mossad, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and Israel Police equivalents. CIS members are united in the conviction that a two-state agreement with the Palestinians, as part of a regional security framework, is essential for Israel’s security as well as for its future as the democratic home of the Jewish People... Driven by a sense of urgency given past missed opportunities, current challenges and opportunities, and concern with the overall national direction, the CIS action plan for 2018-2019 is focused on the single objective of persuading the Israeli public to demand of our leadership a commitment to our primary battle cry of ‘No Annexation. Separation!’”
CIS correctly verbalizes the assessed dangers of annexation that would lead to a binational, apartheid-like state. They also correctly assessed the impossibility of a negotiated agreement at this time between Israel and the Palestinians. There is next to zero chances that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas could ever reach a meaningful agreement. The lack of progress on the Palestinian side is leading to the strengthening of more radical groups such as Hamas. CIS’s explanation and analysis is all “spot on.” The problem with their message and their latest billboard campaign, “For the security of Israel, it is time to divorce the Palestinians,” is that it strengthens the fear of our neighbors, it strengthens racism against Arabs by Israeli Jews, it calls for basing present and future relations on separation, walls and fences, it will bring about further isolation of Israel in the region, and in the end it is counterproductive to the ability and willingness of the Israeli public to believe in and work for peace. It also calls for more Israeli unilateralism, which hasn’t worked so well for us until now.
In my 40 years of working with Palestinians, the clearest insight that comes to mind is that Israeli unilateralism almost always ends badly. We should not control the Palestinian people. We should not have a military occupation that denies the basic human and political rights that we have fought to attain for ourselves. While confronting the threats and the dangers of Palestinian terrorism, we must never cease working to build cooperation and partnership with our neighbors. The relations that we develop with our Palestinian neighbors have a direct impact on the relations Israel has with its neighbors in Jordan, Egypt and beyond. Israel is part of the Middle East, not part of Europe or the 51st state of the United States.
The CIS campaign is a continuation of the incorrect implementation of the Oslo peace process that was doomed to fail as soon as it adopted the separation paradigm of “us here and them there” behind walls and fences. The initial architects of Oslo, the late Dr. Ron Pundak, Prof. Yair Hirschfeld and Dr. Yossi Beilin initiated a process that was based on cross-border cooperation and partnership. The first Oslo agreements and architecture created some 26 joint Israeli Palestinian cooperation mechanisms. None of them exists now. Oslo did not fail, as most people believe; it was not implemented as written and conceptualized. Oslo was hijacked by many who had no interest in its obviously conclusion – two independent states living side-by-side in cooperation and peace.
The incorrect implementation of Oslo created an architecture of permits, blockades, fences and walls. There was a need to confront the spoilers and their use of terrorism, but the result of the separation paradigm was to punish those who were in the majority and supported genuine peace. There are very few Israelis and Palestinians today who believe that there are partners for peace on the other side. Partnership died with the distortion of what was supposed to be the peace process. The statements by Israeli and Palestinian leaders that there are no partners on the other side is not only their assessment of reality, it is in fact a statement of policy. The policy of rejecting partnership is implemented by both sides and is reflected in the reality on the ground every day.
The existence of a group like Commanders for Israel’s Security, which believes that it is part of the peace camp, is a bizarre distortion of the concept of peace. Israel’s security will not be strengthened by building higher walls. Israel’s security would be strengthened by ending the occupation, but Commanders for Israel’s Security does not talk about ending the occupation, it talks about not having Israeli settlements east of the separation barriers and walls. Unilateral Israeli actions such as what is being proposed by CIS is what Israel did in Gaza. It was necessary for Israel to leave Gaza, but it could have been done in cooperation and as part of a peace process. Ariel Sharon rejected coordinating the disengagement from Gaza with the Palestinian leadership and awarded the extremists from Hamas and Islamic Jihad to claim Gaza on a silver platter.
Ismail Haniyeh in his speech marking Hamas’s 30th year said it all: Fatah tried to negotiate with Israel and got nothing. Hamas launched its “resistance” and Israel was chased out of Gaza, without negotiations. And that is what almost every Palestinian believes until today.
The author is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to the State of Israel and to peace between Israel and her neighbors. His latest book, In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine, was published by Vanderbilt University Press.