Encountering peace: remaining constructive

Next month will mark 40 years since I made aliyah. Recently I had to confess to myself that if I had to make the decision today to immigrate to Israel, I am pretty sure that I would not do it.

PM Netanyahu and President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas in Washington, 2010 (photo credit: GPO)
PM Netanyahu and President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas in Washington, 2010
(photo credit: GPO)
The most difficult part of the current situation that I meet almost every day in Israel and in Palestine, particularly among young people, is the sense of a loss of hope. Many young people I meet on both sides of the conflict (as well as most of the older folks) express their loss of hope for the future of this land and admit that they are now focusing on their own individual education, career development and for many, opportunities to leave the country.
It is not negative to focus on one’s individual development and future. In fact, it is very important. But the sense of despair is very real and very disturbing. This sense of despair was recently expressed to me by a couple who spent more than 30 years working in the Mossad (not your typical leftists!). The wife said to me, “The only thing that is keeping us in the country now is our grandchildren.”
Next month will mark 40 years since I made aliyah. Recently I had to confess to myself that if I had to make the decision today to immigrate to Israel, I am pretty sure that I would not do it. With that said, I have no regrets about any part of the past 40 years.
Many young Israelis and Palestinians have expressed to me the sense that they do not necessarily see their future here – in Israel or in Palestine. That is very sad. I too have very serious doubts about our future and a very strong sense that we are in a very self-destructive mode of operation – both Israel and Palestine. The democratic space in both societies is shrinking and the lack of leadership willing to re-engage in a genuine peace process is leading us all to the possible end of viable solutions that could enable a gradual but defined process of reconciliation.
Neither side, as far as I can see, is willing to withdraw from its fundamental demand for a territorial expression of their identity, which is not possible to achieve without some kind of political partition of this land into two nation-states. The realities on the ground determine that both of the nation-states must also be a home for a significant minority from the other side within its territory. The current leaderships of both sides are not going to deliver any long-term solutions, more violent conflict seems unavoidable and at the same time irrational and devoid of any real strategy. That is why it is so easy to feel despair.
But as I always say, despair is not a plan. We must be constructive and find the ways and means to improve the future outlook.
THE NETANYAHU ERA will come to an end. So with the era of Mahmoud Abbas. No one knows what is beyond these two political leaders who have been around for a long time and who have proved that they will not engage and will not deliver a peace agreement. We also know that Israelis and Palestinians are not going anywhere – even with the desire of many of the young generation to leave and plant roots elsewhere – a very large majority of them will remain here. The question is how do you create and generate hope? How do you get beyond despair?
The first real challenge to despair is to have a vision and to turn that vision into a plan. The vision has to be compelling and it has to inspire and it has to be something achievable. I have been an advocate of the two-state solution for more than 40 years. My vision for the solution was always based on the belief that peace is created and sustained through human contact across borders, through cooperation and through partnerships.
I have created many partnerships between Israelis and Palestinians over the past 40 years and many of them have sustained the crash of the peace process, rounds of violence and blockades that make contact across borders very difficult. My ability to create these partnerships has been based on a deep commitment to the mutuality of basic human and political rights. The partnership has been sustained by expression of compassion and solidarity while commanding and demanding mutual respect and dignity. It begins with a desire to listen and the decision to understand, often what is very difficult to understand.
I recall the passion that I had 40 years ago to learn Hebrew to the level of complete fluency. I remember how warmly I was always received by my fellow Israelis when I demonstrated my love of Hebrew. I have seen the same expression of warmth and welcoming when I demonstrate my passion for Arabic. And while I cannot express myself in Arabic as I do in Hebrew, I continue to make an ongoing effort to learn and to appreciate Hebrew’s sister language. I have seen how language opens doors and opens hearts. Learning the language of the other is the best door-opener I know for saying you want to create a partnership.
The next step, or a parallel step, is to find someone from the other side to engage in conversation. Here, the process is also quite simple. Say that you want to listen. Ask someone to tell them their story – their narrative. Don’t try to grandstand or to score points. Listen. Try to put yourself in that person’s shoes. Be patient, ask a lot of questions, be honestly and sincerely curious. You will have time to tell your story, your narrative, and to disagree. But the point is to decide to find a partner in peace and then to gradually and steadily build that partnership. 
In Israel and Palestine in August 2018, most Israelis and most Palestinians believe that there are no partners for peace. At the same time, they are convinced that their own sides wants peace. This is the paradox that we need to confront. The first step toward beating despair is to build partnerships, one at a time, until our leaders catch up to us and lead us toward peace once again.
The writer is a political and social entrepreneur who is dedicated to the State of Israel and to peace with her neighbors. His latest book, In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine, was published by Vanderbilt University Press.