Fog of peace

Each unsuccessful diplomatic effort and military action pulled the dream of peace a little farther away from both peoples, who suffer the consequences of the conflict in very different ways.

L'ancien Premier ministre Itzhak Rabin (photo credit: REUTERS)
L'ancien Premier ministre Itzhak Rabin
(photo credit: REUTERS)
There is a blindness that comes with following a path beyond its logical conclusion. For some, peace was lost on November 4, 1995, with the murder of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. For others the date was May 26, 1996, with the election of Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister.
It was snuffed out again by Yasser Arafat with the end of the Camp David initiative on July 25, 2000. That was nearly 16 years ago, before the beginning of the Second Intifada; Israel’s unilateral disengagement from Gaza; the coup by Hamas; that capture of Gilad Schalit; the death of Arafat; the election of Mahmoud Abbas; three Israeli wars with Hamas; the war with Hezbollah in Lebanon; Netanyahu’s election victory in 2009; the Arab Spring/ Winter; the Syrian civil war and the rise of Islamic State.
Each unsuccessful diplomatic effort and military action pulled the dream of peace a little farther away from both peoples, who suffer the consequences of the conflict in very different ways. Israelis live apart from Palestinians, who are largely locked behind the wall built to stop the Second Intifada.
Except for the mostly young Arab Israelis carrying knives into the streets of Jerusalem and their young Palestinian comrades who have carried knives into Hebron and surrounding settlements to stab and kill Israeli citizens as a result of multiple sources of incitement.
Israelis’ primary contact with Palestinians is in uniform, guarding a settlement or searching for a suspected criminal in a Palestinian village. It is illegal for Israelis to enter certain parts of the West Bank, because it is dangerous.
Life in the Palestinian villages and cities is dangerous, too, and ripe with restrictions and checkpoints that limit the movement of most Palestinians and their ability to earn a living. It has been this way for a very long time. Long enough now that the political Right owns the government of Israel and the chimera of peace in our life time has almost disappeared from the speeches of politicians on the Left, let alone the Right.
What does it mean? It means that voices on the Right can now speak out loudly and clearly calling for the annexation of Area C in the West Bank and be accepted by increasing numbers of the public, even as the international community has run out of patience with Israel and the US and is taking its own actions (France) to resolve the conflict.
What of the Palestinians? For many their lives and the lives of their parents and grandparents were marked by the original defeat in 1948 and subsequent defeats in 1967, 1973, 1988, 2000 and the three defeats in Gaza. According to UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East, “UNRWA is unique in terms of its long-standing commitment to one group of refugees. It has contributed to the welfare and human development of four generations of Palestine refugees, defined as ‘persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine during the period 1 June 1946 to 15 May 1948, and who lost both home and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 conflict.’ The descendants of Palestine refugee males, including legally adopted children, are also eligible for registration.
“When the agency began operations in 1950, it was responding to the needs of about 750,000 Palestine refugees. Today, some five million Palestine refugees are eligible for UNRWA services” (UNRWA website).
What this translates to into is that while many Israelis see peace as their ultimate goal, as many or more Palestinians, including large numbers of refugees who have been living beyond the environs of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza for generations see the original loss, the “Nakba,” otherwise known as “the catastrophe,” as the central feature in their lives and one that requires not only peace, but justice to resolve.
This can be seen in the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, whose core goals include: 1. Ending Israel’s occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall; 2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; 3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.
For many this translates as the end of an independent State of Israel. So as BDS grows, so grows an international response that is now beginning to land on the ripe terrain of American college campuses and state legislatures. The so-called peaceful resistance of BDS, which equates with the international delegitimization of Israel, is being met in Israel with calls for the delegitimization of a Palestinian state, a new, harsher resistance to the Palestinian campaign.
Peace has fallen in polls of both Israelis and Palestinians, having now become the dream of a minority. The realities of governing a weak, demilitarized Palestinian state would make it into an excellent target for Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIS and other terrorist organizations who would like nothing better than to swallow the West Bank and challenge Israel every day along a 500 km. border. So security trumps peace and two states in the minds of many Israelis.
Does the Arab League peace initiative have any more cachet than the French one, given the evolving relationship between Israel and the Saudis? I believe it comes in a distant second to their mutual repulsion for Iran. That leaves little ground for meaningful development and even less optimism.
I have believed for a long time that the only way forward is to rebuild trust between the two peoples, and that the only way to do that is to start an open-ended national dialogue program that will change people’s minds by opening their hearts. It is a small but important piece of the puzzle.
The author is president of ICMEP, the Interfaith Community for Middle East Peace, an NGO based in suburban Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected]