When protesting Netanyahu, don't forget his missed opportunities for peace

Our crime minister’s main crimes, much bigger than his corruption, is that he removed the possibilities for genuine negotiations with the Palestinians for the entire time he has been prime minister.

ISRAELIS AND Palestinians converse during a weekly meeting in the West Bank. The two sides need to look at each other in the eyes and understand that we are all here and not going anywhere  (photo credit: NATI SHOHAT/FLASH90)
ISRAELIS AND Palestinians converse during a weekly meeting in the West Bank. The two sides need to look at each other in the eyes and understand that we are all here and not going anywhere
(photo credit: NATI SHOHAT/FLASH90)
I go to as many of the demonstrations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his corruption as physically and mentally possible. I find nothing uplifting or particularly encouraging about them.
I suppose, in retrospect, I will feel proud that I was there. We, who believe in democracy and equality under the law must be there. The fact that we have a serving prime minister who has been indicted for blatant acts of corruption is, to me, bewildering and should not be accepted. Even more so is that fact that such a large part of the population sees nothing wrong with that. During this time of the greatest health and economic crises we have ever seen, we have a government which has totally failed to protect the public, and rather than resigning or taking responsibility, it imposes more sanctions on the public.
I sincerely feel a large amount of dismay when I attend the demonstrations. I am a veteran and experienced demonstrator. I have been demonstrating since I was 10 years old back in 1966 – against racism and against the war in Vietnam. I organized a demonstration attended by more than 10,000 people as the president of Long Island Young Judaea in support the State of Israel when it was attacked in 1973.
After making aliyah in 1978, I have been demonstrating for Israeli-Palestinian peace and equality within the State of Israel for all of its citizens. In all of the hundreds of demonstrations that I participated in, I saw the end goal. I knew what was the political plan behind the demonstrations. I always believed that I was demonstrating for the soul of our country and our people. I think that the current demonstrations are essentially trying to recapture the soul of this country, to preserve our democracy and to demand equality under the law. No one is above the law, especially not the prime minister. All that is correct, but, for me, something else is missing.
I know that the last thing people want to hear about today is the Palestinians. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is completely out of our focus. It does not appear anywhere. Even with the coronavirus pandemic we are struggling to confront, we hear nothing about how it is affecting our immediate neighbors in the West Bank and in Gaza. The Palestinian health system doesn’t have nearly the capacity of Israel’s, and our health system is stretched to the limits. What is happening with coronavirus in the refugee camps all around us?
Israel’s economy is greatly suffering, the Palestinian economy is decimated. The Palestinian issue is not on the minds of anyone, except themselves. The Palestinian political house is a mess. Netanyahu sold us on peace with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. I am glad that Israel has peace deals now with four Arab countries and more are on the way. I think it is good for Israel to expand the circle of peace with more of our neighbors. But the main issue of conflict that we must deal with is right at our doorstep. We cannot escape this, no matter how hard we try.
Our crime minister’s main crimes, much bigger than his corruption, is that he removed the possibilities for genuine negotiations with the Palestinians for the entire time he has been prime minister. He has used the Palestinian issue to create and foster fear, suspicion and hatred between different segments of the Israeli population. The Palestinians issue is not going away, but the possibilities for a pragmatic two-states solution have all but dissolved in the face of Israeli settlement expansion and entrenched military occupation and control.
The Palestinian leader who could have made a deal with Israel is in his waning days of leadership. The politicians and up and coming leaders of the next generation on both sides have no loyalty to a two-state solution, nor do they have the personal contacts that had developed over years of a peace process. In the absence of a peace process, now for a generation, the old paradigms are dead and very few real options seem to have significant support. And yet, the reality is the Israelis and Palestinians need to look at each other in the eyes and understand that we are all here and not going anywhere.
The idea and thoughts of peace have also disappeared from Palestinian society, not only from Israel.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, there were a lot of initiatives of secret meetings taking place between Israelis and Palestinians from the center of both societies engaged in the exploration for understandings. Both sides wanted to know what each other wanted in order to make peace. Every issue in conflict was placed on the table and channels of communication with leaders from both sides were developed in order to influence decision makers to examine the possibilities for negotiations at the official levels.
I personally initiated many of these talks that ended up with direct channels to Yitzhak Rabin and to Yasser Arafat. There is nothing of that sort today, and, for the most part, young Israelis and Palestinians have no exposure to each other, certainly not those who are in the center of the societies with contacts to their respective governments and leaders. There is a very strong need to recreate that kind of process because the answers that we heard 20 and 30 years ago are very different from those we would hear today.
The initiative won’t come from the governments of Israel and the Palestinian Authority. We need people engaged in politics on both sides who are willing to reach out to create opportunities for a new kind of dialogue based on searching for the new paradigms and possible modalities upon which we can shape our common future. Lots of people are thinking about new models – confederation, federations, hybrid models – but very little of that is being done across borders in cooperation. Much of this needs to be done in secret, behind the scenes, mainly because there is a lack of legitimacy on both sides of the conflict to re-engage. But there can be no genuine peace process without re-engagement. I did that work for some 30 years. Now it is time for younger people to resume it. I am more than willing to provide insights and advice, but new ideas must be faced by new fresh hearts and minds.

The writer 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 and is now available.