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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meets with freed Palestinian teenager Ahed Tamimi after she was released from an Israeli prison, in Ramallah in the West Bank July 29, 2018.(Photo by: PALESTINIAN PRESIDENT OFFICE (PPO)/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
Encountering Peace: Do the preposterous!
Palestinian leaders really are interested in the welfare of their people.
I know that this is really hard for Israelis to grasp and to agree with the following statement: Palestinian leaders really are interested in the welfare of their people. This statement is true for the PA leadership in the West Bank. This is also true for the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip. The gaps in the ability to agree and to understand have a lot to do with the very different situations between Israel and the Palestinians. It is very common for Israelis to criticize the Palestinian leaders that they once again missed a great opportunity to bring billions of dollars to their people through the Bahrain conference. A Foreign Ministry spokesperson told a group of foreign students that I am teaching this summer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem that the Palestinians better “jump on the train soon” because they are losing out, as Israel becomes richer while they become poorer. Well, it’s not about the money.
I responded to my students that – to the best of my understanding – if, on May 14, 1948, US president Harry Truman would have offered David Ben-Gurion billions of dollars to postpone declaring the independence and statehood of Israel indefinitely, Ben-Gurion would have told the president politely to jump off the Empire State Building. No amount of money in the world could have bought the national aspirations of the Jewish people for their territorial expression of their identity in their own sovereign and independent homeland. Why is it so difficult to understand the Palestinians when they too reject money instead of sovereignty and independence?
Palestinians will not surrender to Israel. Palestinians will not forgo their demands and rights to self-determination any more than Israel would. Palestinians are willing to continue to struggle even if it means more suffering. They don’t want to suffer. They don’t want to live without electricity and fresh water in Gaza. They don’t want to be trapped behind walls and fences. They don’t want to have to beg for an exit permit or a work permit or for the right to import goods or to export what they produce. But they also don’t want to live under Israeli military occupation. They don’t want to see what they believe is their land taken from them. They don’t want Israel to demolish their homes or to uproot their olive trees. They don’t want to be told that they cannot enter their Holy Places in Jerusalem without Israeli permission.
WE HAVE ALL backtracked in the past years. Failed rounds of negotiations and unmet expectations of a peace process that did not produce the results desired have led to a lack of confidence in a peace process, in the international community and – for the Palestinians especially – in the United States. Most of all, both sides have lost what little confidence and trust they had in each other. The logic and rationale of the Oslo Peace Process was to create mechanisms of cooperation across the borders so that trust could develop that would make it easier to negotiate a permanent status on core issues such as borders, Jerusalem, refugees, security, etc. That did not happen. The cooperation failed. Both sides reneged on their obligations and blamed each other for the failure. Instead of trust and confidence, we ended up with deep mistrust and no confidence, or perhaps what I call confidence that the other side has no intentions of ever making peace. We have moved from processes of mutual recognition back to the pre-Oslo days of mutual non-recognition.
We now have leaders who refuse to talk to each other and blame each other for not recognizing their rights to exist and to live in peace, security, and freedom. These leaders try to convince us that they are nationalists and patriots, preserving and serving the national security interests of their people. What I have to say about that is “bulls**t!” No one is going to surrender. Neither side will bring the other side to its knees and both sides know that. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knows it, Benny Gantz knows it, Ehud Barak knows it and PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar knows it, too.
Let’s face it – the reality of the situation is that there is absolutely no symmetry in this conflict. Israel is a strong, independent and wealthy recognized country. Palestine is recognized by some 137 countries, but it doesn’t really exist as long as Israel doesn’t recognize it. Israel is free and powerful, Palestine is weak and occupied by Israel. Both sides play the victim card, but Palestinians are victimized by Israel much more than Israel is by the Palestinians. Most Israelis can live their daily lives without thinking about the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Palestinians cannot. This is the reality. It is, therefore, not unreasonable to propose that Israel take the first step. 
WHAT I PROPOSE may sound preposterous and unheard of, but quite frankly, I am tired of playing games. I am tired of worrying about “national honor” instead of taking direct actions because the other side is still playing its own national honor games. Over the years, I have sometimes sat in rooms with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators and decision-makers listening carefully, thinking in the back of my mind that I am in kindergarten. The solutions proposed were often at the level of small children. This was also true regarding the negotiations for the return of Gilad Schalit and the negotiations for the return of the bodies of the two Israeli soldiers and the presumed to be living two Israeli civilians being held by Hamas.
If I were the Israeli leader, I would pick up the phone and call Mahmoud Abbas. I would pick up the phone and call Yahya Sinwar – yes, even the strongman of Hamas, the political movement that refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist. I would call them (and if Netanyahu needs their phone numbers, he can call me and I will get him their numbers) and say “let’s talk.” Let’s talk secretly, let’s talk anywhere, anytime, but let’s talk. I would say that we are ready to live in peace with you and we don’t need to have all of the land between “the river and the sea.” We recognize you as a people and we recognize your right to self-determination. I would keep calling and keep telling them “let’s talk” until they finally agree to talk. And I wouldn’t advertise in the newspapers or on Facebook and Twitter that I made the call. Being discreet is important. It is not about scoring points or grandstanding – it is about making progress towards peace.
There is no need to wait for them to respond. I would take action to demonstrate to them and to their people that we are ready to live in peace. They do not believe that Israel wants peace. They believe what their own eyes see – that Israel wants their land but not them. There are endless steps that Israel can unilaterally take to demonstrate the real will to live in genuine peace.
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 in Israel and Palestine.
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