Many talkbackers to my articles and opponents of my opinions berate me for my longstanding insistence that peace with the Palestinians is possible. They insist that the Palestinians continue to incite against Israel and don’t recognize the Jewish People’s right to a state of their own. They point to the hate-filled statements of Palestinian leaders and to the Palestinians’ own refusal to make a deal that would end the conflict. I have no problem admitting many of these claims are true. There is incitement against Israel. The Palestinian leadership has refused to accept every offer that Israel has made thus far for lasting peace. Many of their leaders are filled with hate and many Palestinians would definitely prefer for Israel not to exist. It is not impossible for Israel to play the victim card and demonstrate to the world and to ourselves that we have a very difficult enemy.
Life would be so much easier if we had nicer enemies.
But like it or not, this is the reality and the conflict between Israel and Palestine is not simply over hatred, incitement or refusal to recognize each other’s rights.
This conflict is over real issues and like it or not, both sides have just claims. And like it or not, the conflict will not be resolved without sitting at the table and negotiating. Both sides are responsible for the failure to reach a negotiated agreement so far. Both sides are responsible for the situation that we are in. Both sides suffer from the conflict and from the continued violence.
Both sides play the victim card and at this time neither is taking responsibility to change the situation for the better. Both sides lack responsible leaders who can see beyond tomorrow. Both sides are irresponsible to their own people. Even if there is no symmetry in the conflict – there is a strong side and a weak side, an occupier and an occupied. Nonetheless, it takes two sides to fight and two sides to make peace.
No territorial-identity conflict is easy to resolve. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is especially difficult and complex because of the added ingredients of religion and history. The weight of history and claims of ownership to the will of God not only foster intransigence they also blind each side to the other’s basic legitimacy.
Many Palestinians refuse to recognize the Jews as a nation that is connected to this land. Many Israelis refuse to recognize that the Palestinian people exist and have a right to self-determination even on part of Palestine. We don’t recognize each other’s narrative and many don’t even recognize the legitimacy of an alternative narrative to their own.
The one absolute truth that I know is that neither the Jews nor the Palestinians are going to surrender and disappear. The reality of two peoples on the land between the River and the Sea will either be played out in two states for two peoples or in one state for two peoples. There is no third way.
The other night I attended a remarkable Christmas party in Herzliya convened by a very senior foreign diplomat. His home was filled with about 60 people.
There were about 10 Gazans that had been given permits by the IDF to attend. There were about 10 Palestinians from the West Bank. There were about 20 Israelis there including some eight senior IDF officers in uniform, including a general and a brigadier general.
The rest were other foreign diplomats. The most amazing thing about the evening was how normal it felt. I stood off on the side for a moment watching this astounding gathering, gazing at the interaction between the people there. There were no walls. There was no hatred, there was no animosity and people were genuinely enjoying each other’s company.
I made mention of this observation to several people there who also noted their surprise about how normal it felt. I commented that is my own experience almost on a daily basis. I interact with Israelis from all over Israel and with Palestinians from all over Palestine on a daily basis. And I often bring them together as I have done with thousands of Israelis and Palestinians over the past 30-plus years. I do not personally feel a conflict, and I never hide my identity or my political positions.
I do not chose the option of one states for two peoples.
I am a proud Jew and Israeli and want to live in the nation state of the Jewish people. But I do not and will not support the nation state of the Jewish people which ceases to search for a solution that will enable the Palestinian people to live in their own nation state.
I will never accept one state for two peoples, which would mean an apartheid state ruling over millions of Palestinians and denying them their basic human and political rights. If the option of two states for two peoples is removed from the realm of feasibility, I will fight for one state for two equal peoples – one person, one vote – which will not be the nation state of the Jewish people nor the nation state of the Palestinian people.
The way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not through the “divorce” proposed by Yair Lapid or the vision of peace with walls and fences as proposed by Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni from the Zionist Union. Peace will never exist between the two peoples living on this land based on physical and permanent separation imposed with walls and fences and people living in cages. Peace will never develop without normal interaction between people – the kind of interaction that I witnessed at the Christmas party in Herzliya. This will obviously need a lot of time and a lot of effort to create. The prerequisite is a fair, negotiated, intelligent peace agreement that resolves all of the core issues. It is not so difficult to reach that agreement and the formula for it is very well known. The process of peacemaking and reconciliation is a much more difficult process and will take much longer – perhaps even more than a generation. But the first step of moving beyond the hatred, animosity and fear that exists on both sides is to reach that negotiated agreement.
For that to happen, both sides are going to have to sit down at the table and stay there until they reach the agreement. There is no other way.
The author is co-chairman of IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives, a columnist for The Jerusalem Post and the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel for the release of Gilad Schalit. His book Freeing Gilad: the Secret Back Channel has been published by Kinneret Zmora Bitan in Hebrew and in English as The Negotiator: Freeing Gilad Schalit from Hamas by The Toby Press.