Gershon Baskin believes that the goal should be to eventually reach a situation in which we envision breaking down walls and fences and not building them higher and stronger.
The repeated violence coupled with clear political actions taken by both sides have enhanced the belief on both sides that there is no partner for peace on the other side.
There is no other solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict besides two states for two peoples.
The roots of the conflict have been sufficiently demonstrated by both peoples’ willingness to fight, die and kill for a territorial expression of their identity.
Any outcome other than a partitioning of the land into two states does not provide both sides with self-determination – a piece of land that they can call their own.
The failure to reach an agreement despite multiple attempts through direct negotiations and with the assistance of US mediators has rekindled violence over the past two decades. The repeated violence coupled with clear political actions taken by both sides have enhanced the belief on both sides that there is no partner for peace on the other side. At the same time a majority of people on both sides attest to their desire for peace and assert that peace is not possible.
The absence of a credible peace process has led to political stagnation on the issue. Both sides have engaged in unilateral actions that make renewed negotiations less likely. Increased settlement building and virtually undeterred settler violence against Palestinians on the Israeli side, and international diplomatic moves calling for recognition of the state of Palestine are perceived by both sides as steps against the other.
In the current state of affairs the mutual perception is that the other side will eternally remain the enemy.
Those who support and identify with the two-state solution are increasingly marginalized.
A group of former senior Israeli military officers and security personnel calling themselves Commanders for Israel’s Security are trying to change Israeli perceptions regarding the future of Israel. The frustration of these people, who clearly identify with Israel and have spent many years in the military, has led to a campaign aimed at creating fear among Israelis regarding the possibility of Israeli annexation leading to a binational state in which there will no longer be a Jewish majority.
Their conclusion is correct, but the tactic they have adopted and the political plan behind this group are counter-productive and dangerous. Essentially Commanders for Israel’s Security is basing its platform on the same basic idea that much of the Israeli Left has supported for decades – the separation paradigm. The idea is that peace will never be possible but we don’t want to pollute our Jewish majority with too many Arabs. The Arab citizens of Israel can be tolerated (if they behave well) but, CIS believes, Israelis don’t want more Arabs within their state.
The logical conclusion of this line of thinking has been to build more walls and fences and now to push for unilateral decisions on the future borders of the country. The frustration caused by the failure of negotiations and the slim chances of a negotiated agreement under the current regime in Israel is the underlying cause for the adoption of a strategy which will essentially reduce the ability to reach peace in the future.
In simple terms, no one will ever agree to live in a cage – even if it is a sovereign cage. The CIS plan not only puts the Palestinians in a cage, it puts Israel in one as well. Their strategy is based on the idea that Israelis not only fear the Arabs in general and the Palestinians in particular, but also hate them. That anyone who does care about them is an “Arab lover” or a hater of Israel, essentially a traitor. Traitors have no political legitimacy and therefore their opinions should be ignored.
The issue is not empathy with the other side but rather the understanding that eventually peace can emerge between Israel and the Arabs, especially with the Palestinians, but it will be the result of very hard work, consciously undertaken to build real cooperation across recognized borders. It will be based on the comprehension that there is no logical reason in the world for anyone to want their neighbors to suffer – quite the opposite.
Because I care so much about Israel and the well-being of our home, I want my neighbors, the Palestinians, to have the best life possible. I want the Palestinians to be prosperous, to be part of the international community, to benefit from Israeli science and technology and from the advantages that the Israeli economy and society can offer to them and to the whole world. There must be a conscious, strategic decision to build partnerships and cooperation across borders.
The goal should be to eventually reach a situation in which we envision breaking down walls and fences and not building them higher and stronger.
As we would move forward with the process of building cooperation across the borders an essential element would be increasing knowledge of each other’s societies, learning each other’s language and derailing and eliminating incitement and the teaching of hate. Demands for improving the political and social climate gain legitimacy and credibility when they are framed within a program and implemented on the ground demonstrating improvement on a daily basis in the lives of real people.
This must be done in concert with a political process of negotiations aimed at reaching political agreements for the formal adoption of the two-state solution. But the paradigm of this solution cannot be “us here and them there” with huge walls and separation barriers as the foundation stones of the so-called peace. This is not peace, and a great deal of the responsibility for the failures of the past has been based on this failed conceptualization of what peace is supposed to look like.
The ultimate goals of CIS might be worthy, but the road to hell is, as they say, paved with good intentions. This is clearly a case in point.
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.