As an Israeli I have never understood that I should want my Palestinian neighbors to suffer.
It is quite obvious that within the current political constellation on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides there will be no renewal of negotiations for peace. No one seriously believes that either side is really prepared to renew negotiations that could have the slightest chance of producing an agreement. There is deadlock on all of the core issues and the gaps in positions between Israel and Palestine are far too wide to even contemplate how to narrow them.
There are initiatives coming from the Palestinian side to isolate Israel. The Palestinians are advancing their international strategy of gaining recognition and pushing for a new UN Security Council Resolution to set parameters for future negotiations and to lock the international community into preserving the two-state solution. Israel is busy fighting the delegitimization campaigns gaining steam around the world. Israel is also beginning to apply pressure on the various allies it has within the Security Council to prevent a Palestinian success there in September.
Neither Israelis nor Palestinians have any political horizon regarding the conflict. Perusing the region both sides note that the relative stability in the land between the river and the sea is something that should not be taken for granted. Neither side seems to be particularly interested in escalation and violence. Noteworthy is the sense that the young people on both sides have of being more interested in their daily lives than in national causes. There is no burning passion for revolution, for taking to the streets, for being an active participant in the conflict. Perhaps this is because there is no belief that any kind of action could actually make a difference. Both sides seem to be locked into the belief that there really is no partner for peace, at the same time that they both believe that they themselves really are partners for peace.
As an Israeli I have never understood that I should want my Palestinian neighbors to suffer. It has never made sense to me the idea that if they suffer they will become more moderate and more willing to make peace. Collective punishment has never been a motivator for moderation. The idea that Israel should place obstacles on Palestinian economic growth and welfare seems to me to be so counterproductive. Palestinians’ daily life is hard, maybe not when compared to Syria, however the real relevant comparison for Palestinians is Israel, which controls much of their existence. Even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said over and over again that he believes that through economic development we can help the Palestinians to be more prepared to make peace. The more cynical expression of this notion is that the Palestinians must have something to lose so that they will be more prepared for peace.
Peace is not currently in the cards. There will be no Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty at any time in the foreseeable future. What seems more evident is the continued driving force in what is already a bi-national reality to find ourselves in the not-too-distant future without any chance of partitioning the land into two states. While in my mind there is no other solution to this conflict that answers the primary root cause of the conflict – the existential will of both peoples to have a territorial expression of their identity on the same piece of land – the likelihood of that solution emerging in the coming years is very small. Until we reach the point when partition will be possible, we must do everything possible to ensure that stability and security for both sides is the force behind decision making of both governments.
Let’s begin to think of what can be done that can improve life for people rather than making it more difficult.
Israel holds most of the cards in this dynamic, but positive steps by Israel can expect to result in positive steps from the Palestinians. While this is true, it is not necessary to turn it into a quid pro quo demand – or as Netanyahu used to say, “they give, they get. They don’t give, they don’t get.” This is not a precondition for ensuring a better life for the millions of Palestinians under Israel’s control.
A good way to start is through the articulation of this basic idea by the prime minister. He should be careful not to use concepts like “economic peace” which are immediately interpreted as a means to replace “political peace,” meaning the end of the occupation and the creation of a Palestinian state. There should be no spin and no lies. There is no chance of negotiating peace now, so let’s see what can be done to improve the lives of people until there is a chance of making peace.
Eventually, when the parties get back to negotiations, any formula for a successful peace will not be one based on “divorce” – hard separation, walls, fences and barbed wire. Any kind of successful peace will be based on cooperation across borders, working together, economic unions and mutual security regimes. Borders will have to become places of trade and interaction, not hermetically sealed glass walls. There is no reason why the entire border regime which exists now should not be rethought. Anyone who has experienced the Kalandia checkpoint has experienced what can only be called a transportation disaster. Either the place was intentionally designed in order to make everyone suffer or no one planned anything there because no one really cares about the people who have to use it.
Kalandia is only one example.
The entire permit regime for Palestinians is the height of inefficiency, where the people concerned have the lowest value in the process. There is no reason why the entire process cannot be streamlined and put online and made responsive to the people who need to use it.
If the Israelis who are in charge of controlling the lives of the Palestinians could think of themselves as the recipients of what they do, perhaps they would begin to put the Palestinian person, the individual, at the center of the process. This will not happen without a decision of the prime minister, who would issue a directive that would have to be implemented. The army and the security services will support it because they more than anyone else know the direct connection between Israel’s policies against the Palestinian people and security.
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.