Former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, former US president Bill Clinton, and the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn.. (photo credit:REUTERS)

The partnership challenge

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Gershon Baskin shares his advice, that when you approach someone, say to them, “I want to listen to you. I want to understand your point of view. I want to hear your story.”

“The continual insistence that there is no partner for peace is firmly held on to both in Israel and in Palestine.”

Raviv Drucker’s Channel 10 documentary about the July 2000 Camp David summit demonstrated how the “no partner” myth was born on the plane ride back from Camp David in order to save the political skin of prime minister Ehud Barak. As former US State Department adviser Aaron Miller said, this assertion shapes to this day relations between the Israelis and Palestinians.

The continual insistence that there is no partner for peace is firmly held on to both in Israel and in Palestine.

The complete mistrust between the parties has led to continual rounds of horrific violence since Camp David in July 2000, and the end is not in sight.

During periods of acute violence in conflicts, in ours as well as in others’, the rhetoric becomes uglier, more hateful and a lot less rational. On both sides of the conflict there is a sharp increase in the sense of victimization and the ability to see any justice on the other side of the conflict comes close to zero. Those who do voice some sympathy or understanding for the other side are usually viewed from their own side as traitors and quislings.

Likewise, leaders on both sides of violent conflicts rally their publics around the flag and encourage absolute loyalty to their own side. It is only in rare cases that leaders and public figures find the ability to transcend the anger which is natural during periods of acute violence and look beyond the violence to the need to find a rational and strategic end to the conflict. Those leaders who exploit the violence for building public support are what I would call “small ‘P’” politicians, as opposed to statesmen (or statespeople) who rise above and lead their people out of conflicts. Small “P” politicians declare that we have no partners and justify their own positions by magnifying the villainous nature of the enemy. That is not difficult to do – the enemy provide enough easy ammunition for demonstrating their evil nature and uncompromising attitudes. We do not have any statesmen in Israel or Palestine today – only small “P” politicians.

Just as a large majority of Israelis believe that there is no chance of peace with the Palestinians, I am quite sure that at this time a large majority of Palestinians believe that there is no chance of peace with Israel. I am more frequently hearing positions from Palestinians that were prevalent in the past, but during the good days of Oslo disappeared: the only way the conflict will end is if all of the Jews of Israel pick up and leave or are forced to leave.

The Palestinian support for a two-state solution has fallen below the 50 percent mark, just as it has in Israel.

There are many Israelis, perhaps a majority, who also believe that the only solution is for the Palestinians to pick up and leave. There are rising numbers on both sides who are once again adopting positions of mutual non-recognition. I had mistakenly believed that we were beyond the period when Israelis would say there is no such thing as a Palestinian people and those people living in our land, in Judea and Samaria, who refuse to accept Israeli rule should leave for Jordan, because Jordan is the Palestinian country.

Just as more Palestinians, especially young Palestinians, are saying that there can be no Israel next to Palestine, that Palestine must be from the River to the Sea.

I believe that this also correlates to the increasing religiosity of both societies. Both Israel and Palestine are becoming more religious. It is well known that in areas of conflict there is a documented correlation between distance from peace and religiosity – the further away peace seems, the more religious the societies become. This is what is happening on both sides of the conflict.

On both sides of the conflict we are raising a new generation without hope. We are raising young people who do not know the other side through any human contact.

They are not given the tools to even begin to understand the other side. All they know is that the other side is inhuman, violent, cruel, and certainly does not want peace. There are very few of us in Israel and Palestine who remain believers in peace.

The common thread that ties us together is that we live the peace, we experience it, we have those human and humanizing relationships across the conflict borders.

We know that peace can be a reality because when people feel safe and are not threatened and can experience dignity and humanity, they can also express empathy and compassion. And when that happens, political solutions can also be found that are mutually acceptable and respects each others’ rights and needs. This is not a pipe dream or kumbaya – it is real, it confronts the real issues, it enables creating solutions that take into account the failures of the past and enables us to learn from them.

There is no other way. Sooner or later we will reach the point when real leaders rise up and decide that we do not have to live by the sword forever. We can create, encourage, build and foster partnerships for peace. That is the most important mission for us today.

The process of creating and building partnerships can also be done on the individual basis, and therefore, I propose the partnership challenge: As one of the few people in this country who travels back and forth across the borders of this conflict, almost every day, and speaks with people all across this great land between the river and the sea – throughout Israel and Palestine – in the north and the south and even in Gaza – I know that there are partners for peace and I know that only the fanatics on both sides are not willing to make compromises. Most people are living with a deep sense of despair. Despair, my friends, is not a plan. The quick path from despair to hope is thoughtful and strategic action. It is time to act. I have made this challenge before, and I am making it again.

It is time for you to reach out to someone on the side of the conflict and build a partnership with him/her. You can do it on Facebook. If you are not from the conflict area your challenge is more complex: find one person from each side of the conflict and build a partnership with them together, the three of you. When you all do that, come back to my page and tell us about it. Let’s gather up lots of stories of partnerships across the conflict line.

My one piece of advice is that when you approach someone, say to them, “I want to listen to you. I want to understand your point of view. I want to hear your story.”

Don’t start attacking and trying to score points. Listen, try to understand, and ask a lot of questions. And then come back and tell us about it.

Gershon Baskin

Gershon Baskin

Gershon Baskin is one of the most recognizable names in the Middle East Peace process. His dedication to creating a culture of peace and environmental awareness, coupled with his impeccable integrity, has earned him the trust of the leaders of all sides of the century old conflict. Few people have such far-reaching and positive impacts on promoting peace, security, prosperity and bi-national relationships.
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.
Gershon Baskin