Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu

Two rights don’t make a wrong

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Both Netanyahu and Abbas are correct in their respective assertions about the settlements but this shouldn’t prevent them from finding a creative way to make it work.

Yes, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is right – why should Israel continue the settlement freeze; after all, everyone knows Gilo will never be Palestinian. Ramot Eshkol will not be part of the Palestinian capital of al-Kuds, nor will Pisgat Ze’ev? Palestinians should understand that there are certain facts that will not be undone. The Jewish Quarter of the Old City and the Western Wall will remain under Israeli sovereignty in any peace agreement; without this, there can be no peace and certainly the Palestinians should realize this by now.

Yes, but Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is also right – why should the Palestinians enter new negotiations while Israel continues to build settlements on land which will become part of the Palestinian state? Haven’t too many Israeli facts already been created on the ground? The last time Netanyahu was prime minister, Har Homa didn’t exist, but now look at it – another Israeli city built on Palestinian land. The whole need to find land to swap comes from the facts that Israel has created, illegally by international law.

YES, BOTH sides are right. Palestinians and Palestinian-supporters will argue that there is no moral equivalent in the above claims. Israel has acted illegally and settlements were explicitly built by some former (and current) politicians to prevent the eventual creation of a Palestinian state.

There are two defining elements of Palestinian identity – the nakba (catastrophe) and dispersal of 1948 and settlements. For 43 years, Palestinians have watched their land get swallowed up as their dream of liberation, freedom and independence has withered with each new home built in the West Bank.

The settlement presence has meant land expropriation, bypass roads, usurping of water reserves, confiscation of natural resources such as stone quarries, and the entire system of controls – fences, roadblocks, barriers, walls and lots of IDF soldiers.

There is no way for any Palestinian to have any sympathy for settlers or settlements.

Their very presence is a daily reminder of their lack of freedom in their own land.

It is equally impossible for settlers, I imagine, to feel any sympathy for the Palestinians. Almost no settler will understand that Palestinians believe they made their most painful compromise already when they accepted the two-state solution within the 1967 borders. Settlers cannot see that when the Palestinian national movement officially accepted the idea of two states in November 1988 it was giving up 78 percent of what it believed to be its birthright – all of the land that was the State of Israel prior to June 5, 1967.

Palestinians sincerely believe that all of Palestine, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean legitimately belongs to them (as many Israelis believe that the entire land from the river to the sea belongs to them), and that the creation of the State of Israel was an historic injustice to them as they had nothing to do with the Holocaust. The Palestinians cannot see and accept what I do – that the birth of Israel was a moral imperative and that the Jewish people had the same right as all other peoples to a state of their own in their historic land.

And yes, so do the Palestinians. The creation of a Palestinian state today is a moral imperative for both Jews and Palestinians, and the Jewish people should be the most vocal advocates of the rights of the Palestinian people.

THE CLASH of the rights of these two peoples is the greatest wrong to both of them. The lingering bloody and tragic conflict must come to an end. Those leaders who cling to excuses to foil the chance of finding a way out of this mess are criminally negligent and dangerous.

Those Israeli and Palestinian citizens who encourage their leaders to provoke an early death to the new negotiations are nothing less than traitors to their own people.

There is a way out of this conflict. We are not destined to live by the sword forever. There are solutions to the issues. Israel can be secure and recognized; Jerusalem can be our eternal capital, recognized by all the nations of the world. Israel can be the magnet, the just and model society that will attract more Jews to come here to live. Israel can continue to shine in the field of hi-tech communications, biotech, agrotech and more.

Palestine too can prosper and shine. Palestine can be the first truly democratic Arab state, with the most advanced education system in the Arab region, the highest use of renewable energy, modern technology in industry and agriculture, a new and prospering hi-tech sector rapidly developing in cooperation with Israeli companies. The entrepreneurial spirit which has enabled the Palestinians to survive from one disaster to another can be the fertile ground on which a new economy of Internet-age Palestinians can be built.

We need to let loose the energies in both societies that are locked up by the continued conflict. This is much truer about Palestine than Israel, but in Israel as well, too much energy is improperly invested in the survival mode necessary to sustain us in conflict rather than in the creative mode which is sparked by security and liberation. We must let that energy loose. We can all be so much more than we are today.

This is not romantic kumbaya. Make no mistake, our spirit and our belief in our own abilities is the essence of our life, hope is the fire of our souls and the realization of our most noble dreams is the goal that we must achieve. There are those of us, maybe the majority, who cry woe about the horrible fate that has been bestowed on us. There are those of us who see that real peace is a real possibility and that the enormous amount of energy and money that has gone into fostering conflict can now be diverted to education, health care, science, discovery, the environment, the arts, and not just the fact of our existence.

The rights of both peoples do not have to be mutually negating; they can be mutually sustaining and fulfilling. The only way for that to happen is for us to end the blood feud, recognize each others’ rights to this land and make real peace.

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