For Peace, Israelis and Palestinians Need to Show Positivity and Goodwill

Israelis and Palestinians need to forget yesterday’s sad memories and today’s incitements, and focus on what tomorrow can bring.

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The Wailing Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, another favorite among tourists.
The Wailing Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem, another favorite among tourists.Credit: Shiran Granot
Mohammed S. Dajani Daoudi

A student once asked me, “What makes you remain optimistic about peace when no one else believes in peace or that this conflict will ever be resolved peacefully?” My response was simple: “You are thinking in terms of the past and the present. I have set my mind on the future.”

THE ISRAEL CONFERENCE ON PEACE - NOV. 12, TEL AVIV

Moving forward is an important lesson in courage that we must learn. We can accomplish this by letting go of grudges, hate, vengeance and enmity; the sad memories of yesterday and today’s words of incitement. Moderation ushers in reconciliation, empathy and trust, while paving the way for negotiations in good faith and leading to conflict resolution, peace, democracy and prosperity.

It is true that, today, peace seems elusive. Both Israeli and Palestinian governments have dug deep trenches to separate themselves from each other and, day by day, the gap between them grows wider – to the point where people believe they have no interest in forging a peace deal.

On the economic level, the lack of a peace process has resulted in a stagnant and deteriorating Palestinian economy that depends on aid from foreign donors, causing rising unemployment and loss of human dignity. The failure of moderates to rejuvenate the peace process has also resulted in lack of hope and growing feelings of despair.

For many, the peace process seems erratic: one day the two-state solution with Jerusalem as a shared capital seems to be a viable option; the next day the one-state solution erases that option; and on the third day, all options appear to be wiped away by a wave of extremism.

Positive strategy

Both Palestinians and Israelis need to adopt a positive strategy to win over public opinion to the cause of peace, and to convince each other they genuinely desire peace – in turn encouraging votes for the political parties that place peace high on their agendas. Reconciliation, forgiveness, apology and restorative justice must be addressed in the midst of the conflict rather than waiting until post-conflict.

There is also no need for the Palestinians to take the unproductive path of prosecuting Israeli perpetrators in international courts, since such a course would only solidify the feelings of enmity and hatred, prolonging the occupation and delaying the prospect of the declaration of the independent State of Palestine.

Dark clouds fill the horizon. What needs to be done to avert this continued cycle of conflict? The ongoing suffocating occupation, demoralizing failure of negotiations, doomed peace process, deteriorating economic conditions, rising Islamic radicalism and Islamic State’s ideology have fueled extremism on all sides, undercutting voices of moderation and pushing the region toward self-renewing cycles of violence.

One way out is to nurse the two-state solution from its unresponsive state to a robust and living framework. As I see it, reports of the demise of the two-state solution are premature. In fact, on the ground there are already two de facto states: the Jewish state of Israel and the Arab state of Palestine, similar to those envisioned by the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine.

It is important to understand what is hindering the proclamation that two states already exist. Why does admission to the UN mean so much to the Palestinian Authority leadership, and why is it so opposed by the Israeli government? Since admission into the UN is voluntary, states do not have to be UN members to be countries, and UN membership does not bestow legality on a state’s existence. Since the State of Palestine was declared in 1987 and has been recognized by many members of the international community, the answer to the Palestinian interest in UN membership is not the need for the establishment of an internationally recognized state.

However, the answer relates closely to why Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state means so much to the Israeli leadership. Israel can rename itself “the Jewish State of Israel” and the UN would recognize this move, obligating its members – including Iran, the Arab states and potentially the State of Palestine – to do so as well.

Nonetheless, Israel and Palestine both search for a high degree of recognition in moves that are mostly driven by psychology and politics. Israelis have a need to hear Palestinians say, “We recognize you. We acknowledge your right to be present among us as a state and as a people.” Similarly, Palestinians need to hear Israelis say, “We are sorry. We acknowledge your plight and suffering, and your right to establish a state of your own.” This acknowledgement, without any requirements to make tangible concessions, would be a good starting point to a solution for the conflict.

To take that path, Palestinians would expand their recognition of the State of Israel in the 1993 Oslo Accords by declaring their recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Those who fear this move’s effect on Israel’s minorities must consider that minority rights are secured by the democratic character of Israel’s political system, which has functioned for the last six decades.

At the same time, Israel would officially recognize the State of Palestine. Through recognition, Palestine would be demilitarized and joint Palestinian-Israeli forces would police the Jordan Valley against terrorist infiltrators and weapons-smuggling.

After this first step, the two states can take another mutually beneficial step by asserting their commitment to peace, reconciliation, normalization, coexistence and an end to all incitement. Israel could move to facilitate the acceptance of the State of Palestine as a UN member.

All Palestinian political prisoners would be released. Those not willing to assert their commitment to the reconstruction and economic development of the State of Palestine and the security of Israel would be asked to live abroad, to give peace a chance.

By taking these steps, both states would have earned a peaceful partner to sit across from at the negotiating table on an equal footing – state to state. With an atmosphere of good will rather than enmity, more concrete issues would be incomparably easier to resolve through mutual interest in sincere compromise.

Someone once noted that if all you have is a hammer, it’s tempting to treat everything as a nail. But humans are equipped with many tools to conquer seemingly gargantuan tasks: we have hearts to feel love for the other, eyes to see the humanity in the other, and ears to hear about the good in the other. While extreme tactics fuel evil in people, moderation and empathy encourage people to work harder to put forth their best selves.

On both a practical and a philosophical level, peace is all about balance. Having a moderate soul in a violent world reflects humanity and courage into the world around it. For the peace process to move forward, it is vital that both sides can look at “the other” and not see an enemy, but rather a human being with similar dreams, hopes and aspirations, one who yearns to live in peace, security and prosperity, and toils to ensure a better future for themselves and their future generations.

If those involved in the peace process truly embrace this mind-set, they will be encouraged to relentlessly seek creative solutions to the issues at hand through dialogue. This out-of-the-box, open-minded thinking will usher in moderation, balance, and reconciliation, which in turn will pave the way for conflict resolution, leading to peace, democracy, development and prosperity.

In my two visits to the Auschwitz death camp, I learned that holocausts and genocides do not occur in a vacuum. Rather, there is nearly always a vicious campaign of incitement directed against the target group preceding them at home, in the school and in society. Anti-Semitic and Islamophobic education begins and ends in an environment where children are taught ideas that demonize and stereotype the other.

According to the Jewish tradition about Honi Hame’agel, “Once he was walking on the road, and he saw someone planting a carob tree. Honi said to him, ‘This tree that you are planting, when will it bear fruit?’ The man answered, ‘Seventy years from now’. Honi retorted, ‘Do you think you will be alive seventy years from now?’ The old man responded, ‘When I was born, I found a world full of carob trees. Just as my ancestors planted trees for me, so too, I plant for my children.’”

The Talmud states, “I did not find the world desolate when I entered it. My fathers planted for me before I arrived, so plant for those who come after me.” What should we plant: weeds or fruit, peace or conflict? Both peoples have inherited this conflict and its corresponding enmity and hatred from our ancestors, and it is our moral duty and responsibility to plant for our children seeds of peace, tolerance, coexistence and cooperation.

Common ground

The path to peace will be paved by teaching our children about life not death, peace not war, diplomacy not violence, love not hate, kindness not cruelty, friendship not enmity, forgiveness not revenge, tolerance not hostility, dialogue not boycott, reconciliation not conflict, moderation not extremism.

We need to focus on what is common between us. When we treat each other kindly, gently and lovingly, this is Judaism, Christianity and Islam, as well as all other religions. Judaism teaches, “Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world” (Mishna Sanhedrin 4:9; Yerushalmi Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 37a).

Similarly, Islam teaches, ”We ordained for the Children of Israel that if anyone slew a person – unless it be in retaliation for murder or for spreading mischief in the land – it would be as if he slew all mankind: and if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all humanity.” (Koran 5:32)

Let me conclude by quoting these two inspiring verses:

“Let there arise from among you a community who would invite to righteousness, enjoin doing what is right and forbid evil: such are the ones who shall be successful.” (Holy Koran 3:104)

“‘These are the things that ye shall do: Speak ye every man the truth with his neighbor; execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates; and let none of you devise evil in your hearts against his neighbor; and love no false oath; these are all the things I hate,’ saith the Lord.” (Zechariah 8:16)

The writer is a Weston Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy – Washington, D.C., founder of the Wasatia Movement – Palestine, and founding director of Wasatia Graduate Academic Institute – Jerusalem.

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