Opinion |

The Arab World Needs to Move on From the Liberation of Palestine

Israel is going nowhere, and we in the Arab world have to deal with it. That means offering Israelis prosperity, security and friendship; all Israel needs to do is overcome their prejudices and give Palestinians their rights

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A Palestinian demonstrator covers her face with the colors of the Palestinian flag during clashes with Israeli security forces following a protest on the Gaza-Israel border east of Gaza City. April 6, 2018
A Palestinian demonstrator covers her face with the colors of the Palestinian flag during clashes with Israeli security forces following a protest on the Gaza-Israel border. April 6, 2018Credit: MOHAMMED ABED/AFP

For the people caught in the enduring Israeli-Palestinian conflict, their own leaders and Western intermediaries have failed.

Summits, conferences, accords and a roadmap going nowhere have been a waste of time and effort. Earlier attempts at finding solutions brokered by U.S. presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were genuine - but were stymied. Those that followed were either fig leaves or half-hearted.

Today, there is not only "nothing on the table," there is no table. When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced there would never be a Palestinian state on his watch – a statement he later retracted for international consumption – he meant every word. Just days ago, his government announced it would consider approving the construction of 2,000 more settler homes on the West Bank.

Palestinian protesters prepare to burn an Israeli flag with a picture of U.S. President Donald Trump during clashes with Israeli troops at the Gaza border. April 13, 2018Credit: Adel Hana/AP

And, quite frankly, I am beginning to think President Donald Trump’s blueprint for peace is a figment of his imagination.

There is plenty of blame to apportion. But regurgitating past errors of judgment has been done over and over again. It is beyond time for a new page to be opened in this unending book of horrors. How long must we go on rehashing and repeating more than 50 years' worth of mistakes?

Presidents, prime ministers, Middle East envoys and UN Secretary Generals, however well-meaning, have achieved precisely nothing. Relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority are on the rocks. Rockets and missiles fly both ways over Gaza.

I am convinced that peace will not come from the top down, but rather requires grassroots movements - on the lines of Peace Now, established by Israeli reservists in 1978 to advocate for a two-state solution. Once popular and commanding a huge Israeli following, it is now on the fringe; its activists subjected to death threats.

The climate has worsened since the movement’s heyday, currently dominated by fear, hatred and a thirst for revenge. Those destructive emotions need to change. Trust between the two peoples needs to be built brick by brick; they should learn to see each other as fellow human beings with the same hopes and dreams. Peace Now’s philosophy must be revived in the hearts of minds of not only Israelis but also Palestinians.

Israelis take part in a rally in support of establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel to end the conflict, in Tel Aviv, May 27, 2017.Credit: Oded Balilty/AP

Israelis and Palestinians must put a lid on the past, no matter how painful and bloody, else they will suffocate what could be a bright future. Yesterday is just fodder for history books. The only path of any value is forward, a path that takes us away from dark shadows into the light.

What Palestinians have to gain from a peaceful conclusion to this conflict is well known. The tiny spark of hope that gave them the courage to carry on is all but stifled, replaced by desperation, evidenced by recent mass protests in Gaza resulting in dozens of deaths and thousands of injuries.

Their courage is beyond reproach. But other than placing their plight on the international front burner for a brief moment in time, such demonstrations are exercises in futility at a great cost to those who took part.

Yes, Israel’s reputation for brutality has been endorsed again. European states and even sectors of the American Jewish community are outraged. Many countries are beginning to consider Israel a pariah state. However, as long as it remains under a White House umbrella, it will never be held accountable.

Palestinian protesters flee from incoming tear gas canisters during clashes following a demonstration along the Gaza - Israel border. June 1, 2018Credit: SAID KHATIB/AFP

Appealing to Netanyahu or Trump to come up with solutions in good faith is pointless. They only understand the language of force.

My appeal is directed at the people of Israel, so used to the status quo that they may be unaware that reconciliation with stable, prosperous Arab states on condition Palestinians get their rights will provide them with untold benefits.

Those benefits include inflows of investments from the GCC and other Arab countries to boost Israel’s economy. That translates into new business opportunities, improved infrastructure, greater opportunities and prosperity.

They include the ability to travel and be welcomed as tourists throughout most of the Middle East.

They include a reduction in anti-Semitism exacerbated, in part, by the occupation.

They include a potential end to the conscription of young Israelis and mandatory reserve duty.

They include an exchange of talent and technologies. Multilateral cultural and social interactions. The end of aggression and loathing.

A woman and her baby standing near an area hit by a missile launched from Gaza in the town of Sderot, Israel. July 15, 2014Credit: Yotam Ronen / Activestills.org

And they include security and intelligence cooperation, buffering Iran’s belligerence.

I would ask Israelis to set aside their long-held prejudices and dig deep to see what is in their interests. The same goes for Arabs.

Think about your children and grandchildren. Don't indoctrinate them with your fears and hatreds. Don't pollute the minds of future generations. Young people deserve to be carefree, not forced to wear uniforms and carry weapons. Allow them to formulate their own views.

Give them a chance to move forward together, free from the weight of your emotional baggage and bad experiences. Changing attitudes is a crucial prerequisite for Israelis and Arabs to live together with mutual respect on the same soil.

Like it or not, the Israeli state is recognized by the United Nations and the world at large. Israel boasts high-calibre university graduates, ground-breaking inventions and cutting-edge research. Better to deal with it than fruitlessly wishing it away. Israel with its nuclear weapons and military might is going nowhere.

An aerial view of Swiss pilot and original Jetman Yves Rossy (front) and Vince Reffett flying over Dubai's Palm Island May 12, 2015.Credit: Reuters

Whereas I have championed a two-state solution throughout most of my life, organizing fundraisers and conferences, I am a realist. The chance of two states happening is gone, other than the creation of another enclave like Gaza, a demilitarized entity with no control over its own borders. I can only conclude that Israelis and Palestinians must coexist in one state as equal citizens with the same rights.

We all prayed for Palestine to be liberated and for Palestinians to have their own state, but is that achievable now? Or is that simple, wishful thinking within our stubbornly romantic minds? Wishful thinking will not permit the Palestinian people to live in dignity and security without fear.

Let us shift our thinking towards a logical solution that will secure a better future for our nations, for Arab and Israeli youth and especially for those young Palestinians, born in conflict, who deserve the same chances enjoyed by their peers everywhere.

Israelis and Palestinians should revolt against the useless old leadership and outdated playbooks keeping them on different sides of the fence. Tear down those figurative and material walls. People power could be a game changer. The men in suits bent on consolidating power have let you down. Peace engendered by the very people who have the most to gain (and to lose) could work where all else has failed.

Khalaf Al Habtoor is the chairman of the Al Habtoor Group, an international business conglomerate with interests in real estate, hotels, the automotive industry, education and publishing, based in the United Arab Emirates. Twitter: @khalafalhabtoor

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