Needed: Reconciliation

A process of reconciliation will not cause the Israelis and Palestinians to become friends, but it will, perhaps, enable them to turn over a new leaf and concentrate on building a better future.

Desmond Tutu says in his book "No Future Without Forgiveness" that blacks and white in South Africa succeeded in overcoming the built-up resentments of the past without a bloodbath thanks to the internal reconciliation mechanism that was set up. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established by a joint decision of majority and minority leaders in order to enable those who perpetrated injustices to confess their crimes, and to enable the victims to forgive them.

This lengthy process captured the attention of everyone in South Africa, and created an atmosphere of internal purification: Whites beat their breasts over concrete acts of cruelty that they perpetrated against blacks, and blacks testified about their suffering, as well as about shocking acts of reprisal that they perpetrated against their white oppressors. Tutu believes that this process enabled the atrocities of the apartheid regime to be exposed while also creating a dynamic of reconciliation, because it entailed both recognition by the perpetrators of the injustices that they caused and a willingness on the part of the victims to accept the perpetrators' confessions of their sins and forgive them.

The professional political science literature agrees that a ceremony of asking forgiveness, or a structured process of reconciliation, is an essential component of conflict resolution: Without it, the embers of the conflict continue to burn and are liable to reignite.

There are different degrees of relaxation in violent conflicts: a cease-fire declaration, an agreement on a state of nonbelligerency, a transition to cold war and so forth. But true resolution is impossible without a reconciliation phase.

The problem is that the warring parties usually have trouble getting to this stage.Reconciliation requires an ability to identify with the enemy's view of the meaning and causes of the conflict, an acknowledgment of guilt for injustices committed by one party against the other and abandoning the desire for revenge. Nevertheless, reconciliation is essential, because it puts both parties on an equal footing, declares that both sides are both victim and perpetrator, and enables them to agree on a common denominator and leave the bitter conflict behind, together with the reciprocal atrocities that it spawned.

Tonight, the day when Jews confess their sins, pray "forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement" and ask forgiveness of their fellow men, is an appropriate moment to think about whether the time has not come to begin an organized process of reconciliation with the Palestinian people.

The emotional dimension influences Israel's relationship with the Palestinians far more than it does Israel's conflict with the Arab world as a whole, and particularly with the Arab states that border it. The quarrel with the Palestinians is not just about land and borders, but also about national existence itself. Both nations are intertwined with each other on a single piece of land that lacks clear boundaries. The dispute between them is of the nature of "to be or not to be," and it impacts on both sides' ability to preserve their national identities. One hundred years of mutual blood-letting weighs on both sides' consciousness, and their close proximity augments their fears, but also exposes them to the distress of the other side and undermines their fundamental beliefs.

It would be difficult to quiet this emotional maelstrom with diplomatic agreements alone, and especially not if they are imposed or unilateral. What is needed is therapeutic intervention, which could be supplied by launching a process of reconciliation.

Israelis and Palestinians continue to recoil from one another. In the best case, they relate to each other as strangers; usually with suspicion; and sometimes through glasses that attribute satanic characteristics to the other side. A process of reconciliation will not cause the two peoples to become friends, but it will, perhaps, enable them to turn over a new leaf and concentrate on building a better future. The goal of the process would not exactly be to seek forgiveness; rather, it would aspire to a recognition of injustices and willingness to atone for them in deeds.