To Achieve Peace, Netanyahu Must First Speak Its Language

The time always comes when one must abandon what was and create what will be. In this precise moment, Israel’s prime minister is missing from the picture.

Ever since the State of Israel was founded, the only kind of discourse that has ruled is that of 1948. Its grammar and vocabulary are clear and well-known: The Arabs are evil, we are good. We seek peace, they are warmongers. We are the most moral nation in the world, they are base and bloodthirsty murderers. The content of the conversation on the Palestinian side is an exact mirror image. It is a discourse of complete mistrust and persistent suspicion. Twice, during the 1977 visit to Israel by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and again during the Oslo process and the peace agreement with Jordan, opportunities were almost created for a new discourse, and twice they were missed.

"You should know,” the late Israeli songwriter Meir Ariel once wrote, “that all ills come from the deficient use of words. Thought needs words in order to emerge, despite the common perception that language and words are as vital as the air we breathe. The entirety of the enormous enterprise of humanity emerges from words and returns as words. Everything depends on who uses words, and how.”

It is difficult to hope for a result of conciliation and understanding with words that are rooted in war and hostility. Sometimes the other kind of words come to be over time, with the creation of peace. At other times, as in our case, they are needed in order to begin the dialog from scratch, and in a different manner.

Representatives from both sides are once again sitting down together in an effort to reach an agreement. But because the language outside these rooms is the same old adversarial language it is hard to imagine a different outcome for these talks than for the previous rounds of talks which ended in failure. As Israel’s gesture last week of freeing Palestinian prisoners demonstrates, everything is being done grudgingly, unwillingly, using the same old terminology of “murderers,” “blood on their hands” and all the rest of the ancient lexicon.

All these Palestinian prisoners are a by-product of the conflict. Since 1967 there has been no separation, no front line. Every place became a battlefield and a great many, too many, innocent people in both societies lost their lives. Yet surprisingly, a majority of the Israelis who are committed to peace come from the ranks of the army, and a large number of the Palestinian prisoners are for peace. It seems that it is precisely those individuals who were on the front lines, amid the blood and the death, who know that this is the path to perdition. And in the name of their own experience, they seek to keep the inflamed masses and the leaders who incite them from galloping into it.

Given this situation, the current sense of missed opportunity is particularly acute. While the pain of the families who have lost loved ones will never dull, the future of our two nations cannot be based on the past of individuals. The time always comes when one must abandon what was and create what will be. And it is exactly at that moment when Israel's prime minister is missing from the picture. Instead of leading the proponents of the new language, taking charge of the opportunity, he has suddenly disappeared.

If Benjamin Netanyahu sincerely wants peace, he must stand before us and speak in an entirely different manner. He should say something like, “Citizens of Israel, I know how difficult this moment is, when we must leave behind that which is familiar, if difficult, to try to create a different future for our children. I believe we must draw a line between what was and what will be, to keep us from returning repeatedly to the bereavement and failure of the past. I ask the prisoners going free today, to ... please be ambassadors of change. After you will come all those who are in the prisons. At the end of the process there will no longer be any need for prison cells because your president and I will do everything in our power so that hope and the joy of life will be the words of the next generation. This positive content will replace the hate, the frustrations, the despair and the desire for vengeance.”

If he really meant it he would also be the one to convince and to force all of us to change along with the reality.