A Real Mideast Peace Process Should Look Different

Before anyone utters the words 'peace process,' Israel should consider making what used to be known as 'confidence-building measures.' Otherwise, talk of peace is just empty words.

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

A moment before our attention shifts once more to the chatter about peace and the nonsense about the talks, about Barack Obama’s upcoming visit and Tzipi Livni’s appointment as “chief negotiator,” it would be good if we remembered what people ought to mean when they utter the words “peace process.” Not another round of negotiations, endless meetings and photo opportunities. We’ve already had enough of those to spare, and they led nowhere. The solution has long been known, and it could have been carried out long ago.

A real peace process should look different. It is not an outline by Bill Clinton or George Bush, but an outline of peace. Such an outline cannot start at the negotiating table; That is where it should end. Israel must first show its good intentions – intentions that have always been absent at its table. A real peace process must start on the ground. After 46 years, the burden of proof of intent to end the occupation rests on Israel’s shoulders. The Palestinian Authority did its part long ago by declaring its intentions, ceasing terrorism and engaging in security cooperation with Israel.

The proof must come from Israel now, and it must be in deeds, not words. If Israel really desires peace – and it is quite doubtful that this is so – it must engage in a series of acts that were once known as “confidence-building measures.” Without them, the Palestinians have no reason to join another masquerade whose entire purpose, for Israel, is to placate the Americans and look good for Europe. Everyone – from the devotees of the talks to Benjamin Netanyahu to Yair Lapid – admits it.

The first step is, of course, to freeze construction in the settlements. A country that intends to return land doesn’t build on it. That’s elementary. Afterward, prisoners should be released. A country that unjustly puts people who were released in a prisoner exchange back in jail conveys every message but one of peace. A country that jails thousands of prisoners, some of whom are political prisoners in every way, deprived of rights and severely discriminated against, is not conveying good intentions either.

It is not hard to guess the kind of turnabout in consciousness Palestinian society will undergo if it gets to see at least some of its offspring return to their homes, some after decades of imprisonment, without a deal, without a kidnapping, without pressure, solely as a demonstration of Israel’s good will. That will bring about immediate change. But for that to happen, we must first free ourselves from the bad, old pattern of zero-sum-game thinking that has accompanied the occupation from the first, according to which everything that is good for the Palestinians is bad for Israel.

Afterward, we must stop the thefts and expulsions. We must stop the ethnic cleansing of the Jordan Valley and the southern Hebron hills, stop expelling shepherds from their pastures and farmers from their fields. Enough designating land as firing ranges, which is nothing more than a cover for a mini-transfer. Enough demolishing homes that were constructed illegally according to a law that never permits them to be built. Enough with the “requirements of natural increase,” which only the settlers have. Enough with the “nature reserves,” which is also expulsion in disguise.

The Civil Administration – a euphemism for martial law – must prove that Israel wants the “process.” The time has come to end the nighttime raids on villages, the arrest of children and nonviolent demonstrators and brutal searches in the dead of night. It is also time to stop evicting people from their homes over pre-1948 purchase rights that apply only to Jews. The military court system must also make changes, as must IDF commanders in the territories: not every Palestinian is a suspicious object.

Israel’s good intent must also include opening its gates to the controlled entry of workers from the territories. Police officers and Border Police troops, who go after illegal aliens – people who wish only to find work in Israel because they have no alternative – are not agents of change; Palestinian workers who find a livelihood in Israel actually are.

All these measures are possible. They are obligated by reality for those who wish to change that reality, and they do not endanger security. What's necessary is good intentions. Those who declare themselves in favor of a peace process must take these measures. All the rest is nothing but empty words.

So much for the old Israeli left.Credit: Amos Biderman

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