Hope for Middle East peace can be helpful if it creates pressure on both sides to take the steps in negotiations necessary for a viable peace agreement to be produced. But it can be destructive if it encourages either side to enter into agreements that it cannot sustain. Better no agreement than one that temporarily raises hopes only to dash them, as happened after the Oslo Accord in 1993 when neither side followed through in creating the changes in consciousness needed to make the accord viable.
No matter what agreements are worked out in negotiations such as those fostered by Secretary of State John Kerry, they are unlikely to succeed until a dramatic reconciliation of the heart takes place among the various parties to the conflict. Without such a reconciliation, even a globally popular settlement agreement (as the Oslo Accord was when it was first signed) has little chance of succeeding.
That transformation of consciousness could be facilitated if the United States, European countries, and the peace movements in Israel and Palestine were to help people imagine what a desirable settlement—an agreement that would satisfy the fundamental needs of both sides—could look like. Especially if the extensive media power of the United States were used to popularize such a vision, it could be transformative.
There are two reasons why it is crucial that these terms be articulated by all who are genuinely committed to peace. First, doing so would help people understand why a peace agreement that neglects the key needs addressed in this proposal is unlikely to work and hence is less desirable than no agreement, since when that agreement fails an even deeper pessimism and despair would ensue. The failure of unsustainable agreements would only strengthen the “refuseniks,” those on both sides who are really against any lasting peace. Among Israelis, the refuseniks are mainly Israeli settlers and their champions in the right-wing secular and religious parties in Israel who want Israel to permanently dominate all of the ancient Eretz Yisrael; rather than agree to peace, they would prefer to either chase Palestinians out of their land or impose a regime in which Palestinians live permanently as second-class citizens. Among Palestinians, the refuseniks include those who follow Hamas and believe that only armed struggle can achieve what they seek, which is a society in which Jews live as a tamed minority. And these Palestinians gain support from widespread despair among younger Palestinians about Israel’s seemingly unending quest to build more settlements and Jewish-only housing in the West Bank.
Second, it’s crucial to articulate viable peace terms because if the current negotiations fail, we may see a repeat of the scenario that followed the failure of the 2000 Camp David negotiations, when President Clinton joined Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in placing the blame for the failure on the Palestinians, and most people, not knowing the details of the terms offered, accepted the American-Israeli account of what happened.
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I’m a long time reader of yours and I’m always excited
to hear your perspective on developments in the Middle East peace process. In this article you correctly point to
the ‘refuseniks’ on both sides, however you fail to mention the pro- peace sides. In your prescription for peace you correctly point out the need for a change of heart, some deeper emotional ideas that can finally help settle this seemingly intractable conflict. You suggest that European powers, the US, and pro peace elements from both the Israeli side and the Palestinian side spearhead this effort. I’m very familiar with Peace Now, Bet T’slem and others on the Israeli side – but I’m not
aware of commensurately pro- peace organizations on the Palestinian side. Perhaps as you often do, you can she’d some light on this for me.