What can Israelis and Palestinians agree on?
Everything. Or nothing.
I was asked to address this question by the moderator of a Facebook forum devoted to discussing Middle East peace. I have joined a number of such groups in recent weeks in a blatant effort to help promote my new book, “Broken Spring.”
My experience with most of the groups has been disappointing. All of them have “peace” in their titles, but the overall tone of the posts, with some notable exceptions, is extremism and hate.
The ideologues and extremists on both sides — those who truly believe that Israel is a cancer that must be removed, that everything Israel does is aimed at oppressing the Palestinians, that Israel intentionally and happily kills Palestinian babies or those who believe that all Palestinians are terrorists, that all of them believe Jews should be massacred at every opportunity, that there is no such thing as a Palestinian or Palestine, that all of them should be expelled to Jordan or the moon or wherever — those people make up the “nothing” part of the equation.
I got into a Facebook discussion with a couple of Israel-bashers who assumed that I’m a mouthpiece for the hated Zionists. I explained that, indeed, I am an Israeli, but I am a journalist and analyst who has covered the conflict hands-on for four decades and is just trying to provide some background and context. The reply was that this person has also covered the conflict for decades, although he’s never been within 4,000 miles of the region. I admit that I laughed.
There are issues and narratives that will never be reconciled. Who did what to whom, when, why? Which side has suffered more? Who has historical/religious/security rights to which sliver of land? On that basis — and that is the basis of many of the comments I’ve read — nothing ever will be achieved.
Israeli President Shimon Peres believes peace can be made by looking forward, not backward. Peres isn’t right about everything, but he’s right about that.
Israelis are sitting on the edge of their collective chair waiting for Egypt to abrogate the 1979 peace treaty that has revolutionized the Middle East far more than any accord between Israel and the Palestinians ever could.
Israelis were certain that the day after the Muslim Brotherhood took power in Cairo, the treaty would be canceled. It wasn’t. They assume the new military rulers are just as anti-Israel in their own way, and cancelation is just a matter of time.
It hasn’t happened. It won’t. The reason is that Israel and Egypt both have vital common interests at stake, interests that require that the peace treaty
remains in force and that cooperation increases.
If the principle of acting according to interests is accepted, then it’s a matter of hammering out terms that both sides can live with as opposed to what both sides believe is theirs by right.
One central part of this is, it’s a package deal. If we bring individual issues to the fore one by one, then of course each side must reject each demand of the other side.
The price of not reaching an agreement is more stalemate, more suffering, more wasted resources. Time is not on anyone’s side, because the choice is clear:
Everything. Or nothing.