Middle East Peace Negotiations?

Article excerpt

UNTIL THE POPULATIONS OF ISRAEL AND PALESTINE really want peace, the peace negotiations will be nothing but a slightly sad sideshow, unless the Obama administration, momentarily freed from its own electoral concerns, is prepared to put forward a substantive peace plan of its own.

It used to be that the elites in both societies would tell you that once they worked out a deal, their relatively excitable populations would embrace it. Perhaps. But what has become clear in recent years is that neither side has sufficient stability based on popular support to actually make the compromises necessary to negotiate a peace agreement with terms that could actually work.

So, instead of playing to each side's elites, those who seek peace must now launch a broad educational campaign to reach ordinary citizens (if necessary, over the heads of those elites) with a message that is convincing- a message that says, here are the terms of a fair peace agreement and here is why we believe that if each side makes the necessary compromises, it will work to meet your best interests.

Some say this is a hard case to make. They point out that Israelis seem to be doing quite well at the moment from a material standpoint and have little interest in what goes on in the West Bank and Gaza. They argue this situation is unlikely to change so long as the restraint of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, the partial effectiveness of intrusive searches at checkpoints and the careful patrolling of the Israeli-constructed Wall, impressive intelligence based on willing (and less than willing) collaborators, and newer protection technologies collectively manage to minimize the number of terrorist attacks in Israel. We are glad for the reduction of terror, but not for the resulting complacency and willingness of many Israelis to live with the torture and oppression that their army inflicts on the subjugated Palestinian populations of the West Bank and the open-air prison that is Gaza.

The United States and other countries committed to a peaceful solution should present a detailed plan for what a final agreement must encompass to the people of the Middle East and the United States. Such a plan must on the one hand take into account the tremendous economic, political, and military inequality between the two parties, as well as recognize the historical injustice done to the Palestinian people. On the other hand, it must speak to the great pain that both parties have suffered. It is this pain from the past that leads them each to interpret everything through a framework based on memories ofbeing betrayed, oppressed, and denied their fundamental humanity. Lasting peace will require steps toward healing that pain and trauma, so that each party can approach the other with a spirit of generosity and openheartedness, rather than needing to insist that since their pain has "really been greater than the pain of the other side," their needs (for justice, security, and respect) trump the needs of the other side.

We who live outside Israel/Palestine can play a role, partly by challenging the discourse of "blaming the other" that gets strengthened by the more extreme partisans in both camps, but more importantly by insisting that our political leaders present to both sides a vision of a future that will appeal to the people of the region and give them reason to push their leaders to make the necessary compromises. Obviously, the people of the region will make the final decisions, but having a proposal that seems comprehensive and fair coming from the greatest economic, military, and political powers of the world will strengthen the part of each Israeli and Palestinian who wants to believe in the possibility of a conclusion to this struggle based on peace, justice, and recognition of the dignity and fundamental humanity of both sides.

Keeping that in mind, yet wanting to propose something that our spiritually and psychologically tone-deaf politicians might at least understand, I offer the following advice for what a peace plan proposed to both sides by the United States could involve. …