by Steven Weisman
When one looks for conflicts to compare to Israel-Palestine a host of options are available. Is it the same as the split in Cyprus between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots with a divided territory? Maybe it’s similar to the Republic of Ireland’s struggle against British occupation in terms of the strength of the British vis-à-vis the Irish? Or is it now the new popular comparison of Apartheid South Africa due to the treatment of the Palestinians? Wherever one looks, there are certainly points of comparison to be made, but perhaps the strangest and most unique thing about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the years of relative stagnancy when peace can be made between the parties on both sides and yet nothing happens. We are in one of those periods now.
I spoke to someone the other day who told me he never knew a conflict that was resolved by not talking. I don’t either. It begs the question of whether there really is an interest in peace and diplomacy. There are numerous available excuses to both sides for not talking to each other including a lack of trust between the parties, a divided Palestinian government, the continued rocket attacks, Hamas’ recalcitrance, Israel’s continued settlement of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, no security guarantees, the issue of Jerusalem, Netanyahu’s insistence on the recognition of Israel as the Jewish state, and so on. However, do any of these really justify simply not talking? The answer to me, as an outsider, seems obvious. If there is political will for peace, then the parties should be talking to each other.
Instead, we are stuck in this nebulous meta-peace process where no one is actually discussing peace; they are simply discussing the conditions on which they may meet to maybe talk about some kind of possible peace.
When I was an undergraduate in Canada, one of my friends in the debating society was staunchly against Israel and I, in contrast was an ardent Zionist. I used to argue with him all the time that once there was some period of relative calm, where there weren’t bombs or rockets or wars going on, Israel would make peace. That he would see, Israel would make the move and the Palestinians would reject it without measure but at least Israel would try. I don’t believe that today.
Instead of strong moves towards peace, there is only cowardice on both sides. A military solution may be simpler and less compromising, but it takes courage, character and strength to choose peace. From Nelson Mandela to Gandhi to Yitzhak Rabin, no one remembers the leaders who continue the conflict, but rather only the ones who take the risks necessary to try to end it.
As far as I can see, the leaders of Israel, and to a smaller extent, the Palestinian leadership as well would rather twiddle their fingers and wait for some new war, new uprising or new form of international pressure before anything happens. All I know is that while the world continues to talk about the “lost generation” due to the economic crisis, one can add to it the “lost opportunity” for Israeli-Palestinian peace.