by Daniel Bar-Tal
Israeli and Palestinian societies, along with the rest of the world, are witnessing the collapse of the Road Map peace process. It has become evident that this window of opportunity is closing, without having generated the powerful momentum that could move both societies towards the road to peace. A return to the vicious cycle of violence, which will bring only suffering to both nations, looks likely. As usual, each side will blame the other for the failure. That is just the propaganda war, which will not resolve the major problems of the region and which will only fuel the conflict.
Strategically, it is in Israel’s interest to resolve the conflict peacefully, in a way that will satisfy the Palestinians’ basic needs. A solution must be found, not only because of the demographic threat that may turn Jews into a minority in their own country, but also for moral, social and economic reasons. Israel will not flourish economically, will not be able to solve its problems of poverty, welfare, health or transportation and will not be able to invest in education and culture. Nor will it be able to become a fully democratic and moral society or find its place among the nations, until it resolves the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which is a cancer in its heart.
The conflict is a complex one. Both sides have legitimate arguments, although each believes only it has right on its side. Regardless of this, it is imperative that the conflict be resolved by dividing the territory both claim as their homeland. In view of the history of the region, the only moral and practical solution is to give the Palestinians the 22 percent they deserve (land occupied by Israel in 1967), to evacuate the settlements and solve the refugee problem in a moral and practical way. Only this solution will satisfy the basic needs of the majority of Palestinians. Any other solution, such as one Israel forced on the Palestinian leadership, would leave the conflict open.
Such a move would require Israeli leaders to undergo a major psychological transformation, given that many of them continue to believe in the Jewish people’s exclusive rights to the land. They rely on Israel’s military might, consider the Palestinians inferior and view the Israeli people as eternal victims of history. They believe Israel is doing the majority of the giving and receiving little in return. They need to realize that continuing the conflict is the most destructive thing they could do to Israeli society. De Gaulle and De Klerk had this type of understanding. These leaders, who were on the “mighty” side, understood that continuing the conflict would eventually destroy their countries. Even though they had most of “the cards” in their hands, they did the majority of the “giving” to save their nations, in spite of the fact that many in their societies believed that would be self destructive.
Our current situation can only be resolved if Israeli leaders dramatically change their views of the conflict, of the Palestinians, of the benefits of peace and of the costs of war. Israel today may hold most of the cards; it has the almost unconditional support of the world’s only superpower, it is the major military power in the region, it occupies most of the land, controls every aspect of Palestinian life, has a relatively strong economy, and has the support of world Jewry, Europe and many other countries. So only Israel has the power to change the situation dramatically. It can give the Palestinians respect, dignity, self-determination, equality, security and, above all, freedom. All these are necessary for each individual and for every collective. Satisfying basic needs will persuade the majority of Palestinians to accept peace and stop the violence, as moral claims and violent acts are the only cards they hold. Israeli Jews deserve security too. It is a fundamental need that is very hard to live without. But it is sad that they do not see a connection between depriving Palestinians of their basic needs and evil and deplorable acts of terror.
Current Israeli leaders do not see the situation this way, and are supported in this by military, religious and nationalist organizations. They construct justifications for continuous confrontation. Even the terrible use of terror by the Palestinians cannot explain continuing settlement expansion, the destruction of Palestinians’ societal, economic and physical infrastructure, or turning their daily life into a nightmare. The sad thing is that many Israeli Jews have accepted the explanations why they should not “yield” to the basic demands of the Palestinians and the justifications the Israeli government gives for using brutal and immoral measures against them. One day, it will be possible to look back and see the terribly foolish way Israel has been led. But in the meantime, the price will be paid not only by the Palestinians, but also by Israeli society, at the individual and at the collective level. The question should therefore be asked by every Israeli Jew: Are we condemned to be led into deterioration, disintegration, misery and pain?