In the last few months, we have been witnessing with great concern an escalation of violence that has dramatically eroded our hopes for a peaceful solution of the Middle East conflict. A new season of optimism seemed to be slowly emerging when suddenly things started following a different path, creating a feeling of deeper and deeper pessimism. Today, however, with a stronger cohesiveness of the international community and the goodwill of the actors directly involved, hopefully prospects for a peaceful solution might still reappear. And it is precisely in this perspective, directed at reviving peace talks, that our initiative of cooperation with Palestine-Israel was conceived.
The dramatic impact of the current explosion of violence on regional stability is patent, as relations between nations are affected to a large degree by what appears to be an "unsolved peace process" syndrome. As a result, trade, exchanges and economic growth have been hampered, harming the tremendous potential that the region has, and that, in the last few decades, has not been fulfilled to its full extent.
Under these circumstances, it is useful to remember that the Middle East has been a traditional crossroad of peoples and civilizations, which over the centuries gave rise to a kind of melting pot ante litteram. As a "borderline" region, opening up to the Mediterranean on one side and to the Persian Gulf on the other, the Middle East (what used to be known as the "Levant") witnessed uninterrupted movement and exchange between neighboring countries and at the same time witnessed exchange of ideas and cultural discoveries.

People to People Relations

In a sense, societal contacts and "people to people" relations in their recent version can trace their origins to the time of the Italian merchants in the Middle Ages, and in movements across the Mediterranean for millennia. Fully aware of this historical context, there is a pressing need to analyze further the cultural reasons underlying the present strife - complicated, as it appears to be, by a huge gulf in mutual perception and identity backgrounds.
By sponsoring this issue of Palestine-Israel Journal, the Italian Government lends its full support to the creation of meaningful and steady "people to people" relations between Israelis and Palestinians, while at the same time indicating its belief in the quest for common values that are carried out by key sectors in the two societies.

Understanding the Other

Differences in self-perception, and therefore in concepts of national identity, are today reasons for division in the Middle East region. Feelings of distrust prevail, fostered as they are by partial knowledge and limited comprehension of the other side's national aspiration and by a shortsighted idea of the common future.
It has by now become overwhelmingly clear that a shared and prosperous future cannot exist without a common belief in shared values. No two peoples or cultures can coexist and thrive in the same environment without a thorough and effective cooperation in the political, economic, cultural, aspects of their respective lives. It is our conviction that, in order to fully appreciate the gifts of stability and well-being offered by shared future, both parties need to understand the reasons of the Other, and so to give up one's own, however splendid, isolation and engage in open exchange with cultures and civilizations thus far considered as strange and hostile, but which history has "condemned" to close and inescapable proximity.
Differences should not lead to division. On the contrary, they should be taken as sources for mutual enrichment. The effort to eliminate, or at least minimize, the reasons for division to exist, we believe, is the essence of the approach of Palestine-Israel Journal. We totally share this approach and offer it our utmost support.

The European Experience

There are in every culture, as we are aware, aspects of "national identity" that might seem to conflict with thinking of the Other. Sometimes, these lead to outbursts of conflict and to seemingly unending divisions (as the course of events in Israeli-Palestinian relations can confirm). At other times, these conflicting pieces of national identity spur mutual interest and exchange, thus transforming the same differences into reasons for cooperation and for mutual understanding.
Overcoming decades of hesitation, confrontation and mistrust, European countries, having known the destructive outcome of extreme interpretations of national identity, decided thirty-five years ago to leave aside old animosities and work together to build a common future. The results achieved speak clearly for themselves. When dialogue and cooperation take the place of tension and conflict, a new season of prosperity opens up, making old disputes merely memories from the past.