Saturday, October 27

Dialogue or Negotiations

There are many doubts as to whether the Annapolis Summit will be held or not. It is almost certain that Israel and the Palestinians are not ready for these negotiations and it is hard to predict if they will be ready by the so-called scheduled date 26th November, 2007.

There are many reasons for this. The viewpoints of Israel and Palestine are very far apart and the Palestinians under Mahmoud Abbas are interested in discussing the “core issues” such as the refugees, the status of Jerusalem as well as the final borders in a final settlement while Tzippi Livni, Israel’s Foreign Minister hopes to reach an understanding rather than a solution. An understanding is not a solution but a delaying tactic to reach an agreement.

This means, in practice, more marking of time in the game of indecisiveness. Apart from that, both the Israeli and Palestinian leadership is weak. The proposed Palestinian delegation does not have Hamas representation from Gaza, which de facto has become detached from the West Bank and formed another Palestinian entity whose influence still breathes heavily down the neck of President Mahmoud Abbas. Israel has her problem with Shas and Israel Beitenu, the right wing members of PM Olmert’s coalition, has threatened to leave the coalition if concessions or agreements are made with Mahmoud Abbas. Here a strange paradox has occurred. Hamas and the Israeli right wing coalition partners have a common goal – sabotaging the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, each for its own reasons. Hamas continues to fire Qassam rockets into the south of Israel and it hopes to create havoc, not only for the Israelis living there but also to their own families near Beit Hanun where young innocent Palestinian children are the victims of Israeli Army retaliations. It is as if Hamas and Islamic Jihad are using Palestinian children as human shields. This is tragic and criminal!

The “honest broker” who is organizing the summit is the United States whose record for crisis solving is poor. They have won wars but lost the peace and become embroiled in indefinite Vietnam-style scenarios as in Iraq, Afghanistan and who knows who will be next – possibly Iran? Apart from that the US seems to be more concerned about the nuclear capability of Iran and putting a stop to that rather than the Palestinian-Israeli conflict which is on the backburner. Can Israel and the Palestinians trust the US as a peacemaker with such a poor record filled with blunders? Wherever the US gets involved in peace making the results are disastrous! If the peace summit could be organized in another country without US interference, maybe the chances of its success would be greater. There is so much against the Annapolis Peace Summit, which looks as if it will be destined to failure before it even starts.

Those who will suffer from the consequences of Annapolis will be the Israeli and Palestinian people because of lack of decisiveness and desire to reach a final solution to the conflict which is more than overdue.

This brings me to discuss the idea of non-governmental dialogue between the two peoples. The difference between negotiations and dialogue is the scale at which they are held. Dialogue can be held between two peoples on a lower non-governmental level between various groups who have problems of reaching an understanding and making peace. Negotiations are between governments of warring countries in order to arrive to a peace agreement. The latter has proved a total failure which means that more emphasis should be placed on relationships between ordinary people amongst Israelis and Palestinians in order to build a bridge of understanding between them. This can be accomplished by dialogue groups not connected with the leaders or the governments of the warring parties.

Much can be done to encourage dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. The Internet is a very important tool for establishing dialogue. One can find many outreach programmes encouraging dialogue on the web.

There are many problems and stereotype thoughts that both peoples have against each other. The Palestinians view Israelis as occupiers of territory. Many see Israelis as soldiers who man check posts, carry out body searches as well as humiliate and insult Palestinians. They also see Israelis as settlers who have stolen their lands, uprooted their olive trees and agricultural plantations as well as abusing them.

Israelis view Palestinians as terrorists and Islamist fanatics who are potential suicide bombers out to kill them in the hope that they will destroy Israel and replace it with a Palestinian state. These two stereotypes of fanatic Palestinians and Israelis on opposite sides of the spectrum is a severe barrier that has to be overcome. In between these two stereotypes demonizing both peoples is the mainstream, silent majority. These are the Palestinians and Israelis who are moderates and seek peace and coexistence as well as an independent viable Palestinian state alongside Israel. These people really should be encouraged to form dialogue groups across the borders. Both moderate Israelis and Palestinians could take the lead in dialogue and if there are enough non political groups whose motivation is peaceful coexistence, they could apply pressure on their respective leaders to start negotiations for peace, coexistence, justice and a Palestinian state living at peace with Israel and having cultural and economic relations for the good of both peoples.

Palestinians and Israelis could join many groups. A few that come to mind are the One Voice Movement, Foundation for Middle East Peace, the latter has a number of peace movements affiliated to it.

Dialogue can succeed if there are enough Palestinians and Israelis engaged in it. They could become a pressure group for peace that their respective governments cannot ignore.

Official negotiations for peace without the support of the people are doomed to failure. In South Africa, the transition from apartheid to a multi racial government succeeded because all the peoples of South Africa supported it. Unfortunately, this is not the case in this conflict.

1 comment:

Daniel E. Levenson said...

It is only when those people step forward, and are willing to continue to push the peace process forward no matter what, that we will see any real progress. It is hard to know who those people may be, but Mr. Abbas, Mr. Olmert, Ms. Rice and Mr. Bush all have an opportunity this fall to become those people. To be sure it would be a challenging role to embrace, but perhaps if one or two of them are brave enough, Annapolis might actually produce something meaningful.

This is an excerpt from a longer piece I have written about the upcoming Annapolis peace conference. To read the entire thing, please visit my website: