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I was troubled by the wonderful interview of Channel 12’s Ohad Hemo (correspondent on Palestinian affairs) by Dana Weiss this past week. There are few Israeli journalists covering Palestine who really understand what’s going on next door to Israel because they take the time and make the effort to go deep into Palestinian society. Hemo is one of those who goes all over and meets real people, not just a few leaders from the Palestinian Authority. Hemo goes deep inside all over the West Bank, as he did years ago in Gaza. He speaks to people from all walks of life with an honest voice, seeking to really listen and hear what our neighbors have to say.
What troubles me are his conclusions. He is spot on regarding his conclusion that we have probably missed the opportunity to successfully reach a two-state solution, although he continues to advocate it.
His second conclusion is that in the absence of a two-state solution we are doomed to live together in this land and, in his view, that is a disaster. He repeated several times in the interview that Israelis and Palestinians are completely different, have different values and attitudes and will never be able to live together.
That is why, in his vision for the two-state solution, according to my understanding of what he said, Israelis and Palestinians must reach total separation. This is what is troubling to me; Hemo’s opinion reflects the majority of Israelis who still support the two-state solution (which is fewer than half of Israelis). The concept of “us here and them there” is one of the reasons why the process failed. Peace based on walls and fences is not peace. But Hemo spoke repeatedly in fear that the two-state solution is behind us and our tragic reality is that Israelis and Palestinians are stuck with each other and that is, in his words, impossible.
I agree with Hemo that the two-state solution is probably no longer viable. Many Palestinians, among them leaders and strong advocates of the two-state solution, often say: ‘We (the Palestinians) made a historic compromise by accepting the two-state solution in which our state would be on 22% of Palestine. This was not our first choice, but because Israel rejected the idea of one secular democratic state that the PLO originally proposed, we agreed to accept Israel on 78% of what we believed to be our historic land. But Israel rejected the two-state solution and continued to build settlements on the land that was supposed to be our state. Israel refused to recognize the Palestinian people’s right to have an independent sovereign state on part of the land. Now we go back to the beginning.’
Between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea there are two peoples, more or less in equal numbers. There is a one-state reality without democracy and with occupation for 50% of the people on this land. Palestinians will never accept this, nor should Israelis. Now we have to figure out how to share this land. We are already living in the reality that Hemo described with fear. But in my view, it is not a tragedy. It is not impossible. We are not so different – us Jews and Palestinians. What we need to do now is to begin to change our mindset and understand that we can live together and we can learn to share this land.
THIS IS not a shallow argument of one state or two states; the political solutions of the future will probably be much more complex than that. We need to find political solutions that enable all of us to have territorial expressions of our identity. We need to liberate ourselves from occupation and control. We need to strive for equality between all people sharing this land. We need to discover the humanity in each other – something Hemo knows quite well from his deep knowledge of Arabic and of Palestinian culture. We are more similar than we are different. We both come from societies with strong connections to close families. Both of our societies have very strong affinities for our religions. As a secular Jew, as is Hemo, I wish that our societies were less religious, less traditional, less patriarchal and more liberal and secular. For now, both Israeli and Palestinian societies are on the far end of the pendular cycle known in many conflict zones whereby the further away the conflict is from peace the more religious the societies in conflict tend to be. Israel has become more religious over the past years, as has Palestine. I have noticed over the years how some of my Palestinian friends now pray five times a day and testify how they have become more religious or traditional over time.
I have spent more than 40 years working side by side with Palestinians, and although we come from different cultures I often feel that I have much more in common with some of my secular Palestinian friends than I do with some of my religious Jewish friends. Within Israeli society we have challenges in confronting issues of identity. Our society is very divided with social, political and economic gaps that are very difficult to narrow. The cleavages in Israeli society are not just between religious and non-religious. There are the gaps between Ashkenazi and Mizrahi Jews. There is the state of Tel Aviv and then there is Jerusalem. There is the Right and the Left – and more. Palestinian society is also very divided and diverse, not only between Fatah and Hamas. There are Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, West Bankers, Gazans, city dwellers, villagers, Hebronites and people from the north of the West Bank, Bedouin, Christians, Druze, Muslims, refugees, those who returned from the diaspora after Oslo and more.
We have a lot of work to do to build more cohesion both within our two societies and then also between our two societies. There will never be peace between Jews and Palestinians based complete separation. Jews and Palestinians want to live in peace but the reality of peace will not be based on ignoring the other people living on this land. Removing the fear from our prospect as described by Hemo as a tragedy begins with changing our mind set and recognizing that the biggest challenge of our times is to reach across the divide. Whatever political solution is found at some time in the future, our future will be built on the understanding that we will always live in diverse and complex societies and from that we must develop a sense that we are all partners in building a shared society.
Gersho Baskin is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to the State of Israel and to peace between Israel and her neighbors. He is now directing The Holy Land Investment Bond.