Making peace: It’s easier said than done

Making peace: It’s easier said than done

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

Life in Israel has gotten more and more tense over the past year, much of that tension induced from the outside but emerging from within the country as well. The P5 +1 negotiations with Iran, the development and growth of ISIS, the continued hostility from Turkey, the renewed presence of U.S. forces in Iraq, and rocket shelling from Gaza — culminating in this summer’s Operation Protective Edge — have all prevented any sense of calm from developing in the neighborhood. None of these issues was directly driven by the actions of the Israeli government, but they have heightened the tension between Israel and its neighbors. 

Direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians have apparently failed — for the moment anyway, and definitely within the scope of the public eye. As the breakdown persists, a new radicalization seems to have developed on both sides of the conflict. Random acts of terrorist violence, much different from what occurred during the two prior Intifadas, have taken place. Ugly attacks using automobiles, guns, knives, and hatchets — apparently isolated and uncoordinated — have been made against Israelis. These have been met by Israeli retaliations against Arabs, but most clearly reflecting a diminution of any desire for a political rapprochement. The mutual taunting and confrontations between Muslims and Jews that have occurred over the past several weeks on the Temple Mount are further manifestations of both sides’ lack of desire to defuse the tension. 

Consideration of anti-Arab legislation or executive actions that would contravene any peaceful intentions still existing among the Israeli population have escalated. And there is a very real sense that there may be a large-scale, organized escalation of Jewish actions against Arabs following the horror of the Har Nof massacre, or even a radical Jewish response to it. People on each side seem to have a sense that no one on the other side cares at all about peace. 

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is pushing multiple levers to try to elevate international recognition of Palestine. Pointing a finger in the face of Israel and the United States, Abbas says he needs to show his people he is helping their cause, and if he cannot do so by ousting the occupiers of the land, then let it be international recognition of the Palestinian nation that demonstrates his commitment. 

Similarly, Israel does not hesitate to find ways to contaminate its own presumed desire for peace by continuing to expand existing settlements, restrict Palestinian movements on the West Bank, and reduce resources available to Arabs in Israel. It permits its own leadership to propose changes in Israel’s fundamental law and to consider calling new elections — just the right diversion of avoidance in the midst of elevated tension!

The United States and its allies persist in the notion that solving the problems between the Israelis and the Palestinians will make a huge shift in the atmosphere of the region and dramatically sway the winds in a peaceful direction. While admittedly solving those problems might truly contribute to a better, more peaceful environment, it can do little to resolve the myriad conflicts remaining among and between Arabs, Muslim sects, and within any modernization effort on the part of any Muslim political leaders or religious clergy. In fact were leaders to emerge advocating modernization and compromise, they would likely lose their lives. 

To offer perspective of how depressing matters have become between Jews and Arabs in Israel, a respected Jewish woman in her 80s who lives in Jerusalem related the following story: She has had the same Arab mailman for many years. When he delivers her mail, she offers him tea in the winter and a cold drink in the summer. Very recently the mailman, who is not a religious Muslim, asked her why she doesn’t convert to Islam. The woman was perplexed and astonished at the proposal and asked the mailman why he was even suggesting such an idea. The mailman replied in a rather matter-of-fact manner, “If you do not do so, you know we will have to kill you.” 

In this climate, making peace requires enormous faith.

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