Palestinian – Israeli Conflict: The Power of ‘Doing Peace’

This week my attention was drawn to an article in the Jerusalem Post by Edward Beck. He has what one might think is a “unique perspective” about how to resolve the Middle East tension and the position of “Jews in the world.”

Mr. Beck talks about a recent Pew Poll that found “there are more advocacy organizations per capita than we’ve had in the history of our people” [Israelis].

He said, “When you stop to think about it, how many Israeli advocacy groups are there? I often wonder if there are more Jewish professionals employed in advocacy groups than in Israel’s entire Foreign Ministry.” The problem is these organizations compete. “They appeal to potential members using fear messages like ‘genocide’ and ‘anti-Semitism,'” Mr Beck said.

What if … these organizations joined together and very publicly began “doing peace.”

Intentionally under the radar, there are Israeli – Palestinian peace talks going on in alternating days between Jerusalem and Jericho. The architect of the “peace talks” is Secretary John Kerry. The first rule that was established for these discussions was mandated by Secretary Kerry. He required that no one would disclose the content of the talks as they progressed. To the surprise of many, the lips of the participants have essentially remained sealed, according to the Haaretz.

In an interview with the Haartez, Yossi Beilin said, “For both sides the current situation is very, very comfortable. All of us are playing the game. Many meetings, very serious, good relationship, all issues are on the agenda, fighting the lunatics on both sides, and it’s beautiful. The only problem is that there will be an end to it in the coming months, and the admission of failure might be devastating.” Dr. Yossi Beilin served as Israel’s Minister of Justice and is known as the architect of the Oslo Agreement, The Geneva Accords and Taglit Birthright Project. He is the founder and president of Beilink International Affairs, Ltd.

Will these talks end again in “All Talk, No Action?”

“You must engage and empower not just those who agree with you, but those on ‘the fence’ and even those who disagree with you, to come into your tent and work for peace,” said Edward Beck. He went on to say, “There has to be a tangible product with which people from all different perspectives can come together.”

In this case, I am sure that Mr. Beck is not talking about the wall or barrier that Israel is building to keep Palestinians out of Israel. Especially not since more than 70% of the wall is built on Palestinian Occupied Territory. In fact he said, “We stand a better chance of achieving peace and stability when we try to find common ground with those who may disagree with us, and stand by a statement or a project.”

Edward Beck remarked, “Within group bashing, excommunication and litmus tests only create obstacles to peace, they do not enhance the prospects for it. We must welcome healthy dialogue and not eschew it for the party line. It may make some feel good, but it does nothing to advance peace.”

While the political negotiators are “very comfortable playing games,” there are “innocent people” that are being hurt by the “group bashing and excommunication” that creates obstacles to peace between Israel and Palestine. Instead of consistently inciting anger and fear with the Palestinian people, the Israeli’s could take a new approach and “do peace.”

Destroying Man’s Last Olive Tree Is Not Doing Peace

israel tears down olive trees
Israel tears down olive trees

On Aljazeera America (10/26/2013) they reported on an elderly man who was about to lose his last olive tree. He said the Israelis had marked the tree to be destroyed because they had decreed the land an environmentally protected park. Israelis can cut down olive trees that are under 10 years old. He said he tried to tell them the tree was well over ten years but they wouldn’t listen. It was hard to miss that Aljazeera pointed out that an Israeli settlement was pumping raw sewage into the future “environmentally protected park.”

It is quite obvious that the Israeli action to destroy the man’s olive tree was not “doing peace.” According to Haaretz, Palestinians reported Saturday that more than 100 olive trees were uprooted in the Krayot village, south of Nablus in the West Bank. Ghassan Daghlas, who monitors settler activities in this area of the West Bank on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, blamed settlers from the settlement Ali. The Palestinian Authority will reimburse the Olive Tree owners for their loss. Will monetary reimbursement quell the anger the Palestinians feel for the loss of their heritage?

Imagine if Israel began an effort of “doing peace” by replanting olive trees that have been destroyed, tearing down walls to give Palestinians access to their lands. Over 100,000 olive trees have been destroyed by Israel in the past 40 years. Eighty percent of Palestinians have historically supported their families from growing olive trees.

The Jewish Daily Forward reported on October 23rd, that Israel will push forward with plans to build additional homes in “existing Jewish settlements” in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. The new building plan was announced on the same day as the new “peace talks” started. This announcement was an effort at “talking peace” with Israel’s own hardliners. It certainly wasn’t “doing peace” with the Palestinians. Neither is this a genuine way to start “peace talks.”

Is Abbas Doing Peace?

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas travelled through Europe last week calling upon EU and other Western companies to stop doing business with West Bank settlements. He pointed to an EU policy which limits interaction with Israeli entities beyond the pre-1967 lines. In July, 2013 the EU issued guidelines that clarified the policy “against providing grants, prizes or loans to Israeli entities, including nonprofit and educational institutions that operate over the pre-1967 lines.” Was Abbas’ European campaign an “act of peace” or other disingenuous way to circumvent the peace process?

“We want to live alongside Israel and build bridges of peace with it,” Abbas said in an interview with reporters on October 23rd. “This call is directed against settlements that were established on the territories of the occupied State of Palestine and its capital, Jerusalem, after 1967.”

Abbas went on to say, “These talks are backed by the Arabs and the EU,” Abbas added. “Failure of the talks would have serious consequences for the future of peace and stability in our region and the world.” Abbas should have stopped before his last sentence. His conciliation statement, “talking peace” … quickly turned into a threatening statement “talking conflict.” What he could have said, “In 2011, President Obama stated the U.S. support for a future Palestinian state based on borders that existed before the 1967 Middle East war.” With this support, Israel must consider it is time to work with Palestine to define a plan that will generate “acts of peace” instead of “calls for war.”

Palestinian Plight – A Key Wedge

The Palestinian plight is a key wedge between the Middle East and the Western Countries. It should be noted; however; that Abbas did clearly state that Palestinians “want to live alongside Israel and build bridges of peace.” This is a huge admission of reality on the part of Abbas that Israel isn’t going to disappear. Abbas clearly states the goal of the Palestinians (and presumably the other Arab states that back him) is to “establish a State of Palestine and its capital Jerusalem after 1967.”

Palestinians have faced refugee status since 1948. There are UN supported Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza and Syria. The number of refugees registered in the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) totaled 5.1 million in 2012. Nearly 500,000 Palestinians are registered as refugees in Syria.

Doing Peace In Bethlehem

hope flowers logo

A perfect example of “doing peace” in the Bethlehem, Palestine is the Hope Flowers School which “teaches non-violence, citizenship, social and community skills to children aged 5-14. The school promotes quality education, self-improvement, intercommunal and intercultural understanding. The center also has a program for trauma-recovery and special needs education.” The philosophy of the center is “Peace, Justice, Democracy & Human Rights.” Hope Flowers is building a community attitude based on “de-escalating violence, polarization and extremism.”

According to the Al Hayat Al Jadida, the Israeli Hadassah Hospital is another organization that is “doing peace.” Al Ayat reports, “The Hadassah Hospital treats patients without regard to nationality and religion, including Muslims, Christians, Jews, and other nationalities without without bias.” The hospital director Yuval Weiss said, “30% of the children seen by Hadassah Hospital are Palestinian.” Hadassah Hospital is also training team of 60 .Palestinian physicians from a hospital in Beit Jala in the West Bank to treat pediatric cancer.

hadassah hospital
Hadassah hospital

Edward Beck’s closing remark was “Big tents are the path to peace and recognition, not myopic closed systems with party lines…” I find this analogy interesting as it fits very nicely with the closing thought of another Israeli in my prior article Palestinian – Israeli Conflict: What If … In that story the man says he often sits with his Arab neighbors for coffee to talk.

There is nothing more historically traditional than resolving conflict between feuding tribes in the Middle East than sitting down in a big Bedouin tent and negotiating over coffee.

PALESTINE WALL ART – Palestinian Israeli Love

Kimberly Jones is a global nomad with a special interest in the Middle East and North Africa. She grew up in Saudi Arabia and traveled throughout the MENA growing deeply attached to the people and the culture.