Israelis and Palestinians, rise up to demand peace

Israelis and Palestinians, rise up to demand peace

In the enduring conflict between Palestine and Israel, both sides have been failed by their leaders and by Western intermediaries. Summits, conferences, accords and a roadmap going nowhere have been a waste of time and effort. Earlier attempts at finding solutions brokered by former US presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were genuine but were stymied. Those that followed were either fig leaves or half-hearted.

Today, there is not only “nothing on the table,” there is no table. When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced there would never be a Palestinian state on his watch — a statement he later retracted for international consumption — he meant it. 

And, quite frankly, I am beginning to think US President Donald Trump’s blueprint for peace is a figment of his imagination.

There is plenty of blame to apportion, but regurgitating past errors of judgment has been done over and over again. It is beyond time for a new page to be turned. How long must we go on rehashing and repeating more than 50 years of mistakes?

Presidents, prime ministers, Middle East envoys and UN secretary-generals, however well-meaning, have achieved nothing. Relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority are on the rocks. Rockets and missiles fly both ways over Gaza.

I am convinced that peace will not come from the top down, but rather requires grassroots movements along the lines of Peace Now, established by Israeli reservists in 1978 to push for a two-state solution. The activist group, once popular and with a huge following among Israelis, is now on the fringe, its activists subjected to death threats.

The climate has worsened since the movement’s heyday and is now dominated by fear, hatred and a thirst for revenge. Those destructive emotions need to change. Trust between the two peoples needs to be built brick by brick; they should learn to see each other as fellow human beings with the same hopes and dreams. Peace Now’s philosophy must be revived in the hearts and minds of not only Israelis but also Palestinians.

What Palestinians have to gain from a peaceful conclusion to this conflict is well known. The tiny spark of hope that gave them the courage to carry on has been all but stifled, replaced by desperation, as shown by recent mass protests in Gaza that led to dozens of deaths and thousands of injuries. Their courage is beyond reproach, but other than placing their plight at the forefront of international attention for a brief moment, such demonstrations are exercises in futility.

My appeal is directed at the Israeli people, who are so used to the status quo that they may be unaware of the benefits that would flow from reconciliation with stable, prosperous Arab states on condition Palestinians get their rights. 

Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor

Yes, Israel’s reputation for brutality has been confirmed. European states and even sections of the US Jewish community are outraged. Many countries are beginning to consider Israel a pariah state. However, as long as Israel remains under a White House umbrella, it will never be held accountable.

Appealing to Netanyahu or Trump to come up with solutions is pointless. They understand only the language of force. My appeal is directed at the Israeli people, who are so used to the status quo that they may be unaware of the benefits that would flow from reconciliation with stable, prosperous Arab states on condition Palestinians get their rights. 

These include investments from the GCC and other Arab countries to boost Israel’s economy, translating to new business opportunities, improved infrastructure, greater opportunities and prosperity; the ability to travel and be welcomed as tourists throughout most of the Middle East; a reduction in antisemitism exacerbated in part by occupation; and a potential end to the conscription of young Israelis and mandatory reserve duty.

There could also be exchanges of talent and technologies, cultural and social interaction, the end of aggression and loathing, and security and intelligence cooperation buffering Iran’s belligerence.

Israelis should set aside their long-held prejudices and dig deep to see what is in their interests. The same goes for Arabs. Think about your children and grandchildren. Do not indoctrinate them with your fears and hatreds. Young people deserve to be carefree, not made to wear uniforms and carry weapons. Give them a chance to move forward together, free from the weight of your emotional baggage and bad experiences. Changing attitudes is a crucial prerequisite for Israelis and Arabs to live together with mutual respect on the same soil.

Like it or not, the Israeli state is recognized by the United Nations and the world at large. Israel has high-caliber university graduates, ground-breaking inventions and cutting-edge research. Better to deal with it than fruitlessly wishing it away. Israel, with its nuclear weapons and military might, is going nowhere.

While I have championed a two-state solution for most of my life, I am a realist. The chance of that happening is gone, other than the creation of another enclave like Gaza, a demilitarized entity with no control over its own borders. Israelis and Palestinians must coexist in one state as equal citizens with the same rights.

Let us shift our thinking toward a logical solution that will secure a better future for our nations, for Arab and Israeli youth, and especially for those young Palestinians born in conflict who deserve the same chances enjoyed by their peers everywhere.

Israelis and Palestinians should revolt against the old leadership playbooks keeping them on different sides of the fence. Tear down those figurative and material walls. The men in suits bent on consolidating power have let them down. Peace engendered by the very people who have the most to gain (and to lose) could work where all else has failed.

  • Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor is a prominent UAE businessman and public figure. He is renowned for his views on international political affairs, his philanthropic activity, and his efforts to promote peace. He has long acted as an unofficial ambassador for his country abroad. Twitter: @KhalafAlHabtoor

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