Arab-Israeli relations: A check-in with the Palestinian peace camp
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Arab-Israeli relations: A check-in with the Palestinian peace camp

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Israeli and Palestinian staff members of the Geneva Initiative jumped into a spontaneous conference call two weeks ago, the fourth in half as many days. With sirens in central Israel and increasingly violent confrontations in the West Bank, we sprinted through the questions we had been asking constantly since the escalation began: “How are you?” “What’s the situation over there?” “Is your family okay?”

Basic physical and emotional stability established, we then moved to the news. This is not a simple matter for a joint Palestinian-Israeli team. Even for peace workers with shared goals, values and vision, our media exposure is completely different, our understanding of current events shaped by national narratives that create two alternate realities. Where one side sees Hamas shooting rockets at civilians as the epicenter of the escalation, the other emphasizes that the main issue is Israeli displacement laws and policies in Jerusalem. Our conversations are long, exhausting and often repetitive, as we try to understand what the other side is hearing, seeing and feeling without overwriting our own experiences.

One recurring theme on the Israeli side of the media divide has been the absence or insufficiency of Palestinian voices condemning Hamas, rockets and violence in general. Israeli media platforms repeatedly demand that Palestinian leaders on both sides of the Green Line condemn violence and that the Palestinian people take to the streets in protest of Hamas’s tactics. The underlying message inherent to these demands is clear: All Palestinians between the river and the sea are our enemies, and there is no partner for coexistence – let alone peace.

Where, then, is the Palestinian peace camp today and what is it doing? There are dozens of organizations in the West Bank that are engaging on a daily basis in grassroots as well as top-down outreach in Palestinian society, emphasizing the practical advantages of non-violent organizing, raising support for a just and viable two-state solution, and defending the importance of keeping results-focused dialogue channels open with Israelis against the pressures of the anti-normalization movement. Why aren’t these peace workers organizing anti-Hamas protests?

Setting aside for a moment the divisive psychology of conflict and solidarity with the suffering of co-nationals, the demand that Palestinian peace activists erode their own legitimacy and ability to reach out to the unconvinced in their communities by essentially standing with Israel during a violent confrontation is not just unrealistic; it is short-sighted and counterproductive. If the peace camp on the other side falls short of expectations, it may be time to challenge the reasonableness of those expectations in the current political context, and to think of ways that you can contribute to more promising conditions. To adopt an American cliché: Ask not what the peace camp can do for you – ask what you can do for the peace camp.

ISRAELI SOCIETY has always been interested in (and often outraged by) international opinion and responses to the conflict. Palestinian public opinion, on the other hand, is largely ignored, either because Israelis take for granted that Palestinians hate them and want to destroy Israel, or because it is more politically convenient to ignore the fact that the two-state solution remains – despite all odds – the preferred solution to the conflict in Palestinian society (including residents of both Gaza and the West Bank).

The fact that Israeli leaders and society only pay attention to the conflict when it escalates sends Palestinians the very message that Israelis often repeat, in an inverted direction: All the other side understands is violence. During the recent escalation, Palestinians saw a significant increase of interest and concern from the international community that has been largely indifferent to their cause in recent years. The fact that the US president’s first phone call to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas took place amidst the violence is largely perceived by Palestinians as a diplomatic victory for Hamas, not Abbas.

The Palestinian peace camp exists. It is composed of idealists and pragmatists of all ages and backgrounds living in the West Bank, Jerusalem, and yes, Gaza too. One of the authors of this article is a proud, card-carrying member of that camp. Together, we continue to advocate for cooperation, trust-building and a peace process, even though it will necessitate difficult concessions and compromises. We are working against delegitimization efforts on both sides of the Green Line, and actors who prefer to achieve political and diplomatic results through force. In the absence of any official consideration of a renewed peace process, those actors become stronger, and the peace camp – Palestinian and Israeli – weakens.

While violence provides short-term advantages for specific political players and entities, there is no scenario in which either society “wins” through armed confrontation. The only genuine path to a stable and better future is through a viable peace agreement that ensures the rights, dignity and security of all parties. The first step in this process is speaking to the other side, and learning how to work with them and support them, despite our many differences, in moving towards the shared goal.

The writers are staff members of the Palestinian Peace Coalition and HL Education for Peace – the Palestinian and Israeli branches of the Geneva Initiative.

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