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.
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.
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.