Op-Ed

Can we still give peace a chance?

Israeli peace activists marched in Tel Aviv last weekend, hoping to reduce tensions with Palestinians.
Israeli peace activists marched in Tel Aviv last weekend, hoping to reduce tensions with Palestinians. AP

Is there any chance that Israelis and Palestinians will ever make peace? Even the most stubborn optimists are finding reason to doubt the prospect of a lasting deal. And yet, it’s too early to give in to the temptation of hopelessness. Instead, it’s time to adjust expectations and change strategy.

The list of reasons why peace seems further out of reach seems to grow every day. The turmoil in the region only complicates what was already a difficult situation. Israelis can hear the explosions along their border with Syria, where the war only grows more horrifying and complex with every passing day.

Israel not only continues to be threatened with destruction, but it also was founded on the ashes of the near-extermination of the Jewish people.

The rockets launched from Hamas-controlled Gaza — the territory Israel withdrew from in 2005 — still send people in southern Israeli scurrying for cover. In Jerusalem the knives have literally come out. Each attack pushes peace further away. Still, pretending peace is impossible only makes matters worse. Some Israelis have turned against Arabs, committing despicable attacks of their own, tearing at the country’s moral fiber and fueling the flames of hatred.

Some Palestinians want peace and co-existence; others still reject the very notion of a Jewish state.

And it’s hard to see what the strategy of the Israeli government is. In an intriguing article in the latest Foreign Affairs, Natan Sachs argues that the Israeli government, persuaded by repeated rejections of Israeli peace offers and worsening chaos in the neighborhood, has essentially decided the only answer now is to wait. Rejecting the U.S. policy of “solutionism,” they have concluded that for the time being there is simply no path to peace. The best that can be done is to manage the conflict until the situation changes.

Sachs contends that it is incorrect to describe Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin as a hawkish warmonger. Instead, he says, Netanyahu is conservative and deeply pessimistic, as are other members of his government. The worldview is shared by Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, once a leftist proponent of peace with the Palestinians, who now rejects the impatience of those suffering from both “solutionism,” and “nowism,” the twin traits of American-style optimism, which embrace the belief that a solution can be found, and found soon.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that some in Israel are imbued with deep suspicions about the ultimate intentions of their enemies. After all, this is not just a country that continues to be threatened with destruction, but it is one founded on the ashes of the near-extermination of the Jewish people.

And yet, Israel is also the country of dreams-turned-into-reality. Its leaders have said they don’t just believe in miracles, they rely upon them.

There are countless groups working for peace, and numerous organizations where Jews and Muslims and Christians work together.

One of those miracles is that the majority of Israelis support the creation of a Palestinian state. And, despite what we see and hear, there is an enormous amount of peaceful, even warm daily interactions between Arabs and Jews. It is less common that it used to be, but it still goes on every single day.

There are countless groups working for peace, and numerous organizations where Jews and Muslims and Christians work together.

In the past few weeks there have been peace marches including Arabs and Israelis in Jerusalem, Haifa, Tel Aviv and elsewhere. A Hummus restaurant near Netanya offered 50 percent off to tables shared by Arabs and Jews. The tables filled up and many turned down the discount to support the sentiment.

Yes, this is small anecdotal evidence and it is minuscule compared to the large geopolitical forces arraying against peace. But the most important factor in producing peace is the people’s desire for peace. And that still burns brightly, but realistically.

The new reality is that progress can only be made incrementally. Big ambitious conferences and Nobel Prize winning ambitions must be set aside in favor of gradual but meaningful advances. In the end, peace — and a Palestinian state — must come, because there is no better solution.

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