It has been snowing in Jerusalem for the past 3 days. More snow has mounted up than I can remember in my 34 years of living in this city! It is quite amazing, and quite cold. Frigid and icy. Very dangerous. And practically nothing is moving. Life is at a standstill as we all stare out of our windows and gaze and the wonders and worries of Mother Nature.
Is this all a big metaphor for the so-called “Peace Process”? Is it too frozen? With no real movement! And isn’t it quite dangerous? After all, what is the alternative to the “Peace Process”? The “War Process”? We are constantly being warned that the Third Intifada is coming if the diplomats do not reach an agreement.
U.S. Secretary of State Kerry was in Jerusalem yesterday, despite the snow storm, to try to move the process along. He met with the Prime Minister, even in the midst of the raging snow storm! Indeed, he deserves great praise for his persistence and perseverance! It often seems that he and President Obama are much more serious about Peace in the Middle East than the leaders and people who live here, who somehow manage to cope with the status quo so well for so long!
Despite non-stop efforts by the media to report on the contents of the Peace Process, one of the best signs so far is that Kerry and company have been relatively quiet about the details of the talks. When people ask me in my lectures “how are the peace talks progressing?” (as if I should know!), I always respond that the less we know the better.
Indeed, the so-called back channel talks are often more important than the formal ones. A leading American journalist whom I know and respect told me over coffee last week that there are lots of back-channel talks going on in Europe, which are encouraging the peace talks to actually come to agreements. I certainly hope that this is true!
But what if this is not the case? What if the peace talks are really frozen, like the snow and ice in Jerusalem these days?
Well, this would be very bad for our present situation and for our future. When I say “our future”, I mean for Jews and Palestinians alike.
Why is this so?
- Because the lack of a peace agreement means the loss of hope and the increase in despair, among both Palestinians and Jews
- Because it could lead to a return to violence, which is not only counter-productive, but leaves many people dead and wounded, and leaves us in the same place when the violence is over!
- Because the lack of an agreement means that the occupation of the territories continues and expands, leading to a one-state solution, which is , in my view, much worse than a two-state solution
So I am among those in Israel that applaud Senator Kerry and “the International Community” for their continued and stepped-up efforts to bring political peace to Israel and Palestine.
But I want to issue a word of caution. Even if they succeed—and I hope that they do, the sooner the better—this doesn’t mean that peace is at hand. The transition from conflict to post-conflict will be very long and complicated. It will require fortitude and forthrightness, as well as perseverance and patience.
This is where the work of Peace-building comes in. It is the parallel track to peace-making, to the political-diplomatic process. It is an essential ingredient for the success of the peace process in the long run. Through peacebuilding efforts throughout civil society, we can change the hearts and minds of the people towards the benefits and opportunities of living in peaceful coexistence, which is the ultimate goal of the peace process. Without these efforts, the peace process would be a meaningless shell, without any real hope for a better future.
Yes, the political peace process is crucial. And the faster a peace agreement is achieved, the better. But it is only a piece of paper. If we are to sustain the peace, we will need the involvement of many sectors of civil society—religious, education, communal, civic leaders as well as teachers, youth workers, social workers, psychologists, and much more—to train people to think and live differently than we did in the old days when the conflict was raging and all we did was engage in blaming one another.
The snow will begin to melt tomorrow. The deep freeze will end in Jerusalem within a few days. May it be a sign of hope for a joint future of peace and peaceful relations here in our part of the world.