At the start of the first full week of 2014, I offer a new year’s resolution that may not be on your list yet but deserves a top spot: permit yourself to renew your hope that peace is possible between Israelis and Palestinians. Better yet, commit to do something about it.
In the case of Middle East peace, hope may be in short supply; some even treat it like a dirty word. But, especially this year, it has never been more justified. Israelis and Palestinians have been engaged in serious negotiations for several months now. Since the mainstream media often spend more time covering the speed bumps in the road than the overall signs of progress, here are a few highlights of the last few weeks.
Despite the posturing and despite tackling head-on the toughest core issues, the peace talks have continued, reflecting the parties’ commitments and the intense personal focus by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Already, the Kerry team has proposed specific security arrangements and is working on a framework agreement. Reports suggest that the parties may be willing to extend the deadline for negotiations if necessary and may be showing flexibility on key positions. Israeli Foreign Minister Lieberman reportedly said last week that Israel should give the efforts a chance.
Meanwhile, official cooperation has been on the rise. Just in the last few weeks, Israeli and Palestinian firefighters trained jointly to respond to emergencies; Israel diverted some of its blizzard response help to Gaza; the water ministers for Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority signed a comprehensive, long-term agreement for sharing water; and Israeli natural gas producers signed a 20-year contract to make the Palestinian Authority their first major customer.
And don’t forget the most important factor that should give you hope: the Israeli and Palestinian people. Once again, last week, polling showed that majorities on both sides still support a two-state solution.
The challenge, as always, is converting that support into a new reality. Both peoples feel they have been burned too many times by hope before. The majorities may support the same solution, but they also say they doubt the other side is a true partner.
That’s where your new year’s resolution comes in. Wherever in the world you are reading this, your attitude about the prospects of peace actually matters. Peace is like the stock market. The more people think it will do well, the better it does. The Israeli, Palestinian, and international political leaders take their cues from you – their domestic and international constituents.
Getting politicians to a signing ceremony is the relatively easy part. The hard part is making it a sticky, viable, durable peace. The hard part is replacing decades of violence and mistrust with real peace, economic integration, and good neighborly relations – something that will stand the tests of time and withstand the violence of rejectionists.
Real, lasting peace is made between peoples. It requires people like you and me to stand up and be counted. It requires those still-silent majorities to set aside their mutual doubts long enough to take a chance on pursuing their mutual dreams. This is where the process has choked in the past. We’ve come so far and so close that we can’t afford to let it choke again just because we sat on the sidelines rather than risk disappointment.
This year, anyone who wants peace has a moral obligation to accept a little hope and then work to realize it. Fortunately, you won’t be alone or starting from scratch. Tens of thousands of Israeli and Palestinian pioneers are already hard at work through the Alliance for Middle East Peace, building peaceful facts on ground – joint schools, clinics, towns, TV shows, soccer and basketball leagues, and environmental projects. They represent dozens of organizations and communities and include people of every gender, age, and religion. They show that peace is possible, and they’re making it happen.
If all of these people are willing to take a chance on a little hope in the new year, shouldn’t you?