The relationship between Israel and the Palestinians has known its fair share of ups and downs. The year 2000, for instance, began as a very good year. It was a very good year for the believers in peace who watched as Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak childishly shoved each other into the negotiating room at Camp David. The year 2000 ended as a very bad year. It was a very bad year for all Israelis who watched with horror as a Palestinian man held his blood soaked hands in front of a roaring crowd after lynching two Israeli reserve soldiers in Ramallah.
But despite the frequent upheavals in this relationship, the roles played by each side have remained very much the same. The Americans have traditionally played the matchmaker, the Palestinians the damsel in distress unable to control its urges and Israel the modern man fearful of commitment and scared away by any sign of intimacy. When commenting on the final stage of Frank Sinatra’s career, one music critic called it “the longest farewell tour in history”. It’s possible that the Palestinian Israeli relationship constitutes the longest foreplay in history.
The conflicted role played by Israel is best exemplified by Prime Minister Netanyahu. In his 2011 address to the United Nations General Assembly, Netanyahu called upon the Palestinian President to join him without delay in peace negotiations. “We have to stop negotiating about the negotiations”, said Netanyahu, “Let’s just get on with it. Let’s negotiate peace! Now we’re in the same city. We’re in the same building. So let’s meet here today, in the United Nations!” Some in Israel were taken aback by Netanyahu’s emotional serenade. It was as if he was singing to Abbas “Come fly with me, let’s fly, let’s fly away”.
Yet this proclamation of affection was soon lost amidst a sea of contradicting messages. While Netanyahu extended his hand in peace, he refused to begin “going steady” with Abbas for two more years. In addition, when forming his latest government, Netanyahu chose the voluptuous Nafatli Bennett over Abbas building his coalition with the Jewish Home party which is committed to preserving and expanding Israeli settlements as well as adamantly opposing a two state solution.
This week saw another mixed signal sent by Netanyahu to Abbas as the Israeli Ministry of Housing released tenders for the construction of new housing units in Israeli settlements including the E1 corridor, the Middle East’s new tectonic rift. Following this announcement, the Palestinian delegation to the peace negotiations immediately handed their resignation to President Abbas. To them, and to all Palestinians, the settlements remain the boots that symbolize the Israeli occupation, boots that are meant to walk all over their future independent state.
Surprisingly, Prime Minister Netanyahu swiftly reprimanded the Housing Minister and ordered to freeze whatever plans were put in motion. However, Netanyahu soon made it clear that he did so not in order to placate the Palestinians or to ensure the negotiations continue but rather because such announcements damage his attempt to court the belle of the ball, US President Barak Obama who is in a dangerous liaison with the Iranian President. Blaming the Minister of Housing for damaging Israel’s standing with the international community at a moment of crisis, Netanyahu thought “and then he goes and spoils it all by saying something stupid like new housing units in the E1 corridor”.
Yesterday evening, my friend Yonatan attempted to analyze the Israeli- Palestinian relationship. He stated that peace would never come given the cultural differences between the two people, “when an Israeli gets lost in the territories he is lynched. When a Palestinian teen brutally murders an IDF soldier he is safely escorted to a jail cell where he is provided with legal counsel and a warm bed”. In short- Palestinians are from Mars, Israelis are from Venus.
I told Yonatan that I don’t believe in generalizations. I do not believe that all Palestinians wish us harm; I do not believe that all Palestinians would lynch Jews; I do not believe that all settlers are racist and I do no believe that all right wingers are violent. I do believe that all relationships must be built on the foundation of trust and that Netanyahu’s flip flop policies prevent trust from being established with the Palestinians. That calling for peace and laying the foundations on which peace can be achieved are two very different things.
I also told Yonatan that even in this hour of darkness, when the gaps between the two sides seem unreconcilable, when violence is erupting throughout the occupied territories and when so many people question the two state solution I remain steadfast in my belief that Israelis and Palestinians can and will share this land in peace.
That like Sinatra said “The best is yet to come, the best is yet to come and won’t that be fine”.