Archbishop Desmond Tutu is typical of the many church leaders to project themselves as peacemakers when, as a result of their confrontational and biased approach, drive a wedge that prevents peace from happening. His numerous inflammatory statements against Israel has, in a small way, encouraged the Palestinian leadership to dig in its heels and maintain the rejectionist attitude that has plagued the Middle East ever since the Arabs rejected the UN Partition Plan in 19487.
More recently, in a Jerusalem Post article (“Blessed are the peacemakers” June 7, 2013) Gideon D. Sylvester, the British United Synagogue rabbi in Israel, told the anecdote of two member of the Bereaved Parents Forum, an association of Israeli and Palestinian parents whose children have been killed in the conflict, who travelled to a meeting held at the British House of Lords. Their host took them aside and explained, “On this side of the room sit the Lords who back the Palestinians, and on the other side will be the friends of Israel. Now you each know your supporters and opponents,” as if they were entering into a prize fight contest. The bereaved parents were shocked. “We have set aside our grievances and have come to share ideas about uniting for peace, and you who live in the tranquility of England wish to make divisions! If you cannot help, at least don’t make matters worse.”
This is the deep feeling I get every time I hear of the confrontational actions and words of people like Tutu and groups such as Peace Now, and many others who receive handsome funding from European governments, church groups, and charitable organizations, and use them to foster hate and division.
When Israel is ready and able to supply Palestinians with the abundance of natural gas it has recently discovered, natural gas that will reduce the household and industrial burden in Palestinian society and improve their environment with its green energy, who will stand in its way? The BDS Movement, the phony peace activists that never give up in preventing cooperation between Israel and Palestinians, or the political leaders of the Palestinian Arabs? Their policies and their protests are absurd!
Emphasis must be given to groups that genuinely assist in the process of mutual respect and assistance rather than perpetuating the demonization and hatred. It is to the groups that use their humanity to open dialogue and lend a helping hand that funding and recognition must be placed, not to those who seek to become a wedge between the two parties.
I have been involved in challenging the vicious confrontation with Israel by groups claiming to represent the best interest of the Palestinians. They have, by their words and deeds, set back the peace process for decades. Their message is one of fraud, lies, and hypocrisy when they could have been promoting ways to nurture mutual respect between Israelis and Palestinian Arabs. The boycotters, set against the huge economic and technological strides taken by Israel have been a pinprick, a minor irritant, to the Israeli economy. Instead they could have used whatever biased influence they have to improve the daily lives and fortune of the average Palestinian. Instead, into this breach step companies such as Soda-Stream who have given numerous jobs, promotion, respect, and a brighter future to young Palestinian Arab men and women. For their pains they have been targeted and pilloried by organizations that waste their time, energy, and resources on negative actions.
There are Palestinians, and all too many of their supporters, who criticize (and worse) what they call “economic normalization” between Israelis and the Palestinians. If that means Israelis helping to put food on the table of a Palestinian family in Ramallah, food earned by gainful employment, so be it. Guilty as charged. Economic normalization must be part of the “bottom up” part of the peace process that involves having both sides get to know and respect each other.
There were sections of the Palestinian leadership that protested the participation of Israeli and Palestinian businessmen in a session of the World Economic Forum in May, 2013. After the “Breaking the Impasse” meetings were held by the Dead Sea between Israeli and Palestinian businessmen, at precisely the same time as the US Administration was trying to kick start the peace process, Murad Sudani, of the Palestinian Writers Union, threatened to publish a “blacklist” of the Palestinian individuals and companies who are doing business with their Israeli counterparts. Don’t they want the Palestinian economy to grow? Apparently, not.
Munib al-Masri, whose family is traditionally the backbone and respected pillars of the Palestinian society and perhaps the wealthiest Palestinian in the world, doesn’t agree with them. He condemned those who threaten Palestinian businessmen and those who act against normalization with Israel.
Sixty five farmers, water experts, and land reclamation professionals from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip attended the international agricultural exhibition in Tel Aviv in June, 2013, together with a further two hundred West Bank farmers. “We want to export agricultural goods to Israel and improve neighborhood ties,” they declared bravely. “All the time, we and Israel are in contact,” admitted Mahmoud Ikhlain, the chairman of the Beit Lahiya Cooperative in Gaza. Tons of Gazan-grown agricultural products flow across the Kerem Shalom border crossing into Israel for domestic consumption, or for Palestinian export. It is this mutual cooperation that mainly benefits the Palestinian economy that many who claim to be “peacemakers” aim to destroy. The last thing they want is dialogue.
Tawfiq Tirawi of the Fatah Central Committee condemns the direct contact between Palestinians and Israelis. He claims that only a political peace can save Palestinian dignity, he is wrong. There are thousands of Palestinian families who, each one personally, have claimed their own dignity and self-respect by working alongside Israelis. The political solution has stalled through people like Tirawi who put up barricades rather enter into a meaningful dialogue with Israel. People like Tirawi are part of the problem, not the solution. They belong to the Palestinian political rejectionism that has been the major factor of the lack of political progress. They must be prevented from blocking the increasingly successful “bottom up” economic process.
Israelis can, and do, lend a useful helping hand that improves the lives of Palestinian Arab families. They must be encouraged to increase this benevolence. As Sylvester reminded us in his interesting article, every major Jewish prayer ends with the desire for peace. As Jews utter this prayer they physically take three steps backwards and bow. This signifies that we are forced to change our position and respect the Lord if we are genuine in our desire for peace. If you were to take a survey among Israelis about the need to compromise for peace with the Palestinians, the overwhelming majority are prepared to take those three steps back for peace and bow to the inevitability. Can we honestly say the same about the Palestinian leadership, Palestinian society generally, the assorted anti-Israeli organizations who all claim to represent the best interests of the Palestinians, and the so-called “peacemakers.”
If push comes to shove, are they prepared to pray and act for a genuine and fair peace while taking those all-important three steps back from their hatred of Israel that really is the genuine obstacle to peace in the Middle East between Arabs and Jews.
Barry Shaw is the Special Consultant on Delegitimization Issues to The Strategic Dialogue Center at Netanya Academic College. He is also the author of ‘Israel Reclaiming the Narrative.’ www.israelnarrative.com