I have my differences with President Trump. Frankly, I voted for Hillary and lean to the left on the American political spectrum. But I am interested in helping to seek and find and make and finally keep the peace between Israelis and Palestinians and have devoted a certain amount of my time and energy to that goal for many years. I have seen trauma up close, visited settlements and refugee camps and listened compassionately to politicians, religious leaders, academics and NGO’s on all sides including in a meeting with a representative of Hamas in Bethlehem. Maybe and I say that humbly, I have seen and heard and read enough to understand some fundamental elements in the warfare and the peace-fare.
So my advice to President Trump is to build on the broad Middle East marketplace of ideas and solutions that he sought in his important visit to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. There is wisdom in a regional approach that not only engages the principles in direct negotiations but also a group of key Arab states led by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan in crafting a larger arrangement that considers the Palestinians while providing something essential to the Israelis. In establishing terms for a new relationship that will give the Palestinians an independent state and bring Israel in out of the cold an update of the Arab League’s 2002 Peace Plan needs to be developed in concert with the American peace initiative.
All of these political and diplomatic maneuvers cannot work until the two peoples learn to accept each other. No document will restrain the generations of animus built up between Israelis and Palestinians without a release valve that channels the anger and fear into positive purposeful engagement that is formally legitimized by both governments.
This second track will be the public face of a process of reconciliation that gains strength through thousands upon thousands of individual contacts one person at a time. This continuing National Dialogue for Peace needs to be organized by sympathetic and acceptable international NGO’s and academic institutions and financed by mega-donors in the United States, the Middle East, Europe and throughout the world. This mission requires President Trump to reach out to friends like Sheldon Adelson and Ronald Lauder as well as donors that he is not connected or politically aligned with such as Michael Bloomberg, Haim Saban and Munib al-Masri to develop an ongoing financial instrument to fund a process of communication that responds to decades of separation, anti-normalization and active and aggressive violence.
There are many organizations that not only promote conversation but have invested years in managing the process of bringing together Israelis and Palestinians and other warring factions to listen to, learn from and develop relationship with an “other” that has been viewed as the enemy. This takes time and to be meaningful a commitment by people who are not primarily represented by a bunch of “peaceniks.” It has been possible for Palestinians and Israelis to sit down together as parents who suffer the loss of a child and children who suffer the loss of a parent in a War that keeps on taking lives. The Parents Circle Family Forum has been bringing Israelis and Palestinians together since Yitzhak Frankenthal began in 1995 in honor of his son Arik who was killed by Hamas. In 2008 I along with an interfaith delegation had the privilege to meet and hear the stories of Rami Elhanan who lost his daughter and Mazen Faraj who lost his father. One of the organization’s tag lines is; “It won’t stop until we talk.” There are others who cannot and may never be able to deal with their loss in this way.
But there are numerous dialogue programs in Israel and beyond from Dr. Yehuda Stolov’s Interfaith Encounter Association, the School for Peace at Neve Shalom-Wahat al-Salam, and Rabbi Hartman’s Shalom Center, to Leonard Swidler’s Dialogue Institute and Leah Green’s Compassionate Listening Project. Together these and other dialogue programs have established criteria for positive productive communication that can open hearts and minds to a process of discovery, re-evaluation and relationship building that will set the stage for a long term peace and two-states who can live together as neighbors with countless interactions and affiliations. They can be joined by others who have devoted their lives to crossing lines and connecting people of different faiths and different beliefs like Eliyahu McLean, Ali Abu Awad and Gershon Baskin. It is a work that will always be in progress evolving and needing to evolve. It is this kind of bipartisan international effort that President Trump can coordinate to gradually create a foundation of understanding that will increasingly equip two former enemies to become partners in peace. May it begin this very year!