A story of two peoples – one exiled, one displaced. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the most notorious of the world’s many conflicts, entailing clashes both on the military battlefield and on the media battlefield. Depending on a simple sense of perception, one could just as easily support one side as they could the other. Both peoples have riveting stories – narratives that touch different hearts in different places. Yet, the conflict is seemingly intractable, as most perceive these narratives to be rival. Countless negotiation attempts have been staged unsuccessfully, as national and world leaders are unable to reconcile the aspirations of both sides. As recently as April 2014, talks between the Israeli and Palestinian Authority leaderships, mediated by US Secretary of State John Kerry, followed suit like their predecessors and broke down without any progress made. The question that must be asked is: why? After twenty years since the Oslo Agreements and almost a hundred years of conflict, why has a solution not been reached?
Before attempting to solve any conflict, one must explore its roots and examine the current reality that has resulted thereof. Among others, this includes narratives and power dynamics. A narrative is a collection of facts contextualized into a certain ideological worldview, which is exclusive to a person’s unique life experience, or the movie in which one is living. Israelis and Palestinians are living in different movies, and in each they are their own protagonists. Both peoples were victims of British imperialism, but the power dynamics shifted in Israel’s favor following its liberation in 1948. The Palestinians, however, ended up on the short hand of the stick, symbolized by the naqba, which displaced over 700,000 Palestinians following the 1948 Israeli-Arab war.
Today, the reality is the same in that Israel is in the driver’s seat and possesses the guns. At the negotiating table, however, the power dynamics are in the hands of the mediator, the United States, whereas Israel and Palestine are pawns in America’s Middle East agenda. The first step towards making peace is leveling the playing field: take the US out of the picture and allow Israelis and Palestinians to find common grievances with each other.
In the Middle East, respect is absolutely crucial. Palestinians will not respect Israel so long as it continues to portray itself as a Western satellite in the Middle East. Just as importantly, by making gestures that display respect and dignity towards Palestinians, the basis for negotiations will be laid down. Only then can a meaningful dialogue ensue in which positions are translated into interests – understanding what each side wants and why. For any effective way forward, both sides must transcend the “either/or” paradigm which focuses on winners, losers, and compromises. Rather, they should strive to create a holistic narrative – a synthesis in which a larger circle encompasses two smaller circles – where both camps are protagonists in the same story. This is only possible through genuine respect and the willingness thereof to listen to the other. Then, by being open to discovering different truths in different narratives, the two sides can explore a new vision forward together.