Coronavirus: A Chance for Peace

The world is emerging from the coronavirus crisis and citizens realize that priorities need to change. This pandemic has taught us that a virus can cross borders, disrupt economies, and interfere with the lives of billions.

Many countries have been bruised by the coronavirus. The United States, Russia, and Europe are all experiencing an economic crisis. Few countries trust China and, with the steep fall in oil prices, Arab countries are in tumult.

Israel remains stable even though it has been severely affected by this disease. The country has become a military, economic, technological and energy power. Many chancelleries have congratulated Israel on its handling of the crisis, and journalists use it as an example of what should be done and how to do it.

Israel’s government must seize the opportunity, and quickly offer new initiatives for peace in the Middle East.

Unlike the Trump plan rejected by all Palestinians and Arab nations, this new initiative must begin with a direct dialogue between the parties.

Initially, NGOs representing civil society must meet to determine the common interests for setting an agenda. This will provide the both the basis and the focus for a direct dialogue between governments.

Such discussions have often been mentioned, but they have never materialized. Today, however, attitudes have changed and a new opportunity presents itself.

With the Gulf countries

Three Gulf states are engaged in medical cooperation with the Ramat-Gan Sheba Hospital. This can further engagement through diplomacy. Parties to the conflict can hold a major conference on the future of the Middle East and stop debating the past. The goal of such a meeting is the formation of a Middle Eastern common market, which would retain the political status of each state while creating a market without borders.

With the Palestinians

Even the UN Security Council praised this idea in early April. Now, the Corona virus provides the possibility for new forms of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation beginning with a common  structure for the exchange of health information, particularly between Israel and the West Bank.

In Jerusalem, medical teams don’t recognize differences between religions: St. Joseph’s Hospitals in Seikh Jarrah and the Ein Kerem University Center treated Muslim, Jews, and Christians. On Independence Day, for the first time, the squadron that flew over the country’s major hospitals in tribute to their medical teams made a detour through the Seikh Jarrah.

In its March 23, 2020 edition, the  French newspaper Libération let Jwan Ghazal (not his real as his real life), an aid worker in Gaza, write an editorial. It reinforces the belief that the Corona virus provides an opportunity for direct negotiations. His words are striking: “Since the coronavirus pandemic was reported on March 5, I am amazed at the colossal coordination and collaboration efforts between the two peoples to slow the spread of the virus. The coronavirus puts us all on an equal footing. It doesn’t care who was there first, whether we vote left or right, our ideologies or our beliefs. We’re all vulnerable. We are all human beings”

A survey published by the Israel Democracy Institute Research Center notes how the disease has improved Jewish-Arab relations in Israel. Interestingly, this perception is higher among Arabs (65%) than Jews (57%).

Creating meaningful negotiations will prove difficult. Israelis will have to make concessions, agree to talk with all representatives of the Palestinian people. On the other hand, Palestinians will have to recognize the State of Israel, and commit to stop all forms of terrorism. Leaders of both sides will have to think of Emile de Girardin’s 1867 sentence, “War is easier to declare than peace is to organize.”

Arab Council for regional Integration

Israeli peace organizations have existed for many years while Palestinians and Arab countries were reproached for not having such organizations. For one year, however, an Arab Council for Regional Integration has been bringing together members of civil society from 16 Arab countries. Its aim is to engage Israel and fight racism by establishing a genuine Arab-Israeli dialogue to normalize relations and end all boycotts.

The  French newspaper Le Point in its May 11 edition published an online a petition signed by more than sixty members of the French Parliament, senators from all parts of the political spectrum, the right, former heads of government, ministers, and prominent intellectuals. All are involved in battling the virus no less than the prejudices that inhibit peace and progress.

Arab Council for Regional Integration.:/ /www.lepoint.fr/politique/protegeons-les-arabes-qui-dialoguent-avec-israel-11-05-2020-2374992_20.php#

Eric Gozlan

Co- director International Council for Diplomacy and Dialogue

About the Author
Eric Gozlan is Government Counselor and co-director of the international Council for diplomacy and dialogue. He works in civic diplomacy in the Middle East and in Africa. He has received numerous awards for peace and gives numerous lectures. He served in the IDF for several years.
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