Is Palestinian-Israeli cooperation over? Finished? Dead as a door nail? A thing of the past? Or is it still possible?
My attendance at a crowded seminar today at the Ambassador Hotel in the prestigious Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of “East” Jerusalem demonstrated that it is alive and well, despite all the violence of last summer in and around Gaza, and in recent weeks in Jerusalem.
A few hundred Jews and Palestinians gathered for a one day seminar on the theme of “Two States in One Space—a New Proposed Framework for Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.” I had attended a meeting about this last year in someone’s living room in my neighborhood, so I went now to learn more about it .
I’m glad that I went. I was impressed by the significant progress that has been made in the past year to sharpen and crystalize the idea and present serious and sensitive concepts and practices for discussion.
Dan Goldenblatt, co-director of IPCRI (Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives), the organization that produced the research report and hosted this seminar–opened the conference and talked about the intensive Israeli-Palestinian cooperation during the last year which led to the research report that was presented today. “The separation model has failed,” he said. “There was never an agreement on a common vision. There was no end game, and therefore no end was reached”.
This new research report –which will be widely circulated in Israel and Palestine in the weeks ahead–definitely represents a creative attempt to think “out-of-the box”. Instead of separation, they are talking about an “Israeli-Palestinian Union”. It will still be a two state solution, but it will offer much more. For example, all people will be able to live anywhere and there will be complete freedom of movement and of access.
Is it a bit utopian? Yes, it is. But the research team that developed this report has presented many interesting and worthwhile ideas, which should not be ignored.
According to Meron Rapoport, the Israeli coordinator of the relatively new “One Homeland, Two States” movement—who spoke very briefly since he agreed with most of what his Palestinian coordinator , Awni AlMashri, had just told the audience—”the failure of the two state solution is becoming a nightmare, and the dream of separation is dangerous. Rather, we have to turn the fact that the two peoples who are living together in this land from a negative idea to a positive one.”
The research team—which included many Israeli and Palestinian academics and practitioners—presented their ideas in succinct form to the large group of Palestinians and Israelis who came together today who were all thirsty for some creative new ideas, for something to move us forward, to break the stalemate of recent years, and to give some hope for the future.
The young, energetic and enthusiastic co-coordinator of IPRCI, Ms. Riman Barakat, actually welcomed all of us with a smile when she said that she was very happy to see more than 200 Israelis and Palestinians in one room! It has been a long time since such a gathering has happened in Jerusalem. “The fact that so many people came today demonstrates that people are searching for answers,” she added.
I couldn’t agree more. The last time I sat in a room in a cooperative spirit with so many Palestinians and Israelis was last June, before the Gaza war, when a non-profit organization named Bimkom, Planners for Planning Rights, where my eldest daughter, Sari Kronish, works, showcased a new report on all the neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, where Palestinians who are both disadvantaged and disenfranchised are nevertheless involved with Jews in local planning projects for the betterment of their communities.
During the lunch break, I used the time to do some networking. Among other things, I ran into the two young dynamic directors of Kids for Peace—Rebecca Sullum and Mohammad Joulany– who told me that they just hosted over 100 young alumni of their dialogue programs at Neveh Shalom/ Wahat El Salaam last week. I also met a Palestinian who has been interning with the ICCI (Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel) for the past 5 months, together with two Jewish Israeli interns, as part of the “New Generations Initiative” of Search for Common Ground— who was also very busy doing some networking about a joint Israeli-Palestinian peacebuilding project that we are working on concerning “Peacebuilding and the Arts.”
In addition, I had occasion to chat with Eliaz Cohen, a poet and courageous Jewish interreligious activist from Gush Etzion—a Jewish bloc of settlements between Bethlehem and Hebron, — who is involved in a new Palestinian –Israeli Dialogue group called Judor/Shorashim, which brings together settlers and Palestinians from the area for dialogue, and is co-led by Ali Abu Awad, a moderate Muslim Palestinian who is offering non-violence as a method of reaching out to the other side.
Why do I tell you, my readers, all of these things?
Because I want you to know that Od lo avdah tikvahteinu, all hope is not lost! There are many people on the ground—in the grassroots trenches of civil society—who are still trying to bring Palestinians and Israelis together to envision a better future for all of us, despite all the cynicism and despair you can read about in the daily, usually negative, press. It is encouraging to know that there are still creative and courageous people getting together to think out of the box and to counter the conventional wisdom that our conflict is intractable and unresolvable. Kein Yirbu—may their numbers grow in the years ahead.