Ron Kronish

Is Peace between Israelis and Palestinians Possible?

cover of Profiles in Peace by Ron Kronish, courtesy of Sari Kronish
Cover photo of Profiles in Peace by Ron Kronish, courtesy of Sari Kronish

Last month I gave three talks in the USA about the situation in Israel and Gaza and I was often asked: Is there any hope for peace between Israelis and Palestinians? I was also asked: why talk about peace, or plan for peace, when we are in the middle of a war? (A very difficult war, which Israel did not initiate but nevertheless is actively pursuing, for the sake of its own security, or at least that’s what the government says.) I responded by saying that we have to think about peace now:

  • Because this war will end and we have to think about “the day after”. There is already lots of talk about the day after, especially in Washington DC these days. The American government is working on all kinds of important and creative peace plans, for the time that this war will end. It will end sometime. All wars end. Most of the time there are agreements after the war, to try to prevent future wars, even if they don’t always work.
  • Also, it is not clear that this war is winnable since it is a guerilla war, not a conventional war. Israel needs to be careful not to get caught in the mud of Gaza (like it got caught in the mud of Lebanon for 18 years!). And the costs of this war are very high, including the fact that it appears that the government of Israel is sacrificing the lives of over 130 hostages still held by Hamas; and including the fact that more than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed (according to Hamas sources) and hundreds of thousands are now refugees living in tents (again) and many are starving; and including the fact that Israel is becoming more and more rejected and isolated by the international community.
  • The current Israeli government is resisting the talk about peace, about “the day after” so far. There are many reasons for this. Mostly, it has to do with the current coalition, which is the most extreme right-wing coalition in the history of the state of Israel, led by a Prime Minister who does not want to lose his grip on power and aided and abetted by some very extremist ministers in his coalition (Itamar Ben Gvir and Betzalel Smotrich).
  • Nevertheless, due to international pressure, there is already the beginning of serious discussions of “the day after” in Israel. There are many voices calling for a deal to release all the hostages in exchange for many Palestinian prisoners, as soon as possible, which will effectively lead to the end of the war and a search for peace and stability in the region.
  • Let me return to my original question: Is there any hope for peace between Israelis and Palestinians?

In my most recent book PROFILES IN PEACE, which was published in 2022, I argued that peace is indeed possible, and that there are historical precedents for peace agreements in Israel and other places when nobody thought that peace was possible. I will give you several examples:

  • The peace agreement with Egypt in 1979. Prior to 1977 (the visit of President Sadat of Egypt to Israel), no one thought that peace would be possible with Israel’s main Arab enemy. Yet, it happened, mostly due to courageous leadership at the time, on the part of President Sadat, Prime Minister Begin and President Carter.
  • The peace agreements with the Palestinians in 1992 and 1993 known as The Oslo Accords. There was an atmosphere of euphoria for peace back in September 1993, when the Declaration of Principles (Oslo I) was signed on the White House lawn in Washington DC. I remember it well, as do many Palestinians with whom I was in dialogue. It was totally unexpected until 1992, when secret back-channel talks created trust and made it happen. And the courageous leadership of President Clinton, Prime Minister Rabin and Chairman Arafat brought it to fruition.

*The establishment of the European Union, created in 1992 by the Maastricht agreement, to prevent more wars in Europe. Who could have imagined such a positive development after World War II?

  • The end of apartheid in South Africa in the early nineties. Who would have expected Nelson Mandella and DeKlerk to reach an agreement after so many years of violence and hopelessness?
  • The peace accord between the Protestants and the Catholics in Northern Ireland, signed in April 1998, mediated by Senator George Mitchell. Several years ago, I met Senator Mitchell at a forum in which I spoke at a large church in New York City and he told me, and the audience in attendance, the following story: When he went to finish negotiating the peace agreement between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland in April 1998, he landed on a Monday and read a poll in an Irish newspaper which said that 84% of Protestants and a similar percent of Catholics in Northern Ireland said that there would never be peace between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland! It was simply inconceivable after many decades of violence and hatred. Yet, four days later, the Good Friday Agreement was signed in Northern Ireland, marking the end of this civil war. This agreement has lasted all these years!

I repeat this George Mitchell story often since I believe that we need to resist the conventional wisdom that there will never be peace and believe that somehow it is possible. I agree that it does not look possible right now, with the current leadership on both sides. But this does not mean that it can never happen.

But can it actually work, you may ask. Maybe, but it will be difficult, for sure. There are many obstacles along the way. So, shall we just give up? I don’t think so.

Many years ago, I attended a conference in Italy sponsored by a wonderful Catholic peace and social justice organization known as the Community of Saint Egidio. They sponsored annual conferences on People and Religions, and I attended several of them. At this particular one in Italy, there was a panel one morning on “Religions and Peace” with a Jew, Christian and Muslim who argued that their religion was a religion of peace. It sounded wonderful. However, over lunch, an American journalist was probing people’s responses to the panel. One of the people at my lunch table was a Palestinian Muslim intellectual, named Sari Nusseibeh, who was president of Al Quds university in Jerusalem at that time. When asked by the journalist what he thought of the morning panel, he responded by saying that he didn’t like it, that those people can talk well but they haven’t really done much on the ground to change the situation towards peace. The perplexed journalist was surprised at his reaction and then suddenly asked him: so, what is your solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Professor Nusseibeh thought for a moment and then said “we need a miracle!”

Yes, we need a miracle! We need the unexpected to happen again, as has happened already a number of times.

Also, we need new leadership on both sides! Is it possible? Yes, we will probably have elections in Israel this year! And hopefully we will elect a new government, a sane centrist one, without the extreme right-wing political parties who are rejecting all efforts to end the current war and reach an agreement that would bring our hostages home in exchange for many Palestinian prisoners, and end the war of attrition in the North. Hopefully this current extremist government—and its irresponsible and dangerous “leader”– will not last much longer.

Is new leadership likely in Palestine? It is more complicated, but not impossible.  There are Palestinian leaders who are mentioned in the media in Palestine and Israel who could conceivably lead the Palestinians in a new direction. In any event, President Abbas, who is 87, is not getting younger, and cannot go on forever and therefore there will be a need for new leadership on the Palestinian side too.

Accordingly, we don’t need a supernatural miracle. Rather, we need new leaders who will realize that peace is a long-term strategy for sustainability, and that cooperation with the United States and other key actors in the international community could actually bring peace and stability to the region.

I believe that we need to continue to not only believe in the benefits of peace for both sides—more money for education, health and society rather than for ongoing wars– but we need to continue to be activists for peace, to cajole our governments to  cooperate with the American government –and other governments – who would like to see peace in the Middle East. Like all wars, this one will end too, and we need to prepare for a better future for everyone in our region.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr Ron Kronish is the Founding Director the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (ICCI), which he directed for 25 years. Now retired, he is an independent educator, author, lecturer, writer, speaker, blogger and consultant. He is the editor of 5 books, including Coexistence and Reconciliation in Israel--Voices for Interreligious Dialogue (Paulist Press, 2015). His new book, The Other Peace Process: Interreligious Dialogue, a View from Jerusalem, was published by Hamilton Books, an imprint of Rowman and LIttelfield, in September 2017. He recently (September 2022) published a new book about peacebuilders in Israel and Palestine entitled Profiles in Peace: Voices of Peacebuilders in the midst of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, which is available on Amazon Books, Barnes and Noble and the Book Depository websites,
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