Josef Avesar

It takes two to tango

Peace is the ultimate security for a country. A country cannot rely on its army as the exclusive security measure. A great army can provide a victory and even temporary protection, but not peace. A country at peace does not need an army to defend it. A country at peace would not lose a war because it will not get into a war to begin with. A country at peace need not spend huge amounts of its human and financial resources on its military. When a country is at peace with its neighbors it will not be attacked by them. A country at peace need not spend huge amounts of its human and financial resources on a war. A country at peace has a different state of mind than does a country at war. A country at peace can reach a higher level of existence. It will spend its resources on educating its people, on scientific and medical research and on advancements in the quality of life for its people.

There is something wrong with countries that live for decades in a state of war. There is something wrong when grandparents, parents and children all fight the same war. The war itself becomes their persona. They develop military lingo and phrases. They build a military industry out of proportion to their needs. They constantly search for new wars and new threats. They beget generations of new soldiers and use them like logs feeding a fire. The war and its ancillary industries become an integral part of the country’s economy. The war becomes the country’s major employer. The war generates “experts” and commentators and demagogues who constantly justify conflict. The war then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy designed to support its continuation.

The English politician Tony Benn has noted that during war the military becomes the controlling force that shapes public opinion. “All wars represent a failure in diplomacy,” he wrote. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is proof of that.

One of our Israeli Palestinian Confederation board members, once said to me that he used to believe that when it comes to peace, our leaders have a plan. He later realized that there is no plan. There are only actions and reactions. This was confirmed to me by Shlomo Ben Ami, who served as Israel’s foreign minister. He told me, “There is no vision for peace; there are no plans for peace.”

It took me over 30 years to realize this profound truth. The Israeli and Palestinian governments have shown no vision of peace. They mostly articulate what they do not want to do, or what they want the other government to do, but they rarely state what they are willing to do for peace.

When I discuss the option of an Israeli Palestinian Confederation, I frequently hear the comment, “You know, it takes two to tango.” This argument, which is supposed to end the conversation, goes something like this: The Palestinians and the Israelis failed to dance the tango, which proves there cannot be peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Only one side wants to tango. The other side will not or is unable to. Therefore, there cannot be peace.

The tango does not have historical or cultural roots in Israel or Palestine. It is not a common dance in that part of the world. In fact, very few people in Palestine or Israel ever dance the tango. It requires specific skills and is (to my taste) a rigid dance. Palestinians and Israelis enjoy much more spontaneous dances in which the whole community can join without any formality or special invitation. The tango should be abolished as a measuring stick for peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis. It limits our vision and constricts our imagination. Why is it necessary to dance the tango as the exclusive method to reach peace? Why can’t we dance the debka or the hora? For that matter, why do we need to dance at all? In the same way, do we need to limit ourselves when it comes to peace, one of the most essential aspects of life?

In most human endeavors we do not limit our horizons. We strive to expand our imagination and enlarge our appreciation. We make huge advancements in medicine, science and technology. We learn to approach problems from different, fresh and innovative angles. Governments worldwide write constitutions and treaties to overcome historical animosities, suspicion and hatred. We create monetary systems that transcend individual countries while allowing those countries to maintain their individual identities. However, when it comes to peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis, we limit ourselves to one dimension: the tango. If we can’t dance it, no peace.


About the Author
Josef Avesar is founder of the Israeli Palestinian Confederation, which advocates for a mutual third government for Israelis and Palestinians. An American-Israeli of Iraqi background, he practices law in the U.S., but travels frequently to Israel and Palestine.