Making peace in the heights

The negotiations towards a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians under the mediation of the American Secretary of State is proceeding in a strange way. Usually, in a democracy, negotiations towards peace reflects the desires of the people, or at least the desires of the majorities on each side. However, the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians opposes certain democratic principles, as the people on each side are being completely kept in the dark. The nations on each side do not know how to express an opinion about the negotiations, and there is little concept of what is being discussed. There is a disconnect between the price of peace and peace itself. Peace itself is something which each side views differently, and it appears as though each side is speaking about a different kind of peace.

Neither side has much a concept of the meaning of peace or what peace looks like. We need only to look at Israel’s past experience with its neighbors Egypt and Jordan, in order to see that each side had a very different idea of the meaning of peace. Many Israelis feel a great disappointment with the fact that the dream of a warm peace with Egypt never came to fruition. Indeed, Israel was the first state to have to face up to the concept of “cold peace”, a peace characterized by a lack of violence and war, but also by a lack of connections, cooperation, and dialogue. The peace agreement with Jordan was warmer in character, enabled more cooperation, particularly in the fields of water and energy sources, while ensuring quiet on Israel’s eastern border. However, warm relations between peoples does not exist on the ground nor on the horizon.

In light of  the disappointment with the character of peace with these two neighbors, there is no doubt that peace with the Palestinian requires warmer relations. With the Palestinians, we require not only neighborly relations, but cooperation in the fields of water, sewage, energy, and resource sharing. However, there has never been a public discussion on either side of how each side views peace. What does each side want for the relations between the sides, if peace is upon us?

There has been but one research study, conducted by leading Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian researchers, which was operated by the the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Strategic Dialogue, which studied how peace would affect the region in various aspects. This study was presented before leading politicians in Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and Jordan, as well as members of the U.S. Congress and the Department of State. This study assumes that the more players and populations who are exposed to the benefits of peace, the greater will be support for reaching an agreement.

However, today, it appears as though each side is mobilizing opponents of an agreement, and there is little chance of success. Therefore, there is no alternative but to include the people of each side in a dialogue on the nature of peace and its benefits and needed concessions. Each leader must appreciate that the road towards an agreement cannot be paved by leaders alone, but must also include the people.

It is clear that many on both sides are afraid to support concessions, for fear of being labeled traitors to their national cause. For the same reasons, leaders are afraid to be viewed as more moderate than the public opinion.

Therefore, when negotiated under a cloud of secrecy, it is almost impossible to create public support for an agreement. The supporters of democracy must understand that in order to bring peace, not only must the leaders must be convinced, but the real sovereign power  – the people – must be convinced. The people have not been included in the process, shown the benefits of peace or the difficulties of war. The intelligence of the nations has not been respected. When the public is not included in the process, it cannot be an informed supporter or show opposition.

About the Author
Dr David Altman is senior vice-president at the Netanya Academic College and vice-chair of the college's Strategic Dialogue Center
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