There are many debates on the best political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Two states? One state for two nations? One state of all its citizens? The status quo? Annexation of the West Bank?
However, this debate misses one crucial point: There is no political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
There are political arrangements that can minimize violence, but ultimately, peace must cannot be imposed from the top-down: it must be built from the bottom-up.
As long as the hatred exists, no political solution will be able to ensure peace. As long as people try to carry out attacks, it’s almost inevitable that some of those attacks will succeed. No security forces have a 100% success rate.
When both peoples desperately want peace, when they see those who advocate violence as social pariahs, it will become harder for those who wish to carry out attacks to do so. They will be forced to go underground, and have trouble recruiting new members.
When both nations seek peace with all their being, they will force their leaders to figure out a political solution. Compromises that once seemed unthinkable will suddenly seem necessary. The only will question will be why we were so silly that we didn’t reach an agreement earlier.
That’s why the key to solving the conflict is to focus on programs that build bridges between Israelis and Palestinians: projects that create encounters and dialogue between the two groups, peace education, and language education to empower us to communicate with each other.
A major obstacle to achieving this solution is that the Palestinian Authority’s school textbooks teach incitement (and were recently condemned by URWA for doing so) and that sometimes, Palestinians who engage in dialogue with Israelis fear being labelled as “collaborators”, which is a threat not only to their social standing, but also, to their physical safety.
That’s not to say that Israel has no room for improvement: The recent case of a 24 year old from the settlement of Yizhar, who was convicted of incitement against Palestinians, proves a telling example of the Israeli paradox: On the one hand, the Israeli government is prosecuting incitement against Palestinians, and actively combatting hatred against the other side. On the other hand, the incitement occurs and that’s why the Israeli government has to prosecute it to begin with.
However, the fact that the “other side” is “worse” does not excuse me from my responsibility to pursue dialogue. If anything, the obstacles faced by Palestinian peacemakers mean that I should try even harder to support them, and redouble my own efforts to foster dialogue from my own society (i.e. Israel), while also urging the international community to hold the Palestinian Authority accountable.
It’s easy to give up when you look at the flaws of the other side, but there can be a hundred reasons not to pursue peace – ultimately, if you want peace, you will seek it, whether through political or social means, even if it is just committing to one small act of peace a week, like saying hello to someone who looks different from you.
The power of face-to-face contact can be seen from the Exodus story, when an Egyptian princess, faced by a Hebrew baby, defied her own father because she recognized that she and the baby shared a common humanity. Later on, God had a hundred reasons not to rescue the Jewish people: The Bible shows Hebrew slaves killing each other and threatening to tattle on Moses, and rabbinic tradition has it that they were steeped in idol worship. But God chose to “pass over” the Jewish people’s flaws, symbolized by Her “passing over” the Jewish houses, in order to build a covenant of life that culminated in the giving of the Torah at Sinai. The Torah is referred to as a tree of life, whose paths are paths of peace. This is no coincidence: peace and life are quite co-dependant. That covenant of life, and the giving of the Torah, all had their start when a princess bathing on the Nile was able to look at the Other and recognize his humanity. Who knows what new convenants we may build, which new worlds we may mold, if we are able to take inspiration from the princess’s actions*?
So, as the Passove matzah gives way to leavened bread, maybe we need a little less politics and a little more – pizza. Everyone loves pizza, right? Surely we can all bond over that.
*Because if you’ve ever watched a Disney movie, you probably have a princess fantasy.