This week I read two articles that made me sit up. The first was the announcement of an important report by one Professor Ned Lazarus, called “a future for Israeli Palestinian peace-building”. The second dealt with human rights violations by the Palestinian Authority.
The first piece argued that the Good Friday peace agreement that finally put paid to the Northern Irish conflict was the fruit of 12 years of peace-building. The unsung hero of the peace process was not a person but a fund. The money thrown at fostering grass-roots peace in the Israel-Palestine conflict is dwarfed by the huge sums invested in consolidating Northern Ireland peace between nationalists and unionists.
The author of the report, Professor Lazarus, appears unperturbed that not a single grassroots peace initiative has survived the 2014 war between Israel and the Palestinians of Hamas-ruled Gaza. Nor does he appear to make much of a distinction between initiatives in Israel itself between Jews and Arabs and cross-border peace initiatives between Israelis and Palestinians living on the West Bank. It seems that, along with the waters of the Jordan, such cross-border initiatives have largely dried up, mirroring the stalled peace negotiations. Israelis no longer go shopping on the West Bank as they used to, and, following bloody lynchings or narrow escapes, giant signs warn that Israelis may risk life and limb if they venture into the West Bank. Palestinians no longer stream into Israel to work in the numbers they used to.
Yes, Lazarus acknowledges that the Northern Irish and the Israel-Palestinian conflicts are quite different. But the practical reality does not seem to deter well-meaning academics from insisting that peace-building from the ground up is the answer.
According to the second article I read, an Israeli judge had ruled – in a verdict that ran to 8,000 pages – that the Palestinian Authority was fully responsible for the murder, kidnap, detention, torture and rape of 52 individuals – Arab Israelis and Palestinians – from the West Bank, between the years 1995-2002. What is more shocking, no so-called human rights NGO was prepared to help the victims gather the medical evidence they needed to take the Palestinian Authority to court. These NGOs were only interested if Israel was the party doing the detaining and torturing.
What do the two articles have in common? Everything. The stark truth is that no peace-building could succeed as long as the playing field is not just uneven, but rutted and potholed: for all its flaws Israel enjoys the rule of law, while on the other side of the security barrier is a Mafia-style thugocracy, whose illegitimate leaders have syphoned off billions into private bank accounts even as they abuse their people. And not just in the West Bank: public figures among the Arabs of East Jerusalem wanting to run for office in the city council have been threatened. Some were even subject to violence and terror carried out by Hamas or Fatah operatives. For example, when Hanna Siniora, former editor-in-chief of al-Fajr, wanted to run for the city council, two of his cars were set on fire.
You only have to read the work of journalist Khaled Abu Toameh to learn that the Palestinian Authority is never called to account for its human rights violations against its own, while relentlessly inciting hatred, spreading libels about its potential peace-partners, threatening and bullying. Palestinian advocates of ‘normalisation’ with Israel are branded traitors, while on the Israeli side, more often than not, Israeli participants in peace-building initiatives serve as useful tools for ‘ending the occupation’.
No amount of ivory-tower thinking can disguise the wide cultural gulf between the parties. It is not enough for Israelis and Palestinians to speak each other’s language, play music or sip Turkish coffee together. The efforts of peacemaking groups ought to be directed at making the pursuance of peace by Palestinians a desirable objective for which they will not pay a price.
Lyn Julius is the author of Uprooted: How 3,000 Years of Jewish Civilisation in the Arab world Vanished Overnight (Vallentine Mitchell)