Mansour Abbas addressed the Israeli public on prime-time television. Many lauded the speech, others noted their distaste for Ra’am’s Islamist and biased positions. Notably, his speech did not dwell on the country’s conflict with his Palestinian brethren over the Green Line. But then again, none of the other parties devote much platform of thought to it either. My personal take is that neither side believes the other is ready to talk tachles. There is an absence of trust, and for some, a loss of faith that the long-proposed two-state solution is a viable solution. As a result, many feel no urgency to change the status quo.
But what if that premise were to change? That is, what if somehow those who want change could have their voices amplified?
Several thoughts come to mind about opportunities, but I am not sure how to put them together.
On Israel’s newly-establish formal relationships with Arab and other countries I’ve written before. I think all parties ought to use this new landscape to rethink and re-approach. Granted, the upcoming Palestinian election is a big question mark in terms of outcome. But that does not change the fact that the framework in which the Palestinian Authority finds itself is a very different world than when Fatah and Hamas were founded.
On Yossi Klein Halevi’s book Letters’ to My Palestinian Neighbor, I have written several times. I do believe as I pointed out the first time, that he, together with perhaps Professor Mohammed Dajani Daoudi, and thanks to the panels I’ve seen them lead, have created a framework where every day citizens can think about dialogue, about listening to each other, about acknowledging each other’s ties to the land and about thinking about the future. The book’s epilogue contains letters from Palestinians to their Israeli neighbors (and the book’s website has its translation into Arabic for readers to download for free). In my mind, I see the potential for promoting dialogue and cannot wait for the book to be published in Hebrew. In the meantime, in order to get Americans to think about coexistence, the JCRC of Minnesota and the Dakotas is once again sponsoring a letter-writing contest based on the book. A group I am involved with, the Atlanta Israel Coalition, is helping to promote this contest because we believe so much in its potential for conversation. (Deadline is May 17, so do check it out!)
My third thought has to do with mind shift in the US. With an administration that is very different than its predecessor in the White House, I wonder how different organizations will adjust their activities. For instance, I looked at the speaker list for J Street’s upcoming conference and wonder if they are reframing themselves. In the past, I have found their website to be more centered than the way their members and supporters present them, that is, with a one-sidedness that precludes honest discussion. Taking a fuller approach would be a welcome way to strengthen the conversation around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, if they are truly about promoting dialogue.
My last thought about how to change and amplify voices is tied to the Nita M. Lowe Middle East Partnership for Peace Act which passed the US Congress last December. As the Times of Israel points out, Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP), a network of 130 organizations, lobbied and will be instrumental in advancing the cause. Part of their lobbying effort included both AIPAC and J Street, often positioned oppositionally. The money – $250 million dollars – will be allocated to different peacebuilding organizations for reconciliation initiatives between Israelis and Palestinians. While ALLMEP is relatively new on my radar, the kinds of grassroots work that member organizations engage in is not. In fact, I’ve written about one group, Roots/Shoreshim/Judur, a few times, including after attending a presentation in Atlanta and after seeing Roots’ Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger attend a virtual event hosted by another peacebuilding organization called Tech2Web. The Tech2Web session drew on lessons learned from Ireland’s past conflict. In February, I also attended a webinar hosted by Roots, whose peacebuilding organization brings together Jewish (mostly religious) settlers and Palestinians from the West Bank. The featured speaker was ALLMEP’s Executive Director John Lyndon who spoke about this $250 million opportunity. (The recording is just shy of an hour and a half, and very informative.) I do hope that there are mechanisms in place for the public to see the projects and organizations the money funds, as well as to measure the impact. The potential is real, I think.
I’d like to believe that all there is a way to corral these four areas together, to use them to make real change. But it’s all a fuzzy picture in my mind for the moment. What does make it interesting is that each of these is independent of the current Israeli and Palestinians political establishment. So then the question is what kind of activity must happen at the grassroots level that will make political parties take notice and say to themselves, it is time?
Time to listen to each other.
Time to prove to each other that we want peace.
Time to share the message with our own people that we want change.
Time to make ending this conflict a priority.