Israel-Palestinian peace talks: A ‘peace frame of mind’ is needed

For Israel to reach peace with the Palestinians, a fundamental adjustment of attitudes will be required — on both sides.

It should start by both sides recognizing that peace is not a gift that one party can bestow on the other or that one party needs more than the other. It’s not as if the status quo is acceptable and Israel would be doing the Palestinians a big favor by granting them peace — or vice versa.

In the Oscar-nominated documentary “The Gatekeepers,” which has recently been creating such a stir in Israel and the United States, six former directors of the Shin Bet security service argue how important it is for Israel to finally end the occupation of Palestinians — for Israel’s own long-term well-being.

Avraham Shalom, the oldest of the group, who was known for his tough tactics, concludes that Israeli policy has become more about punishing the Palestinians than anything else. “We have become cruel,” he says. And, as a result, as fellow former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon says in the film’s closing, Israel risks “winning every battle but losing the war.”

[Click here to read a counterargument by Rabbi Marvin Hier]

Right now, such honest self-examination is rare. Israelis and Palestinians seem locked in psychological patterns in which they discount the views and claims of the other side as having little or no validity. Each side has its own narrative, proclaims its own historic and legalistic rights. and tries to delegitimize the other side’s claims.

The battle is fought in the media and in international institutions like the United Nations, with both sides and their proxies striving every day to demonstrate how 100 percent right they are and how 100 percent wrong the other side is.

Yes, the Palestinians should stop making anti-Semitic comments and honoring suicide bombers — but has the Israeli government been entirely faultless?

To give but one example, the number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank excluding East Jerusalem grew by more than 15,000 in 2012 to reach a total that for the first time topped 350,000, according to official Israeli statistics. The number has almost doubled in the past 12 years. 

How is a Palestinian supposed to feel at this constant erosion of territory that is supposed to be a future Palestinian state? Does it bespeak an Israeli willingness to make peace or is it evidence of a determined drive to eventually annex and absorb the land in a “Greater Land of Israel”?

A State Department-funded study of Israeli and Palestinian textbooks released this month provides another example of the ‘blame game’ mind-set prevalent on both sides. 

It’s not that textbooks that were analyzed actually invented or distorted facts. But they do carefully  select facts to paint the other side as brutal, extreme and two-faced. The result is that both Israeli and Palestinian kids grow up learning just one side of the story and are educated to expect the worst of each other.

Or take the recent statement by former Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who remains Benjamin Netanyahu’s most important political ally, that peace with the Palestinians is impossible right now, not because of anything the Palestinians are or are not doing, but because of instability and violence in neighboring Arab countries.

“It is not possible to solve the conflict here,” said Lieberman, adding that the ball was in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ court to renew diplomacy.

With a statement like that, why should Abbas renew diplomacy? What is there to talk about?

Such statements are self-fulfilling prophecies. But that’s where both sides are right now, and they are going to need help to break out of it. That’s where U.S. mediation is so crucial. 

The trick will be for President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to bring both sides to a realization that negotiations are not about proving which of them is more right and which is more wrong (or wronged), but in reaching a compromise to benefit both peoples. It’s not about what each side may have to sacrifice but about what they stand to gain.