PALM BEACH, Florida: As the war of Gaza worsened, the prospects for peace looked grim. But crises can be turned into opportunities by visionary eyes, caring hearts and thoughtful minds. The cycle of violence may continue for some time. But ultimately, Israelis and Palestinians will have to think outside the box in order to achieve a just and peaceful resolution to their conflict. This could take months, years or decades.
If Palestinians unite in their resistance and organize for peace and democracy, they could inspire Israelis to end the occupation. In the face of a nonviolent Palestinian struggle of civic, legal and political liberation, Israel would quickly lose its capacity to sustain a military occupation.
The kind of peaceful resistance that would end the occupation by softening the attitudes of the occupier, shifting the opinion of the international community and strengthening the Israeli peace camp is unlimited in scope: e.g. labor strikes, massive demonstrations, interfaith advocacy, student protest, women-solidarity marches, peace camp rallies involving Israelis, political theatre and parent protests.
Those Palestinians who support leadership that does not believe in the existence of Israel tempt extreme or opportune Israeli leaders to think of unthinkable alternatives to the status-quo, such as the ongoing ruthless assault in Gaza, forced Arab emigration, ethnic cleansing or displacement to Jordan.
Israel needs an Obama-like leader to stimulate hope in people; instead, Israel entertains the likes of Benjamin Netanyahu, a status-quo politician, returning to power. Similarly, Palestinians need a Mandela-like leader to anchor the struggle on co-existence; what they have now are short-sighted leaders.
While Americans have elected Obama in hopes that he will take a new approach to resolving domestic and international conflicts, the results of the Israeli election on Feb. 10, 2009 may not reflect the will of a population ready for change. Israelis appear comfortable, or at least not compelled to change, when it comes to their continued settlement expansion – in the West Bank and East Jerusalem – and building a monumental exclusive wall to handle a threatening, albeit ineffective Palestinian resistance.
The Gaza war may be a game-changing political development with an impact on the coming Israeli national elections and the future relations between the Arab world and Israel. The Gaza war is reinforcing Palestinian and Arab doubt in Israel’s willingness to relinquish the occupied territories in exchange for peace.
Regrettably, today, Palestinians are poorly led, war fatigued and too ideologically divided to plan creative solutions for ending the occupation of their land. To gain decisive power in negotiating peace with Israel, Palestinians must unite, commit to civic struggle and govern democratically. By establishing one authority in Gaza and another in the West Bank in 2007, Palestinians weakened their negotiating power. By settling their internal conflict with force, Palestinians unwittingly send a message to Israel that force is the “language of the region.
Palestinians need more friends in Israel to activate the engines of reconciliation. For most Israelis, peacemaking is risk taking. Israeli public sentiment is key for peace. As long as Israelis lack trust in others, their steps to peace falter. When Palestinians are divided, they limit the chances for Israeli moderates to lobby for reconciliation, compromise and concessions. When Palestinians fight each other, they offer extreme Israeli politicians an excuse, if not a rationale, to advocate shelving the peace process.
Neither side of the conflict is on the side of angels. Some Palestinians dream of re-possessing Palestine through rapid demographic growth, and some Israelis dream of ethnic cleansing. Without intending to do so, extremes on both sides are working to fulfill each others’ nightmares.
As the Gaza war expanded and as the images of civilian casualties were repeatedly displayed on the TV screen, Hamas popularity was boosted among Palestinians. Similarly, as Hamas continues to shell rockets on civilians and rejects Israel’s existence, it offers extremists in Israel a chance to regain power and continue the rule of force.
The key to the Palestinian struggle for justice is peaceful and well organized resistance against the occupation. As Israelis get the message that the occupation is the only barrier to peace, moderates will take over from the extremists in defending the true interest of their state: security through co-existence.
Dr. Ghassan Michel Rubeiz([email protected]) is an Arab American commentator and former Secretary of the Middle East for the Geneva-based World Council of Churches. This article first appeared in Washington Post/Newsweek’s On Faith and was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).