Ziad Asali
Arab News (Opinion)
May 6, 2008 - 12:00am

Peace is not easy. Achieving it requires summoning the deepest forms of courage. It means examining one?s darkest prejudices that dehumanize and demonize the other. The quest for mutual recognition of humanity and dignity is an arduous task.

The question facing both Israelis and Palestinians is: Do they prefer to cling to the pain of past injuries and the suffering of their forefathers, or will they determine to move forward and build a better future for their children?

While there have been all too many shrill voices lamenting the grievances of decades and centuries between Israel and the Palestinians, there is a harmony that strums through us all. When we fight for peace, we fight not against each other, but together and for all of us. This means accepting that there are like-minded people on the other side, and identifying, making common cause, and building peace with them.

Israelis and Palestinians live in the same land with divergent national narratives, and both want and need sovereignty and self-determination. The only means to reach a reasonable accommodation is to have two states, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace. No other solution has any serious prospect of ending the conflict and creating a modus vivendi between the parties. The two-state solution for all its faults is the only way out of the cycle of violence and hatred that has plagued Israel and the Palestinians since 1948.

This idea enjoys the support of solid majorities of both Israelis and Palestinians, and of the international community. In many ways we have never been closer to realizing this all-important goal. And yet, as I write, the only realistic hope for the future is in serious jeopardy due to the actions of extremists, driven by nationalist fantasies or religious zealotry, among both Israelis and Palestinians.

Extremists on both sides feel that time is on their side. Some Israelis delude themselves that Palestinians over time will become exhausted or new generations will forget their national identity. They believe they will win complete control of the entire area between the river and the sea. Meanwhile, some radical Palestinians are under the illusion that Israel is an artificial foreign imposition akin to the Crusader states that cannot last and will eventually collapse. They too believe that time is their greatest weapon, and that the best strategy therefore is to never compromise.

We cannot afford to sacrifice generation upon generation in order to test the validity of these competing metaphysical visions and certainties about the trajectory of history.

These dangerous delusions are most damagingly expressed in the expansion of Israeli settlements and by the use of terror by Palestinian extremist groups. Settlements threaten a peace based on two states by strengthening rather than loosening Israel?s grip on the occupied territories and greatly complicating the process of creating a Palestinian state. They also profoundly erode Palestinian confidence that Israel is interested in allowing a viable, contiguous state of Palestine to be born. Similarly, the use of terror by Palestinian extremist groups makes Israelis question whether Palestinians would ever accept Israel and agree to live with it in peace and security.

It is up to both peoples to decide whether they will allow themselves to be driven by extremist agendas, or to pursue what is plainly in their national interests. Their past trespasses against each other, both real and imagined, have to give way to the recognition that Israelis and Palestinians clearly now need exactly the same thing: An end of conflict based on two states.

I do not believe that the conflict should be seen any longer as pitting Israelis against Palestinians, but must be re-conceptualized as a struggle between those who are committed to ending the conflict based on two states against those on both sides who persist in clinging to hostility. Those who are prepared to recognize each other?s dignity and self determination in two sovereign states share a common purpose, and have more in common with each other than with their compatriots who are bent on conflict for generations to come.

At 60, Israel is a technologically and politically sophisticated state with a diverse population and a vibrant economy. Israelis deserve a peaceful country with security and economic progress. Palestinians deserve no less.


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