I woke up Saturday morning feeling a little bit of an overenthusiasm hangover-a little foggy, and a little confused about what happened during the fun filled night before. Usually pretty critical, I may have been a little seduced by the well-chosen speakers at the plenary. In front of me were three Israelis promising that change was afoot and that seeds of hope were being planted among an increasingly worrisome atmosphere. And while there is an element of what was said that will continue to motivate me, there are things that I am going to continue taking with a grain of salt.
I don’t agree with Amos Oz’s comparison that what will happen and what is needed is a “divorce” between two people. These people were never in a happy marriage, and this divorce will not be made on equal footing. One side has expensive, powerful lawyers, is abusive and hasn’t demonstrated lately any great investment in ensuring an amicable and equal separation. The other side really wants to get out of the relationship, is suffering from symptoms of abuse, doesn’t have the resources of expensive lawyers and has very little with which to negotiate. Maybe this is a small detail, but comparisons are powerful tools in rhetoric.
The tent city movement in Israel hasn’t done as much as it could to confront the occupation. I understand that doing so is alienating and risky and that they have other priorities. They also haven’t done enough to confront the numerous anti democratic laws being passed in Knesset that will affect, more than anyone else, Palestinian citizens in Israel (Arab Israelis) who are 1 in 5 of Israeli citizens. They have marched with Bedouins who came to Tel Aviv. But have they gone to Al Araqib and sat in homes that have been demolished by Israeli police tens of times?
And how exactly are we going to influence change when public opinion in Israel has allowed a growing right wing increasingly comfortable with speaking publicly about their goal of achieving a greater Israel, not a democratic Israel?
So by the time I got to the first small morning session I went to entitled Two States When: Current Prospects for the Israeli Palestinian Peace Process, I was thinking again about these issues. And I was happy to find out that J Street had calmed down a little too and was prepared and willing to confront the harsh morning light.
Right away, Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now acknowledged that there are far more challenges than there are signs for potential change and achievement. Nadav Eyal, a senior columnist for the Ma’ariv paper, addressed a poll, sited repeatedly at the conference, showing that a majority of Israelis and Palestinians support a two state solution. Obviously, Eyal pointed out, people do want a two state solution. That future, standing alone as a singular event, is desirable. Less desirable to the majority in Israel are the steps required to reach that end. Other polls show that key ingredients necessary for such a future, such as trust between the two sides and the willingness of people to vote against the status quo, are found wanting to such an extent that we do not have enough with which to build.
Leila Hilal of the New America Foundation also recognized how crucial it is to deal with Israeli internal politics. The idea of a two state solution has not “galvanized with the Israeli public,” and the US has been ineffective in ending the construction of settlements. She also said that she will not judge Obama’s lack of success because she believes that since the beginning of his term that the environment in the US and in Israel and Palestine wasn’t one that would support a movement for peace. It still isn’t.
MK Raleb Majadele- limited by language with what he could say- stated that he does not see any room for negotiations in the next year. He said simply, “The Israeli government is a bad government. The coalition is being run by the settlement movement.”
So here’s the thing. Among this sea of problems these are individuals who seem to genuinely believe that with creativity and initiative a two–state solution and a peace can be achieved. Their optimism is educated and brave as they are fully aware that this sea is violent and turbulent and not a safe place to stand. The combination of their awareness and honesty is ultimately more powerful and sustainably motivational then the speeches that were given during the plenary. It’s given me a lot to think about when I wonder about how I want to shape my activism outside of Israel.