Both sides need to emphasize their commitment to a genuine two-state solution with an independent, sovereign Palestine living alongside Israel in peace and security. Ambiguity on this point for cynical political purposes is destroying confidence on both sides in the capacity of the other to compromise. At least since the Camp David talks of 2000, both parties have argued one line in public and another behind closed doors, an unhappy tactic that has been underscored by Al Jazeera’s release of the alleged diplomatic documents.
Polls show that a majority of Israelis and Palestinians say they both want a two-state solution, but also say they believe the other side is lying. Peace will not come if politicians refuse to prepare their citizens for it through clear and consistent language. Officially produced Israeli and Palestinian advertisements and maps that depict Israel as Palestine and vice versa must also be put to an end.
The other step is even more difficult to achieve, because it requires the softening of hearts. In 1997, a Jordanian soldier murdered seven Israel schoolgirls who were on an outing on an island in the Jordan River. King Hussein of Jordan crossed the border and visited the families of the girls to apologize for their deaths. In Israeli eyes, this simple act of compassion transformed the king from an enemy into a hero.
Imagine, then, what would happen if Mahmoud Abbas were to visit Israel and tell Israelis he acknowledges that they have national and historical rights on the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea, and that he understands their suffering. And imagine what would happen if Benjamin Netanyahu were to visit Ramallah, acknowledge Palestinian suffering and also Palestinian national and historical rights, particularly to a country of their own, on their native land.
The two of us have been following the Middle East peace talks for years, and we are not naïve about the chances for peace. We disagree on a dozen aspects of this conflict, which is not surprising for an Arab and a Jew. But we also know that giving up or walking away is not an option, because the alternative to compromise is the abyss.
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