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Negotiations are Political Acts; Peace is a Mind-Set

Henriette von Kaltenborn-Stachau's picture

Photocredit: Henriette von KaltenbornIn a few weeks the Arab League will meet. The 2002 Arab Peace Initiative will again be placed on its agenda with the hope to push for the quest of a two-state solution. Many people are hoping for an end to this conflict that has brought hardship and pain to people on both sides.  There are many envoys trying to mediate. There is no lack of plans and initiatives on how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be settled; rather detailed ideas exist. Diplomatic hopes are still pinned on a two-state solution amid growing concerns that time for this formula might be running out.  

Regardless of what shape the hoped for political solution will take; to achieve enduring peace, leaders on both sides – Israelis and Palestinians – will need to get their respective people on board. Though the public on either side is weary of the conflict, deep mistrust of the other camp prevails. While in the past Israelis used to shop in West Bank villages and Palestinians worked in Israel, by now the societies have become completely segregated. The only contacts that remain are those at check-points, and they are charged.

Anecdotal evidence glimpsed from news-paper cartoons and jokes on either side demonstrate how far the demonization of the other has gone; negative stereotypes of the strongest order prevail. The work of a number of people-to-people organizations is meant well, but it is only a drop of water on a very hot stone.

For peace in the Middle East, as for the resolution of any other prolonged conflict, de-demonizing the other and generating recognition of the human commonalities are essential to generating a supportive public opinion needed to underpin political processes that seek peaceful co-existence across borders or within the same boundaries. Without bringing the people on board, negotiating politicians will be left alone; and peace will not endure.

Comments

Submitted by Rushda on
Henriette, I totally agree with you that "de-demonizing the other and generating recognition of the human commonalities are essential to generating a supportive public opinion needed to underpin political processes that seek peaceful co-existence across borders or within the same boundaries". It is the critical need for any peace or any harmony to succeed. I just wanted to know how do you bring that about, particularly in the case of the Israel -Palestinian conflict? In other countries, you can put words like secularism, peace, tolerance, co-existence and harmony in the school sylabii. Education can make a difference. However, in the case of Israel, we have a huge problem. For them, if they do not demonize the other at the school level, they fear a loss of identity. The biggest fear for Israel is not so much the occupation of the land by Palestinians, as much as their being rendered a minority by the Muslims. The same goes for the Palestinians. Consequently, we have generations breeding myths and false images about the other, and the rest of the world looks the other way. The completion of the segregation between the Israeli people and the Palestinian people would be complete by a third generation. Somewhere along the way, we as a race have failed out next generation by breeding hatred. We have not sensitized them about the other being as human as they themselves are.

Submitted by Henriette on
I agree that school curriculum are an important component in shaping images of "the other"; it is here where de-demonizing has to start but not to end. It needs to be supported by initiatives that take place in the world of adults - media, public diplomacy, the words of elders and religious leaders. In conflicts that are perceived as a zero-sum game - the Israeli-Palestinian being one of them - negative perception indeed matters; it is the political and "moral" justification of the status-quo. In the ME, as in other places, "de-demonization" will not begin until there is a political commitment and recognition that a resolution to the conflict can and will not be a win-loose affair. The young generation in the Middle East will need considerable attention to deal with the experience of direct and structural violence. But I refuse to consider them "lost" - I do believe humanity can turn around. Hatred is made in our minds; and people can change their mind-set.

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