In 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.