The latest round to jump start the Palestinian-Israeli face-to-face negotiations that President Barack H. Obama, along with Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu, President Mubarak of Egypt, King Abdullah of Jordan, and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmud Abbas ushered in with so much fanfare is already lingering between political apathy and half-hearted optimism. Owing to the faltering of this new phase of the peace process I have decided to hone my political skills so that I may shed new light on this 502-year stretch of conflict and negotiations to reach a solution or solutions that would be accepted by both sides. It finally dawned on me what this process needs is essentially two simultaneous and complementary approaches. The first includes leaps of faith over the many hurdles standing in the way of an enduring peace. The second involves discarding all other schemes to achieve peaceful settlement utilized since the Camp David Agreement and the Oslo Accords and instead adopt new measures to tackle the paramount issues first and not last.
The giant leaps I have in mind are similar to those undertaken by the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and the late Prime Minister of Israel Yitzhak Rabin. The Egyptian President Anwar Sadat took a giant yet risky leap when he decided to bypass all the unnecessary details of peacemaking and opted instead to go directly to Israel and deliver a speech before the Israeli Knesset thereby breaking every taboo that kept his predecessor and many other Arab leaders shackled for years. This was also the case with the Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin who also took a leap of faith when he decided to conduct direct negotiations with the Palestinians. Rabin, like Sadat, was a military man who along with the Egyptian President had the courage to, as the bible says to beat “Their swords into plowshares” and transformed themselves from warriors to peace makers. The assassination of Sadat and Rabin precisely because of their audacious approach was truly a tragedy that befell two men who had the vision to look beyond the immediate circumstances and instead reached out to a future that others could not imagine let alone realize. Daring ventures and leaps of faith such as these could save both sides the agony of haggling over minor issues and spare them countless years of poring over less significant details.
The second approach is a pyramidal method to problem solving. If we think of the Arab-Israeli problems as a pyramid naturally we would think that the immediate or urgent problems form the top of the pyramid and the other less urgent problems form the middle and the base of the pyramid. The top problems form a first category and the rest form a second category. The problems or issues in category one include the status of Jerusalem, the creation of a viable Palestinian state and the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Once these issues are settled all other issues in the sub-categories ranging from a gradual normalization of relations between Israel and Arab states to economic and cultural cooperation, and from sharing water resources to whether the Jews or the Palestinians were the first to come up with the recipe for humus, can then be worked on.
When those involved in peacemaking and tackling major obstacles to permanent peace become deadlocked or find themselves hemmed in by immediate demands and pressures they could always find inspiration and guidance in their holy scriptures, whether they are Christian, Jewish, or Muslim that urge them to pursue peace no matter how steep are the sacrifices. While the Muslim holy Quran promotes peace by advising Prophet Muhammad that, “If the enemy inclines towards peace, do thou incline towards peace also, and trust in Allah (God)” (Quran ch. 8:61), and the Bible proclaims, “Blessed are the peace makers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew ch. 5:9), in the Psalms of David God commands him to, “Depart from evil, and do good; Seek peace and pursue it” (Psalms ch. 34:14).
Professor Fathi El-Shihibi teaches Islam in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Northeastern University.