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One Small Step Closer to Middle East Peace?

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Before any serious move towards a peaceful understanding between Arabs and Israelis can become a possibility, a certain number of parameters have to be met. Those include the realization that both sides have equal fears of each other and that these fears need to be addressed accordingly. In other words the facts need to be faced rather than ignored and brushed under the rug.

As in any dispute there are two sides to every conflict and the first step towards resolving the dispute is understanding the other side's fears, wants and needs.

When it comes to the question of dealing with the state of Israel, when it comes to matters of Israel's national security, two major events in the history of the Jewish people come into play: Masada and the Holocaust.

These two events continue to impact the modern state of Israel to this day.

Masada, Hebrew for fortress, took place in the year 66 AD when a group of about 700 Jewish rebels known as Zealots committed mass suicide rather than surrender to the Romans, whom the knew would slaughter the men and turn the women and children into slaves. They selected a group among them who were tasked with slaying all those present and then jump off the high cliff into the Dead Sea.

Although this event took place centuries ago it is still very much alive in the psyche of the modern state of Israel. Every recruit in the Israeli Armed Forces takes an oath before that historic site near the Dead Sea where he swears allegiance to the state and swears that "Masada will never happen again."

And in more contemporary times there was of course the Holocaust, which every Israeli leader since 1948, date when the modern state of Israel was created, has declared to never let it happen again. There are some in the Arab world who simply cannot believe the reality of the Holocaust, and brush it away as Zionist propaganda.

Some Arabs refuse to believe the existence of the Holocaust. Many believe that it is Jewish propaganda intended to attract sympathy and guilt to their cause.

An Arab ambassador told me some years ago that until the Arab world realizes that those two events constitute real fears that in turn drives that very engine of the modern state of Israel, peace will never be a possibility in the Middle East. Understanding that mind frame is paramount to solving the conflict in the Middle East. The problem or just part of it, is that do there has to be acknowledgment of those fears on the Arab side.

Nothing gives Israel determination to remain in the state of siege mentality than talk about destroying it, as is been the case in the past several years, for example, every time President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad mentions Israel.

Equally important is the realization by the Israelis that Palestinians need to live in peace and dignity. They need to have a place for themselves that they can call home. They need to have a bona fide passport and they need to have the respect that all peoples deserve.

One of the hold backs between the Arabs and Israelis is explained by Giora Eiland, former director of Israel's National Security Council in the following manner:

"The maximum concessions that the Palestinians can make and survive politically is far less than the Israelis can accept. And the minimum the Israelis can accept is more than the maximum that the Palestinians can offer.

Therefore the struggle continues.

So the region appears stuck in a sort of catch-22. However, one needs to remain optimistic in the Middle East in order to survive. During a recent meeting with a member of the Syrian opposition, a Sunni from Idlib, the center of conservative Muslims in Syria I was somewhat surprised by the Syrian's admonition that he began to "understand the Israeli mentality after a visit he made to a Holocaust museum in a European country.

Having just learned of the massacre of two towns in Syria by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, this gentleman started to think and to make the comparison that quite possibly all this talk of the Holocaust was more than propaganda. He started to think that this could be the reality and slowly began to investigate and learn more about it. Within days he concluded that indeed the Holocaust did happen. Granted, this is just the realization of one individual, one of 450 million Arabs. But it's a beginning.

Claude Salhani, a specialist in conflict resolution and a political analyst. He is the editor of arabspringnow.com. He tweets @claudesalhani and arabspringnow.com