My four-year-old daughter, Sophie, and my almost two-year-old Maximus have a negotiated relationship. Sophie, who still hasn't forgotten the days of her individual independence, likes to take whatever Maximus is using at any given moment. This includes toys she doesn't use, and those that were never hers. To defuse the situation, I taught her to give him another toy, one that fits his age and that he knows is his. Alternatively, I suggested she share the toy and teach him how to play together. Watching their tit-for-tat interaction over toys crystallized the sad fact that when it comes to Israel-Palestine, this same childish exchange is costing the lives and livelihood of countless citizens.
Tit-for-tat has never been a productive strategy to deal with conflict resolution. It works only as part of an official negotiation process, where it is practiced to solve problems -- not create them. The continual pre-conditions put forth by both sides are exactly the details that need to be discussed in formal negotiations. Instead of making demands, isn't it better to discuss the options? These conditions are used by those who seek to stall an agreement and to promise constituencies the unattainable. In reality, the peace agreement is 95% done; it is the hard issues that both sides shy away from that we need to talk about.
Israel and the Palestinian Authority are well aware of the necessary compromises and potential solution for each one of the core issues: refugees, Jerusalem, and settlements. Yet both governments use those issues to make pie-in-the-sky promises to the public. A campaign of Palestinians holding the key to their old houses in the current territory of Israel is as unproductive as some Israeli organizations stating their goal is to maintain a unified Jerusalem under Israel. These uncompromising statements are making the expectations of Israelis and Palestinians impossible to achieve, turning any arrangements and concessions in a peace agreement harder for officials to sign and for the public to accept. It also allows for fake negotiations where these issues become breaking points in any talks again and again. So let's get serious here.
Before the signing of the Declaration of Principles (Sept. 13, 1993), the Palestinian Liberation Organization did not recognize Israel's right to exist, nor did Israel accept the right of Palestinians for self-determination. It is only after more than two years of secret and not-so-secret talks between the two sides that these understandings were established. Today, we are still fighting battles for recognition, when it should be clear from our own historical experience, that the only way to achieve any understandings is through agreements; just as we found two decades ago, we will find that lasting solutions are only attained through negotiations with those we still consider our adversaries.
So please, Mr. Abbas and Mr. Erekat, don't stall anymore. And Mr. Netanyahu, stop insisting that our counterparts recognize Israel as the Jewish homeland. Sit down for the sake of your people and make a real effort to build consensus around compromises that are viable solutions. Don't sit for show. Don't do it for the US, the EU, the Arab league or anyone else. Do it for us.
We teach our children how to exchange, negotiate, and most of all, share. Why can't we practice what is so commonplace among our children?
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