I'm not sure, but I think I have a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or at least another way of looking at it. It hit me the other day after I broke bread at Pat's Restaurant with some people connected to Americans for Peace Now, a leftist Jewish organization that actively promotes the two-state solution.
Now, you should know that whenever I hear the words "peace now," something inside of me cringes. I have never understood how Israel could make peace now with an enemy that hates her no matter what she does.
Over the years, I've asked this question of a number of people across the ideological spectrum: "If Israel dismantled all the settlements in the West Bank tomorrow, would it stop Palestinian hostility and violence toward Israel?"
I never once got a yes.
Why? I think it's because most people intuitively understand that dismantling settlements is not the same thing as dismantling hatred. The hatred that has been taught for years in Palestinian schools and summer camps, through television shows and billboards and in mosques is not just aimed at Jewish settlers but at all Jews and at all of Israel. This kind of hatred is too deep to be washed away by well-meaning gestures.
So I came to my Peace Now lunch with some apprehension -- and a lot of prejudice.
I can't say I connected ideologically with my lunchmates, but I did end up connecting emotionally. The reason was that I trusted their deep commitment to Israel and their sincerity in their search for peace.
There was something very Jewish about their attitude toward the conflict. First, the idea of hope, of never giving up. Where would the Jews be today if we didn't have hope?
There was also the idea of taking responsibility for our situation -- of not blaming others for our fate. Again, where would the Jewish nation be today without that character trait?
My peace-loving lunch companions are not naive. They know about the spread of Jewish hatred in Palestinian society, and they understand the fear many of us have that a Palestinian state could easily become a terrorist state. But they believe the ideals of peace and a two-state solution are so valuable to Jews and to Israel that it is worth pursuing relentlessly, even if it means paying a significant price.
It's this idea of paying a price for peace that made a lightbulb go off.
For nearly two decades, Israel has gone to one failed peace meeting after another with this question in mind: How much are we willing to pay for peace? In doing so, they have acted as if the Palestinians actually have something to sell.
Apparently, no one ever stood up during one of those meetings to say to the Israelis: "Wait a minute, you're not the buyers, you're the sellers!"
Why sellers? Because everyone knows that when Israel signs an agreement with an Arab country, it is capable of honoring it. On the other hand, it's no secret that the Palestinians, with or without Hamas, are in no position to deliver peace to Israel.
It follows that if any party should be selling, it is Israel. Yet, incredibly, it is always the reverse: The Palestinians are selling a peace they can't deliver, while the Israelis are buying a peace that doesn't exist.
Is it any wonder that all the peace plans keep failing? That groups like Peace Now keep banging their heads against the wall, hoping that more concessions from Israel will somehow bring us closer to that elusive solution?
The problem with pressuring Israel to buy peace through concessions is that it perpetuates the illusion that the Palestinians have something to sell.
What the peace process needs more than anything is for the Palestinians to be able to deliver their end of the bargain. Until that happens, any question of creating a Palestinian state is moot.
My solution? Have the sides switch roles or mind-states.
Israelis should act like "peace owners," and Palestinians should act like "peace buyers." With a buyer mentality, Palestinians will be more likely to make their own offers, rather than passively rejecting Israeli offers, which is what they often do.
As buyers, Palestinians would also learn that Israel needs a minimum security deposit: Stop teaching Jew-hatred to your children. Palestinians can't offer peace while they're teaching war. Tragically, the anti-incitement clause was the great ignored clause of Oslo -- so for more than 15 years, Palestinian society fell back on its habit of demonizing Jews, which contributed to the growth of terrorism and rejectionist forces like Hamas.
Israel is hardly blameless in this picture, and it has made its share of mistakes. But settlements or no settlements, the fact remains that the great majority of Israeli Jews have been more than ready to pay a huge price for peace, including evacuating most of the West bank.
Had the Palestinians been smart, had they taken more responsibility for their situation and developed a culture of co-existence, they would have long ago made Israel an offer it couldn't refuse. They would have called Israel's bluff and made the process real.
Instead, we've all been treated to the continuing and sorry spectacle of global diplomats parachuting into Jerusalem to coax adversaries into yet another round of the "let's play peace process" game.
Leading the latest charge is our new can-do president, who believes that a solution is possible if only the U.S. becomes more "engaged." He will soon learn that no amount of American engagement or Israeli concessions can undo the reality that for the foreseeable future, the Palestinians are utterly incapable of delivering peace to Israel.
All this, of course, is very sobering for those of us who fear for the future of Israel as a Jewish democratic state. Going forward, the one thing we can be sure of is that groups like Peace Now will continue to pressure Israel to make concessions, and people like me will lament that the whole process is upside down.