THE BLOG
04/21/2014 12:28 pm ET | Updated Jun 21, 2014

Really? Surprised the Israeli/Palestinian Negotiations Crashed?

Not at all. Because it's about much more than rational details of borders, refugees, security, Jerusalem. Much more than just a "negotiation."

Trust was missing between Netanyahu and Abbas since the minute Netanyahu became Prime Minister.

Israel's previous Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, had met with Abbas 36 times in less than two years, often in each others' homes for dinner. They got very close to nailing down the details of a historic agreement. Netanyahu and Abbas (who live and work less than 10 miles apart) have met maybe three times in five years, always chaperoned, like teenagers.

I've been working on a documentary, "A Third Way - Settlers and Palestinians as Neighbors" for about five years now. It focuses on Rabbi Menachem Froman and his younger proteges, Palestinian and Israeli. Froman was of course notorious for being long-term friends with Yasser Arafat, and for meeting many times with Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual founder of Hamas. In a 1998 talk Froman gave to a group of American Jews, he asked it this way, "Do you know what happens when you put two fundamentalists in the same room, without introduction?" And the punchline, "They become human!"

All the characters in "A Third Way" say, in one way or another, the same thing: You have to meet "the enemy" -- something happens when you are face to face with him or her (preferably sharing strong coffee). The process of developing trust in the tribal Middle East is often related to respect, hospitality, or most simply -- getting together over a meal.

Ziad, who lives in a town outside Bethlehem, and met with Froman many times (in Froman's home and elsewhere), said similarly: "The best way to kill the fear between people -- is meeting."

An American Israeli Rabbi, Yehoshua Looks, started a recent article of his with a question someone had asked him at a shabbat meal, "Have you ever spent time with a Palestinian?" He admitted he hadn't -- and then in the article goes on telling about his touching experience talking with Ali Abu Awwad, a Palestinian activist.

Contrast this with Benjamin Netanyahu. He probably got his attitudes first from his father, Benzion, an activist in the Revisionist Zionism movement (a precursor to the Likud party of his son). Netanyahu the elder said in a 2009 interview: "The Jews and the Arabs are like two goats facing each other on a narrow bridge. One must jump to the river - but that involves a danger of death. The strong goat will make the weaker one jump ... and I believe the Jewish power will prevail."

Can't get more win-lose than this. Unfortunately, many Israelis (and Palestinians) hold similar views. And with the segregation inherent in the Occupation (most West Bank Palestinians and Israelis never meet -- except when the former meet the latter as soldiers, usually at checkpoints) -- these attitudes stay hardened.

One of the best things about making a documentary movie that takes a few years to finish, is you become friends with many of the characters. One of the characters in "A Third Way" has visited our home in Jerusalem several times. One time he showed us (the main audience was my seven year old son), how to make "balouza," a Palestinian pudding.

The clincher was when my Palestinian friend grated chocolate on top of the pudding.

Since then, my son has made balouza several more times, each time discovering another type of topping.

Rabbi Froman often liked his meetings to be dramatic. But the ingredients were the same: developing trust, rapport. When we went to Qusra, in the Northern West Bank, the Israeli army jeeps wisely left us at the edge of the village, and we went in alone. Village elders led us into the mosque, and we saw the blackened remains of the burning tire that had been rolled in by extremist settlers. Then outside, Froman stood on the steps of the mosque and addressed the 200 or so villagers who had come to meet him. The first words he said were in their language, Arabic, familiar words praising God: "Allahu Akbar" -- "God is great". Immediately, the villagers answered in unison the same way, "God is great."

Yes, there are many obstacles, much innocent blood has been shed in this part of the world. And still it's amazing how quickly trust can begin, especially when you're making and eating a tasty dessert together.

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