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Ziad J. Asali, M.D. Headshot

Peace Demands Courage

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Too often Israeli-Palestinian relations are seen as a zero-sum conflict in which whatever is good for one party is bad for the other. In reality, both parties, for different reasons, need the same thing: a negotiated agreement that ends the occupation and the conflict once and for all.

Palestinians cannot achieve their basic goal of independence and statehood without a negotiated agreement. Similarly, Israel cannot achieve peace, defined borders, regional acceptance and long-term security without a negotiated agreement with the Palestinians.

Yet for too long, Israelis and Palestinians have regarded each other with deep suspicion. One of the most maddening statistics continuously reflected by opinion polling among Israelis and Palestinians holds that substantial majorities of both societies, while in favor of a two-state solution, are both skeptical that it can be achieved and convinced that the other party is insincere and will not deliver it. This attitude is also reflected among many Jewish and Arab Americans.

These broad generalizations, rooted in decades of deep suspicion, distrust and negative experiences, have prevented the two groups from working together to achieve a professed common goal. This must change.

It is essential that we recognize the deep attachments and historical ties of both Palestinians and Jews to the land of Palestine and Israel. Both national narratives are valid, and both national projects are legitimate. The two narratives are not fully compatible, and I doubt they ever will be. It is enough to accept that both narratives are legitimate in their own way and that both should be expressed through separate, sovereign and independent states living side by side in peace.

Here, I think, even among those elements in both our communities that support a two-state agreement, there is much work to be done. Too many people who profess support for such an agreement continue to deny the legitimacy of the other side's national narrative and suggest that only one national project is genuinely legitimate. This attitude must be challenged because it undermines the mindset required to accommodate the core minimal national interests of both parties.

Many Israelis and their American friends are concerned about the "delegitimization" of Israel, and that's reasonable and understandable. A peaceful future for the Palestinians and the entire region can only be built when Israel is legitimized and accepted in the context of an agreement that ends the occupation and the conflict by creating a viable Palestine.

However, while those of us at the American Task Force on Palestine firmly oppose Israel's delegitimization, we also oppose the occupation and support peaceful, nonviolent efforts to end it. We have strongly supported Palestinian efforts to build the institutional, infrastructural, economic and administrative framework of the Palestinian state under occupation, in order to end the occupation. We have also supported nonviolent protest efforts such as popular boycott of settlement goods that call attention to the important and undeniable distinction between Israel itself on the one hand and the occupation and the settlements on the other hand.

Some Israelis are not comfortable with this distinction and see such efforts as part of a delegitimization campaign. We respectfully disagree. The occupation is not and cannot be synonymous with Israel since the occupation must end for peace to be accomplished. Palestinians should be able to peacefully oppose the occupation as they pursue a nonviolent quest for their own independence.

ATFP has been consistent and, if I may say so, courageous in firmly rejecting any efforts to demonize or delegitimize Israel and opposing any form of violence or incitement. These positions, over the past seven years, have come at a considerable political and personal cost to us, but we believe that they are essential to playing a constructive role to end the conflict.

I will be frank: We are hoping to see more courageous positions by mainstream pro-Israel Jewish American organizations on policies, such as settlement expansion, that not only delegitimize but actually threaten the potential existence of a Palestinian state. We feel that clarity about the outcome we seek and what policies promote and facilitate that outcome is essential.

When we established ATFP, we did so with the understanding that there were difficult choices to make and that we have to be prepared to make them -- and we have. All parties have their own difficult choices to make.

Ziad J. Asali is president of the American Task Force on Palestine. This article is adapted from a speech he delivered to The Israel Project on June 22.