On November 27, 2007, the Israelis and Palestinians wrapped up the latest round of peace talks in Annapolis, Maryland. Once again, the parties agreed to agree to talk about peace.
The parties talked and talked -- again -- about an Israeli evacuation from the West Bank and Gaza, about freeing some 10,000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons (some as young as 12) and about the right of return for the Palestinian refugees (and their descendants) who were displaced in 1948 and 1967.
There were also new promises. For one, Israel agreed to start demolishing the wall that is suffocating Palestinian towns and livelihoods. In addition, the Israelis offered to let 750,000 refugees return to their homes (or pay reparations to those not wishing to return). Israel also promised to compensate every person it had kidnapped or tortured -- for pain and suffering and for the time lost from work and family.
There was talk about sharing Jerusalem, and Israel even offered to share the water in the Palestinian territories by building "less swimming pools." (Weird, but it's a start.)
The icing on the conference cake was the participation of the Arab League states. All of them seemed ready to discuss peace with Israel.
Unfortunately, the failure of the conference was evident the very next day. Not just because polls found that only 8% of Israelis and 23% of Palestinians thought their leaders could meet the declared goal of signing a peace treaty by the end of 2008. Not just because 74% of Israelis and 59% of Palestinians thought the conference was a failure, and not just because local news sources characterized the conference as "a photo op," with the Palestinians "walking away with nothing," but because half the Palestinian population remained under attack.
While "progress" was occurring in Annapolis, clashes took place in Gaza between Israeli troops and Palestinians. The violence began before the talks, and continues to this day.
According to many news agencies, Israel conducts raids throughout Gaza every day. Since the November conference, more than 120 Palestinians have been killed there by Israeli fire.
One air strike hit a 13-year-old boy, his father and uncle. All were killed when a missile struck their car in Gaza City. The military said it had mistakenly killed civilians while targeting militants.
This back and forth has been grinding on for decades. On January 4, the New York Times reported, "the 15 Security Council members said they are 'deeply concerned' about recent acts of violence in Gaza, especially actions by Israeli security forces against Palestinians, which led to scores of casualties among civilians.'" The date on which the quotation above originally appeared was January 14, 1991.
Today, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calls the most recent measure against Gaza -- to ban electricity supplies -- "unacceptable."
And so it goes.
The Israelis will argue that they have withdrawn from Gaza. True. But Israel still controls Gaza's airspace and coastline, it still oversees the borders, and it still controls the flow of goods, including energy supplies, in and out. And let's not forget that the Israeli military is still free to patrol Gaza, as well as to "strategically" strike "militants" using F-16s, Apache helicopters and unmanned drones. Palestinian radicals, meanwhile, have only small arms and the world's least lethal (Qassam) rockets. Globalsecurity.org reports that "while the rocket lacks a guidance system and is very inaccurate, the initial psychological effect of the rockets upon Israel has been significant."
In other words, each side uses weapons that -- for different reasons -- frequently cause civilian casualties instead of inflicting damage on "the enemy."
The Israelis "feels isolated" as two more missiles explode and children are rushed to emergency rooms in Gaza. Palestinians are "again looking at failure."
Neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians gain anything by permitting this endless loop of violence to continue. Just look at the newspaper coverage of the region over the past 50 years: I guarantee that the old headlines are nearly identical to those published today.
When will we work up the courage to let go -- to let go of land, irrational loyalty, hatred, and warmongering -- all factors preventing two peoples from achieving a peaceful tomorrow. Only when we can all answer that question will the headlines really change.