THE BLOG
12/09/2014 05:39 pm ET Updated Feb 08, 2015

Israelis and Palestinians at Harvard: Part 7 of 9

A Palestinian State
In addressing a Palestinian state's needs, "Any Palestinian state needs to be fully sovereign. Other Palestinians have told me, that despite Israeli concerns, Palestine wants to spend money on schools but to also protect itself. Who should be afraid of whom? Who has been occupying who for the past 60 years? They just want to be able to offer some kind of protection - there will be gangs, there will be crime and there will be terrorists," said one Palestinian. "If the majority would protect the minority, who need it, and the day they get it, it will be the best gain in Israeli politics" said another Palestinian, also stating "It is because of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is the reason for the existence of organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas." Egyptian Ahmed Kouchouk said that Gaza is the "main security issue for Egypt." Another Palestinian told me that it was the failure of other approaches that led to the support of Hamas.

The issue of where Israelis and Palestinians may or may not live, Yousef, a Harvard-educated Palestinian imam, said that in a two-state solution:

People should be free to interact, to go in and out, and to do business with one another, ... and if a Palestinian wants to move from Jericho to Tel Aviv, he should be able to do that with as much freedom as someone from Massachusetts would go to Rhode Island... and if he breaks any law in Rhode Island or New York, he should have to follow the law that says what should be done and what kind of fine he should get.

In addition, he said "if Israeli would like to live in Palestine, they may, but they will live under the Palestinian authority, the Palestinian state. And if Palestinians would like to life on Israel, they should be allowed to." I was told there are about 500,000 Israelis living in the coming Palestinian state and if they would like to live there, they have to recognize the Palestinian state with the full meaning of state; this includes Jerusalem and Western Wall. "If we are talking about a two-state solution, there is no need of fear" he said, but "those who need the protection are not the Israelis, it is the Palestinians."

From the point of view of Palestinians, one said that "Israel tries to appear as the defender of democracy, but this is a joke. If they want to defend their state they will take actions to defend themselves, but why are they in Palestinian lands? This only provokes." Israeli civil servant Orna said that she feels "hurt when people claim things against Israel when Israel is just trying to defend itself." Pointing out that Israel has been in six wars since her founding, another Israeli, who grew up in the Soviet Union and emigrated from Russia several years ago and currently works for her government, Natasha, said that "everyone thinks Israel is a strong state, but that everyone hates Israel makes us psychologically weak." Moreover, she noted, that Europe thinks Israel is the aggressor is just a new kind of anti-Semitism. A Lebanese man told me that Israel needs to worry about the relative power that the U.S. can exert in the Middle East. As China increasingly becomes dependent on oil from the region and allies itself with Israel's enemies, which could be problematic for the U.S.

Israelis and Palestinians have a very similar narrative. The people of each group have moved from one country to another for a long time. Each people have been oppressed by others. A difference is that the Palestinian narrative is very young. One could wonder why two people with such similar backgrounds would not have more of an understanding for the other, which brings me back to an earlier point -- there are more individual differences within a group than there are between groups. When I raised this idea with Palestinians and Israelis, most Palestinians agreed whereas most Israelis did not. As one Israeli woman put it like this: "Muslims are of a different culture and different values system; they don't think like us and they can't adapt to our way of life or the Western way of life" -- some Muslims on the extreme would agree with this statement.

Another Israeli woman I spoke with noted that the Muslims mindset in the region is totalitarian; "it is very difficult to establish trust when your world views are so different." Then one very fair and pragmatic Israeli I spoke to said that "this struggle isn't between Israel and Palestine; it is between extremists and moderates within each group on both sides." What do we make of these claims if they are right? What do we make of them if they are wrong?

I interviewed Muslims on the right, who have similar mindsets to Jews on the right. I interviewed Muslims on the left who were as open minded as Jews on the left. My analysis: if not for this awful situation dividing them all these years, I believe that there are some Muslims and Jews who might be able to get along better with each other than they could with members of their own group.

"Palestinians are lost; they lost hope and that is very dangerous" said one man from Lebanon. An Israeli woman told me that the Palestinian narrative today is going to be very different than if there were a two-state solution; the narrative won't be that we took your land and that we occupy you; Palestinians will have to come up with a new identity.

Israeli Natasha said Palestinians need to consolidate power behind someone who is willing to negotiate with Israel, and build a normal country with a national narrative without a victim narrative. When I asked Natasha what Israel needs to do, she replied that Israelis need to project a more positive image to the world; a poor image hinders negotiation, and domestically, Israel needs to impress upon its entire people that the current situation is not sustainable.

PAUL HEROUX is a state representative from Massachusetts who previously lived and worked in the Middle East, was a senior analyst at the Institute for Defense and Disarmament Studies, and is a frequent guest on TV and radio stations discussing the Middle East. Paul has a Master's in International Relations from the London School of Economics and a Master's from the Harvard School of Government. Paul can be reached at PaulHeroux.MPA@gmail.com.