Difficult – but not impossible

Although there has been a very deep and dangerous deterioration in the relationship between the Palestinian and Israeli governments and their respective publics, this deterioration has not yet become irreversible, mainly because each side’s electorate has an interest in reversing the bloody conflict and returning to peace negotiations. The prolonging of this fight, however, is deepening mutual mistrust and gravely affecting new generations that might have been the vehicle for peace, but are now caught up in a maelstrom of hatred and hostility.

There are two areas of action that are required in order to try to regain confidence between the two sides. One is practical and the other is political.

Initially, an important message sent to Palestinians from the Israeli side–the main impetus for the current mistrust and lack of confidence–was the election of the Israeli right wing and Ariel Sharon in the position of prime minister. That was seen as a retreat from the spirit of compromise that had characterized previous governments in Israel.

The dramatic escalation of Israeli practices such as the extra-judicial killing of activists and civilians, the wanton destruction of infrastructure and economy, and the collective punishment of the Palestinian people through widespread military action, arrests, closures, curfews and, in some cases, hunger, have caused Palestinians to lose faith in Israel as a partner. Any attempt to regain the confidence of the Palestinian people must include a complete halt to all of these activities. The impression among Palestinians is not that these actions are a reaction to Palestinian armed attacks, but rather that they are rooted in a deep hatred for Palestinians in general, and the desire to wreck anything that has meaning for the Palestinian people–their educational system, the educational opportunities of their young people, their culture and cultural institutions, the list goes on….

The other aspect that must be addressed in rebuilding trust is the rhetoric coming from the Israeli side. Persistent Israeli dismissal of the legitimate Palestinian desire for independence and Israel’s continued attempts to discredit the Palestinian leadership–despite its election by the Palestinian people–as “a bunch of terrorists,” and to call the Palestinian search for freedom and independence “terrorism,” must come to an end. Moreover, this Israeli government’s blunt public statements expressing lack of commitment to the peace process, the very notion of territorial compromise and United Nations Resolution 242, cannot continue if trust is to be restored.

These messages contribute to Palestinian suspicion. In their stead, Israelis should give the impression that they are willing to end entirely the Israeli occupation. Palestinians consider the construction of settlements an indicator of Israeli will in that direction. An illegal settlement expansion policy in which Israel confiscates by virtue of force land owned by Palestinian individuals for the purpose of settling Jewish settlers is intended to consolidate Israel’s occupation. Despite Israeli statements to the contrary, when Palestinians see settlements growing, they cannot be expected to acquiesce to a “peaceful occupation.”

For their part, Palestinians must also be more careful in the impression they are giving the other side. First, Palestinians must make sure that they are sending the right message, which is that while Palestinians will not accept anything less than a complete end to the occupation as per international law, their territorial claims extend no further than the fulfillment of that law. Palestinians must make sure that Israelis can hear that message through the din, and they must also make sure that their activities do not contradict that objective.

Mr. Ghassan Khatib is a Palestinian political analyst and director of the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center.

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