By ROGER COHEN
Published: November 22, 2012 121 Comments
Damon Winter/The New York Times
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ANOTHER Gaza flare-up is over — for now. At least 150 Palestinians are dead. Five Israelis are dead. More bloodshed and scars have been inscribed in the 64-year-old conflict’s Book of Unforgiving.
To what end? Khaled Meshal, the leader of Hamas, drones on about past “invaders” who “were faced with defeat,” presumably a reference to the Crusaders. Get a life, Khaled, Israel is here to stay. He says, “Whoever attacks Palestine will be killed and buried.” Well, Palestinians have been losing since 1948 with that sort of talk. I would say at this point the trend is definitive.
Israel, in the person of its U.S. ambassador, Michael Oren, defends the Gaza bombing as effective deterrence. “The tactic is deterrence. Our strategy is survival,” he writes of a nuclear-armed state, by far the most powerful in the region, and its supposed need to administer “periodic reminders” to enemies.
Well, ambassador, a powerful Israeli reminder was delivered to Gaza in 2008. Operation Cast Lead left 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead. Since then Israel’s interest in the “dream” of a two-state peace has been expressed mainly in the expansion of West Bank settlements. And here we are again facing the fact that neither side in the Holy Land is going away.
Speaking of facts, the chief mediator in stopping the latest round of killing was Mohamed Morsi, the Egyptian president who emerged from the Muslim Brotherhood, the parent of Hamas. Until the Arab Spring, the United States shunned the Brotherhood, deemed a band of Islamist extremists. Now Hillary Clinton thanks Morsi for “assuming the responsibility and leadership” that makes Egypt “a cornerstone of regional stability and peace.”
It is amazing what happens when you start talking to people. The beginning of the end of conflict is discovering the humanity that lies behind slogans and barriers.
Fatah, the Palestinian faction that runs the West Bank, began with positions similar to those of Hamas before negotiation brought the Palestine Liberation Organization to recognition of Israel. Hamas-Fatah reconciliation is still a long shot. But nobody is better placed to bring it about than Morsi. The United States, having overcome its Brotherhood taboo, should encourage rather than discourage this process. Palestinian factional division is a huge obstacle to peace. As is the old Israeli canard that it does not have an interlocutor.
Enough already of competitive victimhood, rival “narratives,” absolute claims to all the land and futile killing. Everyone knows, more or less, what the terms for a two-state compromise are. They are not even worth repeating.
A limit must be placed, in the name of the living, on the claims of the dead.
Five years ago, Tzipi Livni, then the Israeli foreign minister, said to me: “We cannot solve who was right or wrong in 1948 or decide who is more just. The Palestinians can feel justice is on their side, and I can feel it is on my side. What we have to decide about is not history but the future.”
Two years ago, Salaam Fayyad, the Palestinian Authority’s prime minister, told me: “Let us not allow ourselves the luxury of acting as victims forever. This is a case of two opposed historical narratives. And if this is going to direct traffic in the future, we are not going too far. It is time to get on with it and end this conflict.”
Robi Damelin, a 69-year-old Israeli woman of South African descent (South Africans know all about miracles of reconciliation), lost her 27-year-old son David to a Palestinian sniper in 2002, killed in the West Bank, where he had been reluctant to serve.
Her reaction, beyond agonizing grief, was to declare: “You may not kill anybody in the name of my son.” It was not vengeance she sought but bridge building to halt the murderous spiral.
She told me that Israeli friends often ask her why Palestinians teach their children to hate. “I tell them you don’t need a curriculum to make you hate if you live in Gaza. And it is the same for Israeli children in Sderot.”
She continued: “This violence has only caused more broken hearts, like the last Gaza war. This is impossible to win for either side. There is no black-and-white interpretation. We have to talk, we cannot go on sharing the land through shared graves.”
Damelin has written to the imprisoned killer of her son. The Palestinian lost two uncles to the Israelis, one killed before his eyes. She plans to meet him through a mediator one day.
The organization she joined, called Parents Circle, brings together Israelis and Palestinians who have lost family in the conflict. They give talks to high school students, mainly Israelis. In general these Israeli kids have never met a Palestinian. They have no way to know the conflict is a two-sided story.
“The occupation is killing the moral fiber of the country I love, Israel,” she said. “It is heartbreaking. Sometimes I feel like I am taking water out of the sea with a teaspoon, but you cannot give up. South Africa always reminds me the impossible can happen.”