In the medical profession, prescription without diagnosis is malpractice. The same is true for international conflicts, including the ongoing one between Israel and Palestine. Why then does the United States administration continue to offer prescriptions to resolve the age-old conflict without first giving it a proper diagnosis?
This is not a new proposal to end the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but an examination of the underlying causes of this intractable conflict. In order to resolve the conflict, there needs to be an understanding of the principles that have and continue to prolong it. In other words, the international community needs to radically change the way it perceives the conflict.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, the core issues of the conflict are not refugees, borders, Israeli settlements, or the status of Jerusalem. The issue rusn much deeper. It is based on the structure of beliefs that the Israelis and Palestinians hold—their hidden, self-organizing “control systems” that govern all aspects of their reality. These control systems, or belief systems, prevent them from viewing the problem in any other way than the way they were taught. The way they see the problem has become the problem.
The U.S. has offered immediate, technical solutions in brokering peace, but these types of solutions are merely band-aids for inflammatory wounds. Technical solutions, which traditional diplomats generally offer, do not adequately address the conflict. The mindset of a nation is the mindset collective of its individual members, all of whom are people with shared experiences, interests, and values.
Five major components hold the Israelis and Palestinians back from achieving peace:
The first component is inevitability. Each side, in fighting over the same territory, has been unwilling to accept changes they find unbearably difficult. For the Israelis, it is a Palestinian state, and for the Arabs, it is the Israeli state. The gridlock mindset suggests an inevitable and unavoidable war. The solution? Well, under this paradigm, there is none.
Suppose ten years prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, someone revealed a blueprint detailing specific information on the major events of the decade ahead, including the prediction that the Soviet empire would begin to break apart. Such predictions would have been met with a lot of skepticism. Consider the possibility that our world possesses sufficient resources, technology and knowledge to achieve the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What is missing is vision that conflict isn’t necessarily inevitable. International relations shift and world affairs change constantly. There are few constants.
The second component is scarcity. The condition of scarcity, or the state of being short of resources, is part of the natural human condition. Conflicts arise from the illusionary perception or misconception that there is not enough of something to share. When it comes to Israelis and Palestinians, the scarcity conditioning is exacerbated by the perception of one very limited resource: land. Unfortunately, the Israelis and Palestinians have more history than geography.
Having their destiny interconnected by virtue of the common land they live in, they must accept the unavoidable—that the constraints of geography and demography necessitate cooperation and compromise. Each party to the conflict takes a win-lose position, the outcome of which is the devastating lose-lose situation for both.
The third component is predictability. Many Israelis and Palestinians view history as an endless repetition of events—one day is just like the next, and nothing will ever change. Consequently, they have become observers of events, seeing themselves as stationary in time, unable to affect events. The proverb commonly used there, “time will take care of it,” suggests a passive look on life and a disposition to attribute to time a miraculous and remedial effect. It’s no wonder now—that the conflict has gone on so long.
Like many of us, Israelis and Palestinians believe “history repeats itself” and they continuously look back to collect evidence to prove it. So if it is now – it will always be. The dramatic visit in Jerusalem in 1978 by President Anwar al-Sadat of Egypt and the subsequent conclusion of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty was regarded, at least from the Israeli perspective, as an unprecedented historical event. It begs the question, why can’t similar events also be possible?
The fourth component is immediacy. The key word is now: Instant political solutions, like instant coffee, do provide immediate reprise. But soon afterwards, their effects wane and crash. This dominant perception of urgency is foreign to the people of the Middle East, who are governed by deep traditions and cultural values of patience and perseverance. No surprise that since the Camp David Accords of 1979, no real progress has taken place towards Israeli-Palestinian peace. The only progress we have seen is in the creative use of diplomatic, technical terms, such as “peace plan,” “peace initiative,”, “peace talks,” and more recently “framework agreement” coined by U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry.
There are no diplomatic short-cuts to resolve complex problems, no quick-fix cures to chronic ills. All instant solutions have proven to only bring counterproductive results, as they attempt to treat the symptoms, and not the roots. Political change must be preceded by human and social transformation. In other words, inner societal change must precede outer political change.
The last and most revealing component is negativity. Historically, all peace efforts have been aimed at bringing an end to the conflict. But peace is more than a non-conflict. Peace is a way of life, a way of thinking, an outcome of social transformation. Peace is not just for some to the exclusion of others, but peace for all. Peace is a new paradigm in which people on both sides of the conflict divide engage in waging a constructive peace.
In that new paradigm, the way to peace is the way of peace. It is a shame that peace, shalom, salaam—a glorious word that represents wholeness, perfection, and completeness—has been getting such a bad rap nowadays. A beautiful word that is at the heart of our religious prayers and interpersonal greetings has now been contaminated by negativity and pessimism. No question, the diminution and disuse of the word ‘peace’ has a devastating effect on both Israeli and Palestinian societies.
Adjusting the belief structure of Israelis and Palestinians, particularly its constricting components, can only be done through concrete peace-building efforts. Any new rounds of Israeli-Palestinian talks, without such efforts, are likely to end up where we already are.
What the Israelis and Palestinians need right now is a powerful vision – a positive, transcendent, irresistibly vibrant vision to break through long-standing psychological barriers. They need an alternative vision of a possible future for their relations. They need visionary, peace leaders who know the way, guide the way, and walk the way of peace.