Israelis behold a killer raising his bloody hands in triumph or hear their leader damned to hell, and they ask, How can we make peace with that? Palestinians wither under the brutal mismatch of heavy guns and stones, counting almost all of the dead their sons, and they ask, How can we make peace with that? And so voices on both sides of the conflict declare the Middle East peace process finished.
But was the peace-making ever an effort between friends? Wasn't it the point that the negotiations were going on between enemies, antagonists who had reason to hate each other's guts? And weren't the negotiations that began years ago in Madrid slow, painstaking, and frustrating because the aspirations of each side seem wholly contradictory?
It should be no news, in other words, that the passions of Palestinians are entirely authentic, that their demands for justice will not be silenced until the occupation ends and their homeland is restored. Nor should it be news that Israel, seeing itself gravely threatened by a terrorist-friendly regime that exploits its own, stone-throwing children, will use all of its power in self-defense.
How could the present situation between Israel and the Palestinians be worse? Easy. It would be worse if the present situation were made permanent - and that is what will happen if the peace process is renounced.
If Arabs freshly embrace the rhetoric of holy war, and if the new generation of Palestinians - all those rock-wielding teenagers - continue to identify their hope with the destruction of Israel, then - it will be worse.
If Israel embraces a strategy of ''separation,'' as proposed by members of Barak's own Cabinet, withdrawing from the failed and explosive occupation but sealing off Palestinians from contact with Israelis, condemning them to poverty - it will be worse.
The harsh, nearly hopeless realities of the Israeli-Palestinian deadlock have never been more clearly exposed - yet it was precisely those realities that had spawned the peace process in the first place. Hate was its precondition, not love. Despair was its starting point, not hope.
With this tragic new manifestation, those same realities - hate, despair - must revivify peace-making, not end it. It is when human beings glimpse the bottomless depth of the abyss that we know to step back from its edge. Palestinians and Israelis are at the abyss together. It alone unites them.
A Christian, aware of his own tradition's historic implication in the Jewish-Muslim conflict, must be careful not to address this crisis from above. Yet Israelis and Palestinians themselves have already stated very clearly what must happen now. They did so in the mutually acknowledged aims of the peace process. As some voices on both sides still insist, instead of abandoning peace, the parties should return to its idea and its ideal.
For Israelis, that means recommitment to democracy with equal rights for all citizens within Israel; eventual recognition of an independent Palestine, the dignity and economic security of whose citizens are essential to the whole region.
Over the last 10 years, as the shape of a global economy forced revisions in the meaning of national sovereignty everywhere, the scope of the Israeli imagination on what is possible only broadened - even to the point of a shared Jerusalem.
For Palestinians, a return to the idea and ideal of peace means an unambiguous recommitment to the right of Israel to exist with security, and the historic right of Jews to be at home in Jerusalem. Palestinians must reject the univocal claims of the irredentists, renouncing the temptation to fight the last battle of 19th century nationalism.
Instead, they should reclaim the identity they had already begun to embrace, as the transforming effect of the high-tech boom entered the Middle East through Tel Aviv. Peace means that instead of being Israel's intimate enemy, the Palestinians would be Israel's first partner.
Three months ago these ideas were the cliches of the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, hopes openly shared by all. Now they seem like the figments of a dream. The rush to war carries with it the simplistic thrill of an apparent actuality, but the righteous passion of violence is the greatest illusion of all.
It is not peace that is the dream, but war. And the dream of war is always a nightmare, from which, alas, too many will never awaken. Whether the spasms of killing are long or short, they will end one day.
When they do, the ideas and ideals of peace will be what remains. Far better to come to the reality of what is still possible sooner rather than later. Because the ideas and ideals of peace seemed broadly achievable once, they can again. The peace process, in other words, must not be allowed to die.
James Carroll's column appears regularly in the Globe.
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