CHEVY CHASE, Maryland -- Twenty years ago a young Palestinian-American named Mubarak Awad appeared in Jerusalem preaching nonviolence. Palestinians laughed him into obscurity. Israeli officials took him more seriously, eventually jailed him and deported him, and again last summer denied him entry into the country. The Israelis knew what the Palestinians did not: The Israeli occupation could be killed with kindness.
Against nonviolent resistance, Israel's right-wing governments would have had trouble seizing land and constructing Jewish settlements all over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Most Israelis, weary of occupation, resisted withdrawal only because they felt vulnerable to Arab attacks. A hundred Palestinian children pledging peace and lying in front of bulldozers would have been more effective than a thousand Palestinian children chanting hatred and throwing lethal stones. To those who wanted to keep the territories, Mr. Awad was a dangerous man.
Decades of entanglement should have taught Israelis and Palestinians a great deal about each other, but all they seem to have learned is how to provoke sensations of insecurity and humiliation but not how to induce compromise. They know how to infuriate but not how to soothe, and soothing fears is a prerequisite to building coexistence. Neither side has figured out how to win by giving the other what it needs.
It is hard to get a clear view from the wrong end of a gun, so most Palestinians have been unable to see the conscience that runs strongly just beneath the surface of Israel's brutality. Palestinian leaders have never understood the power of shame, which Martin Luther King Jr. used as leverage against white America. They have never comprehended how malleable Israel could become to fulfill its yearning for virtue and acceptance. Instead they have made sure that the Israelis don't feel safe, and when you don't feel safe, you don't feel flexible.
This has been accomplished not just by the suicide bombers but also by Yasser Arafat and his colleagues. They have waged a self-defeating brand of psychological warfare by pushing two of Israel's buttons.
The first is the mythical fantasy still taught to children in Palestinian refugee camps that they have the right of return to their grandparents' pre-1948 villages inside Israel - that Israel is really Palestine. The second is the argument that no Jewish temple ever stood in Jerusalem and that the city properly belongs under exclusive Muslim sovereignty. Both points are felt by Israeli Jews as searing rejections of their right to exist - the very right formally granted by Mr. Arafat in his 1993 Rose Garden handshake with Yitzhak Rabin.
In subsequent years, Mr. Arafat failed to defuse that potent mixture of religion and nationalism, and so the "peace process" never reached into the streets. It left many Israelis believing that the Palestinians would be satisfied only by Israel's disappearance.
Nor has Israel allowed the Palestinians what they need: power, dignity and a sense of momentum toward statehood.
By 2000, when Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered deep compromises, Palestinians' rage and distrust had overwhelmed their common sense. Through the years, the Israelis promised territory but expanded settlements. They gave Mr. Arafat's Palestinian Authority an archipelago of disconnected enclaves separated by checkpoints of soldiers bent on reminding Palestinians who was in charge. The tactic is described by Danny Rubinstein, a veteran Israeli journalist, in three words: "Humiliation, humiliation, humiliation."
Now that Mr. Awad is safely out of the picture, another Palestinian, Sari Nusseibeh, has caught Israel's attention. A Muslim philosopher whose ancestors arrived in Jerusalem 13 centuries ago with Caliph Omar, he rejects militant Islam and emphasizes his religion's connections with Judaism.
The story of Mohammed's night journey to heaven, he argues, depicts Jerusalem as the point of departure precisely because it was the site of the Jewish temple, the place on earth closest to God.
Israelis are unlikely to find a Palestinian who understands them better. Mr. Nusseibeh recognizes their anxieties. He believes that Jerusalem should be shared. He has denounced Palestinian violence.
Named this past fall as Mr. Arafat's representative in Jerusalem, he was detained by Israeli police for an hour in December for organizing a reception in the Old City to mark the end of Ramadan - a reception that Israel saw as a gesture of Palestinian sovereignty.
In this war of symbols, Palestinians consider arrest by Israel a badge of honor, so even an hour in custody may enhance Mr. Nusseibeh's stature. That would be good for everyone on both sides except those who have learned the most effective ways to inflict pain.
The writer won a Pulitzer Prize in 1987 for "Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land." He contributed this comment to The New York Times.
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