I Want the Palestinians to Win
JERUSALEM - "I and the majority of the Palestinian people are ready for a historic agreement based on international decisions that will allow a Palestinian and Israeli state to coexist, side by side, in peace and stability."
Jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, in letter to be read at ceremony marking 30th anniversary of Peace Now movement.
These are devastating times for people who believe that the Palestinians need and deserve and will live to see a state of their own. A poll taken last month showed that 68% of Palestinians believe that the chances for the establishment of a Palestinian state during the next five years are non-existent or weak.
That same poll found that fully 84 percent of the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza supported the Mercaz Harav yeshiva massacre which killed eight students, and that nearly two-thirds back Gaza rocket attacks against Sderot and Ashkelon in southern Israel.
Opponents of Palestinian statehood, right wing and religious Jews and Christians at the fore, have seized on the poll as conclusive proof that Israel must abandon efforts aimed at aiding a two-state solution.
They have also pointed to the crushing despair of the Palestinians as evidence that Israel is finally winning an epic struggle for the future of the Holy Land. They quote Zakariya Zubeidi, until recently the charismatic commander of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades militia in the West Bank flashpoint of Jenin:
"We failed entirely in the intifada," Zubeida told Ha'aretz Ami Issacharoff in an interview published at the weekend. "We haven't seen any benefit or positive result from it. We achieved nothing. It's a crushing failure. We failed at the political level - we didn't succeed in translating the military actions into political achievements ... We are marching in the direction of nowhere, toward total ruin. The Palestinian people are finished. Done for."
The right has taken a degree of satisfaction in this turn of events, even a measure of credit. The assumption has long been that in a battle of this tenacity, there can be but one winner.
It's a useful assumption if what you're after, deep down, is a guarantee that settlements will stay right where they are, with new ones to follow, and no end of new housing for veteran enclaves. It's a useful assumption if you believe that settlements are essential to Israel's security and its future.
I must, therefore, beg the right's pardon when I say that in the long run, the assumptions appear to me to be dead wrong.
I'm a fairly patriotic sort, as these things go. A California native, I truly love the nation, and especially the state, of my birth. I love this, my adopted homeland, no less. I deeply want Israel to be a success. And that is why I wanted the Palestinians to win.
Not win as in "throw the Jews in the sea." Not win as in "set the ground ablaze under the Jews' feet."
Win as in "gain what the Jews have gained - independence, statehood, responsibility over their own fate, and a sense of proportion over what is attainable in a world and a region of limited resources and manifold hopes."
When I was first here, and young, and knew nothing, it seemed to me that a prerequisite for a viable, thriving and, yes, permanent Israel was to have a neighbour state of Palestine that was itself viable, thriving and permanent.
I spoke with many Palestinians who felt the same. Their vision of the future was an independent country alongside Israel, a place in which Palestinians could earn a respectable living, live calm lives and raise well-educated children free of undue fear, ire, and resentment.
They bore wounds, emotional and, in some cases, physical, having directly to do with Israel. There were going to be ways in which, no matter how a deal was cut, Palestinians would be forced to swallow a number of doses of injustice. As would the Israelis. There were past injustices, lost birthrights, dashed hopes, shattered promises, which would never be redressed.
Still, the Palestinians with whom I chanced to speak, some of whom I came to work with and know, believed that a peace, an actual peace, a sulha to put a halt to a horrible history, would come with two states, Israel and Palestine.
Later on, when secret peace talks in Oslo yielded agreement between bitter enemies, there was a shocking sense of elation on both sides. It seemed that the path to two states had been found.
I know. You're not supposed to say that anymore. People on my side, people who have never spoken to a Palestinian in their lives, are doubtless cracking their knuckles at this point, getting ready to set me straight about these people, why the very word Oslo is an obscenity, why those Jews who spearheaded the process were criminals, why those Jews who supported it were dupes at best and traitors at worst.
It is in the direct interest of hardliners to do everything in their power to convince their side that this is a zero-sum game, that only one side can emerge triumphant.
In fact, though, there are two additional options, the first, of course, being that both sides can lose. The second, the one of which we've largely lost sight, is that with an element of compassion, both sides can win.
There are well over three million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and they are not about to go anywhere. We lack the will, the capability and, in fact, the failure of conscience that it would take to persuade or force them to leave.
There are more than seven million Israelis, and they are not going anywhere either. A poll conducted last month by Tel Aviv University's Tami Steinmetz Center showed that 82 percent of Israeli respondents said rocket attacks either had no bearing on their decision to stay in Israel, or even strengthened their resolve to do so.
True, peace, as a concept and a hope, has gone underground. But a close examination of all recent polls showing the depths of Israeli and Palestinian fear and anger, is that a majority on both sides still believes in a two-state solution - even people who, for the present at least, reject the idea of negotiations, argue for attacks against the other side, and have no faith in their leaders or the those of the enemy.
It may be many years before Palestinians and Israelis can again begin to feel confident in a future that promises their children life. But none of us can abide in this present, a reality in which we kill their children and they kill ours, in which we kill their hopes and they ours.
If there is to be peace, people who have sacrificed and suffered, Israelis and Palestinians alike, will face further sacrifices, further pain, further renunciation of long-held dreams. This is the cost of peace. There are those who will continue to try to convince their side that the price of permanent war is somehow preferable.
I am no longer young, but I still want the Palestinians to win. For that to happen, both sides have a lot of growing up to do. I hope I live to see it.
Bradley Burston is Senior Editor of Haaretz.com, the newspaper's online English language edition.
© 2008 Common Ground News Service