When it comes to the Israeli Palestinian Conflict, civility is just another battleground. Both sides appear to be using civility (or lack thereof) as ways of conveying messages. Unfortunately some outside agents with interest in the Middle East do the same.
When President Obama mistreated Netanyahu in one of his visits, the message the American President was trying to convey is “we are displeased at your policies in the territories and we'll make it know publicly”, and when he recently announced his stand on the Israeli Palestinian Conflict and his belief that the 1967 borders ought to be the basis for negotiations without consulting Netanyahu in advance and making that announcement when the Israeli Prime Minister was on its way to meet with him, Obama's message was “This is my position, and it not about Israel but about what I believe – Israel is not more important to us than the Arab world”. It was not the message he conveyed that soured relationships between Israel and the US (after all, the same is being said in Israel and most people would support it there), but the lack of civility in how it was presented.
The Palestinian leadership refused to negotiate with Netanyahu from day one, because their negotiations with him in the past forced them into concessions they did not want to make, so they resorted to lack of civility as a weapon. Refusing to meet with Netanyahu and pushing to resolve the conflict bypassing the negotiation mechanisms by threatening to go straight to the UN was bad enough, but announcing a deal of “Palestinian Unity” with Hamas without forcing Hamas to accept prior agreements put it really over the top. Of course, Hamas is not adverse to using the lack of civility weapon themselves, like recruiting well meaning activists from around the world with lies of a Humanitarian crisis in Gaza so they will participate in a smearing campaign against Israel. Not exactly rules of polite diplomacy...but again, Hamas never recognized the State of Israel and calls for its destruction anyway.
The Israeli leadership, while staying within the boundaries of the law and respecting the agreements it signed with the PLO and other Arabs, does sometimes take the “high road” in heavy handed diplomacy, essentially conveying the message “you will stick to the letter of the law because I hold all the cards”, something that is viewed by the Palestinians as arrogance and makes negotiation more difficult. Israel does have all the cards because the current situation is the consequence of several failed attempts by the Arabs to obliterate the Jewish State and Israel came to gain the upper hand by defending itself. Waving it in front of the Palestinians, however, is not helpful in resolving the conflict.
I believe that if all sides adopt civility we could get to a point where the conflict could be resolved. The final resolution of the conflict will look, of course, like the idea of Jewish consensus – something nobody is happy about but everybody can live with. Israel will probably not keep the entire West Bank and the Palestinians will not gain sovereignty over “Historical Palestine”; Jerusalem will have to be shared in some fashion and Palestinians will have to get serious in setting up a true democratic government accountable to its citizens, renounce violence and formally renounce any claims they might have expressed in the past to territory in Israel, as well as the right of “Palestinian refugees” or their descendants to return to Israel. For the same token, Israelis might have to renounce their claim to the property lost by Arab Jews when they were expelled from the Arab countries in the 40s, 50s and 60s.
Without civility there cannot be agreement, because lack of civility indicates, first of all, lack of respect for the other much as it does in interpersonal relationships. Civility alone however, is not enough to resolve the conflict. There must also be a willingness to compromise, to accept that neither side will get everything they want and that both sides will have to concede some points. Unilateral concessions, as the ones that followed the Oslo agreements can hardly be a basis for a durable Peace. Concessions must be explicit and mutual, because the fears and distrust of both sides must be addressed.
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