While reconciliation is a positive value and should be pursued whenever possible, it also requires one basic ingredients: both sides should be willing to conciliate and see each other eye to eye.
Our recent history is filled with situations when attempts to conciliation led to increased violence. Think Munich 1939. England and France came to the meeting to conciliate Hitler and avoid another European war, since the memory of the horrors of the prior one were still fresh in their memory. Hitler was spoiling for a fight and was looking for a way to initiate a war. His diary clearly states that when he met with the British and French at Munich he was “ready for war”, although many in his cabinet disagreed. Hitler therefore used Munich as a way to lull the other European powers into complacency and buy time. A few months later he invaded Poland.
You can also look at it on a more prosaic – and closer – perspective. When a bully in the schoolyard chooses a victim and make demands...does the acceptance of those demands end the bullying or does encourage it?; when a Domestic Violence victim submits to her/his victimizer, does the abuse end?
Yet if we say that reconciliation is the best civilized option to end a dispute, it should work. And it does, when certain conditions are met.
The very first condition is that both sides come to the table with the intention to reconcile, which means neither side sees itself as superior to the other. If one side is automatically assuming the other side does not have rights, their coming to the table can be safely assumed to be a tactic to gain time, not an attempt to solve the dispute.
The second condition is the willingness to compromise; the idea that nobody will leave the table with everything they want, and that it will be necessary to concede in some areas to gain in others; again this requires both sides coming to the table in good faith and recognizing the other as somebody entitled to the same basic rights and the same Human dignity.
The third condition is respect; if we do not respect the ones we are trying to reconcile with...well, it's just a futile exercise.
The fourth condition is trust: we need to feel that whatever agreement is reached will be respected in the future, and that the other side is not using the negotiation as an excuse to continue the bullying. Pretty heavy conditions, are they not?; yet they are the basic conditions of any civilized agreement between people as well as between Nations.
If we choose to reconcile without the above mentioned conditions being met, it is like trying to build a house of cards in the middle of a Hurricane. Can it be done? Maybe...but it ain't gonna be very stable...
I guess you know by now where I'm going...So far, in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians that started in 1993 under the so called “Declaration of Principles” (popularly known as the “Oslo Accords”) the Israelis have relinquished control of vast areas of the West Bank and all of the Gaza Strip; ease movements between areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority by removing many of the checkpoints (which were over 49 a decade ago and 16 today); transferred taxes retained on the wages of Palestinian workers from the Territories to the Palestinian Authority; recognized publicly the right of the Palestinian people to self determination and expressed the willingness to live side-by-side in Peace with a Palestinian State. These statements were issued by successive Israeli Administrations since 1993; they are not the “whim of a ruler” but State Policy.
The Palestinians in turn, have yet to eliminate the demonization of Jews and Israel in their school text books; In their geography texts, Palestine includes all the land from the Jordan to the Sea and from Lebanon to Eilat - No Israel; their newspapers continue to publish anti Semitic cartoons and Editorials and their Imams continue to call for the killing of Jews from their pulpits. Arafat was funding terrorist activites and Hamas is still doing it.
The Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) in the West Bank refuses to recognize Israel as the State of the Jewish people and protested Israel's claim that the Tomb of the Patriarchs is a Jewish Holly Site, demanding that it be defined as exclusively Muslim and part of thw Waqf. Maybe it is just me, but it seems to me that all this is a bit asymmetrical...but maybe it is just me.
The Palestinians are getting ready to present at the U.N. General Assembly a Resolution recognizing the State of Palestine within the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its Capital. This is not accidental. Two years ago, when Salaam Fayyad took over as Prime Minister he promised that “in two years, the Palestinians will be ready for Statehood”; and he delivered. Palestinian society has today many of the trappings of Statehood, very much like Jewish society had them before 1948. As a matter of fact, Salaam Fayyad has repeatedly said that one of his role models is David Ben Gurion!. On April 13, Fayyad made a presentation to the donor states claiming that “Palestinians are ready for Statehood”. I think that's marvelous, but it leaves out some facts:
a) The Palestinians are trying to impose their own solution disregarding Israel; in other words they do not see Israel as entitled to the same rights they claim for themselves. They fail to meet the first condition mentioned above for a successful reconciliation.
b) The Palestinians are showing unwillingness to compromise. From their perspective, they already compromised too much by letting the Jews stay. The UN Resolution will give them everything they want without negotiating with Israel. They fail to meet the second condition.
c) While Palestinians are negotiating, they refuse to show the most fundamental respect for Jewish holly sites; they have burned the Tomb of Joseph, they claim Jews have no connection to the Tomb of the Patriarchs or Rachel's Tomb and continue to claim that there never was a Jewish Temple on the Haram Al Sharif (Temple Mount). They fail to show the most fundamental respect for Jews and their heritage, they fail to meet the third condition.
d) While Palestinians of one faction negotiate with Israel, Palestinians of another faction continue to volley missiles against Israeli civilians (one of the latest ones an anti tank missile shot against a School Bus). They negotiate with Israel but are getting ready to demand that the UN give them all that they want as if Israel's rights did not exist. In the movies the Native Americans are shown saying that “white man speaks with forked tong” to mean that Whites were not to be trusted...and they were proven right. The Palestinian leadership, based on current evidence, is definitely not to be trusted. They fail to meet the fourth condition for successful reconciliation.
Palestinians might be ready for Statehood...but are they ready for RESPONSIBLE statehood?
Now we go back to the paragraph heading the article. It is a quote of the Epistle to the Jews of Yemen written by Maimonides while living in Egypt in the second half of the twelfth century.
In those days, Jews were tolerated in Egypt as Dhimmis or non Muslims, who were allowed to live and practice their religion insofar they acknowledged the superiority of Islam and paid the protection tax of Jizya. In fact, the word “Dhimmi” means “Those whose responsibility has been taken”...Dhimmis were not entitled to equal rights, nor equality under the law. They were not allowed to serve as witnesses in a case involving Muslims because “they were not to be trusted”. The list goes on an on...the bottom line is that the Dhimmis in Maimonides' Egypt were deemed as “non persons” whose privileges could be given or taken away by the whim of the Muslim ruler. And every limitation of the rights of the Dhimmis is firmly grounded in legal Shari'a precedents often going back to Mohammed himself.
I believe that the eventual solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict is the existence of two States for two people living in mutual respect and security side by side, and that anything short of that will not work. To get there requires the commitment to reconcile
Israel does not have a completely clean record, and it does need to stop creating facts on the ground that become obstacles to trust and compromise. But when comparing it with the Palestinian record, it smells like roses...Reconciliation implies both sides coming to the middle ground and not one side making all the compromises. Israel has done much...let the Palestinians now prove they are indeed willing to compromise and to respect the Jewish right to self determination and look at Jews as worth of the same dignity and respect they demand for themselves.