The elusive peace between Israelis and Palestinians
What does it mean for the future of the peace process that Ehud Barak, Israel's Defense minister and head of the labor party, resigned from his own party this week? Labor, the historic party that dominated Israel's first three decades and set up its democratic institutions and socialist vision, has been dealt a serious blow by this resignation. Other labor members immediately resigned from the government.
You ask some Israelis what this means for the future of the peace process and they reply, "What peace process?" This is the core of this current shake up--Labor's own internal conflicts over stalled peacemaking efforts with the Palestinians. The revived peace talks begun by President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton this past September almost immediately ground to a halt over the question of freezing settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The Palestinians would not continue the talks without a settlement freeze, and the current Israeli government would not freeze settlements. Hence, no peace process.
These current Labor resignations did not topple the government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, though reducing the number of seats it holds. The current coalition is now more dependent on nationalist and Orthodox Jewish parties. The prevailing wisdom is that this makes the Netanyahu government even less likely to be a peace partner.
Where then are the partners for peace? There are other political parties on the left that could combine into a more coherent opposition and voice for peace, renewing the progressive vision with younger leadership. It seems too soon to tell if this will or even can happen.
Long-time social and religious peace activists in Israel aren't exactly giving up. They are working on what is called "Track II" type diplomacy, going people to people, creating dialogue groups between Israeli Jews and Christian and Muslim Palestinians to create a social climate that is less rife with suspicion and even enmity.
It seems a good time for this work. Violence is down, whether due to the construction of the controversial "wall" as some Israelis will say, or due to the increasing economic improvement in the lives of Palestinians especially in the West Bank, as the Palestinians claim. While a "peace process" seems non-existent at the moment, could actual peace be coming closer?
In the next week, I will be able to talk to more Palestinians. What are their perceptions of this reduced violence, and of their own prospects as a people and a state? Is this a peace they can recognize, or is the absence of conflict not their definition of peace?
And what will be the impact of the increasing numbers of countries that are now "recognizing" the Palestinian state, as several in Latin America have recently done? Will this create pressure on the Netanyahu government to freeze settlements and once again resume formal peace talks, or will international pressure harden the hard line in Israel and produce a backlash? What of the effect on Palestinians? Will international recognition of statehood without its reality eventually lead to a resumption of violence, or will it be accompanied by economic investment and deepen the Palestinian commitment to continue on their current path?
Traveling in this region seems to produce far more questions than answers, both in the present and in the multiple and overlapping histories that construct its many pasts. We toured the old city in Jerusalem and the past literally piles up in overlapping layers of rock. You can't really stand firm on any of the pasts of Jerusalem. We followed the Via Dolorosa, the street down which Jesus of Nazareth was forced to carry his cross. It winds through an Arab souk---diverted in the many reconstructions of Jerusalem. The road twists and turns, "stations of the cross" marked with dusty Roman numerals. Did Jesus really fall to his knees right here? Perhaps.
Dr. Thistlethwaite is helping lead a study tour for students and graduates from Chicago Theological Seminary in Israel and the West Bank.
Posted by: MarieDevine | January 24, 2011 9:00 PM
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