LOCAL COMMENTARY MIND OF PEACE EXPERIMENT Peace project’s second round proves telling

BY GALIT LEV-HARIR

Two states for two nations: that is the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — or is it?

For over 15 years, American negotiators have been advocating for a “two-state solution.” However, among the Palestinian community, there are many who are promoting the idea that a two-state solution is no longer viable.

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This view was recently voiced by Palestinians participating in the “Mind of Peace” experiment hosted by the Center for International Studies at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. The Mind of Peace is a simulation of a potential Palestinian-Israeli public assembly, in which five local Israelis met five local Palestinians in a series of five public meetings, in order to discuss, debate, and negotiate different solutions to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The first Mind of Peace experiment, in which I served as one of the Israeli delegates, was held in December 2008.

At the conclusion of the first experiment, the two delegations succeeded in drafting a model peace agreement, based on a two-state solution that incorporated many of the ideas in the Geneva Accord put forward by Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo in December 2003. We scheduled a signing ceremony in order to officially ratify our agreement. However, the signing ceremony was delayed due to the December holidays and Israel’s campaign in Gaza. It wasn’t until Feb. 1 that we were able to meet.

All of the Israelis who had participated in the experiment attended the signing ceremony; however, only one of the Palestinians attended. The other four Palestinians declined to sign, presumably as a protest to Israel’s Gaza incursion.

In February, a second experiment was convened. The second experiment attracted far less media attention than the first. This is unfortunate, because the second experiment had a very different character and moved in a significantly different direction than the first.

In the first experiment, the Palestinian participants (three of whom were American-born) were strongly committed to the peace process, relatively moderate in their views, and condemned all forms of violence, including violence conducted by Palestinians against Israelis.

The Palestinians in the second experiment, however, one of whom had been imprisoned by Israel, were hard-liners, and – in my opinion – their views more accurately reflected those of Palestinians currently living in the West Bank and Gaza.

The Palestinians in the second experiment maintained that the Palestinian people should not renounce violence until Israel removes all security checkpoints and other measures that were implemented in order to protect Israel from terrorist attacks. Moreover, they presented their vision of what peace should look like: one secular, democratic state for all citizens.

The “one-state solution,” or the “bi-national solution” as it is often called, is being discussed in left-wing circles throughout Europe, Australia, and India, and has been the subject of editorials in major U.S. publications, such as the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times. It was recently promoted by a guest speaker at St. Louis University. Palestinians often try to gain sympathy for this view by attempting to liken Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians to apartheid in pre-1994 South Africa.

The one-state solution is a euphemism for the destruction of the Jewish State, since it denies Jews the right to self-determination in our historical homeland and calls into question the very legitimacy of Israel.

One U.S. official who does not support the right of Jews to self-determination is Charles “Chas” Freeman, Jr., President Barack Obama’s recent appointee to head the National Intelligence Council (NIC). Freeman, whose role will include participating in daily intelligence briefings with the President, has been quoted as saying that Israel’s existence constitutes an “occupation and settlement of Arab lands [that] is inherently violent,” and he has called on the U.S. to stop providing subsidies and political protection to Israel. Freeman has also said “it is utterly unrealistic to expect that Palestinians will stand down from violent resistance and retaliation against Israelis.” (For an alternate perspective, see our March 4 Editorial, “Obama Appointee: Bad News or Schultz II?”)

Palestinian violence against Israel continues. Americans may be surprised to know that Kassam and Grad missile attacks against Israel have returned to the levels that they were prior to Israel’s incursion into Gaza. Despite this ongoing threat, The Jerusalem Post reported on March 2 that the U.S. is curtailing its military aid to Israel.

Supporters of Israel should be very concerned about these developments and what this may mean for the future of American-Israeli relations. If the Palestinian community and others on the left continue to promote the idea of a one-state solution (as I believe will happen), and if it ever gains traction among some American leaders, the Jewish character of Israel and Israel’s right to defend itself will be gravely threatened.

We must be diligent and ensure that this does not happen.

Galit Lev-Harir lived in Israel for nine years; several years of which were spent working with Arab and Jewish groups in Akko and the Western Galilee. She is a frequent contributor to The Jewish Light.