Obama Israel Trip: President Won't Bring "Grand Peace Plan"

In a private meeting with American Jewish leaders on Thursday, President Obama said that he wouldn’t be bringing a “grand peace plan” with him when he visits Israel this spring. His efforts to play down expectations offered few surprises, as few people expected any major progress to occur during this trip.

Of course, should such a proposal even be made, its chances for success would be far from inspiring. Hopes for resolving the Israel-Palestine dilemma, arguably the oldest and most divisive issue in the Middle East, have steadily dimmed over the past decades. The 1993 Oslo Accords fell apart, Camp David stalled in 2000, and the Road Map for Peace has never gotten off the ground. 

Furthermore, recent events in the region have only served to distract from the peace process. The Arab Spring, particularly questions on whether Egypt would maintain the 1989 Camp David Accords, was a major concern for Israel’s security and the crisis in Syria has further diverted attention and resources. Although hardliners lost seats in Israel’s 2013 parliamentary elections, the centrist and left-wing parties that performed well focused much of their energy on social and economic justice within Israel. Electoral success was also had by the nationalist Jewish State party, whose rising leader Naftali Bennett has said he will “do everything in my power to make sure [the Palestinians] never get a state.”

Considering the long history of violence, conflict, and outright hatred surrounding Israel and Palestine, it’s tempting to throw up one’s arms and say forget it. If the many attempts by brilliant, devoted peacemakers have failed thus far, who’s to say there will ever be a resolution? Unfortunately, giving up isn’t an option. Practically speaking, Israel is unlikely to disappear from the American political landscape anytime soon. But more importantly, the violence both resulting from and performed in the name of the Israel-Palestine conflict means that we cannot abandon the path to peace now. Too much is at stake for us to walk away.

In light of the daunting challenges, here are a few thoughts on how to improve our chances progress:

Change our language: Much of the rhetoric surrounding the Israel-Palestine issue is filled with hate and vitriol. From casting Israel as the “civilized man” and Muslims as “savages” to the infamous Holocaust deniers, this language goes well beyond the limits of reasonable debate. Just visit the comments page of any major news outlet for a sample. Trading insults, accusations, and even bigotry only pushes people further apart and is, if anything, completely counterproductive to peace.

Acknowledge the Gray: On a related note, the Israel-Palestine issue is probably one of the most morally gray issues of our time. Despite countless efforts to cast the issue as good vs. evil, the reality is much more complex. Both Israelis and Palestinians have committed human rights violations and both sides have caused civilian casualties. All of which is unacceptable, and certainly all parties should be held accountable for their actions. There is an understandable inclination to point fingers and place blame, but we need to rise above such actions and acknowledge the moral complexity of the situation in order to move forward.

Focus on the Positive:  Although most of the media coverage focuses on the negative aspects of the conflict, there are many incredible stories of hope. An excellent place to start is with the example of Izzeldin Abuelaish, a Gazan doctor whose wife and children were killed by an Israeli tank shell. But instead of giving in to hatred, he devoted his life to sparing others the same grief through non-violence. Or Combatants for Peace, an organization that brings Israeli and Palestinian soldiers together to end the cycle of violence. There are a number of organizations devoted to bringing young people from both sides together to build a culture of peace. If the rest of us can set aside our divisions and follow in their example, we just might be able to make peace a genuine possibility.