Is Israeli-Palestinian peace a dream for the naïve? – opinion

The Israeli peace camp is in deep crisis. He is perceived as afflicted by political naivety and has failed to win Israeli hearts and minds for his vision of reconciliation with the Palestinians. In fact, many Israelis today are convinced that the Palestinians are simply incapable of abandoning a fundamental principle at the heart of their ideology: the denial of Israel’s right to exist.

To begin with, there is no symmetry between the persuasive power that the “Hawk” field has compared to the “Pigeons.” Nobel Prize winner Professor Daniel Kahneman has shown that when it comes to relating to the “other”, the Hawks have a distinct advantage. At the back of our minds are the prejudices that tend to play in favor of the Hawks, who see conflict as the main characteristic of the relationship with the other.

In the Foreign Ministry cadet course that I participated in 40 years ago, the question “Is there a possibility of a change in a Palestinian ideology that demands the elimination of Israel?” it has already been asked, discussed and finally answered. The high-ranking Israeli diplomats who were lecturing before us were not mistaken: “There is no such possibility. The very existence of Israel is in conflict with the core of Palestinian ideology. The PLO is an organization that defends the liberation of Palestine, not part of Palestine. The essence of an ideology is not something that changes ”.

They then presented us with the brochures that we would be distributing around the world when we finished our training. In one of them, which had a threatening image of a leopard on its cover, a question was posed: “Can a leopard change its spots?” The leopard was the PLO, and its ideology was described as “axiomatic and intolerant of any compromise.” To avoid any hint of ambiguity, the brochure stated categorically: “This leopard is no different from any other leopard: it cannot change its spots.”

This overwhelming statement, in my opinion, was in contradiction with historical cases that had clearly exhibited a profound ideological shift. The most recent of these at the time was the signing of a peace agreement with Egypt in the wake of President Anwar Sadat’s dramatic visit to Jerusalem.

Anwar Sadat, Jimmy Carter and Menachem Begin at the signing of the Camp David Accords in 1979 (credit: GPO)

In light of the desperate arguments I heard at the Foreign Office, I tried to familiarize myself with other approaches. I attended a class taught by the late Hebrew University professor Martin Seliger on the dynamics of ideological change. Seliger’s studies show that the “ideological structure” has two layers: the “fundamental” and the “operational”. The set of fundamental principles intended to guide daily conduct constitutes the “fundamental ideology.” However, everyday reality is fraught with limitations that sometimes require a violation of the precepts derived from these fundamental principles. Like any human being, leaders are prone to cognitive dissonance. First, they will try to deny the existence of any contradictions, prefer procrastination, and act evasively. But once they have made a decision, they will justify it using a different set of arguments that belong to the realm of “operational ideology,” emphasizing the norms of efficiency, caution, and utilitarianism.

The tension between the two ideological layers – operational vs. fundamental – is an engine for ideological change. Evolving reality challenges the principles at the heart of the ideological structure. When tension is prolonged, the process of change unfolds slowly. The initial footprint is in the operational layer and only later manifests itself as a change in the core of the ideology.

The substantial ideological changes that have taken place over the years in the Arab world have developed in a similar pattern. They occurred after a slow process that seeped from the outer ideological edges to the core. Suffice it to mention the Arab Peace Initiative (2002) that represented an ideological change of direction from the “Three No’s” of Khartoum (1967), as did the letter sent by Arafat to Rabin (9 September 1993) in which he affirmed : in stark contrast to the Palestinian National Pact, that the PLO “recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security.”

Giving official expression to the change in the ideological core is a significant milestone, but it is not enough. The decision of someone who is empowered to alter the language of ideological principles does not necessarily express the sentiments of the body politic or the political organization. Many continue to indulge in past dreams and some may struggle, sometimes violently, to restore the validity of original ideas.

The political implications stemming from Professor Seliger’s pattern of ideological change make the job of peace seekers even more difficult. A wide range of policies must be pursued that will continue to “bombard” the outer operational layer so that, over time, they gradually undermine the deeply hostile sentiments prevailing, not only among the leaders but also in the hearts of ordinary Palestinians.

In fact, few Israeli leaders have dared to speak honestly about what is happening in the hearts of our enemies. In his eulogy for Roi Rotberg in 1956, Moshe Dayan said: “Why should we complain about his hatred for us? For eight years they have languished in the refugee camps of Gaza and have seen with their own eyes how we have made a homeland out of the soil and the villages where they and their ancestors once lived. “

Ehud Barak’s forceful comments 42 years later resonate with Dayan’s poetic lines: “If I were Palestinian and of the right age, I could have joined a terrorist organization.” He later explained, “What else could I say? That if I were a young Palestinian immersed from birth in the Palestinian spirit, would I become a third grade teacher?

The “Iron Wall” that Ze’ev Jabotinsky exposed was an indispensable element in a strategy aimed at changing the operational reality so that it ends up dripping towards the ideological core. In such a strategy aimed at reconciliation with an enemy, the operational message, “Israel is strong and cannot be subdued,” is a necessary condition, but not sufficient in itself. Various economic, social and political measures must also be taken to generate lasting Palestinian interest in maintaining cooperation and preventing violence. These moves include the design of a credible political roadmap leading to a permanent agreement, continued economic development, improving the quality of public services, and many other anchors that can help convince Palestinians that the path of peace it is worth it and it is better not to deviate. of that.

The Palestine Liberation Organization will not change its name. Its emblem will continue to represent Palestinian sovereignty over the entire area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Some Israeli right-wingers will continue to hum Jabotinsky’s “Two Banks to the Jordan.” However, life will slowly advance to another place, and in the distant future, if we continue this difficult path, the ideological core will change.

The need to travel this difficult road to peace does not only arise from a theoretical moral notion; it is the only possible way to avoid a slide towards a binational reality that would eradicate the Jewish character of Israel. Our sages, who recognized the power of defiance, taught us: “Who is the hero of heroes? – The one who turns his hater into his lover. “The greater the challenge, the more a leadership equipped with vision, courage, and tenacity is required to get the job done and instill hope among the Israeli public, even in the hours. They evoke despair.The lack of such exceptional leadership is not only the current political tragedy in the field of peace, it is also the existential tragedy of Israel.

The writer is a senior fellow at the Jewish People’s Policy Institute, a former director general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the author of ‘Shimon Peres: An Insider’s Account of the Man and the Struggle for a New Middle East.’

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