President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu may soon embark on yet another round of peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis. Each leader, in his own way, faces daunting challenges, in part because he must answer to ideological constituencies which are vehemently opposed to the concessions which are part and parcel of the peace process. Netanyahu, for example, will face an uphill fight convincing his right-wing coalition to compromise on Jerusalem. And in a similar vein, Abbas could be relegated “traitor status” for compromising on such contentious issues as the “right of return.” And yet, a successful outcome of these talks could be the spark that lights the fire of change in the region, and for that matter, in the world as a whole.
As difficult as it will be to contain dissent from within, so much more so will it be difficult to contain dissent from without. Due to a number of factors, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict has been accorded a symbolic significance way beyond the four corners of the conflict itself. Chances are good that if the conflict would have been limited to a territorial dispute between two peoples, an equitable agreement could have been reached long ago. But because so many other players forced themselves into the picture, players who were not and are not directly involved, the prospects for peace have remained dim at best. And thus, parties outside the conflict itself, including extremist elements, have helped to keep the conflict alive, for their own purposes, and for a whole host of reasons, including the desire to divert attention from internal problems of governance, and as a way of consolidating political support for governments and groups which may otherwise have failed to garner such support.
The question arises, therefore: Given this debilitating cocktail of internal opposition and external pressure, what will Abbas and Netanyahu need to do to maneuver through this politically charged ideological minefield, in an effort to broker a peace deal? The answer may be that the negotiations themselves will have to be strategically positioned within the context of a higher and brighter vision for the future, within a Vision of Hope, so as to rise above the political fray, and beyond the restraints that have been imposed by domestic and foreign players. In other words, because the Israeli/Palestinian conflict has been manipulated to embody the ideological imperatives of so many diverse constituencies, Abbas and Netanyahu, if they are to succeed on peace, will have no choice but to sell a new vision to the man on the street, so as to elevate the negotiations themselves to a higher level, a level that rises above the crippling narrow agendas of the past.
What sort of vision would be required to give the peace talks a chance? Such a vision, a Vision of Hope, would have to be multi-faceted so as to address all the various impediments to peace. A Vision of Hope would include five parts, like the five fingers of your hand:
Ideology: If there are ideological forces at work which seek to impede the peace process, Abbas and Netanyahu should formulate and use a new ideology, a new framework for rational discourse, An Ideology of Common Sense, to speak to one another, and to the world for that matter, with common sense and with a sense of personal dignity. Words matter, and the right kind of words, used in just the right kind of way, can inspire a sense of hope, which will help raise the level of discourse to a much higher level. Instead of believing in what we want to believe, it may well be time to start believing in what makes sense. Instead of jumping to false belief and rationalizing why we’re right, why not use rationality in the fist place to arrive at what is worth believing in? In a more perfect world, common sense, the collective wisdom born of shared experience, will inspire our thinking and inform our speech. In our fractured world, common sense is the common denominator.
Investment: If extremist groups on both sides of the political fence use charitable handouts to consolidate political support, Abbas and Netanyahu should discuss, as part of the negotiations, using international investment dollars to create jobs: jobs which grow their economies, jobs which protect the environment, and jobs which help to weaken the hold of extremist thinking. The idea here is to win hearts and minds by giving everyone a place at the table, a stake in his or her future, in a sustainable world.
Hope: If the extremists in the region have worked to engender and sustain a sense of dread about the future, then Abbas and Netanyahu would do well to use An Ideology of Common Sense along with some well placed Investment Dollars to sell their people on a Vision of Hope, a vision of Peace, Prosperity, and Freedom. Luckily, the formula for world peace is not all that complicated: Ideology plus Investment equals Hope, and with hope all things are possible, even the impossible dream of peace.
Public Diplomacy: If the extremists continue to use their propaganda machine to disseminate hate, then Abbas and Netanyahu should not only sell a Vision of Hope, but should sustain a sense of hope by launching a series of public diplomacy programs which are specifically designed to prop the vision up, and to carry it forward, such as: a program to Empower Women, a Student Exchange, a Cultural Exchange, an expanded version of the Peace Corps, a Media Campaign, and a set of International Conferences. Take, for example, the program to Empower Women by financing female entrepreneurs and promoting women’s rights. Empower Palestinian and Israeli women in ways that they deem appropriate, and you will have changed the dynamics of the conflict. Who are women? They are the givers of life and the caretakers of life and as such are uniquely qualified to reconstitute their societies consistent with a Vision of Hope.
The Willingness to Fight: If the extremists, on both sides of the fence, use terror to impede peace, then Abbas and Netanyahu would do well to collaborate militarily, perhaps as part of a regional military and economic alliance, to stave off the threats from extremist groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and even groups in Israel which lean toward violence. If we already have to fight against the forces of extremism, and we do, then we will fight, and fight hard, but we will also position the fight within a Vision of Hope. We will raise the fight on the ground to a higher moral plain by giving the fight a moral clarity of purpose. People will fight harder if they know what they’re fighting for. We are not fighting a “war against terror.” We are fighting a war to realize a Vision of Hope. There’s a big difference.
If the upcoming negotiations are to succeed, there is no choice but to win the war for hearts and minds. Abbas and Netanyahu can maximize the chances for success on the peace front by daring to embody a Vision of Hope, and selling the vision to the man on the street. In fact, given the heavy weight from within and without, that attaches itself to the peace process, and the ideological extremism that has prevented any success in this regard, these two leaders will have to develop strategies to beat the odds, by beating the extremists at their own game. If they play their cards right, they can co-opt the extremists’ strategy and thereby marginalize them in the eyes of their own people. So, for example, if the extremists are ideological about Jihad, or a Greater Israel, or what have you, we will be ideological about Common Sense. If they invest in charity, we will invest in jobs. If they sell a vision of hope for martyrdom, or paradise, or additional settlements, we will sell a Vision of Hope for Peace, Prosperity, and Freedom. At every turn we will cut them off at the pass and beat them at their own game. In the final analysis, the ideological extremists on both sides will not be able to capture the public’s imagination, once people begin to imagine a better life for themselves. Some will say that all this may be a bit naïve or over the top. But as we are fond of saying: This may well be the time, before time runs out, to dream the impossible and to make the impossible come true.
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