It is a significant time to be here. For the last three years there have been no face-to-face negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Believing it was futile to pursue, both entities have buttressed their positions through increased occupation on the part of the Israelis and heightened violence on the part of beleaguered and increasingly frustrated Palestinians. Now, due to the efforts of John Kerry and courageous leaders on both sides, these critical conversations will resume.
Of course, there are legitimate interests, which each carry, and Americans have a propensity to over-simplify the many layers of complexity. Yet America can play a vital role in strengthening this pursuit. I am prayerful that incremental steps, at least, can strengthen the interests of both Palestinians and Israel; each has much to gain in ensuring the internecine destruction cease. Because the partners in negotiation are not equal in strength and resources, America’s role can raise the level of state-craft.
The recognition that neither can lay claim to the whole of this land is very hard for each side. One rabbi described the potential loss of Hebron, that great historic site for Jews, as an “amputation.” The loss of Jaffa for Palestinians would be comparably heart-rending. The willingness to relinquish sovereignty over treasured sectors evokes grief and loss; it will be the steep, but necessary price for normalizing relationships within this small span of territory.
One of the great strengths of our study program is that we get to hear perspectives not only from Israeli Jews, but also from representative Palestinian voices. Of course, it is heavily weighted with Jewish presentation, but that is the mission of the Institute and AJC. The partnership between these two entities grants a more encompassing vista for our cohort.
Our study has evoked deep emotion as we consider how joyous and difficult life can be in this land. The passion to build the modern state of Israel and the concomitant pathos experienced by Palestinians is palpable, and an outsider needs to listen carefully to this protracted conflict.
I will be watching with great interest and with great hope as the parties return to the table in Washington. America’s project of democracy, though flawed in its own execution, does provide a constructive context for these talks. Surely it is better to be talking than targeting the enemy, better to be contracting claims to land than conquering those who also hold legitimate assertions to ownership.
Molly T. Marshall
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