The issues between Israel and the Arab world (and not just the Palestinians) have been festering for close to a century. Building a wall, stationing American or U.N. troops, or balkanizing the country will not fully address the issues that have inflamed the region for so many decades. Israel is at war with the Palestinians and the Arab world. Now that Iran has nuclear capability, the potential for a wider regional confrontation and/or conflagration is very real. U.N. resolutions, third-party proxy negotiations, and high-profile photo ops will not end the fighting and killing. This conflict can only be resolved if the parties involved engage in appropriate dialogue.
Guest column Western-style diplomacy does not work in the Middle East. Negotiators must understand the Arab mindset. Brutal street-fighting and guerrilla tactics cannot be met with Marquis of Queensberry rules. The unbalanced standard of morality, decency, and integrity that Israel is expected to maintain in the face of unspeakable horror and amorality is also an impediment to peace. This conflict can only end when the parties themselves really want it to end. An understanding of the dynamics of dialogue offers a viable approach to this debacle. This approach, which works for married couples, can also work for feuding nations or others engaged in conflict-resolution.
There are four types of dialogue. The first is called Negation Dialogue. In this type of dialogue, the parties view each other as a threat. Therefore they negate the “other” via stereotype, dehumanization, and even demonization. We see this in the anti-Semitic rantings of certain Muslim clerics and calls for jihad. It is present in media coverage of “the occupying forces” and other incitable and unbalanced reportage. We also see it in the calls for “transfer” of all Arabs, the razing of Arab homes, and in non-recognition of legitimate Palestinian aspirations. Clearly this form of dialogue is not productive.
The second type of dialogue is called Domination Dialogue. It is based on a fundamental non-acceptance of the “other.” Both sides neither recognize nor validate each other. However, they enter into dialogue with the avowed purpose of feigned relationship-building in order to convert the “other” to their point of view. Arab propaganda has been especially successful with this format. Palestinian representatives negotiate while teenagers blow themselves up at public malls. They make statements to the world press in English, while speeches to their Arabic audiences tell another story. Palestinian textbooks and military insignia show not the outline of Gaza or the west bank but of the entire State of Israel. Israeli security chiefs carry on dialogues with their Palestinian counterparts while curfews and evictions continue. Humiliation and occasional torture of Palestinians is rationalized, while Arab diplomats regularly reconstruct and fictionalize Jewish history on talking-head television shows. Many failed summits attest to the weakness of this approach. Domination Dialogue will not yield positive results.
The third form of dialogue is Compartmentalization. This exchange involves keeping one’s distance while jockeying for position. The parties display respect for one another at arm’s length. This dialogue maintains the conflict and does not yield any synthesis. The Saudi peace plan and the various U.S. envoys’ attempts at triage represent compartmentalization. Sound bytes from Israel and the Palestinian leadership about the need for peace, or pleas from various world leaders to just get along are examples of compartmentalization. The give-and-take just to get the parties to the table and calls for future talks are only delaying tactics. None of this represents any real commitment to do anything concrete.
The fourth form of dialogue is called Gracious Dialogue. These exchanges are normative, not descriptive. Gracious Dialogue offers an opportunity for growth and progress, since each side confers dignity, respect, and validity on the other. It is a dialogue between equals. If the Palestinians and their Arab brethren were to really recognize the legitimacy of Israeli sovereignty, and if Israel would accept Palestinian self-determination, then peace might become a possibility. If the parties directly involved in the dispute were to validate each other’s point of view, strife might be converted to positive energy. If the Palestinian leadership in Gaza and Ramallah could agree to disagree agreeably for the greater good of the Palestinian people, if there were a true recognition of realistic security measures, if Jewish settlements in Arab communities could live safely, if Arab villages were not terrorized by vigilante settlers, if Israel had a partner it could trust, if Palestinians were treated with respect, etc.
These ideals are quite lofty and perhaps unrealistic, given the history and pathos of these battles. Everyone has a passionate point of view about the Mideast conflict. What is also clear is that no long-term solution is in sight. American intervention will not resolve the core issues of trust and sovereignty. Issues of right and wrong are irrelevant. Historical accuracy is also irrelevant. Neither side will be swayed by words or tanks. There is no verifiable truth in the face of facts on the ground. Western modes of thinking and negotiating do not work in this scenario. Deeply felt cultural issues of displacement, saving face, honor, and dignity, on the one side, and security, post-Holocaust survival, age-old yearnings, and the maintenance of a certain image of strength on the other, must be dealt with by the two sides. Perhaps the current leadership cannot pull this off.
Real, gut-wrenching concessions to reality must be made by both sides. Without Gracious Dialogue and the conferring of legitimacy and status on the other, the conflict will continue to destroy the land and the people in it.
If is such a small but powerful word.
Does this scenario have a foundation in reality ? Can/Will Palestinians stop teaching their children to hate and to glory in killing Jews ? Can/Will Palestinians and their ilk give up the hope of eliminating Israel from the map ? Can/Will Israelis ever trust a Palestinian leader ? Can/Will Israel fully acknowledge Palestinian aspirations? Can/Will the children of Abraham live together in peace?
We cannot wish the conflict away. Israelis have their truth and the Palestinians have theirs. All the arguments about why Israel should retain all the land and the historical fact that the Palestinians and the Arab world have created this mess are correct. However, people are getting killed on a regular basis. The world cannot intervene and solve this problem. If objective truth gets in the way of reality, then peace is a long, long way off. Crisis intervention and conflict resolution require Gracious Dialogue, or else the conflict will continue.