September 1st, 2010
07:00 AM ET

Is Mideast peace a bridge too far?

Dave Schechter
CNN Senior National Editor

When I was younger, I was fairly confident that Israel and its Palestinian Arab neighbors could create an environment and structures that would provide security and preserve dignity on both sides of a border. Sad to say, but now I am doubtful about that prospect in my lifetime.

Having lived and worked in the region, I would be pleased if my pessimism is proved wrong. But opportunities have come and gone. In the past 20 years alone, the “peace process” has included stops in Madrid, Oslo, Wye River and Camp David.

Next up: The White House, as President Obama hosts Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Along as chaperones of a sort will be Jordanian King Abdullah, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair (as envoy for the Mideast “quartet” comprised of the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia). Bi-lateral talks between President Obama and the other leaders on Wednesday will be followed by a dinner. Thursday the focus shifts to the State Department and direct talks between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas.

Over the years, I’ve become less optimistic about such high-level efforts and more impressed with lower-level, people-to-people initiatives. Among these admirable efforts are Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam, the Israeli village where Jews and Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel live together; Seeds of Peace, with its Middle East programs and international camp in Otisfield, Maine, a summer respite for Israeli and Arab youth, and the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, located on a kibbutz in the Negev Dessert, where Israelis and Arabs live, study and work together on projects that recognize the environment has no borders. These groups and others similarly motivated are pushing a boulder up a very steep hill. Any incident (Tuesday’s shooting in the West Bank that killed four Israelis, including a pregnant woman, for example) can send that rock rolling backwards.

I wish nothing but success for the talks in Washington. I just don’t expect them to accomplish much. My definition of progress no longer includes agreeing to talk about talking. The journey is important but no destination is in sight.

I’ve referred in past to a one-woman show titled “A Land Twice Promised,” by storyteller Noa Baum, an Israeli living in the D.C. area. Her message: For there to be peace, both sides must acknowledge the narrative of the other, their history of connection to the land. But too many on both sides are unwilling to listen to the other’s story, reflexively believing in the superiority of their own. Too many distrust the other’s motivation.

With each passing generation, the timeline moves out further and further. Today’s Israeli schoolchildren will grow up and do military service that may include operating checkpoints into and out of the West Bank and Gaza. Today’s Palestinian schoolchildren will grow up knowing Israelis as soldiers or as occupants of disputed lands. For this generation, peace may be a bridge too far.

The best chance now may rest with a generation yet born. Sad to say.

Filed under: David Schechter • Middle East • Opinion
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