AND ALAN J. STEINBERG
June 5 marks the 43rd anniversary of the Six-Day War, a war that has transformed the lives of the Israelis and Palestinians, but not necessarily always in positive ways. Israel's prowess and prosperity are constantly burdened by its security concerns and Palestinian quest for self-determination is hampered by Israel's military occupation.
We, having grown on opposite sides of the Palestinian-Israeli cultural and religious divide, believe in common ground and the necessity for a solution. Our differences do not prevent us from envisioning a future that is mutually beneficial to both Israelis and Palestinians. We shy away from practices that give importance and meaning to those who are near to our hearts but ignore or denigrate others who are not. We do not attach significance to what is essential to our existence and minimize or question the legitimacy of others when they do not serve our interests.Historically, the overall nature of Jewish nationalists and Palestinian nationalists as they related to each other has emphasized the distinct search for and protection of land and power in historic Palestine. This emphasis has overshadowed the quest for conflict resolution during much of the 20th century, and still continues today.
For world Jewry, the catastrophe of the Holocaust made Jewish statehood in the ancient homeland a vital necessity for Jewish survival and self-determination in a world where anti-Semitism has never vanished. Yet the vision of the early Zionists will never be fulfilled until peace with not only the Palestinians but all of Israel's Arab neighbors is achieved.
The Palestinian search for national self-determination and independence has been intense and beset with obstacles. Their experiences have produced and are producing markings in their lives, which are mostly perceived and commemorated in negative terms. Their cling to their past and their memory of home has remained strong. For them, remembering Palestine constitutes not only a cultural and political imperative, but also a moral obligation.
What have worsened the conditions of both ethno-national communities in recent years are the views and actions of extremists on both sides of the border. For example, there is a small, yet vocal group of Israelis who cling to the notion of a "Greater Israel" that would enable Israel to retain all of the West Bank and reduce the Palestinians to permanent minority status without a state of their own. Hamas and its allies have been steadfast in their condemnation of the "Zionist State," wishing it would just disappear from reality. Moreover, what has complicated the relationship between both ethno-national communities has been the lack of empathy and political will, fed by past history, ideology, myopic policies, and short-term gain.
Israelis and Palestinians must improve the world they have made. It is in the best interest of their peoples. Israeli domination over millions of Palestinians is not defensible. Likewise, complete Palestinian rule over the whole of historic Palestine is untenable and unacceptable.
A single, democratic state in which Israeli Jews and Palestinians both ignore their ethno-national identities in favor of a "mosaic" identity in a joint or bi-national state, while appealing to some, does not provide a practical path to resolving the conflict. No proposed solution is feasible that does not provide for Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and Israeli recognition of an independent, sovereign Palestinian state.
Israel and Palestine living alongside each other in peace and security, although not perfect or satisfactory to all, remains the most logical and practical. Israelis and Palestinians, living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, are not going to disappear. Neither intends to abandon its identity or to accept subjugation at the hands of the other.
Israeli and Palestinian leaders must think beyond their current conditions and the next election. They must seriously engage in negotiations to arrive at common interests. Only time will tell how they will work through their contending narratives and actualize a better world for their children and grandchildren.
What is clear is that Israelis and Palestinians must realize that they are neighbors forever. The sooner they start on their shared destiny, the closer they will reach a more hopeful future. The more they near the center, the more likely they are to succeed.
Saliba Sarsar is Professor of Political Science and Associate Vice President for Academic Program Initiatives at Monmouth University. Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush. Region 2 EPA consists of the states of New York and New Jersey, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and seven federally recognized Indian nations. He currently serves as Public Servant in Residence at Monmouth University.