Disclaimer: This piece was written by Andrew Ferenczi Colon, co-president of Eagles for Israel, on behalf of the aforementioned group. The piece only reflects the opinion of the writer and the Eagles for Israel student group. Gavel Media neither supports nor opposes the mission of the Eagles for Israel.
Readers may have noticed Eagles for Israel’s “Peace Week” and BC Students for Justice in Palestine’s “Peace, not Apartheid Week” since we returned from Spring Break. As Co-President of Eagles for Israel and someone who has lived in the region, many friends and classmates have approached me to discuss Israel’s culture and its people. Unfortunately, though, the vibrant nation of Israel is too often associated with the political conflicts that engulf the region.
There are currently two independent nations living in the biblical land of Israel—three if you separate Gaza and the West Bank. This has been the case ever since Yasser Arafat, the founder of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), first sat to discuss peace in 1991 with Yitzhak Rabin, the former Prime Minister of Israel. Their efforts, which represented the first time a representative from either side had met face-to-face since 1947, eventually led to the Oslo Accords in 1993. The Accords were meant to be a roadmap that allowed for an independent Palestinian state, one that would be headed by an autonomous government of the PLO and recognized by Israel. In return, Arafat and the PLO would recognize the state of Israel’s right to exist.
The question that arises is simple then: why do so many people still discuss the ‘two-state solution’ if it's already been negotiated? The answer is rather complicated; and if you ask someone on either side of the conflict, then you are sure to receive his or her personal bias along with it. Notwithstanding, I will do my best to offer my sincerest account of the conflict and the solutions I believe can bring real, lasting peace to the embattled region.
The vague resolutions that were arrived at Oslo have all but eroded following the division of Fatah and Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza, respectively. Moreover, the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, has shown little interest in reconciling their party’s differences. To complicate matters, Israeli settlements in the West Bank have continued to encroach into areas many believe could be included in a future land swap deal.
While many believed Oslo would usher in a new era of cooperation, the feelings of mutual distrust have only intensified following the bloody 2nd Intifada of the early 2000s, and the Israeli responses that ensued. These included the construction of the infamous security fence along the West Bank many have termed the “Apartheid Wall,” as well as the military blockade of Gaza in response to repeated rocket strikes aimed at civilian populations in Israeli cities. While both have been highly effective in reducing terror attacks originating in the Palestinian territories, which are down 98 percent since 2001, they have also created what many perceive as de facto borders between any future states.
The growing sense of frustration with the current peace process has led many to fear that there will never be two independent states living peacefully alongside one another. I ardently disagree with this skepticism, however. I have and always will believe in a two state solution; one in which Israelis can coexist with their Palestinian neighbors, just as any other two peaceful nations would. But just as with any negotiations, the devil lies in the details.
The contentious debate over where to draw the actual border has been the main issue preventing peace between Israel and Palestine. But the events described above, as well as an endless list of equally important events and compelling statistics, have led to a number of preconditions both sides inevitably bring to the bargaining table each time. The truth is that almost two decades after Oslo, neither side has recognized the other’s right to exist. Recognition is the first step towards respect, and respect will one day lead to peace.
We must not succumb to the forces of animosity and obstructionism that will doom any peace talks. The only way to move towards peace is by taking the first step, but it cannot be peace with an asterisk after it. There is only one form of true peace, and it is arrived at by fostering trust, respect, and love between both nations’ people. This is impossible to accomplish if both sides repeatedly condemn the mistakes of a previous generation and promote an adversarial rhetoric that inflames the embers of hate among their citizens. We must focus on the positive aspects both sides can gain if they arrive at a peace deal, and not on 'what they could have gotten'.
Peace inevitably requires eradicating the specter of hatred and distrust that looms over the region, which is certainly no small feat. But if both sides can demonstrate a commitment to one another, a true commitment that reflects concern over the other’s well-being and recognition of their innate rights, then the prospects for the future are boundless. The first step is the most difficult, but it can lead to unprecedented changes once its effects take root. Moving towards peace requires changing the status quo; and rather than talk about issues that occurred in the past that are hindering the process, we should be focusing on recognition first if we want to resolve any of them in the future.