Dear Mr. Rae,
I recently had the privilege of talking to you during your visit to Jerusalem, as well as hearing your presentation at Hebrew University and reading your Aug. 6 speech before the National Council on Canada-Arab Relations.
I can verify that you don’t pander to different audiences – your message is consistent. In speaking to Arab groups, you remind them that the Mideast conflict began long before the 1967 war, and that their use of the term “apartheid” is repugnant.
Since we agree on many points, I will focus on those issues where our perspectives – yours as a Liberal leader whose familiarity with Israel exceeds that of many Canadian politicians, and mine as an Israeli academic with some understanding of Canada – clearly diverge.
As a result of your background, you find hope for finding “common ground” in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. You refer to this “mediation project” as “one of the greatest ones in the world” and claim “that the parties at their very best are not irretrievably far apart.”
Unfortunately, on the ground, many of us do not see the evidence for this, and I fear that once again, a well-intentioned peace effort will end in polarization and even greater violence. I have no doubt that some Palestinians with whom you meet talk about mutual acceptance. I have heard the same words for at least 15 years.
But when Israelis look beyond these private comments and examine Palestinian school books, television programs, and NGO campaigns that promote the Durban strategy, we find the same slogans of rejectionism and violence. There is no evidence of the signs of the “deep consensus” that, in your words, emerges when people come to realize “the sheer cost of continuing a conflict and the obvious benefits of stopping.”
On the contrary, the Hamas leadership, which is backed by Iran, has inherited the late Palestinian Authority president Yasser Arafat’s violent legacy, while adding jihadism, a central factor that you did not address. To ignore this reality would be extremely foolish for Israel.
When serious change begins in Palestinian society and in the wider Islamic world, acceptance of Jewish sovereign equality will take at least a generation. Until then, we need to be very cautious. As an academic specializing in international negotiations, I have seen the disastrous results of failed peace plans and warn against such initiatives, including grand plans for shared control of Jerusalem (a misguided project led by former Canadian ambassador Michael Bell).
As an alternative, I spoke to you about conflict management. The late Canadian prime minister Lester Pearson’s legacy has led you to dismiss anything less than full peace negotiations as being the province of “Israeli conservatives.” This is wrong. We are pragmatists who understand that incremental movement is necessary to avoid failure. We do not, as you say, “ignore how difficult living conditions are for most Palestinians,” but we also hear the incitement and the echoes of the terror bombs.
Without roadblocks and security measures, the incidents in which Palestinians are caught with explosives or other weapons would end in many deaths. Israelis have paid dearly for images of idealized peace, and I urge you to give the conflict-management approach serious consideration.
Unfortunately, some of the “positive signs” from NGOs that you were shown are less than positive when understood in detail. You spoke about an event organized by World Vision International (WVI), an NGO that describes itself as “as a Christian relief and development organization,” but that also promotes anti-Israel propaganda. On Nov. 29, 2007, WVI’s representative in Geneva, Thomas Getman, gave a major speech that UN Watch characterized as seeking “to promote hatred of Israel,” and there are numerous additional examples.
The WVI event that you attended was also highly problematic, involving a small Israeli group (Parents’ Circle) that participates in a dialogue with Palestinians. Other bereaved Israeli families see this NGO activity as manipulated to promote Palestinian propaganda.
I realize that these distinctions are difficult to see from afar and are inconsistent with optimistic images. But in peacemaking, particularly in our part of the world, it is necessary to move very cautiously. Mediators, like doctors, should be guided by the principle, “First, do no harm.”
Prof. Gerald M. Steinberg
Executive Director, NGO Monitor and
Chair, Political Science, Bar Ilan University