Dr. Moises Salinas, chairman of the recent Pathways to Peace conference, provided us with this summary of the event:
With the support of Meretz USA, the Jewish Academic Network for Israeli-Palestinian Peace (JANIP) sponsored the First International Academic Conference on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process: Pathways to Peace. The Conference took place on March 28-29 at Central Connecticut State University and was co-sponsored by the American Task Force on Palestine and the Geneva Initiative North America. It featured top-level keynote speakers Herbert Kelman, Naomi Chazan, Stephen P. Cohen, Sami Adwan, Daniel Levy, Gaith al Omari, and Saliba Sarsar, as well as over 36 other presenters.
The conference concluded with a summary of some of the recurring ideas, and out-of-the-box suggestions for follow up:
1. We cannot ignore the human element. As many of the presenters stressed, this is not only a conflict about political issues, or even about abstract issues like justice or safety. This is a conflict about real people who are driven by real emotions — fear, hatred, perceptions of injustice, prejudice. It is also a conflict with an enormous human toll — psychological, physical, and economic. It is important to frame our discussions in a way that recognizes the human element on both sides. Some presentations stressed how involving Arab-Israelis in the process can be an important step in achieving that goal.
2. There has to be light at the end of the tunnel. Increasingly, people regard the conflict as intractable, and terms such as “conflict management” become more commonplace, instead of conflict resolution. If people don’t see a clear, achievable end to the conflict, frustration and helplessness take over, and the willingness to work towards resolution is diminished. As Dr. Dennis Fox wrote, many Palestinians might have shied away from the conference because they are frustrated about efforts that lead nowhere and don’t recognize their plight. As Dr. Kelman suggested, there has to be a clear vision of where we are going even while we figure out how to get there.
3. We have to help Israelis get out of their complacency. The brilliant presentation by Naomi Chazan summarized it well: Israelis don’t realize (or don’t want to think about) the fact that the current situation is untenable and that failure to achieve a solution in the near future will lead to the end of the State of Israel as we know it. While most Israelis live now without day-to-day fear and a preoccupation on the conflict, as frustration mounts, Israel will be under pressure to take even more drastic actions against the Palestinians. Many of the presentations showed how public opinion in the world, even Jewish public opinion in the U.S., is shifting and support for Israel is eroding. It is becoming harder to defend Israel rationally against accusations of racism and apartheid, and to advocate a two-state solution. It is a matter of time until Israel becomes more isolated, as well as more theocratic and militaristic. Dr. Chazan even ventured that Israelis might need to be “frightened” into understanding that a path that does not lead to peace only leads to a Jewish theocratic Middle East state instead of our vision of a western democracy.
The next step is to brainstorm about what we can do with those ideas so we can translate some of them into practice. We will certainly continue our efforts with a follow-up to the conference, by publishing the proceedings, and establishing a list-serve to continue communicating. We will also be using the JANIP Web site as a platform to continue the dialogue and spread new ideas.