New York, September 1, 2010−As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas head to Washington D.C. to resume direct negotiations on Thursday, OneVoice is encouraging people on both sides to remain optimistic.
After failure upon failure of previous direct talks, it has taken 20 months to get each side to sit down again, and the Obama administration is keeping quiet on their strategy for success. If these talks merely amount to posturing and fail, reviving them yet again could take years. Infusing the negotiations with substance and urgency requires unprecedented commitment by Netanyahu and Abbas to go beyond talk of compromises, to actually make compromises.
There are strong feelings of skepticism from Israelis and solid notions of anger and resentment from Palestinians in the region. Tal Harris and Samer Makhlouf, the executive directors of OneVoice Israel (OVI) and OneVoice Palestine (OVP) respectively both believe that it is important to instill hope in their communities and give these direct talks a chance despite a history of failed negotiations.
“There is no better alternative to ending the conflict than through a negotiated agreement," said Harris. We will push for a meaningful process."
OVI will work hard to promote the positive aspects of these negotiations, presenting the necessity of compromise. For example, on the topic of Jerusalem, where Palestinians hope to have East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, OVI will show how 35% of Jerusalem is already Palestinian. Most areas in East Jerusalem are places that Israelis do not go anyway so compromising on this factor is worth the alternative of not and letting situations on the ground worsen.
Makhlouf agrees on the importance of supporting this round of negotiations, if for nothing else than to take another shot at reaching a final agreement that solves all final status issues in accordance with international resolutions and laws.
“We don’t support these negotiations unconditionally and we are 99% sure they will fail," said Makhlouf. "But let’s not be so pessimistic. We aim to turn the negative energy into positive energy.”
He says that many Palestinians feel they were “blackmailed” into these negotiations and that it’s not just the extremists who are opposing them but even the moderates who support two states. The streets are filled with demonstrations, but nevertheless, OVP feels it’s their role to promote confidence in these negotiations because what the people want is a serious process that ends the occupation and establishes a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital.
“Convincing the public to give these negotiations the benefit of the doubt is one of the most difficult issues we’ve faced, and we feel as though we’re swimming against the current,” said Makhlouf. “Our role, though, is to inspire people and give them hope, and we will try and do our best.”
One topic that both Harris and Makhlouf agree will hinder the progress of these negotiations is the potential lift on the freeze of settlements. Makhlouf explains that it won’t make sense for him to tell Palestinians to support direct negotiations if settlements continue to be built, similar to Abbas' stance on the talks.
“You can’t say two states and then insist on building in the second state,” explains Harris.
During this time, both offices turn to the power of OneVoice’s Imagine 2018 campaign to encourage people to think about what they want the future to look like. Highlighting to the general public, as well as the politicians, the different possible realities if a peace agreement were to be reached or not emphasizes that there is no better formula to ending the conflict than to negotiate the interests of both sides.
“To the people who are sarcastic, we have to show them what they don’t get because of the occupation and instead show them that they deserve more than that,” said Harris of OVI.