"You need to address the barking dogs in your cellar," as neuroscientist and public psychologist Hamira Riaz put it today at a session on the 2 states 1 homeland initiative at Millbank House in Westminster, catty-corner from the House of Lords, convened by Andrew Lord Stone of Blackheath. What Dr. Riaz meant was that you need to be able to explain, clearly and succinctly, to those not already persuaded what is different about this initiative, and why it can work. Clearly, not everyone who came to hear what initiators Meron Rappoport and Awni al-Mashni (who joined via Skype) had to say left persuaded. To some, their presentation sounded like the same old same old: too much like the long since discarded binational state idea, and frankly too late to sway the majority of Israelis who are either too confident in their ability to manage the conflict or too fearful of the Palestinian "giants" in the land. The analogy with the biblical spy story and their fear of the inhabitants of the land they were about to dispossess evoked an amused and at the same time exasperated response from the only other Palestinian present at the gathering whose name I failed to catch. The only thing that's giant about him, he said was that he was overweight. Palestinians are no real threat to Israeli security. Exasperated, because as the ones occupied it sounds absurd to them to hear about the fears and apprehensions of the occupiers. Others were skeptical because the idea of a return and resettlement or compensation of six million Palestinian refugees and the freedom of movement of Palestinians will be unacceptable to those who believe that Israel must retain not just a relative but an absolute Jewish majority, or else lose its character as a Jewish state. For Mehri Niknam, executive director of the Joseph Interfaith Foundation, this was the salient point. No Jew will voluntarily relinquish the notion of the Jewishness of Israel in demographic terms. It simply won't fly.
But it is exactly with regard to the most intractable questions that the 2 states 1 homeland initiative is making a difference. Instead of leaving the most difficult problems for last, instead of ignoring them, this grassroots movement puts them on the table. Because if you do otherwise, if you ignore the most difficult issues or leave them for later you fail to do the most important thing. You fail to say what you really want, what you really need, and what you really think, and hence you fail to build mutual trust. Trust requires honesty. If Israelis and Palestinians could be honest about the end game of their political dreams, they could start to hammer out a compromise that might actual work. Neither side will have everything, but both may gain something they don't have now, most importantly a perspective and hope for a future beyond war, population control, occupation, human rights violation, and fear.
Andrew Stone left the meeting with a mandate for the participants to work out proposals for the most pressing issues the initiative will need to address in order to gain traction and support. Some participants pledged to work on a constitutional draft, some on media and communication, some on religion, among other subjects. My contribution to the conversation was to suggest to put the most unpleasant subject on the table right away and not to leave Jerusalem for last. Meron Rappoport thought that Jerusalem may actually provide a showcase on how to solve the larger issues of territory, sovereignty, policing, freedom of movement etc. I suggested that this will require addressing the most thorny issue right away, which is spelling out Jewish and Muslim views and expectations regarding the status quo at the holy places, most notably the Temple Mount/Haram al-sharif. I suggested adding a messianic clause to any agreement. Just as the Jewish elders appointed Simon Maccabee as prince and king in all but name until such time as a prophetic might arise to sort out such questions, so Israel and Palestine could come to a status quo agreement on prayer at the most holy places without preempting the divine prerogative. Muslims and Jews all over the world will need to be part of this conversation. There is no reason why this cannot be done. Now we only need to show how it can be done.