I heard so much about the Israeli organization Peace Now which was founded by 348 reserve officers of the Israeli military back in 1978. But it wasn’t until I attended a recent dinner hosted by it’s American support group that I understood what it means.
Peace Now is not about negotiations but about defining in specific detail a broad vision. That may sound contradictory, but it is not. Peace Now defines a broad goal of peace based on compromise, but details very specific parameters of the key issues.
For example, Peace Now speaks of two states side-by-side, generally in the pre-1967 boundaries. It addresses a sharing of Jerusalem, in some form. It calls for an end to all violence and a return to the negotiations.
Peace Now urges addressing how to resolve the plight of the Palestinian refugees, probably the most significant sticking point in today’s heated Middle East debate.
When I left the dinner which was held in New York, I realized that we, Palestinians, need our own organization that parallels Peace Now. So, I borrowed the branding, Peace Now, and suggested that Palestinians in the United States immediately push for the creation of “Palestinians for Peace Now.”
The name is merely a placeholder for a bigger thought. A larger concept. Eventually, it might take a different name. One suggested is “Yalla, Salam!” which is Arabic for a similar phrase for “Peace Now.”
The reaction from Palestinians to this concept is wide-ranging. Some oppose it. Others believe it’s about time. Some argue that Palestinians already support peace, so a special organization advocating Peace Now is not necessary.
Although many Palestinian organizations exist that speak to the same goals and share the same vision, none does so as exclusively as Peace Now. While Palestinian organizations exist, none in the United States, for example, exist as political entities that can rally around such a specific, inspirational call. Most are managed under the broader umbrella of Arab organizations and leadership, like the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and the Arab American Institute.
But the biggest challenge that I have seen involves the issue of the Palestinian Right of Return, or al-Awda in Arabic. And this opposition is what I believe is the crux of the challenge facing peace based on compromise.
You see, I think I am like many Palestinians, especially the majority who were born outside of Palestine either in the Diaspora or in refugee camps in the Arab World.
It’s important that the Israelis recognize that the Palestinians have a right of return, but I also think that Palestinians must accept that this is not a reality of return. In other words, it is about getting Israel to accept its responsibility without trying to cast blame on the Arab World, for the plight of the Palestinian refugees.
It is about getting Israel to acknowledge that yes, the Palestinians did lose land, homes and other property in what is today Israel as a result of the 1947 and 1948 wars, the years after the creation of Israel, and again following the 1967 war.
But it is also about getting the Palestinians to recognize that they face either two choices: continued conflict and continued loses, or, the option I and many other forward thinking Palestinians support, one of compromise.
And compromise means exactly recognizing that while Israel must shoulder responsibility for the plight of the Palestinian refugees, that responsibility cannot involve allowing all or most of the refugees to return to their lands and homes.
While the lands still exist, in most cases the homes, the villages and towns, and their former possessions no longer exist. Maybe some Palestinian refugees can return based on special circumstances defined in the context of negotiations, but the vast majority cannot return.
And I would even argue even more strongly. They will not return. In reality, it is wrong for Palestinian leaders and Arab leaders and other supporters of the Palestinian cause to tell the refugees that they will be allowed to return to their former lands and homes in pre-1967 Israel.
It’s not going to happen. Efforts to make it happen have resulted in massive and continued losses for the Palestinian people. They cannot defeat Israel. In fact, the longer the conflict continues, the worse their situation becomes and the greater the changes in the land and their lives.
The only hope for Palestinian survival is through negotiations and compromise based on reality and recognition that the two-state solution is the only realistic option.
Palestinians for Peace Now must strive to define that in more detail. It needs to speak in a way that the Israeli need to hear, and in a way that Palestinians must understand.
This is no longer a conflict where the two sides are equal. Israel exists as a nation recognized by the world with a political entity and structure and the most powerful military in the world. The Palestinians exist in fractured political dysfunctionalism, consisting of widely divergent circumstances of an occupation, Diaspora and refugees still living in camps.
While violence is the obstacle to peace today, it is the issue of the Palestinian Right of Return that prevents it from peace from becoming reality even after the most genuine negotiations as those that took place at Oslo and Taba.
Until Israel steps up and accepts responsibility for the refugees, agrees to provide or spearhead compensation, and helps refugees resettle in the new Palestine State or elsewhere, and until the Palestinians accept the reality that returning to what no longer exists is not possible, there can never be any peace.
As a Palestinian, I recognize that despite the futility of past dreams, the longer the conflict continues, the worse it will be for the Palestinians. We are being erased by the current conflict and we don’t even know it.
(Ray Hanania is a Palestinian American journalist, activist and former national president of the Palestinian American Congress. His views are archived on his web site at www.hanania.com)