On Cooperation

June 5, 1998

See Also:
Cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian Police

Two enemies were approached by the angel Gabriel with an interesting offer. "I will grant you a wish" he said to one of them, "however, your enemy will be granted double of whatever is requested." The first enemy thought to himself: "if I wish for one gold bar, my enemy will get two. If I wish for a palace, my enemy will get two." After much thought, he approached Gabriel and said, "take out one of my eyes".

--Quoted from Haaretz, June 3, 1998 from article about the lack of environmental cooperation between Israel and the PA

The night is full of surprises. While Israel sleeps, Jewish thieves are busy immobilizing immobilizers in automobiles all over Israel. Within minutes, they open the doors, cut the wires of the alarms, cross the wires of the ignition and they're on their way. Within 15-30 minutes they approach a dirt road leading them to an unofficial crossing point between Israel and the Palestinian territories. Someone with a flashlight signals them to stop. No it's not the police, it's the Palestinian buyer of the stolen car. By dawn the car will be broken into to parts and by 10.00 the spare parts will be sold in shops throughout the West Bank. Sometime in the afternoon, some Israeli wholesale spare parts dealers will be entering those shops and bringing spare parts back to Israel where they will be sold in auto shops all over the country. This is cooperation. This cooperation doesn't stop when the peace talks are frozen. It doesn't stop when there's a closer. It doesn't even slow down when Washington threatens to re-evaluate it's position on the peace process. The Mafdal (National Religious Party) can't stop it, neither can the Hamas.

Before the signing of the Oslo Agreement in September 1993 and even before the Madrid Conference in May 1991, I have been involved in encouraging Israelis and Palestinians to engage themselves in programs of cooperation. These programs have involved cooperation in all (legal) forms and in a wide range of subject matter from political cooperation to cooperation between security and police forces. In my work we have brought together scientists, economists, water specialists, tourism experts, politicians, teachers, students, women's groups, human rights activists, and even farmers. In the past nine years, we in the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information have held hundreds of meetings, workshops and seminars. We have produced more than twenty joint Israeli-Palestinian publications. Our work has been both public and secret.

One common thread that has been found throughout the years - there will always be people (on both sides) who will claim that "now is not the right time" to conduct this kind of work. There are those who will say "it's too early" Others will claim "meetings of this kind create normalization and we haven't had enough political achievements to warrant normalization". Most people involved can be convinced to participate, even at the highest political levels. Even before there was a "peace process" we were bringing people from both sides to talk to each other and to explore ways to resolve conflict and to create cooperation.

When Yitzhak Shamir was Prime Minister and before he made the decision to go to Madrid, I was contacted by several Israeli government ministries who a had heard about the meetings we were conducting with economists and water scientists. I was invited to the research department of the Foreign Ministry to inform them about the meetings, their content and the prospects for cooperation. I was immediately informed that "this meeting is not taking place. If you claim that it did take place, we will deny it." Furthermore, I was told that "any papers I present to them would be considered 'non-papers' and they would have no official status at all". Until the end of the Shamir regime I participated in more than 20 hours of such 'non-meetings'. During the Rabin-Peres era, the number of hours spent briefing officials involved in the peace process in various ministries climbed to hundreds of hours. Likewise, my Palestinian counter-part, Dr. Zakaria al Qaq spent hundreds of hours briefing officials on both sides and diplomats on developments in our work and in advocating policies that would and could increase cooperation and peace.

Today, as the chances for peace are quickly fading away, the old calls for freezing relations can be heard from both Palestinians and Israelis. "What's the purpose of meeting now, while the situation deteriorates", we are told almost everyday. One of the senior members of Fatah (Arafat's political party) yesterday said to my partner "I'm tired of meeting Israelis, I want to stop". Zakaria said to him, "You in Fatah made the decision to work with the Israelis. You told us, your people, that we have to make peace with them. You broke all the old taboos, and now you're telling me that you're tired of meeting them. If you stop now, in the middle, what achievements will you deliver us?" Reluctantly, the Fatah activists agreed to continue meeting with senior public figures from the Israeli side.

There is a real legitimate dilemma developing here. Oslo was supposed to bring about cooperation. Cooperation was supposed to bring about political achievements which would lead to peace and normalization. Oslo created a lot of cooperation, but there have been very few political achievements. Cooperation has broken down, political aspirations and hopes for peace are diminishing by the day. Is there a future to cooperation? What is its purpose, what can it achieve?

If the formal political peace process does in fact collapse, as it appears that it is likely to do, the role of peacemaking will once again be primarily dependent on Track II diplomacy. The Oslo process itself was brought to the world in Track II, probably the best example in history of citizen involvement in peace making. The situation of conflict between Israel and Palestine is one in which the political options remaining that can create peace are quite limited. The parameters for peacemaking are mostly defined and any thinking person, be they Israeli or Palestinian, can more-or-less map out the basic elements of any final status peace agreement. There are simply not that many possibilities under which peace can emerge. The main element in the peace process which remains completely in mystery is how long will it take before we reach a final agreement and how many people will be injured and killed until then. Peace is inevitable, it will be born, it will survive and it will grow. But that's in the longer term future. The immediate future, I fear will be laden with more despair and more suffering.

This is where we come back to cooperation. The main task and challenge of cooperation now is in continuing to create a vision and a sense of hope for a better tomorrow. Israelis and Palestinians must cooperate to outlive the current stubbornness and stupidity of short-sighted politicians who seem to be more concerned with political survival than with the survival, welfare and prosperity of their peoples. We Israelis and Palestinians who know we are right must not give in to the temptation of despair. We must persevere, we must continue to cooperate with each other. We both have no other future than one based on cooperation which creates mutual trust, respect and dignity. It is also the only real way to prove to ourselves and to our children that the dream of peace can be a reality. We must create as much human peace amongst ourselves as possible so that even in the absence of political peace and peace agreements, peace between peoples will reign.

One small anecdote to end with. Last week, we were approached by Turkish and Greek Cypriots who were seeking our help. They said, "you Israelis and Palestinians are so much ahead of us in conflict resolution and reconciliation work". Perhaps, the situation here isn't quite as bad as it seems. All that being said, we still have a long journey ahead of us, hopefully together in cooperation.

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