The problem with peace

Lasting change in Israel and Palestine will need to come from the bottom up.

Brian Reinken

The Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are back in session , but their stability was already tested by an Israeli military raid that killed three Palestinians in a West Bank refugee camp.

With continuous regional turmoil, it seems doubtful that any significant peace will be brokered before the realization of the talks’ nine-month deadline. 

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. After all, problems in the region have been brewing, by anyone’s count, for a millennium. Is there any hope that nine months can meaningfully mend all wrongs?

The problem with peace is that peace itself is a relative term. Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization could move toward compromise, but if their respective citizens refused to accommodate the gesture, it would remain largely symbolic. When such an expansive social problem is addressed, top-down change is almost doomed to fail simply because it does not account for the cultural fears, feelings and memories of the masses.

In Israel-Palestine, the conflict is sensitive enough to resonate across the globe. Returning staff and students may remember the discord that erupted on the University of Minnesota’s own West Bank last November when student groups used Israel’s missile strike on Gaza as a springboard to criticize broader Israeli policy in Palestine. Tensions ran high, despite the fact that most Americans have no direct involvement with the issues in the Middle East.

Consider, then, how much more difficult it will be to alter the cultural framework of those whose way of life is constantly shaped by the conflict. True peace in Israel and Palestine will demand more than the renunciation of military violence. It will require truth and reconciliation en masse, and it will require a radical re-evaluation of an episteme that too often transforms human beings into mere “Israelis” or “Palestinians.”

Peace is not a spring that trickles from the top-down, and it is not a change that will come to Israel and Palestine in nine months. Instead, lasting peace must be built gradually and unromantically by individual citizens, not by politicians sequestered in conference rooms.

These peace talks, in the end, represent merely the beginning of a healing process that may last as many years as the illness it’s trying to cure.