Albert Einstein is widely credited with saying that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” Yet that is exactly what the professional diplomatic community has demanded regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Not surprisingly then, the past few decades have seen us move further away from a comprehensive resolution to the conflict.
The Trump administration, on the other hand, has made a concerted attempt to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, as demonstrated by those spearheading its diplomatic efforts, who come from the world of business and eschew the more accepted methods of international diplomacy.
Critics ridicule them, saying “this is not some real estate deal.” And while it is much more than a property dispute, this is an amusing critique coming from those who have focused so much on territorial boundaries and borders while ignoring the conflict’s core undercurrents.
As an Israeli mayor governing in these disputed territories, I and my constituents have much to gain from the economic workshop currently taking place in Bahrain. My Palestinian neighbors have even more to gain. And both of us would also be the most direct beneficiaries of a comprehensive resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Yet, after rejecting multiple offers to create a Palestinian state, Palestinian Authority leaders have made a calculated decision to avoid negotiations altogether. While the merits of that decision can be debated, it should not be used as a pretext to prevent Palestinians from improving their lives, even if they do not know what national passports they will ultimately carry.
Those who have made careers out of failing to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continue to declare how counterproductive the Bahrain workshop will be, describing it as just a show, or mere economics, or worse, as allowing the Israelis to exploit the “powerless Palestinians.” This despite the workshop’s stated goal of empowering Palestinians.
The diplomatic community has failed to acknowledge how much damage decades of failed, over-ambitious peace processes have done to those of us who live here; this gathering of regional actors to coordinate economic cooperation is actually a huge step forward.
Yet despite the history of diplomatic failure and the obstinate P.A., which has long opposed peace efforts and has even threatened Palestinian businessmen interested in participating in the Bahrain workshop, there is hope.
We have witnessed courageous Arab states and Palestinians willing to defy the P.A. by participating in the workshop and by engaging directly with Israeli leadership in Judea and Samaria. However, as with any repressive regime, the response has been predictable.
For example, the P.A. condemned the establishment of an independent regional Chamber of Commerce. They arrested my neighbors for having coffee with me in my backyard, and stripped a Palestinian mayor of his position for the crime of inviting his Jewish neighbors to celebrate his daughter’s wedding.
The offense in each of these incidents, and in many other similar ones, is the public acknowledgement that Israelis who live down the road from Palestinians in Judea and Samaria can be—and actually are—friendly neighbors who have no problem living alongside each other.
What threatens the Palestinian leadership is not what threatens the average Palestinian, and that is why the Bahrain workshop is both so threatening to the P.A. and yet so critical to a realistic pathway towards peace.
Under the P.A., the ultimate form of treason is when a Palestinian engages in “normalization” activities with Israelis. Whether it’s allowing Hebrew to be taught in P.A. schools or allowing Palestinian sewage to flow in the same pipes as Israeli sewage, the overriding consideration stays the same: Israel must not be treated as a partner.
An economic workshop that lays out the benefits of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation, with the support of the greater Arab community and despite the lobbying of the P.A., is indeed a critically important step, and one that should not be underestimated.
The success of the Bahrain workshop should not be judged on whether peace breaks out across the region, but on whether the international community re-aligns itself with those looking to create a climate in which Israelis and Arabs throughout the Middle East—including Palestinians—can start seeing themselves as active partners to create a great regional future.
The Bahrain workshop threatens to transform the word “‘normalization” from treasonous to aspirational.
Bring on Bahrain!
Oded Revivi is the Mayor of Efrat and the Chief International Envoy of the YESHA Council, representing the 450,000 Israelis living throughout Judea and Samaria.