Reaching out to Israelis is best option for Palestinians

Potential support can come not only from Palestinians with Israeli citizenship but from Israeli Jews tired of conflict.

Palestinians never faced tougher challenges and never seemed further from finding their way out of their eternal quandary.

Their plight is complicated by the stance of a US president who shows no intention of looking for a true solution to their problems, but that’s not the only reason why the odds are stacked against them.

Even though Arab countries may voice support for the Palestinian cause, their actions do not always match their words. There are as many reasons for that as there are Arab countries.

Virtually all countries in the Arab world are consumed by their own concerns. When they are not threatened by terror and strife, Arab citizens must cope with the daily struggle of making both ends meet.

Iraq is embroiled in internal strife. Syria remains quagmired in a hopeless spiral of death, destruction and displacement. Lebanon may make the occasional lip service of support to the Palestinian issue but, after nearly seven decades of being in Lebanon, the Palestinians’ status is as precarious as ever. Lebanese authorities must in fact deal with the more immediate task of doling support to the 1.5 million Syrian refugees within their borders.

Egypt, wary of Palestinian militants’ ties to jihadists in Sinai, is tempted to lock the gates that once provided Gazans with an outlet. Jordan keeps a watchful eye on the nearly 70% of the country’s population that is of Palestinian origin and who reside within its borders, a situation further compounded by the flow of refugees from Syria that Jordan is struggling to assist.

Probably even more challenging to the Palestinians are the continued squabbles between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah and its rival Hamas, which controls the miserable fates of the Palestinians in Gaza. The state of chronic internecine conflict paints a damning picture of disarray and despair.

Not surprising that the Palestinian issue that once was the rallying cry of all Arab countries is barely perceptible on the radar screen. The Arab public seems to be beset by solidarity fatigue.

So, where can Palestinians turn to improve their lives when their own leadership seems unable to bring them progress and hope? Just easing the burdens of checkpoints, improving the economic life of its West Bank residents to a level close to normalcy would be a considerable improvement.

In the search for a final fair settlement and interim arrangements on the way there, the Palestinians must find new alliances. As much as many will find it virtually unpalatable, they should look near them. They should look in Israel itself.

From my many travels and contacts in the region, I feel there are many inside Israel who are desirous of working with the Palestinians and willing to do what they can to help stimulate the Palestinian economy, lessen the hate ratio and lower the psychological barriers that have been erected over decades.

Potential support can come not only from Palestinians with Israeli citizenship but from the many Israeli Jews who despise the hard-line politics of the Netanyahu government. Many Israeli Jews shudder at the thought of their 18-year-old sons and daughters beginning their obligatory military service by manning checkpoints or being involved in middle-of-the-night raids of West Bank homes that inflict additional suffering to the Palestinians.

From the world of Israeli academics, doctors, entrepreneurs and more, there is a significant population that wants to find ways to live in peace and mutual respect with the Palestinians.

The hurdles inhibiting such prospects remain high and intimidating. Speaking to a Palestinian scientist who has been working closely and discreetly with Israelis on issues regarding water resources, I received a rather pragmatic response, that is not necessarily popular with many Palestinians. “We must find ways of sharing the land and cooperating, even when people on the ground would say this is not politically acceptable. We have our children and the future generations to think of,” the scientist said.

I found, rather sadly, a similar reluctance to engage among Israelis, during a visit to business incubators in the Palestinian territories and in Jerusalem. An Israeli entrepreneur who has been personally involved with funding start-ups said he was rebuffed by people from the nascent Palestinian high-tech community in the West Bank, wary of being seen as “collaborators.”

Will holding their nose and accepting more Israelis as their possible allies lead to statehood? Such an outcome might be unlikely in the short term but accepting such a premise can improve the odds for future peace.

For now, it can at least improve daily life within the Palestinian territories. An improvement in normalcy may create an atmosphere more conducive to the two sides finding elements of mutual trust to build on.

It takes brave steps to find peace. It would behove Palestinians to look much closer to finding those alliances that may help steer life in a better direction. Starting next door might be the hardest but most promising option.

This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.