Secretary of State John Kerry announces the appointment of Ambassador Martin Indyk (left) to head the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that resumed at the end of July. (Getty Images)
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have recently come to the table to potentially arrange a peace deal that has long eluded both parties. But the news has left me skeptical about the prospect for peace because there’s one precondition that must be accepted by both sides before an agreement can be reached. A precondition that only the people, not the government, can make: a pledge to open-mindedness.
On Jan. 24 Hamas announced its intentions to establish a military academy in the Gaza Strip for children ages 7 to 9. There they will prepare for “the phase of liberating Palestine”, which would span “from river to sea”, as reported by The Jerusalem Post. It appears that it will be an academy to fuel aggression in young children toward Israel.
Such actions epitomize the antagonism between Palestinians and Israelis. Children are being raised with parochial mindsets and inbred hatreds for the other side. These sentiments are so deep and culturally engrained that peace can never be attained. And even if peace were achieved, I fear it could never be maintained.
This mindset isn’t exclusive to the Palestinians. Earlier this year Israeli fans of the soccer club Beitar Jerusalem, known for hostility toward Arabs, chanted at matches, “No entry to Arabs.” This example further signifies the deeply rooted, cultural divide between the two sides.
So before negotiators reach a serious peace deal — not just for public relations purposes, but in the genuine interest of real peace — the Israeli and Palestinian people will first have to embrace open-mindedness and let down their prejudices. This action is nearly impossible for any government to accomplish; only the people can do it. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a cultural as well as a political conflict, and as soon as we recognize that we’ll be one step closer to peace.
But how can we reach a point where this precondition could be achieved among the people is realistic?
First, the Israeli and Palestinian governments can take action. In Palestinian textbooks, 84 percent of references to Israelis are negative; in Israeli textbooks, 49 percent of references to Palestinians are negative, according to a report published in The Economist. Both governments are issuing biased school curricula that provide the foundation for each young person’s negative perspective. To work towards peace, the governments must approach education with even-handedness, issuing fair and honest textbooks. Each government must put aside bias.
Another initiative should be a series of programs that brings Israeli and Palestinian youth together. Seeds of Peace is a perfect example of an organization that brings kids from both sides together in a peaceful setting. The organization unites and educates young people from war-torn countries at an international summer camp, and then in programs throughout the year. These programs exemplify the concept that mutual respect and cooperation is attainable.
In spite of any government initiatives, the greatest grassroots change must come from households. Parents have to raise their children without parochial mindsets. They must teach both sides of the conflict and explain peace as the right goal to pursue. That is a change that can only come with time and effort, yet it’s a feasible goal for the future.