by Apo Sahagian
On November 14/15, I was a participant on behalf of the PIJ in the annual Peace NGO Forum bilateral conference, which brings together Palestinian and Israeli NGOís whose purpose is to find peace between the two peoples. The two-day event took place in Jericho, all expenses covered by the EU. A few faces stood out among the crowd - mine not being of any worthy recognition - for their roles in the peace processand activities to achieve that first fresh breath of peace one day.
There were panels headed by experts, government officials, and peace activists. The breakfast was satisfying, lunch was delicious, and dinner was to die for. Alas, the night was somewhat uneventful, especially for me since I expected the lovers of peace to party late until the break of dawn. But the letdown was understandable because the two-day conference started out with great disappointment.
Plagued by news from Gaza
A few minutes into our first panel discussion, news spread that Israel had assassinated Ahmed Jabari (the head of the Din al Qassam Brigade) and subsequently the IDF had commenced an operation similar to Operation Cast Lead in 2008/2009. That crashed the initial positive spirits of the participants, even setting off Gershon Baskin of IPCRI to lash out against the Israeli governmentís decision to assassinate Jabari who was on his way to agree to renew the ceasefire between Hamas and Israel.
The rest of the conference was plagued by the news coming out of Gaza and southern Israel. A few of us huddled together and concluded that the agenda should adapt to this new unexpected situation. Since the main goal of the conference was to fuel support for the PLOís bid at statehood in the UN on the 29th of November, the organizers probably saw it important to maintain the theme. Rightly so, a part of me thought, because whatís the peace camp all about if not trying to establish a sovereign viable Palestinian state alongside Israel?
What has become of the Peace Camp?
But thatís where I thought again while I gazed at the crowd: the long-time peace activists on both sides, many of whom know each other, thus making the conference somewhat of a reunion; the expressions of frustration that their voice was not being heard loud enough and/or not having the influence it once did during the early 1990ís; the somber atmosphere of Ron Pundak, sitting across from me during breakfast, lost in contemplations that steal his focus away from his plate. What has become of the Peace Camp?
Yes, they were a commendable force during the Oslo years, but that force has seemingly shrunk to a few hundred veterans and a handful of young people as far as I could deduce during the conference. Though the conference should not give a general perception of the peace camp, it was evident that there was a lack of enough young faces, especially among the panelists. Not that the older folk were dull or not current; on the contrary, they were highly entertaining, insightful, and had a worthy grasp of the ever-changing socio-political landscape of Palestine and Israel.
Needed, a reconfiguration with new impetus and verve
However, just like not adapting the agenda of the conference to the changes, the peace camp has also not adapted to ďfacts on the ground.Ē- that sinister term which many despise because indeed these factsí ramifications have been completely detrimental to peace. Most of the statements that came outof the panelists have been rerun for two decades. They are becoming irrelevant. These admirable declarations should be kept in their past glory, and not be dragged out nowadays where they are only perceived as nonsensical and far-fetched. While the panels were transpiring, some of us in the back-row were muttering indifferent nothings regarding the repetitive avowals. We agreed that the peace camp needs to reconfigure itself; re-define itself with new impetus and verve; and most importantly, it must adopt a new paradigm to confront the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the post-Oslo years; in a time when joint activity has been threatened by both sides, contradictory views are increasing, and a chance for a peaceful solution is being eradicated by the day.
I donít have the answers to provide the peace camp. All I know is that it needs an overhaul that can re-transform it into a force to be reckoned with- as they once were. I donít know of the compromise (be it principles, beliefs, strategies) that is necessary to achieve this, but there will be compromise once the peace camp realizes it is lagging behind. As for me, I stopped by a book stand at the conference, and bought a book about the one-state solution. Not that Iím a firm believer in that one-state reality, but at least I can say that Iím trying to find new approaches to the conflict.