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The Al-Aqsa Intifada: Reflections on a Turning Point
Following the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada (September 28, 2000), the Palestine-Israel Journal held a discussion on November 8, 2000, on its significance and implications. The participants were Professor Sari Nusseibeh, president of al-Quds University, and Professor Edy Kaufman, who teaches human rights in the Department of International Relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is chair of the board of B'Tselem.

Sari Nusseibeh: I can tell you what bothered me about the period in question, especially during the first week.
I'll begin with how I saw things on the Palestinian side. As I heard or read Palestinian spokesmen, I got the impression that they were putting out two different messages at one and the same time. On the one hand, I heard the message that this is an action in which we, the Palestinians, were the victims. In other words, it is being orchestrated by Israel in order to force the Palestinians to accept what they refused to accept at Camp David. But then listening sometimes to the same person, you would hear the message that we are undertaking this action in order to make Israel accept what they wouldn't accept at Camp David. These are contradictory messages. In an action you are either the actor or the victim, the recipient. I wasn't sure whether we were actually doing this by design, or simply reacting to the other side.
When I listened to what the Israeli side was saying, I was amazed to hear that their general view was that this is a design perpetrated by the Palestinians, a grand Palestinian design, and that the Israelis are simply reacting to this onslaught brought about by the Palestinians.
It seemed to me that each side, therefore, was accusing the other of having a grand design, hence the intense reactions. I came to believe that what we had here was a chain of actions and reactions with each side believing that the other side is behind this.
Am I right in my judgment? Are we simply witnessing here a tragedy in the fullest sense of the word in which we are pulling each other down simply by miscalculation, and misrepresentation and misreading each other's intents and actions? Or is there really a design, and if so, who's behind it? As regards an answer, to this moment, I am honestly quite confused.

Edy Kaufman: Post facto, we academics tend to explain everything rationally and to see grand designs and analyze them. In the very first days, I was totally confused - as you were, Sari - and I did not have a lot of explanations. Clearly, in the way it escalated so quickly, there was an element of surprise. For a long time, I remember myself saying, as a lecturer, that either there is going to be a peace accord or a new intifada, either/or. What really surprised us in general in Israel was why now, when things were getting pretty close to an agreement. I remember listening to a lecture by Khalil Shikaki in which he was showing quite professionally how the disagreements were narrowing. After a long time, things seemed to be now moving a little faster. So why now? I was surprised about the timing rather than about the possibility that eventually there would be an uprising if there were no peace accord.
The interpretation in Israel is also very much related to people's political perceptions. Those intransigent Israelis who have been opposed to the Oslo process saw the uprising as once again expressing the true face of the Palestinian leadership. They see the Palestinian media not only as attacking Israelis in the West Bank and Gaza, but as even saying things perceived to be in favor of the destruction of Israel, throwing the Jews into the sea, etc. They claim that when you give them weapons and they use them against you, this is a confirmation of their expectations. The mainstream, the people around Barak were surprised. They say, Look, we were ready for more concessions than any other Israeli leadership, and this is the way you pay us back. There is also a lot of anger on the Israeli side from these people.
Within the peace camp - some (perhaps a majority) put a lot of blame on our own behavior, even at Camp David, and with all Barak's "generosity." There was a problem with the whole way we presented it. We spoke about giving you a gift rather than about the rights of the Palestinians, not to all of Palestine but to a mere 22 percent. We could have said: This is definitely your territory, and we have some problems with settlers; can we talk about how to solve them? Instead, the approach was very much "Take it or leave it." Many people will react angrily against a diktat, even if it's better than previous ones. So within the peace camp, using the term in its broad sense, you find people, including myself, who understood the grass-roots anger of the Palestinians: while we were talking at Camp David we were still building or enlarging settlements, let alone the fact that the peace dividends anticipated by the Palestinians were not being honored.
So I would say that a small minority among the Israelis, even though we were surprised, are ready to accept our own responsibility. We don't think, like the majority of Israelis, that the other side is double-crossing us at a time when we want peace. For the moment, most Israelis are still confused, or blame the other side. Things moved very fast in the last five weeks after the provocative visit of Likud leader Ariel Sharon to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. By the way, I read in the press that Barak never spoke about Haram al-Sharif at Camp David, let alone publicly. He referred only to the Temple Mount. That has to do with the style I'm talking about in the Israeli discourse, handing out "gifts" to the other side and a "Take it or leave it" posture.
In spite of this provocation, there was, to my mind, an incredible over-reaction on the part of the Palestinian leadership. Since it was higher than I would have expected, some people are asking whether there was a preconceived plan and the Sharon provocation was an excuse. I myself also ask was it all spontaneous, or as you, Sari, mentioned in your second scenario, whether President Arafat used the opportunity to promote his policies through turmoil and rebellion. Perhaps there was overreaction on both sides. Since Arafat couldn't get any more from Barak through negotiations at Camp David, the uprising could achieve three aims: to internationalize the conflict; to make the Palestinians appear as victims; and to try to win Arab solidarity. Then we Israelis exacerbated the situation by over-killing in terms of human rights: the excessive use of force against adults and children, aiming at the upper instead of the lower part of the body, etc. Why couldn't water cannons have been used? Inevitably, all the funerals - many of them of children - ignited the rebellion against Israel. But what I am trying to say is that a possible explanation of why it went so fast might be the overreaction of the leadership on both sides.

Sari Nusseibeh: If I understand you, basically you believe that (a) there is probably a grand design behind all of this, and (b) the likelihood is that the designer of the grand design is the Palestinian side.

Edy Kaufman: Sharon also had a petty design - first, to compete with Netanyahu over leadership of the Likud, and second, to try to sabotage the peace process. As for Barak, if he couldn't sign an agreement with Arafat, at least he wanted a second-best option to make a coalition with Sharon. These were petty designs, but shouldn't be belittled.

Sari Nusseibeh: But over and above Barak's immediate political considerations, you think that you can only really understand what's happening on the political level as an action perpetrated by the Palestinians in order to achieve through this what they couldn't achieve in the Camp David talks?

Edy Kaufman: I borrow this from what you said. But I mentioned at the beginning that I have doubts. Academics can rationalize many things that perhaps don't have any rationale.

Sari Nusseibeh: I got the impression from what you were saying that you tended to believe there was a design and that the designer was the Palestinians.

Edy Kaufman: I think that apart from the so-called petty designs, Arafat may have considered the possibility of what the Palestinians have been saying - that we need to take by force what was taken from us by force.

Sari Nusseibeh: Yes. But the question that each one of us has to settle is the following: a major conflict, the Al-Aqsa uprising with its fallout, is unfolding before us. Is this an action that manifests somebody's design or plan, or is this simply a series of actions and reactions that builds up - that escalates in its own dynamics with no specific design.
Of course, people can jump in here and there with their own small designs as things unfold. But that's not the question. The first question is not the small designs but whether, on the whole, there is a grand design. The second question is whose grand design is it? Of course, the Israeli side tends to attribute the design to the Palestinian side and the Palestinian side tends to attribute the design to the Israeli side.

Edy Kaufman: Right.

Sari Nusseibeh: Where does the truth lie, if there is a truth in this case? It's obviously easy to accuse the other side of a design. If one settles this question, one can then look forward. If you assume this is by design, you can look forward to the days and months to come and try to do some forecasting; whereas if things are simply an escalating action-reaction kind of thing, one has to consider it in that light.

Edy Kaufman: Don't you think you could have a combination of a little of both? I don't think that Barak or Sharon had in mind that there would be such a situation a month after the uprising broke out.

Sari Nusseibeh: But why not?

Edy Kaufman: There was clearly a design centered around internal political coalition considerations.

Sari Nusseibeh: Let's assume for a minute the following Palestinian scenario:
Barak went to Camp David knowing that he wasn't going to make the kind of offer that would be acceptable to the Palestinians. He knew there would be a reaction. It didn't come immediately. He worked out a deal, or he himself used Sharon to make a provocation. There was a reaction on the Thursday [September 28]. It wasn't good enough. He came in full force on Friday with a large force of soldiers in order to create this provocation. Barak wanted the escalation to continue so he maintained a very high level of use of force, giving orders on a daily basis, for instance, for shootings and killing. He maintained a level of escalation that would enable him slowly to tighten his hold on the West Bank and Gaza, close the Palestinians in there, and eventually impose by force a political solution of his liking. There is nothing difficult about this scenario.

Edy Kaufman: What are the benefits to Barak of this? It seems to me he's losing more than he's gaining. His position as a politician has weakened. Neither has he been saying what you are saying. It is not logical in cost-benefit calculation.

Sari Nusseibeh: I am just thinking aloud. Let's assume that, in terms of his constituency - whether in the Knesset or the government - he knew that his political life would be short-lived if he were to go very far in making concessions.
On the other hand, if he were to take a more rigid and forceful kind of attitude, he might at least save himself politically. He might also have thought that, in any case, the Palestinians are "asking too much," and that he himself wasn't prepared to give them that much. And maybe he assumed that, rather than waiting for, say, a declaration of independence and an Intifada that might put Israel in a difficult situation, he would preempt the violence by carrying out a provocation now. This would strengthen him and weaken the Palestinians. Without the necessary information I am not saying that I necessarily believe this to be the case. I understood, for instance, that when he gave the go-ahead to Sharon to visit Al-Aqsa, he didn't even consult his inner cabinet. So even the police force in Jerusalem was left until the last minute not knowing whether, in fact, Sharon was going to be allowed to visit or not.

Edy Kaufman: Why is that consistent with it all being planned? You now made a very forceful case that everything seems to have been premeditated. But you also made a good case before about an escalation of a series of unforeseen events.

Sari Nusseibeh: That's right.

Edy Kaufman: I tend to agree with your rationale that all was planned up to a certain level. However, in the process things got out of hand. Much was unforeseen. A lot of the damage that was done wasn't part of the design, if any. I think we are facing a situation where the realities dictate the dynamics. I do not accredit our leadership - on both sides - with such great strategic thinking - I wouldn't call it wisdom - that they planned and did everything according to a grand design. For many of the events - certainly the shooting in Gilo is an example - no prime minister in Israel would endanger himself, whatever the personal or coalition design.

Sari Nusseibeh: It's a question mark, but I think it's necessary for both sides. People on the Israeli side must consider these different options very seriously and look at the possibilities, not simply fall into the mode of blaming the other side. The same applies to the Palestinian side.
If there are people rational enough on both sides, maybe we can emerge from this tragic mess.

Edy Kaufman: Let us look introspectively and critically at what went wrong from Oslo days to the present. What did we do wrong?
We can't prove the grand designs of politicians, but we can criticize things like language, incitement, lack of recognition of others. My approach is more incremental. Both this and the "design approach" are definitely legitimate in terms of the learning curve.

Sari Nusseibeh: They are different spheres of conversation, but I think, as you say, both spheres are important.

Edy Kaufman: In dealing with "what went wrong,"we can start from 1947, but let's start from Oslo. I don't remember how you felt for the first two years, but there was some sense of achievement in the beginning. There was mutual recognition, which was highly important. The "Zionist entity" and the "terrorist organization" suddenly were talking to and recognizing each other. There was recognition that the "greater Israel" scheme and the "greater Palestine" scheme had been left behind. Now Sharon is advocating the Allon Plan, while Barak and the Labor Party are offering 90 percent of the land. Progress. The recognition of two states, the right to statehood is no longer a problem. Even on the question of Jerusalem, I think the majority of Israelis also recognize the possibility of having Al-Quds as the capital of a Palestinian state to the east of Yerushalayim. Where exactly is the border is still a question mark. All this is on the positive side.
But on the negative side - and that's the self-criticism I would like to make - there were no Israeli confidence-building measures during the peace process. Some progress was made, but particularly after the death of Rabin, Israel continued to build settlements, and even built at an increasing rate during Barak's term in office. Then comes the question of Palestinian peace dividends. Not only was it slow, but it was given not by right, but as a sort of a gift. Meanwhile, the closures and the humiliation, etc., continued, enough to make any society very angry. Even at Camp David II, where there was a big effort to move on compared with the previous governments, we were not yet willing to use the historic compromise in terms of people's rights.
For example, if I were talking to President Arafat, I would say we are talking of 22 percent of Mandatory Palestine, the 1967 borders. You are right, you have lost a lot over the years. What we are proposing is yours by right. Having said that, we need to talk about the problems, which may include border exchanges.
Because we are not talking this way, we are alienating a lot of potential partners on the Palestinian side. They feel the dictate, the arrogance of power, the take-it-or-leave-it attitude. The last item of Israeli self-criticism relates to the excessive use of force in recent weeks, when the situation could have been handled differently.

Sari Nusseibeh: The main problem that the Palestinians have is what happened after they had gone through this major psychological process of reaching a kind of balance with Israel - Israeli existence, Israeli history, Israeli reality - on the one hand, in return for something for themselves on the other hand. They were hoping for a peaceful settlement, which would give Israel legitimacy for its reality, and at the same time grant the Palestinians at least the territories that came into Israel's hands in 1967. The Palestinians would have a state there, in which they would live normally and in dignity.
I think this was a historic point in time, a historic cross-point. Unfortunately, I think that Israel misread the situation, and failed to grasp the opportunity of reconciliation that was offered. If you look back at the last five or seven or nine years, from the Palestinian perspective, Israel has proved - this is how Israel is perceived in Palestinian eyes - that it did not really seek a reconciliation in which there would be proper mutual recognition of the other's self-respect and freedom. Instead, Israel has used the time in order to sink its teeth further into that territory that was left from Palestine. Israel continued operating as an occupying power relying on force and dispossessing the Palestinian people.
This has of course created a reality in which, rather than using the interim period for confidence-building between the two sides, the hope that existed at that turning point in history was destroyed. The hope that the Israelis were not perhaps the greedy imperialist expansionists, but a normal nation, was shattered. But since then, our reaction - and I am talking about myself, talking about the average person - is to perceive Israel now as simply playing out the role of any expansionist, occupying, authoritarian, undemocratic force.
Today I saw Israeli soldiers walking around the streets of East Jerusalem. To me, this exemplifies the sorry state in which we find ourselves - sorry for the soldiers too because I want to ask them, What are you doing, walking around with your guns? Are you happy being an occupying force?
Unfortunately, after Israel missed the major opportunity, I personally don't believe that it will be easy, if at all possible, to recreate that particular moment in history. The intensity of the anger being expressed today is a manifestation of the fact that the Palestinian people came forward with a peace offer. But you totally misread Palestinian reality and Arab reality, and this is a great tragedy.

Edy Kaufman: I tend to agree with your explanation. Unfortunately, most Israelis do not perceive it this way. As you mentioned before, they lay the blame on the Palestinian side, not only the leadership, but on Palestinian society at large. I think that, in due time, we should also look into the mistakes of the Palestinian side.

Sari Nusseibeh: The Palestinians are not angels, and I am not interested in the least in defending Palestinian actions, whether at the level of the leadership or the ordinary people. I am as unhappy with many of the actions as you are. But there's a major difference between the Palestinian and the Israeli sides. The Palestinians are an unorganized people living under pressure, under occupation. They are suffering. They feel dispossessed. What you see on the street, therefore, is simply an expression, a reaction to this. The Israeli side, on the other hand, is organized. If Barak, at any stage, orders his army to act in a certain way, this will immediately be carried out. On the Palestinian side, you have emotions rather than organization.

Edy Kaufman: I think there is a big responsibility of leadership with regard to the Palestinian educational system. The reason why the young people are so angry has to do with Israeli occupation, but it also has to do with the anger they feel towards the Palestinian Authority. These are acts of protest against Israel, but they also have to do with the kind of educational system being provided by their authorities. I am thinking of the portrayal of Israel both in the textbooks, and in the media. I worry very much about the way the media can be manipulated. With all due respect to the media in the Palestinian territories, we all know that the government has considerable leverage and control over it. So I would not so easily let the responsibility of the leadership off the hook.
I feel that in the course of all these years, Israel has wasted its opportunity in not understanding how to gain a degree of legitimacy in the Middle East, in spite of the door opened before them by the Palestinians. But another factor must be explained: perhaps, in their frustration over our deeds, the Palestinians did not go the extra mile when we speak about peace education in government schools: for example, I think we have to make demands on the Israeli leadership no matter what the Palestinians are doing, and to make demands on the Palestinian leadership no matter what the Israelis are doing.

Sari Nusseibeh: Edy, I honestly believe, with all due respect, that you're barking up the wrong tree. I agree with you that education is a major formative force, and that, in talking about peace education in the past five years, government schools on the Palestinian side should have been involved. You know how very important I consider it to make peace and to actually live in peace. But, however much you try to use education for creating a peace culture, you cannot use it to eliminate the naked reality that Israel imposes upon you, as an occupying force armed to the teeth, treating you arrogantly and denying your rights. Looking at the list of Intifada victims, you'll find that some or many of the people who were killed were actually peace activists. You listen to what parents are saying and you wonder, What influence is all this having?
By the way, I happen to listen both to Israeli and Palestinian news, and I get the impression that there are two totally different stories being related. If you listen to the Palestinian news, a man who was shot in Bethlehem yesterday, in the Palestinian perception, was killed at random. On the part of the person who shot him, on the Israeli side, you just assume that he was using knives and rocks and the Israeli shot him in self-defense. It is really a very brutal reality, and I think that Israel and the Israelis should be aware of it. I agree with you that we make mistakes all the time. Education is one example and I've always been for as much cooperation as possible at the level of education. However, the brutal fact is that Israel has to come to terms with the reality that it is an occupying force and that it cannot really live at peace with the Palestinians unless the occupation ends. Peace means that you allow the Palestinians to have the kind of life you would wish for yourselves and for your own children - in freedom and dignity and so on.
We have problems internally. Yes, some of the rage you see being acted out is actually partially also against our leadership. But why? Because a lot of our people are angry that our leadership took the peace path. They are fed up with the fact that our leadership has, in a sense, promised the people statehood, independence, freedom and so on, but it was not implemented. So yes, there is this sort of rage against the leadership as well, in addition to anger that exists against phenomena like inefficiency and corruption.

Edy Kaufman: I think we are probably coming to the question of what civil society can do. I tend to agree with your analysis to a very large extent. The question is: are we paralyzed by the events? In the Jewish tradition we mourn a death for a week. More than a week has passed and many of my friends are still mourning the end of Oslo or the "treacherous uprising," etc. They are maintaining a mood of disappointment and frustration and anger. I, for one, think that the time has come for more people - people around me too - to finish with the mourning period and to start asking what they can do. How can this tragedy that is unfolding before our eyes, which doesn't seem to be waning of its own volition, be redressed?
People have to intervene. It is my conviction that in Israeli society, Israelis have a stronger responsibility because we are already an established and more affluent state, and some of our rules of democracy permit us to express dissent more freely. Our system provides more leeway than that of colleagues and friends on the other side. Their situation is more difficult in terms of their struggle for national liberation within a regime that (I permit myself to say) allows less space for dissent. Nowadays, in these times of violence, this is even truer than usual.
Whether you believe in the grand design or in a tragedy of errors, and however important is introspection, I think the dominant need is for people to realize that the time has come to make a new start and to shift priorities in their daily lives, and dedicate more time to work for a just peace. We in Jerusalem cannot but see the reality every day. Sometimes I can even smell the tear gas when I go to the university on Mount Scopus. People in Tel Aviv don't seem to have the same sense of urgency we do.
What worries me in my own camp is that this shifting of priorities is too slow in relation to the urgent need to understand the implications of occupation and above all - for this is the crux - to stop the violence. As I mentioned before, there is a sense that we were betrayed by Arafat, which is shared by many people and has caused much anger. I think that people like us who have been committed to human rights, democracy, peace and justice - you put it very clearly in your terms - have to redouble our efforts because after such a setback, we can't really allow ourselves to permit a "Business as usual" attitude.

Sari Nusseibeh: Let's assume that what I am thinking aloud is right, and that indeed we seem to have missed a unique and major opportunity, then what we're looking at in the future in the long term is really a state of protracted war between the two communities. Maybe the people in Tel Aviv will not feel it. Okay. But that will be the situation. And if that is going to be the situation and you ask yourself the question, "Well, what does one do?" I personally would stress the need to try to maintain human contacts with people from the other side. This becomes even more important in the present situation than it was four or five years ago, when we hoped that we were moving towards a state of peace.
It is when you are in a state of war that indeed you need people to maintain human contact because, after all, it's necessary to maintain some kind of sanity about who one is, beyond being Jewish or Palestinian or Israeli or whatever. It's essential to remember that one is, after all, a human being. But to tell you honestly, I don't believe that even the feeble attempts that may be made in the future to maintain such human contact are going to amount to anything because, objectively, the real situation is so bad. And as long as it is bad at the overall political level, I think that, in a sense, if you like, peace-seekers and peace-makers will have very limited space. They can wage a very important and significant struggle, but it will be very limited.

Edy Kaufman: When the Oslo process started, there was an impasse in the negotiations in Washington because we couldn't get anywhere on the official negotiations, and progress came only after an uprising (the Intifada of 1987) that lasted several years. Maybe you are right that as things are unfolding now, one can't prevent them because the antagonism is so strong. But if you think about the day after - and there was a day called Oslo after the last uprising - we all know, and you probably know more than anybody else, that all these bridges that had been built, all these seeds that had been sown, did have results. I think this effort, which started in difficult times, including during the first Intifada when there was very little hope in the government-to-government sphere, must now be renewed with the utmost urgency.
There is a crying need for civil society cooperation, as we call it, or people who share values across the ethnic and national divide, and particularly Israelis and Palestinians ready to work together.

Sari Nusseibeh: On the Palestinian side, I don't think that, after all that has happened, we can be naive as peace-seekers and as humanists. We should also read the reality properly. Now, it might sound surprising, but in the late 1980s, and during the first Intifada, I think there was much more hope than now for a settlement and for dialogue between leaderships, and for a final reconciliation.

Edy Kaufman: You mean at the time when Shamir was prime minister?

Sari Nusseibeh: Yes, even then there was much more hope than now in the sense of our reading future developments, our understanding of what the Intifada might accomplish. Because - and this is something I cannot over-emphasize - this time we missed a unique opportunity.

Edy Kaufman: You mean it's irreversible?

Sari Nusseibeh: I don't think the opportunity is ever going to come back. In terms of Palestinian and Arab good will or the Palestinian psyche. The Palestinians and Arabs went as far as they could, waiting and hoping for a response. In the end, cumulatively, the response, as far as they were concerned, was a slap in the face. This is the reason why they are enraged. And I personally do not think it is easy or possible for many years to come to erase this perception from their emotions and mental attitudes. You see, before, in the 1980s, there was a debate over the question of the Israelis wanting peace. Maybe it was only a question of making them realize that we ourselves are ready to make peace with them. Today this is a moot point. Today people say it's clear that the Israelis do not really want peace. What they want is territory, settlements, using the balance of power to impose terms of their liking. This is how Israel is now perceived and how Israelis are now perceived, and it's difficult to make people see things otherwise.

Edy Kaufman: Well, if that is the case, then at least we should try to educate our peoples to differentiate, and not to look at the other side as a monolithic group.

Sari Nusseibeh: That is absolutely right. That is one terrible fall-out of this confrontation, the sweeping generalizations on both the Palestinian and the Israeli sides about each other.

Edy Kaufman: We see from public opinion polls conducted by your colleagues and by my colleagues that there is steady support for the idea of a package that will include what is called a two-state solution. On the Israeli side, Barak's "concession" of "90 percent territory" won't get us anywhere because, according to what you are saying, the Palestinians have compromised already, as you indicated. But I can see progress and incremental change in the perception, for example, that we are no longer talking to a "terrorist organization," or by the additional dimension of a Palestinian capital to the east of Jerusalem.
What stands to reason for me, as one who is for evolutionary, not revolutionary change, is the following: while I agree that we have missed a golden opportunity, opportunities come and go, and we have to persevere. Things won't change quickly because of all this animosity that has been accumulating over the years. However, I would rather not wait passively for the next opportunity.

Sari Nusseibeh: But the question is not education. The question is not time. The question is attitude. Is Israel prepared to go back to its 1967 borders? That is the question.

Edy Kaufman: Some Israelis are and some Israelis are not.

Sari Nusseibeh: I know some Israelis are. But if Israel is not prepared to do this, whether now or in ten years' time or twenty years, or fifty years, then however reconciliatory you may be, you are not reaching peace.

Edy Kaufman: In one way or the other, you can still negotiate on this with many Israelis.

Sari Nusseibeh: Politically, Israel, as it exists today, does not have the capacity to do this. It does not have a government - and it's unclear that it will have in the foreseeable future - that will be prepared to make the kind of offer to the Palestinians that the Palestinians expect Israel to make to them as a sign of reconciliation. Unfortunately, this is the case. I realize it doesn't mean all Israelis are like this. I am saying that objectively this is the Israeli political set-up. Therefore, given this, if we look ahead, it really would be very romantic to assume that a few years down the road, with some kind of work at the level of civil society, things might change. Things will just go from bad to worse, and maybe we will be looking, in ten, twenty, thirty, forty years down the road, at totally different kinds of solutions, if any.

Edy Kaufman: I look at comparative studies of other conflicts. The uniqueness of our conflict exists, but there are many similar protracted conflicts, and suddenly there is a solution, including, for example, the very modest idea of "Gaza-Jericho First" at the time of Oslo. To project such ideas is part of the challenge of academics. They should at least have a vision. There are constraints on many of the things that we are fighting for, but surely, on a subject like Jerusalem, sovereignty, etc., definitions are changing even in the dictionaries. I think it's our responsibility to look into the gaps separating Palestinians and Israelis. The gaps are smaller than they were in 1993.
I remember the project, in which your friends and my friends were involved, about water, aquifers, underground water. There has been tremendous progress there, to the point that there doesn't seem to be any big disagreement between our leaderships. I use the example of underground water, which perhaps is not as hot as Haram al-Sharif, but I know that, even on Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, very creative ideas have been drawn up. It is only sad that our leadership is not open-minded enough to try to deal with creative ideas.
A fatalist may say that given the current position of the political leaderships in Israel and in Palestine, as representing their peoples, there is no way we can bridge this ten- to twenty-percent gap, in connection with the possible territorial solution. An optimist will say it is a matter of persevering. I personally am more optimistic by nature. And maybe you can advance the solution by many years, perhaps from thirty years to twenty years ahead, if you persist. Eventually, given historic examples of other nations, not only will there be a solution, but other people will ask how come it took us so long. On a small scale, returning to "Gaza-Jericho First" in 1993, why didn't we come up with that in 1988 (five years early) when the Palestinian National Council changed its policy?
What I am trying to say, on a more optimistic note, is that I think we in the peace camp should feel empowered at this time, more than ever, to continue doing whatever possible, under very adverse circumstances. It's not a given that ideas about peace are not going to percolate into Israeli thinking.
So in the historic context of changing things over a shorter or longer period of time, even if it looks that the odds are against us, I think we do have a role to play. After all, many of the ideas that the Israeli establishment is putting forth today were considered taboo in Israel twenty years ago.

Sari Nusseibeh: I am glad that you are optimistic, and I hope that you are right and that I am wrong. But seriously, from my perspective, I think we are in a very grave situation. And I have the sense that you, and perhaps other Israelis, do not realize how grave it really is.

Edy Kaufman: We must try to keep human dialogue open, so we can grasp the intensity of these feelings and continue to be able to talk to each other.

Sari Nusseibeh: We can always talk as individuals.

Edy Kaufman: Absolutely so.

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