While visiting the Old City of Jerusalem today, we stopped to visit a young, Arab shopkeeper (probably not the one you’re thinking of). During our visit, I asked him a number of specific questions regarding his current job, potential careers for young Arab men like him, and his overall impression of the “situation” in the region, specifically Israel and the West Bank.
It was interesting to hear his answers to my questions and to see him become more transparent, offering heartfelt answers to very probing questions about war and peace once he realized that there was no trap or debate at the end of my enquiry. He realized that I was simply interested to hear what he thought about something that millions of people think about around the world – the Arab-Israeli conflict. For once, he had a genuinely interested audience.
He started with a very typical line of argument among Arab shopkeepers in Jerusalem: If the Israelis would stop doing “X, Y, and Z” and start doing “A, B, and C” there can be peace. When I began to probe below the surface of this argument, asking for definitions and specifics about “X, Y, and Z,” as though he were in a confessional he suddenly said, “There can’t be peace!” In an effort to make sure that I had heard him correctly, I asked him to repeat himself. “There can’t be peace. Oh maybe, one or two years, but real peace is not possible. The Arabs hate the Jews, and the Jews hate the Arabs and the two simply can’t mix - not even side by side.”
While only one young man verbalized this today, I think it represents the core thought and feeling of many (perhaps most) on both sides of the divide. And, if that is true, whether or not Iran is disarmed, or the mess in Iraq is finally cleaned up, doesn’t really have a great bearing on peace in the Middle East, though many politicians keep talking as if the resolution of either or both of those situations will bring forth “peace in our lifetime.” Do they really believe it, or are they just trying to get elected?
I wonder how such a conversation, if broadcast widely on television and radio, might influence the Israeli elections next week. Would it make the more left parties try even harder to prove that they can cut a deal with the Arabs? Would it make the right parties try even harder to prove that the Arabs can’t be trusted? Would it matter at all?