Alpher: Third parties cannot be expected to understand the dynamics of the conflict more than the two parties themselves. By the time of the July 2000 Camp David peace summit meeting between U.S. President Bill Clinton, Yasser Arafat, Leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, it was clear that even Israel was just beginning to understand what the Palestinians meant by "right of return" and "there never was a temple on the Temple Mount": the Palestinians did not and do not accept Israelʹs historical roots in the region. The U.S. and the Europeans still fail to understand any of this. Today, both Israel and the U.S. support "economic peace" – a mistaken approach to a conflict that is historical, ideological and increasingly religious, but not economic. Furthermore, while the Trump administrationʹs grasp of Middle East strategic dynamics is particularly poor, neither Barack Obama nor George W. Bush understood the region either. In view of these perceptual gaps, only an imposed solution might have worked, at least temporarily. However, the third parties were never prepared to confront Israel and the Arab world and brutally impose a solution.
Over the past 25 years, both of you invested your expertise in the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, running a joint project – bitterlemons.org. From your personal experience, which issue was the most frustrating and which the most promising?
Khatib: The most frustrating issue is the lack of accountability, the double standards and the treatment of Israel as a country above international law by the international community. Israel is violating Palestiniansʹ rights by its illegal settlement policy, for example, without any serious reaction from the United Nations. The most promising is that international public opinion, especially in Europe, is gradually becoming more balanced regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – take, for instance, the vote by many parliaments across the world, including in Europe, to recognise Palestine as a state.
Alpher: The most frustrating issue is the Palestiniansʹ refusal or inability to confront the negative consequences for peace of their fundamental belief that the State of Israel was "born in sin" in 1948. The most promising issue is the capacity of so many on both sides to talk to one another. We learned from "bitterlemons" that this includes virtually all Israeli ultra-nationalist rightists.
Consider things from a Palestinian point of view: what would you recommend the Palestinians do in future to improve their relationship with Israel?
Alpher: They need to consider the impossible: Hamas must reject violence and it and the PLO must accept Israel as the legitimate state of the Jewish people with real cultural and historical roots in the Holy Land. A sustained Palestinian campaign to accept and present these points of view would have a profound effect on Israeli public opinion. Remember Egyptian President Anwar Sadatʹs address to the Israeli Parliament (Knesset) in November 1977, when he declared publicly: "We were wrong to reject you"? He won the Israeli public over overnight, and two years later, the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty was signed.
Consider things from an Israeli point of view: what would you recommend the Israelis do in future to improve their relationship with the Palestinians?
Khatib: I would tell the Israelis that continuing their illegal settlement expansion policy is closing the door to a two-state solution, mainly because Israeli authorities are establishing infrastructure and Israeli population in land that is supposed to be part of the Palestinian state, thus eliminating future chances of peace and stability in our region. In addition, the Israeli settlement policy is compromising democracy and creating a discriminatory regime for Palestinians. The reality is that Israel promoting discrimination by forcing two communities to live in the same country, yet under two sets of laws and systems.