Joseph Montville seems to believe that the answer for solving the Palestinian/Israeli conflict is peaceful coexistence. This offers an alternative to the current situation but not a solution.
Although many Palestinians also believe that peaceful coexistence is possible and preferable to the present conflict, a successful Neve Shalom depends upon more than just encounter groups in which Palestinian and Jewish youth confront their pains and the negative stereotypes that support their prejudices. After all, Arabs and Jews lived peacefully together for centuries without the politics of Zionism, and aside from a few skirmishes here and there, their existence was not only peaceful, but usually operated at a level of peaceful engagement and cooperation. As a result the Holy Land served throughout most of history as a bridge for cultural understanding and enrichment among the world's civilizations.
For a project like Neve Shalom to have a real hope of success, at least from the Palestinian view, it must include a program of problem-solving that focuses on issues of security, justice, and equality. If it does this, it offers an alternative to the Oslo process, one that can avoid duplicating Oslo's great weaknesses of not addressing issues. Instead, Oslo dictated solutions and terms that in some instances are so far from the hearts of the people that implementation was destined to be too painful and problematic for both Palestinians and Jews.
It is therefore appropriate that we search for alternatives. Oslo should be used as a model to learn from, to observe everything that can possibly go wrong with a program. We need to find solutions premised upon the real issues, which are security and justice. Neve Shalom addresses the Israeli issue of security through its emphasis on conflict resolution and social psychology, but it does not address the Palestinian issues of justice and equality.
The Neve Shalom project, well-intended as it is, takes a similar, if more gentle, approach to Arab-Israeli peace than Oslo. But like Oslo, it ignores the issues upon which this ongoing conflict are premised. The Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam experience calls on Israelis and Arabs to live together in mutual respect and understanding. However, Israeli supporters of peaceful coexistence work from a faulty premise -- the belief that any lasting solution is premised on Israeli state hegemony over the Arab inhabitants of the land. This narrow paradigm lacks the ability to attain a lasting, peaceful resolution.
Palestine never witnessed an Arab-Jewish conflict of the present magnitude prior to the Balfour Declaration of 1917. So peaceful existence in itself is not the solution. Fifty years after the creation of the State of Israel, Jews take for granted the paradigm that they have an assumed right to live in and dominate the land of Palestine, for this is exactly why Israel was established. The State of Israel represents much more than just a "Jewish" homeland; it represents a failed attempt to establish a bulwark against the restoration of Islam in the Middle East and the growth of Islamic civilization from the east to the west.
Peaceful cooperation, and even a minimum of peaceful coexistence, necessitates a just settlement to the crucial questions of self-determination, the return of refugees and sovereignty over the land, and a total redress of usurped rights. A dialogue on the issue of racial supremacy, upon which Zionism as a secular not religious ideology is premised, is also central to peaceful coexistence and cooperation.
There can be no lasting peace until there is a real solution to the problems created by the presence of a racist, expansionist Zionist movement in Palestine, which is responsible for crimes against humanity that normal people cannot fathom. This does not mean that conflict and bloodshed must inevitably continue; solutions do exist to all of the issues. Yet, violence will be inevitable if we continue to enforce peace process policies based on nothing that resembles the sentiments of the people. Instead, we must address the real issues. A bi-national state solution, or Holy Land Federation, is foremost among these possible solutions. This calls for the two peoples of Palestine and Israel to live in one federal entity, with two autonomous regions that are subject to a common sovereignty only in areas of military defense and monetary policy. This would be the ultimate fulfillment of Neve Shalom. Such a plan can be achieved only when the proponents of Zionism acquiesce to the reality that the Zionist creation of Israel is a temporary exercise and that the Palestinian people will never agree to be dominated by or co-exist with a foreign and racist entity. This would end the Zionist project by transforming its sense of self-identity and returning it to a more traditional understanding (until this century, Jewish thought interpreted Zionism as a return to God).
For their part, Islamists have gone beyond the battle cry of "throw the Jews into the sea." That was an Arab nationalist tool used to mobilize the Arab masses and was never an Islamist slogan or idea. Most Islamists would agree that a true formula of coexistence would allow the Jews to inhabit the land of Palestine, free to worship and conduct all aspects of their private affairs (including the rights to own property and conduct business and trade). They would restore Palestinian rights and secure an equitable resettlement of refugees and other Palestinians returning to their homeland. However, some things must end, notably Zionist antagonism against Islam and the continued utilization of Palestine as a base for spying on Muslim states and as a military outpost against Islamic movements.
It is understandable that Jews, who have lived in various host states and nations throughout their history, would desire a homeland. Palestine has historically been the homeland of Arabs, Muslims, Christians, Jews and others; it can be again. God has shown us that this land is a land of many faiths and races, and it should continue to be so. It is where the prophets walked and taught the universal message of peace and brotherhood upon which every major religion is based.
In the world of realpolitik, where history is made on the ground, the sentiments of Neve Shalom and its emphasis on peaceful co-existence, though more desirable than conflict, cannot and should not overshadow the realities of Palestinian suffering.
To end with an old Arab proverb: A man and his young son went to the village butcher to buy some meat. The boy watched as the butcher cut the throat of a lamb, and he saw the tears that ran down the butcher's face as he cut the sheep's jugular. The boy turned to his father and said, "Isn't the butcher merciful?" The father shook his head, acknowledging the tears of the butcher, then turned to his son and told him, "Focus not on his tears but on the knife in his hand."
The tears of Neve Shalom will never mute the cries of the Palestinian people for justice, equality and freedom.
Ahmad Yusuf is executive director of the United Association for Studies and Research, an Islamist think-tank in Annadale, Virginia.