When Peace Seemed Close

Our Third Narrative community has been debating whether there’s any prospect for a two-state solution, or any resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that would leave Israel intact as a safe homeland for the Jewish people.  All of us who have expressed ourselves in TTN’s listserve are disturbed by Israeli abuses of Palestinian human rights in the West Bank, and we see this situation as corrosive to Israel as well; yet there is a sharp divide on whether the Palestinian people are willing to accept Israel’s ongoing existence as predominantly “Jewish and democratic.”  (All quotes and materials published in this post have been duly authorized for release.)

While we cannot ignore the challenges and dangers that Palestinians themselves often pose to a peaceful outcome, there was pushback from Dan Fleshler and others to Stan Nadel’s claim that there is no “Palestinian leader willing to advocate a final peace with Israel that would leave Israel intact anywhere between the river and the sea with no further claims that would negate its existence as a Jewish State.”

Dan wrote: 

By all accounts, [Ehud] Olmert and [Mahmoud] Abbas came very close to a deal.  There are several reasons why it didn’t work — including the fact that Olmert was a lame-duck PM facing criminal charges, and the outbreak of the Gaza war.  Here is an assertion by Khaled Elgindy, one of the Palestinian Authority’s negotiators: 

Khaled Elgindy [starting at 18 minutes, 34 seconds into the audio at the ForeignPolicy.com website]: President Abbas asked us to put together a Palestinian counterproposal to Olmert’s maps. It wasn’t a full blown vision for all the permanent status issues, but it was mainly the map that seemed to be what the Palestinian leadership was mostly focused on. I believe it was a 1.9 percent land swap, so significantly less than Olmert’s, but it still included a majority – an absolute majority of the Israeli settlers who would not be evacuated. They would remain in settlements that would be swapped. 

And here’s a more recent story about Olmert’s memoir, headlined “Abbas never said no’ to 2008 peace deal, says former PM Olmert.”

This perspective is substantiated by an article in the NY Times Magazine by the Canadian-Israeli writer Bernard Avishai, “A Plan for Peace That Still Could Be” (

And this is from TTN colleague Kenneth Stern:

Our colleague, Paul Scham, prepared a useful chart of the main narratives of each side [see it inserted at the bottom of this text].

There was, indeed, a time when a peaceful solution seemed closer. I recall talking with people who were walking around Jerusalem with GPS devices, identifying which street was going to one side or the other.

I’ve had the good fortune to become friends with some Palestinian thinkers and academics (from the UK and North America), some of whom are fervently anti-Zionist. I suspect that many of us, if we were born in their shoes, would have a similar point of view. In discussing these issues, I think it’s important to ask oneself what you would be thinking if that were the case.

I cited a study in my book (“The Conflict Over the Conflict“) that suggests a way forward is for each side to see the other giving up one of their “sacred symbols.” I suspect that’s right.  

I also recommend Seth Azinska’s [2018] book, “Preventing Palestine: A Political History from Camp David to Oslo.” Basically, Israel and Egypt agreed to sacrifice the Palestinian cause for their own purposes at Camp David. I suspect, years from now, that when the history of the current period is written, while there are many faults that can be put on the PLO and PA (corruption, lack of inspiring leadership under Abbas), and more on Hamas (which Israel helped build up as a counterforce to the PLO), but Israel’s dismal failure to help Palestinians succeed in their state-building (errors of omission as well as building up the settlements, etc.) will also be a major factor.

As a side note, we look forward to the publication of another colleague’s work, Eric Alterman, in November:  “We Are Not One: A History of America’s Fight over Israel,” from Basic Books.

We conclude with Paul Scham’s chart, below:

Israeli and Palestinian Traditional Narratives of Their History:

Different Understandings of the Past, Stalemating the Present 


Revised and excerpted from “Shared Histories: A Palestinian-Israeli Dialogue,” edited by Paul Scham, Walid Salem and Benjamin Pogrund, 2005. This version © 2009 by Paul Scham.