Israelis and Palestinians at Harvard: Part 9 of 9

My time with future leaders of Israel and Palestine leaves me with a somewhat pessimistic outlook, but there is reason for hope.
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Former Under Secretary of State R. Nicholas Burns notes in his course on Diplomacy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government that there are several important elements to a successful negotiation. These are: trust, personal relationships, a sense of vision and success, a willingness to compromise, an ability to act on the agreements and credibility at home. All of these are important elements. There is a deficit of several of these elements in the Israel-Palestine dilemma.

Israel is a nation of nearly 8 million people. There are 4 million people in the Palestinian territories. And there are about 480 million people in the Middle East, the overwhelming majority of who do not approve of the existence of Israel. It is hard for most Americans to understand the feeling that must exist to be constantly hated by your neighbors. This hate and resentment is all that most Israelis alive today have ever known. It is unfortunate that both groups possess people who focus on the differences rather than the similarities. But, alas, this is the reality we have to work with and this is just one more variable that must be considered when working towards peace in the region. When good people realize that they need to simultaneously do more for the other side than they will do for their own, lasting peace will come.

My time with future leaders of Israel and Palestine leaves me with a somewhat pessimistic outlook, but there is reason for hope. While I was interviewing one Israeli, Barak, he had to conclude his interview with me because he was going to meet the Palestinian imam across the street from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government at a Dunkin Donuts that I described at the beginning of this article. I had the opportunity to interview both gentlemen. Their views are sharply different. Their ideas of what should be done are also sharply different. But as I walked away from the two men, I thought to myself that here were two people on different sides of the issues coming together over a cup of coffee to seek understanding and to share the perspectives. This empathy is the essential ingredient that will be necessary for a successful two-state solution to ever be realized. Unfortunately, as I met with each person, one at a time, I got the sense that there was no empathy and there was no willingness to see things from the point of view of the other side; almost. There was one man, Barak, an Israeli who seemed to understand the perspective of the Palestinians. From my time with the dozens of Israelis and Palestinians I interviewed, I got the sense that if there was anyone who could solve the problem between the Israelis and Palestinians, it was someone with empathy.

The reason that the most recent round of peace talks have failed is because I believe that Israel sent a negotiator who is working for Israel's interests; the same could be said of Palestine. For there to be a two-state solution, it will come from leaders on both sides that have empathy. Palestine needs to send a negotiator who truly understands the rights and concerns of the Israeli people. And Israeli needs to send a negotiator who truly understands the fears and hopes of the Palestinian people.

Would we have peace in the Middle East if the Israel-Palestine issue were resolved? An Israeli friend of mine said to me, "we are setting ourselves up for unrealistic expectations; we are stuck to this 'if we had a two-state solution, we would have Middle East peace.'... I don't know that. It should be thought of that the first thing we need to have is a two-state solution and then work from there... it is going to be a beginning." If we had a two-state solution, I don't think we would have an interstate cooperation like we see in Europe, but the world, the region and the people would be much better off.

Albert Einstein said, "Before God we are all equally wise -- and equally foolish."

PAUL HEROUX is a state representative from Massachusetts and previously lived and worked in the Middle East, was a senior analyst at the Institute for Defense and Disarmament Studies, and is a frequent guest on TV and radio stations discussing the Middle East. Paul has a Master's in International Relations from the London School of Economics and a Master's from the Harvard School of Government. Paul can be reached at

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