“We have our history attached to the same square feet. So how do you deal with that?”
A decade ago, Dr. Oded Eran was the head negotiator for the Israeli government in their talks with the Palestinian Authority.
“It’s not a game. It’s not someone has to win in negotiations, both sides have to win, and that’s the big difficulty.”
Dr. Eran has carried a burden few of us can imagine-negotiating and compromising with his country’s long time foe. Trying to find a solution to a 60 year old problem with roots that go back 2000 years. But he doesn’t do it alone. Negotiating a peace treaty is a personal effort done by real people. Sometimes talks happen in a hotel across a table; sometimes over dinner at someone’s home.
“You know the personalities. You know everything about the children, not all the details, but you know where they live, because you visited with them. You know their wives…”
Of course, a negotiation is not a dinner party-at stake are the lives of millions of people. But to reach a compromise, Dr. Eran says, you have to learn to see the others’ humanity. At one point, he even broke bread with the PLO Chairman, Yasser Arafat.
“I came once to Gaza to pay condolences because his sister died. And in the evening you have this dinner, and I was sitting near him, and with his own fingers he took the rice and meat and put on my plate.”
10 years later, and there is still a lot of bad blood on both sides. Failed negotiations. Suicide bombings. War. But a negotiator’s job is to bring two parties together. Dr. Eran feels that the only solution now is to go slow and small.
“One has to attempt, maybe, not to find immediately all the solutions to all the problems, but deal with those things that one can find solutions to, and both sides can live with them peacefully.”
Some of those steps are as practical as who gets which water well. None are easy or simple. But some, at least, are also personal.
“My two grandchildren go to a school in Jerusalem where there is an equal number of Jews and Arabs, and two teachers in the classroom, one in Arabic, one in Hebrew. Basically what we need to see in this region is a greater tolerance. And I wish we get there.”
From the KUHF NewsLab, I’m Melissa Galvez.