Last week, I paid a couple of visits to the West Bank or, as Israel’s enemies call it, “the illegally occupied Palestinian territories.” Israelis who live and work there are more likely to use the biblical name: Judea and Samaria.
I spoke with three people — two Palestinians and one Israeli — whom I regard as men of peace. Let me tell you a little about them.
Salam Fayyad is an economist and politician with a professorial mien and a reputation for integrity. In 2007, at the urging of Western diplomats tired of seeing their aid money go astray, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas appointed Mr. Fayyad his prime minister.
But Mr. Abbas never seemed to appreciate Mr. Fayyad’s work and, two years ago, he forced him to resign. Now, Mr. Fayyad heads the Future for Palestine, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to the unorthodox idea that what Palestinians need most right now is good governance and economic development.
He does not hold with those who think Palestinians should devote their lives to the dream of Israel’s annihilation. He believes it would be better for nation-building to precede, rather than follow, declaration of a Palestinian state and its recognition at the United Nations. He argues that creating a Palestinian state that ends up a failed state will harm, not benefit, the vast majority of Palestinians.
At the conclusion of a meeting with me and a small group of American national security professionals in his well-appointed offices in Ramallah, the de facto Palestinian capital, we wish him well. Our wish is not granted: The next day the Palestinian Authority freezes Mr. Fayyad’s bank accounts and accuses him of money laundering.
He has denied wrongdoing. Count me among those who believe him. Count me among those with little confidence in the Palestinian system of justice. (Memo to the White House: Do something.)
Bashar Masri is a patrician Palestinian-American, the entrepreneurial brains behind Rawabi, “the biggest ever project in Palestinian history.” A planned city north of Ramallah, it features gleaming white stone apartment buildings, shops, sports facilities, and an enormous Roman-style amphitheater. Rawabi is to be home to 40,000 solidly middle-class Palestinians. More than that, Rawabi is Mr. Masri’s vision of a free, prosperous, modern, high-tech and tolerant Palestinian nation.
Because this city on a hill — several hills, actually — has had support from the Israeli government, and because it can succeed only if Palestinians and Israelis are peacefully coexisting, little support has been forthcoming from the Palestinian Authority. Leaders of the BDS (for Boycott, Divestment and Sanction) movement vehemently condemn the project. The American-based website Electronic Intifada has denounced it as “blatant economic normalization” — normal relations between Palestinians and Israelis being abhorrent to such “pro-Palestinian” voices.
Mr. Masri, by contrast, believes that the best way to “defy the occupation” is to build, literally from the ground up, a Palestine that commands respect rather than only fear, a Palestine that most Israelis will view as a neighbor to be cultivated rather than an enemy to be defeated. “I don’t believe in boycotting Israel,” he says. “It is to our benefit to work with Israelis.”
Rami Levy is an Israeli tycoon but you might not guess that to look at him. He greets me wearing blue jeans and a dark blue Gant T-shirt. His hair is black but it has receded far north of his forehead. The son of a sanitation worker, he now owns 32 well-stocked and very crowded discount supermarkets — three in the West Bank.
At his store in Gush Etzion over the “green line” in the Judaean Mountains south of Jerusalem, his customers include a colorful mix of Palestinians and Israeli “settlers.” That term masks more that it reveals: As early as the 1920s, Jews legally purchased land here from Arabs willing to tolerate a little diversity. Others disagreed, however, and, in 1929, an agricultural village founded by Jews who had fled oppression in Yemen was destroyed.
More attacks followed — massacres, too. When Israel’s war of independence — fought against seven invading Arab armies — ended in a cease-fire in 1948, Gush Etzion was among the territories Jordanian forces occupied. Any Jews who failed to flee were killed or imprisoned. Then, in 1967, Jordan joined Egypt and Syria in another multi-front war intended to exterminate Israel. When it was over, Israelis were in control of Gush Etzion and other territories Jordan had ruled for a generation.
Mr. Levy’s workforce in Gush Etzion is 50 percent Palestinian. He emphasizes that he does not discriminate based on ethnicity, religion or gender. He looks for employees who are hard-working and honest.
That’s good business, but that’s not all it is. “Here, it is the opposite of what the world tells you,” he says. “Here Jews serve Arabs and Arabs serve Jews and Muslims and Jews know each other, and they congratulate each other on their holidays.”
Is he not afraid of being targeted by terrorists? “If you are doing good things, why be afraid?” is his admirable if not entirely persuasive response. He acknowledges that security is among his major expenses.
“In the beginning they tried to prevent Palestinians from shopping here,” he says. “But they couldn’t because soon even those trying to stop them were shopping here. The Palestinian Authority doesn’t help Palestinians,” he adds. “We help Palestinians.”
Three very different men. On many issues, they would disagree. But what do you suppose would happen if you put them in a room and told them to negotiate? Here’s what I think: They would drive hard bargains and, in the end, emerge with a result that could lead to two states for two peoples — peoples who would not see one other as mortal enemies.
• Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a columnist for The Washington Times.