For Sari Nusseibeh, true peace between his own people and Israel won't come from canny manoeuvres at the negotiating table. Ultimately, the Palestinian philosopher and humanist argued in a recent lecture at McGill University, peace will result from the mutual realization and acceptance of the fact that neither side will get everything it wants. For Palestinians, peace will mean giving up on the long-held dream that they will return one day to land they left almost 60 years ago. For Israelis, peace has to mean giving up on the dream that it can hold on to occupied land or that Jerusalem will never be the capital of two nations.
"On both ends, I believe a new paradigm has to be created based on an equitable settlement," the 58-year-old Nusseibeh, the president of Al-Quds University in the West Bank, said in a relatively brief, 20-minute address to a crowd of about 600 in the Stephen Leacock Building. "In the final analysis, a peaceful future and a positive future are not impossible to achieve. The distance is not arduous - it is the distance between one side of a pane of glass and another," he said. The glass is transparent, but it must be "cracked," he added. "The Israelis and Palestinians have the power to change. If we don't, it is not because we were powerless, but because we could not see through the pane."
At McGill, Nusseibeh, who recently released his memoirs, Once Upon a Country: a Palestinian Life, appeared to live up to his reputation as a voice of moderation, humanism, and intellectual rigour regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Nusseibeh recalled how, in 1986, he witnessed the "horrible" stabbing of a 90-year-old pious Jew and decided to condemn the crime in writing - an act that was looked upon suspiciously by Israelis and got him into trouble with his own community. "It is easier to say things that please people, but I say exactly what I believe. If I condemn acts of terror, it is because of my humanity," he said. "It has been a constant fight.
Nusseibeh, referring to the fact that he has been called brave for speaking out, said, "I speak not because I'm courageous, but because of my fear about the future." For Palestinians, he said a two-state solution will have to entail trading their "right of return" for their "right to freedom." "These are impossible to implement together," he said, although it has always been "taboo" for Palestinians to say as much.
Similarly, Israelis must be prepared to give up some of their own dreams, too. Jerusalem, he said, is destined to be the capital of two states, and occupied territories will have to be abandoned.
Asked about the continued level of violence in the area, Nusseibeh seemed to regret that Palestinians have not "reached a consensus" on the use of non-violence. Recalling the first intifadah in the late 1980s - in which he played an active role - Nusseibeh said Palestinians were once "very creative" in resisting Israel without violence. In reply to another question, Nusseibeh said the last five years have been "unfortunately" violent, with Hamas operating under a completely "different paradigm" in which the group's means don't necessarily appear to be related to appropriate ends, which should be a two-state solution. "Do the people who voted for Hamas support violence against Israel?" he asked. Not necessarily, he answered. "My sense is that the majority of Palestinians who voted for Hamas would also accept a peace solution that is tangible."
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