To promote Arab-Israeli peace, Arabs and Israelis argue against it
The OneMideast project formally debuted online Wednesday at a time when hopes for Arab-Israeli peace are dim. The website asks Arab and Israeli participants to jump into tough issues in hopes of provoking new solutions.
Most grassroots peace efforts in the Middle East try to build on areas of mutual agreement, but one group of Israelis and Arabs has taken a different tack – looking for arguments against peace between Israel and Syria.
The OneMideast project, which formally goes public on Wednesday, is making its debut at a time of high tension between Syria and Israel, with gloomy prospects of resumed peace talks and very real fears of another war roiling the region. The effort drew together two teams of 10 Arabs – most of them Syrian – and 10 Israelis, each of whom who were asked to come up with a list of objections to peace between Israel and Syria.
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“The dominant paradigm of peace process initiatives is to begin by searching for common ground, postponing discussion on problematic areas,” says Elias Muhanna, a Lebanese political analyst and author of the Lebanese affairs blog Qifa Nabki. “OneMideast turns this model on its head, beginning with the stickiest issues, and trying to see if they really are as insoluble as they seem.”
Grew out of heated exchanges
The idea developed a year ago from the heated daily exchanges in the comments section of the Syria Comment blog authored by Joshua Landis, director for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. As with many blogs dealing with contentious Middle East affairs, Syria Comment attracts devoted Arab and Israeli readers whose variant views provoke stimulating and sometimes impassioned arguments.
“As each new Israeli and Syrian would find the site and begin discussion, often they would start with the repetition of accusations and casting of blame, then little by little a shared humanity would emerge as would a shared interest in finding a way out of the cyclical insults,” says Mr. Landis.
Israel and Syria are in an official state of war, which makes personal contacts between Israelis and Syrians problematic. But the Internet allows citizens from both countries to penetrate the political wall separating them – and a dialogue to flourish.
“We want people to know that dialogue is possible, and that the Web offers new opportunities to learn firsthand about the human beings on the other side,” says Yoav Stern, an Israeli commentator and journalist.