Israel/Palestinian conflict needs a ‘Nelson Mandela,’ says author

By Mick Krever, CNN

Any “real peace” between Israeli and Palestinians will remain out of reach until both sides truly acknowledge each other’s tragedy, Israeli columnist and author Ari Shavit told CNN’s Hala Gorani, sitting in for Christiane Amanpour, on Wednesday.

“The heart of this conflict is really mutual blindness.”

The Israelis are blind to the fact that there are a Palestinian people, he said, and the Palestinians blind to the Israelis, and their right to a Jewish state “in the ancient homeland of the Jews.”

That despite, he said, the “amazing” work U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has done trying to bring reconciliation.

Shavit has just written a new book, “My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has launched the largest American effort in years to bring peace to the region, having just wrapped up his 10th visit in pursuit of that goal.

“One has to recognize the fact that Secretary Kerry with unique ingenuity and pressure and commitment has surprised us all,” Shavit said.

The Secretary’s goal, Shavit surmised, is not a final peace agreement, but rather a framework for future negotiations.

He is trying, he said, to build “a kind of triangle,” in which the Israelis accept the 1967 borders, the Palestinians accept the existence of a Jewish state, and Jerusalem is shared in some way.

“No sides will totally accept the formula. But if they do not reject it totally, then he will have some sort of achievement.”

But the “ultimate emotional breakthrough,” he said, will not come until the Israeli prime minster goes to Ramallah, and the Palestinian leader goes to the Knesset, to acknowledge each other’s tragedy and pain.

“This I'm afraid we will not see, because both leaders are not built – we do not have a Nelson Mandela right now; we don't have an Anwar Sadat.”

That is not to say that it is as asymmetric a conflict as it is often portrayed, he posited.

“Contrary to the common belief, I believe the Palestinians have enormous power: The Palestinians have the key to Israel's legitimacy in the region and in the international community.”

“One of the reasons that Prime Minister Netanyahu is deep in this process is that Israelis are afraid to lose their legitimacy, both regionally and worldwide.”

Shavit is not afraid to defend Israeli’s existence to the end; he calls the country a “manmade miracle” that was “created against all odds.”

And while he opposes “occupation” and “settlements,” he says “the conflict is not only about the occupation and settlements.”

“I ask my Palestinian counterpart to see that while I acknowledge their tragedy – the fact that they went through terrible pain and many of them lost their homes and experienced a terrible tragedy – I say to them, I ask them, in a sense, to move on.”

“A tragedy is there; but we do not have to accept it and become slaves to it.”