Feelings are a very strong thing. One could say that they are the strongest driving force of humankind. Much stronger, even, than logic or common sense. Tonight we are hearing tragic stories of brave men and women. We are hearing stories of violence, hate, and loss — stories that vividly demonstrate the harsh reality of conflict.
My name is Lior, I am Israeli and too grew up in the midst of this conflict.
When I was 15, my school bus was shot at, and three people died. Every day when I open the newspaper, I read that neighboring leaders are calling to throw Israel or the “Jewish entity” into the sea. I have given the best years of my life to military service in order to fight Hezbollah, Hamas, Iran, and other extremists who threaten my homeland.
Exploding buses, shooting on the streets, friends being injured,– all of these are my experiences.
So I’m sure your next question would probably be: how does that make you feel, Lior?
Well, before I answer that question, I would like to tell you a story.
After finishing 5 years of military service I went to university to study political science, diplomacy and strategy.
I chose that path of study because after 5 years serving on the Gaza border, I realized that military force simply cannot be a permanent solution. Force is a tool, and a very limited one at that. I chose to study diplomacy so that I could find a lasting, solution to the conflict. But the problem that I encountered when I started my academic studies was that although we studied the conflict in terms of resolution and negotiation between the two sides, all of our dialogue took place in a class taught only by Israeli professors — a class in which nearly all of the students were Israeli!
I began to question, what is the real value of studying negotiation or the history of the conflict when we only understand one side of it? Can we really understand a complex reality in this way? I posed this question to my professors and peers, and I encountered a surprisingly overwhelming sense of apathy. So I took things into my own hands.
Because I, as an Israeli, could not visit the West Bank, my American and European friends went to meet our Palestinian counterparts, who said that they felt similarly isolated from the other side. Then we asked these same young Palestinians who they thought was more hostile towards israel — their parents who experienced war or them, the young generation, the generation of facebook and social media?
And what do you think they said?
They answered that They are more hostile.
Even though their parents have fought in wars, it is the younger generation — my generation — who is more radical. Why? Because unlike their parents, the only place they ever meet Israelis is at checkpoints, where the Israelis wear uniforms and hold guns.
That answer sparked a sense of urgency in me!
I began to wonder: What will happen in 5 years, or 10 years, or 20 years from now, when our generation is in charge — a generation that has never met the other side, and that doesn’t understand the other’s narrative?
Tonight we are hearing some very powerful stories of pain, loss, and anger. When you combine these emotions with a lack of empathy for the other side, can you really imagine a better future?
Well, I can!
I can because I am standing on this podium today surrounded by 4 other Israelis and 4 Palestinians who constantly challenge each other’s preconceptions of the other side. I can because, in the last 6 weeks, we, a group of Israelis and Palestinians faced challenges and we learned from them, we inspired global audiences, and envision new possibilities for the future. I can because I believe that this is the right platform for both sides to get to know each other – not to try and make peace, but to open our eyes to reality, and appreciate it for what it is.
Over the last 20 years, there have been numerous attempts to reach an agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians. The Oslo Accords. The Madrid conference. The Camp David Accords. The list goes on, but one thing is notably absent – success!
Past negotiations have all failed.
They have failed to reach a sustainable agreement — failed to reach any agreement, in fact — but especially failed at representing our real interests, allowing instead our emotions to play a pivotal part.
Negotiators. Have failed. To negotiate.
In the beginning of my speech you asked me: How does that makes you feel, Lior? All the pain, loss, and fear that you’ve experienced — how does that make you feel? Well, as a wise man once told me, negotiation is about how you have your interests met, not your emotions expressed.
So what does it matter how I feel?
These and so many other critical aspects of the conflict incite very emotional responses on both sides.
But whether we like it or not, these are the main issues that were presented on past negotiation tables, and they will remain on the table until the conflict is resolved.
Our problem is that we do not how to negotiate.
When dealing with the issue of settlements, for example, we must separate our feelings on the issue from our interest in the issue. Claiming it to be the biblical land and emphasizing the tragedy of evacuating settlers are extremely emotionally charged arguments. But ensuring Israel’s security, and compensating settlers for the loss of their homes — these are some of the real interests of the issue.
Negotiation is more than stage or a process.
It is a level of awareness and understanding that extends far beyond what we do on the negotiation table. It is about how we set that table.
We must better educate the future generation of negotiators on both sides, Israeli and Palestinian.
We must provide these tools to the leaders of tomorrow.
We must do it today
Today, because it is time that our interests, and not our emotions, are met. And one last thing. When I say today, I mean today. You see here a group of young Israeli, Palestinians, and Americans who are already doing IT.
I am here because I am trying to establish a Negotiation program for Israeli and Palestinian students back home.
Help us to shape the minds of the next generation of negotiators.
So next time Israeli and Palestinian meet again around the negotiation table – as they must. An agreement will finally be reached – one that will meet the interests of both sides.
by Lior Frankiensztajn