I am painfully aware of all the reasons why peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians could fail. I have read the pundits and experts and listened to ordinary Israelis and Palestinians. I’m not a diplomat or a negotiator. I’m an observer, a writer, and a Christian who has been praying for peace to come to the region ever since I began knowing and loving people on both sides.
So when friends ask me if I think the talks that started in Washington today have a chance, they are surprised to hear me say, “Yes. Absolutely.” I’m not being naive. When they ask why I believe this, I offer some practical reasons: The problems in Syria, Egypt, Lebanon and even Jordan eclipse other issues in the region. The energy and troops committed to policing the West Bank might better be used defending Israel’s border with Egypt, Lebanon and Syria. Even though Israel has the most sophisticated weapons in the region, Hezbollah, empowered by victories in Syria and backed by Iran, is a much bigger threat than in the past. The lawlessness in the Sinai is gaining strength while Egypt lacks leadership. Lebanon is collapsing.
Ironically, this is all a problem for the Palestinians as well. Their issues are no longer front and center with the other Arab nations. The war in Syria and the lack of government in Egypt, the nearly failed state of Lebanon and the increasing instability in Jordan make the Palestinian issues seem small. The Palestinian refugees in Syria are fleeing for their lives, mostly to Jordan, where they find even worse conditions than they have endured. Their hopes of returning to Israel have been replaced with the desire to simply survive.
Palestinian President Abbas is weak, elderly, and having a more difficult time keeping his government from falling apart. He has lost two prime ministers in one year. Waiting in the wings are more radical elements who would rather fight than negotiate. The years of talking have gained them nothing and Hamas would likely take over in the West Bank, a much worse scenario for Israel. And then there’s Jordan, teetering under the weight of hundreds of thousands of refugees who are undermining the economy, overwhelming social systems and even taxing public works.
I suspect John Kerry has reminded both sides of these realities and far more. And then, perhaps he has told the two sides to take advantage of this brief window. Not because of a high moral calling to peace but because soon the problems that divide their people could seem minor even to them.
And there’s another reason I believe that these talks may succeed. Simply put, I believe in miracles. I have seen them occur in South Africa and Northern Ireland, in the Balkans and in Rwanda. Places where wounds were so deep no one believed in peace, and yet, people eventually stopped fighting and governments chose to make agreements. I, like many people, have been praying for a miracle to bring peace to the Israelis and Palestinians.
Pundits may laugh at the idea of miracles. Foreign policy experts find ways to explain them away once the occur. But on this side of a miracle I have an advantage: I believe. Yes, peace is possible. Absolutely.