Aaron Brown: There's a definition of insanity that is you do the same thing-- exactly the same thing over and over again. And you expect a different result. And I sometimes look at the region precisely that way. Both sides continually do the same thing. And expect, somehow, that the result is going to be different. And it is never really different.
Gideon Lichfield: I think maybe the insanity is not actually on the two sides. But it's on the outside observers who watch and expect them to behave differently. And keep on constructing these plans and meth-- method of negotiation that are supposed to produce a certain outcome, that don't really take enough account of the local dynamics. What do I mean?
The whole negotiation is based on, for instance, from the Israeli side, the Palestinians have to stop violence. They have to bring themselves under control. Have to guarantee Israel's security. And, from the Palestinian side, it's based on the Israelis have to remove the checkpoints.
They have to stop trying to clamp down on the Palestinians in order to preserve their own, the Israeli's security. And the-- kind of the expectation that this can be resolved by baby steps of confidence building measures, I think, it’s unrealistic. Because, on both sides, the politicians, they work on very short term considerations. What's going to keep me in power for the next ten minutes. This is particularly true on the Israeli side because the Israeli governments are very unstable. They're formed of coalitions of typically four or five parties. And nobody has any majority. This is just an outcome of the system of voting that they have.
Aaron Brown: And so offend one small group within your coalition and your government could fall.
Gideon Lichfield: Right.
Aaron Brown: And, in fact, that happens.
Gideon Lichfield: In fact, that happens. And the small parties know that, and they use it for their advantage in order to put pressure on the main-- no the government in order to get whatever end it is that they have. And the small parties that make up that balance of power, as a rule, are right wing, or religious, or both. The outcome is that it's very difficult for an Israeli leader to make big, bold, far reaching moves. And, in fact, that's why, when you look at the history of the conflict, the leaders who've typically made the biggest, boldest, farthest reaching moves, are not the-- the so called doves, the peaceniks or left wingers, they're the right wingers who have that grip on the government because they're from the right. Because they can't be undermined by the right.
Aaron Brown: And, on the Palestinian side, is there a generation of emerging political leadership that says, "We need to do this differently. This isn't working for us….
Gideon Lichfield: There is. Some of them have been in danger because they've been engaged in militancy against Israel. And so some of them have been locked up or assassinated by the Israelis. Some of those people have taken a different turn, and realize that they need to go into politics instead of violence.
And have started preaching a different game. The problem is that, on the Palestinian side, that generation itself is very split. It's competing. It's full of rivals who all want to get to the top job. And there's a kind of glass ceiling for them because the people in charge at the moment are still this old generation, this old guard who really have been holding onto the reins, and don't want to let anybody else in.
Aaron Brown: Is there any way to look at this today and say-- "Look, there's this little kernel of hope here," or not?
Gideon Lichfield: I wish I could be optimistic. The one hope that you can still point to, maybe, is that there are still a lot of people at the grassroots who are thinking about trying to make something work. There is something, for instance, called the Bereaved Families Forum.
An organization that brings together the families of Palestinians who were killed by the Israel army, and Jews that were killed by Palestinian terrorists. And families get together and they share experiences. And they talk. And they send people to each other's schools where the checkpoints and so forth permit to give talks to school children.
And, within those little islands, there's an enormous capacity for overcoming and understanding. I think what worries me about it, is that those areas of understanding and cooperation don't usually stretch very far.
One of the issues that I was reporting on when I was there was the building of the barrier through the West Bank. What Israel calls the security fence, and what the Palestinians called the apartheid wall. Like everything in the region, it has several names depending on who you are. And in the last few years, because of the intifada, and because the barrier has gone up, and because there are more checkpoints, there's less and less interaction between the two sides. And so more and more the only Israeli a young Palestinian's likely to know is an Israeli in uniform. And the only Palestinian an Israel is likely to know is a Palestinian that he's seen on the television blowing himself up, or something like that. And so that common ground of humanity starts to get lost.